The ketogenic diet (or keto diet for short) is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that has many health benefits.
In fact, many studies show that this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve your health (1Reliable source).
Ketogenic diets may even have benefits against diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease (2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
Here is a detailed guide to the keto diet for beginners.
The basics of the keto diet
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that has many similarities to the Atkins diet and the low-carb diet.
It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbohydrates puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also converts fat into ketones in the liver, which can provide energy for the brain (6Trusted Source).
Ketogenic diets can lead to a significant reduction in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increase in ketones, has some health benefits (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. It lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and changes the body’s metabolism from carbohydrates to fats and ketones.
The different types of ketogenic diets
There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including
The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This is a very low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet. It is generally 70% fat, 20% protein and only 10% carbohydrate (9Trusted Source).
Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This diet has periods of higher carbohydrate refeeding, e.g. 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high carbohydrate days.
Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbohydrates around training sessions.
High Protein Ketogenic Diet: This diet is similar to the standard ketogenic diet, but includes more protein. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbohydrate.
However, only the standard ketogenic and high-protein diets have been extensively studied. Cyclic or targeted ketogenic diets are more advanced methods and are mainly used by bodybuilders or athletes.
The information in this article applies primarily to the standard ketogenic diet (SKD), although many of the same principles apply to the other versions as well.
There are several versions of the ketogenic diet. The Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) is the most studied and recommended.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates.
It occurs when you drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake, thus limiting your body’s supply of glucose (sugar), which is the main source of energy for cells.
Following a ketogenic diet is the most effective way to enter ketosis. In general, this involves limiting carbohydrate intake to about 20-50 grams per day and filling up on fats, such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts and healthy oils (6Trusted Source).
It is also important to moderate your protein intake. Protein can be converted to glucose if consumed in large quantities, which can slow down your transition to ketosis (10Trusted Source).
Intermittent fasting may also help you get into ketosis more quickly. There are many different forms of intermittent fasting, but the most common method is to limit food intake to about 8 hours a day and fast for the remaining 16 hours (11Trusted Source).
There are blood, urine and breathing tests that can help determine if you are in ketosis by measuring the amount of ketones produced by your body.
There are also symptoms that may indicate that you are in ketosis, including increased thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination and decreased hunger or appetite (12Trusted Source).
Ketogenic diets can help you lose weight.
A ketogenic diet is an effective way to lose weight and reduce risk factors for disease (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source).
In fact, research shows that the ketogenic diet can be just as effective as a low-fat diet in weight loss (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
Even more, this diet is so filling that you can lose weight without counting calories or monitoring your food intake (16Trusted Source).
An analysis of 13 studies found that a very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet was slightly more effective than a low-fat diet in long-term weight loss. People who followed the ketogenic diet lost an average of 0.9 kg more than the group that followed a low-fat diet (13Trusted Source).
In addition, the diet also lowered diastolic blood pressure and triglyceride levels (13Trusted Source).
Another study of 34 elderly people found that those who followed a ketogenic diet for eight weeks lost nearly five times as much total body fat as those who followed a low-fat diet (17Trusted Source).
The increase in ketone bodies, decrease in blood glucose levels, and improvement in insulin sensitivity may also play a key role (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
A ketogenic diet can help you lose a little more weight than a low-fat diet. This often happens with less hunger.
Ketogenic diets for diabetes and prediabetes.
Diabetes is characterized by changes in metabolism, high blood sugar levels, and altered insulin function (20Trusted Source).
The ketogenic diet can help you lose excess fat, which is closely associated with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
An older study found that a ketogenic diet improved insulin sensitivity by 75% (25Trusted Source).
A small study of women with type 2 diabetes also found that a 90-day ketogenic diet significantly lowered hemoglobin A1C levels, which are a measure of long-term blood glucose management (26Trusted Source).
Another study of 349 people with type 2 diabetes found that those who followed a ketogenic diet lost an average of 11.9 kg over a two-year period. This is an important benefit considering the association between weight and type 2 diabetes (Trusted Source24Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
In addition, blood glucose management improved and the use of certain blood glucose-lowering medications decreased among participants throughout the study (Trusted Source27Trusted Source).
The ketogenic diet can stimulate insulin sensitivity and cause fat loss, resulting in significant health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.
Other health benefits of the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet was originally developed as a tool to treat neurological conditions such as epilepsy.
Studies have now shown that this diet can have benefits for a variety of different health problems:
*Heart disease. The ketogenic diet can help improve risk factors such as body fat, HDL (good) cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels (28Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source).
*Cancer. The diet is currently being studied as an additional cancer treatment because it may help slow tumor growth. (4Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
*Alzheimer’s disease. The keto diet may help reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and slow its progression (5Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
*Epilepsy. Research has shown that a ketogenic diet can significantly reduce seizures in children with epilepsy (3Trusted Source).
*Parkinson’s disease. Although more research is needed, one study has shown that the ketogenic diet helps improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (34Trusted Source).
*Polycystic ovary syndrome. The ketogenic diet may help lower insulin levels, which may play a key role in the syndrome.
An example of a keto eating plan for 1 week.
To help you get started, here is an example of a ketogenic eating plan for one week:
Breakfast: Vegetable egg muffins with tomatoes
Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil, feta cheese, olives, and a side salad
Dinner: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter
Breakfast: omelet with egg, tomato, basil and spinach
Lunch: Almond milk, peanut butter, spinach, cocoa powder and stevia milkshake (more keto smoothies here) with a side of sliced strawberries
Dinner: Cheese bowl tacos with salsa
Breakfast: nut milk chia pudding with coconut and blackberries.
Lunch: Avocado shrimp salad
Dinner: pork chops with parmesan cheese, broccoli and salad
Breakfast: omelet with avocado, salsa, peppers, onions and spices
Lunch: handful of nuts and celery with guacamole and salsa
Dinner: Chicken stuffed with pesto and cream cheese, served with grilled zucchini
Breakfast: sugar-free whole milk Greek yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder and berries
Lunch: Ground beef lettuce wrap tacos with sliced peppers
Dinner: stuffed cauliflower and mixed vegetables
Breakfast: cream cheese pancakes with blueberries and grilled mushrooms on the side
Lunch: Pasta salad with zucchini and beets
Dinner: White fish cooked in olive oil with kale and toasted pine nuts
Breakfast: fried eggs with mushrooms
Lunch: low-carb sesame chicken and broccoli
Dinner: spaghetti bolognese with pumpkin
Always try to alternate vegetables and meats over the long term, as each type offers different nutrients and health benefits.
For many more recipes, check out these 101 healthy low carb recipes and this keto shopping list.
With a ketogenic diet, you can eat a variety of tasty and nutritious meals. It’s not all about meat and fat. Vegetables are an important part of the diet.
Healthy keto snacks
In case you get hungry between meals, here are some healthy snacks suitable for the keto diet:
- fatty meat or fish
- a handful of nuts or seeds
- Keto sushi snacks
- one or two hard-boiled or deviled eggs
- keto-friendly snack bars
- 90% dark chocolate
- Greek full-fat yogurt mixed with nut butter and cocoa powder
- Bell peppers and guacamole
- Strawberries and plain cottage cheese
- Celery with salsa and guacamole
- Beef jerky
- smaller portions of leftover meals
- Fat bombs
Keto tips and tricks.
Although getting started on the ketogenic diet can be difficult, there are some tips and tricks that can help you get started.
First, familiarize yourself with food labels and check the grams of fat, carbohydrates and fiber to determine how your favorite foods can fit into your diet.
Planning your meals in advance can also be beneficial and help you save extra time during the week.
Many websites, food blogs, apps, and cookbooks offer keto-friendly recipes and meal ideas from which you can create your own menu.
Alternatively, some meal delivery services even offer keto-friendly options that let you enjoy quick and convenient keto meals at home.
Check out healthy frozen keto meals when you’re short on time
If you’re going to social events or visiting family and friends, also consider bringing your own food, as it will be much easier to suppress cravings and stick to your diet plan.
Reading food labels, planning meals in advance, and bringing your own food when you visit family and friends can make following the ketogenic diet much easier.
Tips for eating out on a ketogenic diet.
Many restaurant meals can be made ketogenic-friendly.
Most restaurants offer some type of meat or fish dish. Order these and replace any high-carbohydrate dishes with additional vegetables.
Egg-based dishes are also a good choice, such as an omelet or eggs and bacon.
Burgers without buns are another favorite. You can also swap out the fries for vegetables. Add additional avocado, cheese, bacon or eggs.
In Mexican restaurants, you can enjoy any type of meat with additional cheese, guacamole, salsa and sour cream.
For dessert you can order a mixed cheese board or berries with cream.
When eating out, choose a meat, fish or egg dish. Order more vegetables instead of carbohydrates or starch, and have cheese for dessert.
Side effects and how to minimize them
Although the ketogenic diet is generally safe for most healthy people, you may experience some side effects at first as your body adapts.
There is some anecdotal evidence of these effects, often referred to as ketogenic flu (38Trusted Source). According to reports from some diet plan participants, the flu usually passes within a few days.
Symptoms of keto-flu include diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting (39Trusted Source). Other less common symptoms include:
- low energy and mental performance
- increased hunger
- sleep problems
- digestive problems
- reduced physical performance
- To minimize this, you can try a normal low-carb diet for the first few weeks. This will allow your body to learn to burn more fat before it gives up carbohydrates completely.
A ketogenic diet can also upset your body’s water and mineral balance, so adding extra salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements may help. Talk to your doctor about your nutritional needs.
At least at first, it is important to eat your fill and not restrict your calorie intake too much. Generally, a ketogenic diet produces weight loss without intentional calorie restriction.
Many of the side effects of a ketogenic diet can be limited. Starting the diet slowly and taking mineral supplements may help.
Risks of the keto diet
Following the keto diet long-term may have some negative effects – trusted source, including the following risks:
- too little protein in the blood
- extra fat in the liver
- kidney stones
- micronutrient deficiencies
- A type of medication called sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors for type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous condition that increases blood acidity. Anyone taking this drug should avoid the keto diet (40Reliable Source, 41Reliable Source).
More research is being done to determine the long-term safety of the keto diet. Keep your doctor informed about your diet plan so that he or she can guide your decisions.
There are some side effects of the ketogenic diet that you should talk to your doctor about if you are going to follow the diet long-term.
Supplements for a ketogenic diet.
Although supplements are not necessary, some may be helpful.
- MCT oil. MCT oil added to beverages or yogurt provides energy and helps increase ketone levels.
- Minerals. Additional salt and other minerals can be important in the early stages as the water and mineral balance changes (44Trusted Source).
- Caffeine : Caffeine can have a positive effect on energy, fat loss, and performance (45).
- Exogenous ketones :This supplement can help increase ketone levels in the body (46Trusted Source).
- Creatine: Creatine offers numerous health and performance benefits. It may help when combined with a ketogenic diet and exercise (47Trusted Source).
- Whey: Use a half scoop of whey protein in smoothies or yogurts to increase your daily protein intake (48Trusted Source, 49Trusted Source).
Certain supplements can be beneficial on a ketogenic diet. These include exogenous ketones, MCT oil and minerals.