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How to Start a Keto Diet: Tips for Beginners

Mariia Roza
Written by Mariia Roza on June 28, 2021
Fact checked by Ievgeniia Dobrynina

Table of contents

It seems like a ketogenic diet is at the top of its popularity! No wonder you want to try it out. Before you buy a dozen of stakes, avocados, and packs of nuts, let’s figure out some details of the keto diet. Check out some tips and precautions that will make your transmission to ketosis faster and easier.

What is a ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet has multiple scientifically proven benefits for health as it affects cardiovascular risk factors(1), decreases cancer(2) risks, and helps in cancer treatment(3). The ketogenic diet is proven to help with Alzheimer’s disease(4), endocrine diseases(5) like Polycystic ovary syndrome and type 2 diabetes(6), epilepsy(7), and even in treating acne(8). 

What’s more, the ketogenic diet helps(9) people lose fat(10) and improves metabolic syndrome(11). The latter means that with keto, your metabolism doesn’t slow down after your weight loss as much as it would with an average low-calorie diet.

It sounds like a magic pill for a perfect body and better health, right? However, one of the main downsides of the keto diet is that it is not that easy (or fun) to follow. This eating pattern is low in carbs, moderate in proteins, and high in fats. This means that by beginning keto diet, you refrain from sugar, grains, starchy vegetables, and most fruits.

Are you ready to make this sacrifice? Then keep on reading.

Basics of a keto diet: How does it work? 

FDA(12) recommends eating a balanced diet where almost 50% comes from carbs, 20% from protein, and 30% from fats. To get into ketosis, you will have to change your macros proportions as follows: Get 70% of your calories from fats, 25% from protein, and only 5% from carbs. This is ten times fewer carbs than you’re used to.

What will this switch do to your body? It will make your liver produce ketones. Ketones are small fuel molecules. They are a kind of the fourth macronutrient that we can’t find in nature. Our liver creates ketones when your body can’t use its primary fuel source (sugar) from food. 

Almost all your body can function on ketones except for your liver. To fuel your liver with energy, your body starts gluconeogenesis. It uses amino acids from proteins to convert them into glucose.

How much time does it take to get into ketosis?

The reserves of glycogen in the body of any person are enough for at least three days. Therefore, ketosis will come no earlier than in four days. For most of us, 50 grams of carbs a day will lead to ketosis. However, some people might eat up to 90 grams a day, and for some of us, carbs should be reduced to 20-25 grams(13) a day. 

Remember that the keto diet is not only low-carb but also moderate in protein. This limitation is necessary if you want to reduce gluconeogenesis and make the transition to ketogenesis, when your body uses fats as an initial source of energy, faster.

Athletes can get into ketosis faster as they use their glycogen stocks in muscles when they workout. However, physical activity during the first days of a new diet might be a bit more challenging. 

Types of keto diet: Choose according to your needs.

The standard keto diet means that you consume 5-10% of calories from carbs, 70-90% from fats, and 10-20% from protein. However, along with it, there are some other types of ketogenic diets you might find more suitable for your needs.

Cyclical ketogenic diet

By following this type of ketogenic diet, you can alter straight keto days with days that are higher loaded with carbohydrates. Choose this model if you want to follow a low-carb, high-fat diet for the rest of your life, and you’re looking for something more sustainable than a standard keto.

High-protein ketogenic diet

With this type of keto, your macros proportions look like this: 35% of calories come from protein, 60% from fats, and 5% from carbs. 

Although some research shows that high protein consumption can slow down ketogenesis, some surveys(14) prove the efficiency of high-protein keto diets for weight loss. By increasing your protein consumption, you can make your meals more satisfying and more varied.

Targeted ketogenic diet

This form of a ketogenic diet will work well for athletes, as with the targeted ketogenic diet, you’re allowed to add some more carbs before your workouts. They will fuel your muscles faster and will improve your performance in the gym.

If you’re aiming at body recomposition or losing weight while doing a lot of sports, opt for a high-protein or targeted keto diet.

Calorie-restricted ketogenic diet

As ketogenic diets help decrease appetite(15), the calorie deficit is easier to bear than with high-carb, low-fat diets low in calories. Overall, the keto followers state that there is no need to count calories while in ketosis, as high-fat products are more satiating. People eat fewer calories without even counting them. 

A calorie-restricted approach is your choice if your hunger and satiety hormones are imbalanced and you don’t understand when you’re hungry and when you’re full. It will also help if you’re a straight calories-in-calories-out theory follower and don’t believe that diets can work if you’re not in a calorie deficit.

Clean plant-based keto

This is a synthesis of a standard keto and the Mediterranean diet. By following it, you focus more on the food itself, not the macros. On a clean plant-based keto, your carbs intake is more relaxed, and you get most of your fats from olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish. You limit your red meat consumption and opt for eggs and seafood as your protein sources.

Low-carb diets that are not keto

There’s also a lot of high-fat or high-protein diets that are low in carbs. Although some of them might be composed as ketogenic, they’re not initially equal.

The thing is, the keto diet is not an average low-carb diet. If you decrease your carbs intake but don’t do it enough, you will be in a so-called “grey zone,” when you limit the consumption of energy from glucose, but that’s not enough to transfer your body into a new source of energy, the fats. That’s why, while on a low-carb diet but still not in ketosis, you can feel fatigued, while when you’re entirely on ketosis, you feel energized.

Keto VS Paleo

While on a paleo diet, you can be in ketosis. However, on a standard paleo diet, you can have a more considerable amount of carbs per day from some starchy vegetables and fruits.

Keto VS Carnivore

Carnivore diet aims at zero carbs and eating only animal-derived products. However, as the keto diet is more about consuming fats than protein, you will have to eat a lot of oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds to keep the fat-protein ratio at 3:1.

Keto VS Atkins

The standard Atkins diet is divided into four phases. During the first phase, you can eat 20 to 25 grams of carbs per day, and the fourth phase is less restrictive as you can increase your carbs consumption to 80-100 grams. Atkins diet is less restrictive in protein consumption as well: On some stages, you can get up to 30% of your daily calories from protein.

What can you eat on a keto diet?

As a matter of fact, all you have to do to stay in ketosis is to track your macros and don’t exceed the 50 grams limit of carbs a day. However, to get all the benefits of the keto diet for your health and minimize the adverse side effects, consider these recommendations.

Best keto diet food list

Coconut oil. It is considered the alpha and omega of the keto diet, as it contains medium-chain triglycerides that are presumably beneficial(16) for fat loss.

Olive oil. Rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil is one of the best sources of fats on a keto diet.

Low-carb non-starchy vegetables. Asparagus, bok choi, broccoli, kale, lettuce, cucumbers, and leafy greens are excellent sources of micronutrients and fiber. Opt for these sources of carbs to keep your keto diet meal plan well balanced.

Avocado. It contains nine grams of carbs, with seven of them as fiber. This means that there are only two grams of net carbs in avocado. When tracking your carbs intake, remember that insoluble fiber doesn’t count while soluble fiber counts. 

Meat and poultry. Some dietitians recommend minimizing your red meat intake to decrease the level of saturated fats in your diet. Saturated fats presumably can lead to heart and cardiovascular disease. With this being said, multiple science updates(17), meta-analyses(18), systematic reviews(19), and cohort studies(20) found no link whatsoever between saturated fat consumption and cardiovascular diseases, stroke, heart problems, and increased mortality. 

Opt for grass-fed meat to stay on the safe side and get all the benefits from meat and poultry consumption with minimum side effects. 

Eggs. They help you feel satiated and are probably the most versatile product in the world. To increase your fats to proteins ratio, don’t use egg whites and opt for yolks.

Cheese. Even though some keto followers recommend limiting dairy consumption during your first weeks of keto, there is no scientific proof that cheese or other high-fat dairies can alter ketosis. 

Berries. If your sweet tooth is more potent than your willpower, you can have some low-glycemic berries now and then.

Macadamia nuts. These are the best source of fats from the nuts and seeds category. Macadamia nuts are rich in fiber and easy to digest. You should keep your nuts consumption in moderation, though. The first reason is they still contain carbs, and the second is, they’re high-caloric snacks that you can easily over-eat.

Seafood. Fatty fish like salmon contain zero carbs and will fill you up with omega 3 and 6. When it comes to other seafood, like mussels, keep in mind that they still contain some carbs, and you should control your portions not to exceed your 50-grams-a-day limit.

“Keto” products to avoid

Alcohol. Some spirits like vodka or gin are considered keto-friendly. However, as alcohol metabolizes in your body differently than other macros, its consumption can alter ketosis and slow down weight loss. Minimize alcohol intake during your new keto meal plan during the first weeks and keep it in moderation later on.

Almonds and cashew. Some people can’t digest them properly and feel bloated after consuming large amounts of these nuts.

Sweeteners in tabletop packets. Opt for stevia and monk fruit if you can’t refrain from something sweet, and take a closer look at tabletop sweeteners. For example, sucralose is keto-friendly when used in soft drinks, but it is usually mixed with some carbs that make sucralose powdery in tabletop packets. 

Choose non-caloric sweeteners. You should obviously refrain from honey, agave syrup, or high-fructose corn syrup, as well as all kinds of fruit nectars or processed juices while on a keto diet.

Keto desserts and snacks. They will still contain some carbs. They are treats, and you can easily overeat them. In most cases, these are highly processed foods that should be minimized in a well-balanced diet.

Dairy. Many keto followers recommend opting for vegetable milk, yogurt, etc., and minimizing dairy consumption. This is because ordinary dairy contains lactose, a disaccharide that can alter ketosis if consumed in large amounts. 

Peculiarities of a keto diet for women

Of course, men and women are different when it comes to weight loss. Due to discrepancies in hormone levels, women tend to lose weight slower than men on any kind of diet, including the keto diet. 

For example, women find it more challenging to keep to the diet because of premenstrual syndrome. One of its symptoms is enormous craving for carbs, namely for something sweet, like chocolate, and sticking to the ketogenic diet during periods might be extremely difficult.

The ketogenic diet for pregnant or breastfeeding women might also not be the best choice. For example, breastfeeding women can sometimes discover(21) ketoacidosis(22). This is quite rare, but these surveys(23) should make you consult your doctor first before you try the keto diet while breastfeeding. The chances are, your health adviser will recommend you a more balanced diet while you’re responsible not only for your own body but also for the health and wellbeing of your future or a newborn child.

Tips for starting a keto diet

Just deal with it: First, several weeks of a keto diet are most challenging and important both emotionally and physically. It will be hard, but you can get through it! Keep in mind these simple tips to make the transition from your eating patterns to the keto easier.

  • Don’t start a keto while traveling. Try to eat at home and avoid restaurants and takeaways. Cravings are happening during the first weeks, and it’s better to keep away from triggers and temptations. Keep keto-friendly foods always at hand. Prepare your meals beforehand and froze them for later. Later on, you will be able to stay in ketosis while eating out or being on vacation but not during the first weeks.
  • Keep your fats a bit higher and your protein a bit lower. A 3:1 ratio of fats to protein would be excellent. Encourage your body to use ketones and fats. It sounds like a cold turkey, but it works! Make fats your primary energy source.
  • Drink coffee if you like it. Caffeine mobilizes fatty acids and encourages their perversion into ketones. You can also add fats to your coffee but remember that it will transform it into a caloric beverage counted as a separate meal. 
  • Decrease the intensity of your workouts. During the first weeks on a keto diet, your body is transmitting to another source of energy, and it needs to get used to it. Your performance will decline when you just start keto, so just be ready for this and keep the intensity of your workouts at a 60% rate.
  • Stick to whole foods. By doing so, you will be able to get the maximum of nutrients and the so-needed fiber.
  • Think of what you’re about to do after keto. A keto diet is not considered sustainable. The chances are, you won’t be able to stick to it for the rest of your life. Try to find out more about nutrition and find a meal plan to help you maintain your weight loss results and stay fit and healthy forever.
  • Get ready for the keto flu. You will most likely feel crappy during the first days on a keto diet. Get prepared for this and read how to deal with the keto flu symptoms below.

What are the symptoms of “keto flu”?

Most people give up a keto diet during the first days because of the keto flu, making them feel sick. One of the primary reasons behind the keto flu is dehydration. The Keto diet shows tremendous results during the first days because initially, you lose water. Just consider that one gram of carbs can hold up to three grams of water. Along with the water, you lose electrolytes and minerals. 

Most people who start following a keto diet discover these symptoms of keto flu(24): 

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog
  • Increased hunger
  • Bad sleep
  • Decreased physical performance
  • Racing heart
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss

There is one more symptom of ketosis which you can’t avoid. Bad breath. It is caused by acetone(25), the by-product of fat metabolism. This smell might stay with you for several weeks, but in the end, it will go away.

How to prevent or minimize the keto flu symptoms?

Researchers explain these symptoms with several reasons. This is how your body reacts to water, salt, minerals, vitamins, electrolytes, and fiber deficiency in your new diet. Follow these recommendations to minimize your chances of discovering keto flu:

  • Drink more water
  • Eat an appropriate amount of salt. You can even add sodium to your water.
  • Take multivitamins or drink mineralized water. Add sodium, potassium, and magnesium supplements.
  • Choose carbs rich in fiber.
  • Add electrolytes back in, and you won’t have all the keto flu symptoms that much. 

Summary

The ketogenic diet seems to be best of the best in the world of dieting, offering efficient weight loss with no damage to the metabolism. With all the evidence at hand, scientists(26) still state that more long-term research is required to make sure that a keto diet can be used as a lifestyle choice.

A keto diet helps you lose weight and body fat but for most people, sticking to this eating pattern for the rest of their lives is quite a challenge. When you start eating carbs again, you can witness weight regain.

Our recommendations are: 

  • Consult your doctor before starting a keto diet, especially if you have some health conditions.
  • Keep your keto diet well-balanced by adding whole foods and rich in fiber vegetables to your meals.
  • Think of what you’re going to do after the weight loss on a ketogenic diet. If you don’t want to avoid carbs for the rest of your life, search for a more balanced approach to weight loss.

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