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What is the Keto Diet: A Comprehensive Guide and 7 Tips to Help You Get Started

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There’s a lot of information online on the ketogenic diet, what it is, what the benefits are, and what you can and can’t eat. I’m hoping to break this guide down into something like a keto for dummies, explaining what the keto diet is in layman’s terms so beginners can understand the diet better.

I’ll drop in links to research and medical info here and there so you can continue to read up on this diet and determine if it’s right for you, but for the most part, I’m aiming to keep things very, very simple.

So let’s get to it.

What is the Keto Diet?

First things first, what is the keto diet?

Ok, so keto is short for ketogenic. On your current diet, you’re probably eating a lot of carbs which your body breaks down into glucose, aka sugar, to be used as energy. If you haven’t used up all of your glucose, the rest gets stored as fat to be used later. How fun.

You and I both know that when the latter comes, this excess in storage never gets used because, by that time, we’ve stuffed our faces with more carby food.

What if you were to stop eating carbs altogether?

Then you would be starving your body of its energy source. Your body would begin to process fat for fuel instead of carbs. Your liver turns fat into ketones, a fuel source just like glucose. Perhaps an even better source of energy than glucose if you ask me (and most experts.)

The process by which your liver turns fat into ketones is called ketosis. This is a metabolic state that your body enters where it’s burning fat for energy instead of carbs like we’re used to.

What happens to excess ketones?

The beauty of ketones is that they do not get stored as fat. They are peed out and even breathed out. Yes, you heard me: when you use fat for fuel, you literally breathe out the excess, according to one doctor.

While this is exciting, it doesn’t mean you can eat fat with abandon. We’ll talk more about this later.

How do you get into ketosis?

To get into ketosis, the metabolic state where you are now burning fat for fuel instead of carbs, you need to consume only 50g of carbs or less per day.

It’s super important to check all your food labels and prepare most of your own meals to avoid hidden carbs from getting into your food since carbs (and sugar, aka more carbs) are everywhere.

That means to get into a state of ketosis, you will be eating much more healthy fats than before and consuming no sugar and much, much less carbs.

It sounds crazy to be consuming fat in order to lose fat, but understand that fat isn’t the culprit here; it’s sugar. You might enjoy this post on how to conquer sugar addiction and cravings.

We know sugar is bad for us, and carbs are broken down into sugar. Clean, healthy fruit compote on whole grain bread still equals carbs on top of carbs, which all get broken down into sugar.

How many grams of carbs to eat on the keto diet

It is the widely accepted rule that your daily carb intake should be below 50g of carbs to get into and stay in a state of ketosis. While this may seem low and impossible, it’s quite easy to achieve.

Net carbs?

Fiber and sugar alcohols are often included in the carb count on food labels, so you’ll want to subtract these from the carb count when calculating how much carbs you’re digesting since fiber and sugar alcohols are not digested by the body but simply passed out as waste.

Net carbs = carbs – fiber and sugar alcohols.

Let’s take a look at chocolate chip cookies. One chocolate chip cookie has 19 grams of carbs. Ouch. Eat 3 of those, and you’re over your carb limit for the day. Best to skip that or just eat keto cookies!

Here’s an awesome recipe for Keto Peanut Butter Cookies you’ll love!

The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

Of course, most of us are here to lose weight, but there are other benefits to using fat for energy instead of sugar, which makes this lifestyle even more appealing.

I wrote about the benefits of the keto diet here from a science-based perspective as well as my own personal experience with the diet, citing the benefits I have derived.

I’ll just list a few of them for you here:

  • weight loss
  • low blood sugar (great for reversing diabetes)
  • reduced inflammation in the body, a cause of so many other lifestyle diseases
  • improved brain health and mental clarity (seriously, I am so much more productive when in ketosis)
  • better digestion
  • improved hormone function (it’s great for those with PCOS and fertility issues!)
  • easy breezy monthly cycles (this is related to the point above)
  • lots more energy, beat that feeling of lethargy that comes along with carb-heavy meals
  • The keto diet is also used to manage serious illnesses like epilepsy, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and more

How will you know when you’re in ketosis?

You know you’re in ketosis when you feel euphoria. No, really. Your hunger pangs go away, you have increased energy and mental clarity, and you’re dropping those pounds!

You may also have a metallic taste in your mouth or smell it on your breath. It’s not a funky smell, but it’s different.

You can also test for ketones in your blood or urine. I like to use these test strips to monitor the foods that knock me out of ketosis and those that help me get back into ketosis quickly.

Please check out these articles for more info on ketosis.

What foods are in a keto diet?

Everything yummy! Fat is what gives most food its flavor, so it’s incredible to me that I can slather bacon all over my Brussels sprouts and eat them or get my munchkin to chow down on them, even though she’s not a Brussels sprout fan.

I am working on a printout of all the foods you can eat on a keto diet, but for now, here’s a good starting list for you.

  • Fish and seafood.
  • Low-carb veggies (Asparagus, bell peppers, celery, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, zucchini, cucumber)
  • Cheese.
  • Avocados.
  • Poultry.
  • Eggs.
  • Nuts, seeds, and healthful oils.
  • Plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.
  • Fruits (berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, tomatoes)

Side Effects of Keto

Everything has a good and a bad side, and the ketogenic diet is no different. It would be unfair of me to sing its praises and not tell you about some of the unpleasantries you’re in for in this way of life.

The good news is that all of these things can be avoided or managed easily and naturally. First up, what’s commonly referred to as the keto flu.

What is the Keto Flu?

The keto flu is not really a flu but is the symptoms you may feel once you begin to lessen your carb intake. Carb withdrawal is real and comes with symptoms similar to any other detoxing. You may get headaches, a sore throat, sniffles, and just a very uncomfortable feeling.

I avoided this on my first round of keto by sucking down lime in my water diligently every day. I also ate a lot of salty foods to restore my electrolyte balance, which will be knocked down once you lessen your carbs.

I did get a bit of the keto flu on my second cycle, but I simply added salt to my water to combat the effects, and the flu-like symptoms were kicked to the curb soon after.

Keto Supplements Will Be Necessary

You’ll want to increase your magnesium, potassium, and sulfate intake on this diet since keto dieters are usually deficient in these very important nutrients.

These are all-natural supplements that many people who aren’t on the keto diet are lacking anyway, but you want to be careful to include them, especially when following the ketogenic lifestyle. Especially magnesium will help you to sleep at night.

I definitely suffered from insomnia when transitioning to this way of life and had to cut out my beloved bulletproof coffee and take a magnesium supplement at night.

Is the keto diet really healthy?

There is no right and wrong answer to this. Like anything, there are risks involved. You are eating higher fats which could be potentially dangerous, but you’re also reducing bad carbs, which is great.

With anything, it’s so important to check with your doctor first to see if this low-carb diet is right for you. Never start anything without professional advice.

You will find many resourceful and helpful articles on my Keto Lifestyle Category here.

How to get started on the ketogenic diet

If you’re going to transition to this lifestyle, it’s important to understand the basics of the diet so that you remain successful.

Always remember that you need to be under 50g of net carbohydrates every day to get and stay in ketosis.

Remember that fat is now your energy source but the quality of fat matters. Real butter (not margarine), fatty cuts of meat, eggs, coconut oil no vegetable or soy oil), heavy cream, mayonnaise, quality cheeses, avocado, and nuts in moderation are your go-to sources for fat intake.

Tips to help you get started

  1. Drink lots of water to keep hydrated as it is easy to become dehydrated on this diet, and that will stall your weight loss.
  2. Clean out your kitchen and fridge of all non-keto-friendly foods.
  3. Stock up on keto snacks such as nuts, fruits, etc.
  4. Let your friends and family know you are switching to a low-carb diet for support.
  5. Keep a list of all foods that are keto-approved on your fridge for reference.
  6. Prepare your mindset for this shift – remember why you’re doing this.
  7. Download apps on your phone to help you track your meals in the beginning. This will help you to see roughly how many carbs and calories you’re consuming each day and where you need to make any adjustments. Start with the MyFitnessPal app and CarbManager.

Most importantly, don’t be too rigid. Have fun with it, and find your comfortable balance. This is a lifestyle change, not a 30-day diet. Don’t get caught up on foods that are keto-approved or not.

Stay within your daily carb count, or get back on the wagon as soon as possible if you fall off, and don’t be too hard on yourself.

Research on the Ketogenic Diet for More Reading

On and Off Keto | + posts

Iva discovered the keto diet back in 2020 and has experimented with it, off and on. She recently took over this site and shares experiences, her knowledge and some yummy recipes. She also runs a women only website Women Blazing Trails.

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