The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet that involves reducing carbs low enough to induce a metabolic state called ketosis.
Recent studies are also finding that the diet is safer for long term use than once was thought. (5)
To find out if the ketogenic diet is right for you, this article gives you a complete guide explaining all you need to know.
Just keep in mind the ketogenic diet, while it’s terrific for weight loss, it may not be right for certain people. It’s important to undergo a health screen by your doctor to determine if you have any contraindications or other health related circumstances that would prevent you from starting this diet. (see faq below)
Here’s How The Ketogenic Diet Works
A ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet. Carbohydrates are limited to 50 grams per day and sometimes even lower at 20-30 grams per day. Lowering carbs to this extent puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process the body undergoes when food intake is low. During a starvation state, we produce ketone bodies, which are produced by the liver from the metabolism of fats. The aim of a ketogenic diet is to reduce carbohydrates to starve the body of its primary energy source – glucose. Without a steady supply of glucose the body is forced to breakdown fats into ketones to be used as an alternative energy source.
Ketones are water-soluble molecules that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning they also supply energy for the brain when glucose is low.Ketones may have a neuroprotective effect and are more energy efficient than glucose. (10)
Insulin levels are also low during ketosis. Health conditions affected by high blood sugar and insulin may be better managed on a ketogenic diet. (11)
To Sum Up: The ketogenic diet induces weight loss by replacing carbohydrates with high-fat foods that force the body to burn fat and use ketones as its primary source of energy. Ketogenic diets helps stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
How Do Ketogenic Diets Help You Lose Weight?
It may seem counterintuitive to eat more fat to lose weight. After all isn’t fat what we want to get rid of? That’s why we see so many low-fat diets. On the surface low-fat diets appear to make sense, but from a biochemical standpoint they don’t.
Low-fat diets don’t condition your body to efficiently burn fat for energy. On a low-fat diet your body is accustomed to using carbohydrates as its main fuel. The problem with using carbohydrates for energy, especially processed carbohydrates, is that they don’t satisfy your hunger for long.
Carbohydrates spike your insulin which forces the glucose from the carbs into your fat cells. Now the energy from glucose is trapped in your fat cells. Instead of utilizing that stored glucose, your body demands additional glucose from food to compensate for the dip in blood glucose. Thus you feel starved and crave more carbs.
When you eat more fat you feel more satiated. This is because fats don’t spike your insulin, so you don’t experience the sudden starvation that comes from insulin highs and lows. In fact, your blood glucose remains more stable.
Maintaining a stable blood glucose gives your body more time to access the fuel that’s stored in your fat cells. In the absence of additional carbohydrates, as with the ketogenic diet, your body shifts its metabolism towards burning fat for fuel on an on-going basis.
The ketogenic diet is so much more filling than the low-fat diets that people often lose weight without counting calories. (12)
Ketogenic diets also improve insulin sensitivity better than low-fat diets. (16)
To Sum Up: Ketogenic diets help you burn fat more efficiently than low-fat, high-carb diets. A ketogenic diet is also more filling, so you lose weight without feeling starved or craving carbohydrates.
Why Are Ketogenic Diets Good For You?
There are two main reasons why Ketogenic Diets are good for you. One is that a ketogenic diet helps you lose excess fat. Excess fat is often associated with metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. (17, 18, 19)
The second is that a ketogenic diet improves insulin sensitivity by way of weight loss. When insulin sensitivity is improved the body is more effective at clearing excess fat, regulating blood glucose, and avoiding the many health complications that are linked to insulin resistance. (20, 21, 22)
Interestingly the ketogenic diet may have benefits for neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, and even brain cancers. (26)
To Sum Up: Ketogenic diets help improve a wide range of health conditions by improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing fat burning, providing neuroprotective benefits, and lowering blood glucose and blood pressure.
What Foods Make Up The Ketogenic Diet?
Ketogenic diets aim to eliminate foods high in carbohydrates and replace them with healthy fats and a moderate portion of proteins. Some carbohydrates are allowed, but only low-carb, non-starchy ones that also contain high amounts of fiber and other vital nutrients.
Here are the ketogenic diet rules:
Carbohydrates to Avoid
- Sugar Sweetened Foods: Candy, cakes, pies, ice cream, fruit juice, soda, cookies, frozen yogurt, etc. Plus condiments, sauces, sugar-free diet foods that contain sugar alcohols, alcoholic beverages, low-fat high- carb diet foods and other sugary products.
- Refined Carbohydrates: Enriched white bread, white rice, white pasta, chips, breakfast cereal and others.
- Starches and Starchy Vegetables: Wheat-based rice, pasta, and cereal, root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, etc. Plus bean and legumes.
- Low-carb Vegetables: This includes most vegetables grown above ground such as spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cucumber, tomato, olives, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and others.
- Some Fruit: Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.
- Chocolate: 90% Dark
Unhealthy Fats to Avoid
- Processed Fats and oils: Mayonnaise, refined vegetable and seed oils such as corn, soybean, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils; hydrogenated oils such as margarine, vegetable shortening, ready-to-use dough, fried foods, coffee creamers, packaged baked goods, and others.
Healthy Fats Allowed
- Fatty Fish: Primarily salmon, albacore tuna, lake trout, herring, sardines, and mackerel.
- Meat: Beef such as steak, ground beef, roast beef; pork such as ham, sausage, bacon; chicken, duck, and turkey.
- Dairy Products: Butter, heavy full-fat whipping cream, cheese such as cheddar, mozzarella, cream, goat, feta, blue, sour cream, and ricotta.
- Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, macadamia, Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, pecans, pine nuts, tahini paste, hazelnuts, chia seeds, almond milk, nut butters, and more.
- Unrefined Healthy Oils: Coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and flaxseed oil.
- Eggs: Range free, pastured or omega-3
Ketogenic Snacks Allowed
- Berries and heavy cream
- Full-fat Chese
- Full-fat Yogurt
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Guacamole and low-carb veggie
- Cherry tomatos with mozzarella and olive oil
- Slice of roast beef, turkey, or ham
- Bacon Strips
- Dark Chocolate
- Cream cheese and smoked salmon
- Nut butter and celery
- And more
To Sum Up: Ketogenic diets exclude most carbohydrates except for low-carb vegetables and berries, and includes healthy fats from meat, fish, nuts, seeds, dairy, healthy oils, eggs, and avocados. Healthy ketogenic snacks can also be chosen from this list.
What Type Of Ketogenic Diet Is Right For You?
The great thing about the ketogenic diet is that there’s more than one way to go about it. Having a few options other than the standard ketogenic diet, may improve your adherence to the diet. Here are 4 versions of the ketogenic diet:
- Standard Ketogenic Diet (skd): This version typically breaks down into 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs. Each day follows this routine.
- High-Protein Ketogenic: This version is only slightly different and allows for more protein. The ratio now becomes 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs
- Cyclical ketogenic diet (ckd): This diet follows the standard ketogenic diet for 5 days and then allows for a 2 day carb refeed.
- Targeted ketogenic diet (tkd): This version allows additional carbs to be eaten around workouts.
The tkd diet may suit you better if you are an avid gym-goer and the ckd diet may suit you better if you want to have a couple of days where you get to eat more carbs. The standard keto diet might be best if you want a more routine diet where you get to eat more cheese, oils, and heavy creams. If you are trying to build muscle the High-Protein Ketogenic diet may be best for you.
If you are unsure which to pick it might be easiest to start with the skd diet, and then move on to the more advanced versions.
more: A Ketogenic Diet Plan
To Sum Up: There’s more than one way to follow the ketogenic diet. Your level of activity, protein and carbohydrate needs will most likely dictate which ketogenic diet will work best for you.
Are There Side Effects To Going On A Ketogenic Diet?
Adapting to a ketogenic diet takes a couple of weeks and in that time you may experience one or more side effects as your body switches its fuel source from the glucose in carbohydrates to using its internal fat stores. These side effects are generally temporary and can usually be self-remedied.
- Frequent Urination and Loss of Salt: Unlike carbohydrate-based diets that cause you to retain water, fat-based diets promote water loss. In the first couple of weeks on a ketogenic diet your body uses up its glycogen which releases water that is later excreted out in the urine. When water is excreted salts are excreted too and may become depleted.
This can cause headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, constipation, heart palpitations, and irritability.
Remedy: Drink plenty of water and replenish sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Adding salt to your food and eating foods rich in potassium and magnesium such as nuts, meat, fish, dairy, and low-carb vegetables (green leafy), and avocados should suffice. If symptoms persist, you should speak to your doctor about taking supplements to balance your electrolytes. It’s important to note that you need to pay close attention on this diet; you need to eat plenty of low-carb veggies and not just bacon, eggs, and cheese for example. You still need fiber, vitamins, and minerals that come from vegetables.
- Keto-flu: During the first few weeks, and especially near the end of the first week, it’s typical to go through a process known as keto-adaptation. Keto-adaptation starts as your body switches to using ketones for fuel.
The symptoms of keto-adaptation, commonly known as keto-flu, consist of brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, racing heart when lying down, insomnia, and cravings. Some people experience these symptoms more than others, some adapt more easily. It takes about 4 weeks to fully adapt to the diet and after that mental sharpness and energy levels should return.
Remedy: To minimize keto-flu, you may want to gradually decrease your carbohydrate intake over a couple of weeks. Try starting with a low-carb diet and then transition into a ketogenic diet.
- Changes in Bowel Movements: Constipation may occur on ketogenic diet. Changing up the types of foods you eat or increasing and decreasing certain foods, can change your gut flora (bacteria) and therefore the way you digest food. Ketogenic diets also promote water loss.
These two changes can lead to constipation and indigestion.
Remedy: Drink plenty of water and eat fibrous vegetables.
- Keto-breath: Ketones can be released in urine, sweat, and through respiration. Acetone is a smelly form of ketone that is released during respiration.
Acetone leaves a metallic taste in the mouth and causes .
Remedy: Keep up with good oral hygiene, use a mouthwash, and consider chewing a minty sugar free gum, or using breath fresheners.
- Breakfast: Bacon, egg, and cheese omelet with fresh basil cooked in coconut oil
- Lunch: Spicy shrimp and avocado lettuce wraps
- Dinner: Trout in garlic butter with broccoli
- Breakfast: Smoked Salmon Omelet with broccoli
- Lunch: Low-carb chicken salad with celery (trick mix ½ tsp mayo with 2 tbsp full-fat yogurt)
Or try this homemade keto Omega 3 mayo
- Dinner: Beef patty with bacon, tomato, cheese, and onion
- Breakfast: Low-carb peanut butter chocolate milkshake
- Lunch: Spicy Chicken wings and celery
- Dinner: Parmesan crusted pork chops and veggies
- Breakfast: Full-fat yogurt with walnuts, blackberries, and stevia
- Lunch: Low Carb Salmon Patties
- Dinner: Low-Carb Meatballs with Veggies
- Breakfast: Turkey Bacon and Eggs
- Lunch: Beef stir-fry with vegetables cooked in coconut oil
- Dinner: Salmon baked over onions and asparagus in butter
- Breakfast: Omelet with avocado, bacon, tomato, goat cheese, and basil
- Lunch: Skinless chicken breast topped with keto-guacamole
- Dinner: Shrimp Stir-fry with veggie in coconut oil
- Breakfast: Ham Omelet with cheddar, baby spinach, onion, and tomato
- Lunch: Stuffed Peppers with ground beef or chicken, cheese, spinach, and basil
- Dinner: Keto-Cheesy Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breast
- Increasing keytone levels: To increase keytone levels exogenous ketones and mct oil may be helpful. A combination of MCT oil and exogenous ketones helps you reach a state of ketosis and aids in weight loss.
- Low energy: Creatine, mct oil, and caffeine all have benefits for increased energy and exercise performance.
- Improved cognition: Minerals such as sodium, potassium, and magnesium, Exogenous ketones, and caffeine all potentially help with the brain fog associated with keto-flu.
- Protein Intake: Adding whey protein to your shakes or yogurt can help you reach your daily protein intake goal.
- Ask to substitute potatoes, rice, pasta, or fries for low-carb vegetables.
- Ask to have breads left off sandwiches or burgers.
- Order meat dishes with extra vegetables.
- Ask what type of oil is used in your dish; if it’s vegetable oil order a baked dish or ask if they have olive, coconut, or avocado oil.
- Ask to leave the wrap or corn shell off burritos, tacos, or wraps.
- Ask if they serve guacamole; this can be added to meats, vegetables, salads, or omelets.
- For dessert, ask for heavy whipping cream with berries.
- Ask for cheese and sour cream on your dishes.
- For smoothies, ask for low-fruit, high-protein options.
- Ask for the catch of the day fish (salmon, trout, tuna).
- Ask for no salad dressing and instead use oil, vinegar, and lemon.
To Sum Up: Side effects from the ketogenic diet are common in the first few weeks but typically resolve in about 4 weeks. There are ways to limit these side effects such as easing into the diet, drinking plenty of water, eating fibrous vegetables, and keeping good oral hygiene.
Ketogenic Diet Meal Guide
It’s important to maintain balance while on a ketogenic diet. Remember you still need to eat low-carb vegetables, not just fats and proteins. You also want to stay within your calorie budget and not overeat especially on saturated fats. Using healthy oils, herbs, and spices are also something to start considering.
Here is a week’s worth of ketogenic meals to help guide you:
There are a few more things to keep in mind when planning your ketogenic meals. First, although staying within your caloric budget should be easier on a ketogenic diet, it’s still useful to know how many calories you personally require.
Also, of those calories how many grams of fat, protein, and carbs you need based on your target calories and the ketogenic percentages (75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs). To help you with that here is a link that calculates grams of protein, fat, and carbs for you.
Secondly, try eating a variety of meats, nuts, and vegetables each week to ensure you get a full range of nutrients, especially fiber and minerals.
To Sum Up: Ketogenic meals are balanced and nutritious, providing you add low-carb veggies, stay within your caloric budget, and rotate meats and vegetables to get a wide variety of vitamins and minerals.
Should You Use Supplements On A Ketogenic Diet?
If you make balanced ketogenic meals with the right ratio of fats, protein, and healthy carbs such as low-carb vegetables, you should get all the nutrients you need. That said, there are a few supplements that may be of some use for the following …
To Sum Up: There are a few supplements that may be useful for reaching a ketosis state, improving cognitive and exercise performance, and increasing protein intake. These are mct oils, exogenous ketones, minerals, creatine, whey protein, and caffeine. To get the most out of your keto-diet talk with your doctor to see if supplements are right for you.
How To Eat At Restaurants On A Ketogenic Diet?
Turning a high carb restaurant meal into a ketogenic meal is pretty easy. The key is knowing what to order and what to leave off your plate. Most restaurants are good about making substitutions. Here are some tips on how to order with your waiter.
To Sum Up: Ketogenic diet are fairly easy to follow even when eating out. Just ask for meat, fish, or egg-based meals and request that the high carbs foods be left off. Additionally ask for extra vegetables, healthy oils, cheeses, heavy cream, guacamole, and other keto-friendly foods to help dress up your dish.
Ketogenic Diet faq
The ketogenic diet often raises many questions. Here are some of the most common ones:
- Will this type of diet raise my cholesterol?
It depends. On average ketogenic diets improve cholesterol markers, but there appears to be a subset of people whose total cholesterol, ldl, and ldl particle numbers do go up. If this is the case for you, the diet can be modified. For instance, you could eat more monounsaturated fats instead of saturated fats, increase fiber intake, and eat a higher percentage of low-carb vegetables. Just be sure to discuss your cholesterol goals and diet with your doctor.
- Isn’t saturated fat bad for you?
Current research indicates that saturated fat doesn’t lead to heart disease. However if you already have problems with cholesterol, it’s a good idea to replace some saturated fat with monounsaturated fat. Certainly saturated fat in processed junk food is bad for you.
- Who should not follow a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet may be unadvisable for some people with kidney disease, pre-existing liver or pancreatic conditions, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes taking certain medications, women who are pregnant, nursing, or pregnant with gestational diabetes, or anyone recovering or suffering from an eating disorder. Before starting any diet, you should always speak to your doctor.
- Ketosis sounds dangerous. Is it?
Ketosis is a natural process that your body already undergoes when food intake is low, so it’s not dangerous. For instance, after sleeping for 8 hours your body undergoes ketosis to some degree until you eat again. Ketosis shouldn’t be confused with ketoacidosis which occurs in the absence of insulin production as is the case for type 1 diabetics who can’t make insulin.
- Does the ketogenic diet cause muscle loss?
A ketogenic diet is actually muscle sparing. When a person is fully keto-adapted the diet preserves lean mass. Adequate protein and fat intake ensures that the body uses fat and ketone stores over protein and amino acid stores for energy.
- Can I build muscle on a ketogenic diet?
Yes, though you may need 50 grams of carbs as opposed to 20 or 30 grams. A slightly higher amount of carbs, especially before an intense weight lifting session, can provide instant energy for your workout without interrupting ketosis. This will also stimulate a bump in insulin production which helps with anabolic muscle recovery.
- Do I ever need to do carb refeeds?
Carb refeeds are not necessary for most ketogenic dieters, especially those just starting the diet. The idea behind a carb refeed is to bring leptin levels back up so you can carry on dieting without a reduction in metabolism or becoming accustomed to your caloric input. Competitive bodybuilders may benefit from a carb refeed when trying to further reduce body fat percentage.
- Can I ever eat carbs again?
Initially to lose weight and become keto-adapted, you should avoid most carbs. After you lose the weight, you can eat carbs on special occasions, but reverting back to a high carb diet may cause you to regain the weight.
- Without carbs, won’t I feel weak and tired all the time?
Initially you may feel weak and tired without your usual carb intake, but once your body goes into full ketosis you should feel energetic.
- What do I do if I have digestive issue?
Changing your diet means your body has to get used to new foods, this may cause indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation. Once you have been on the ketogenic diet for 3 or 4 weeks, your digestion should improve. If it persists try adding more high-fiber vegetables.
- How much protein is allowed on a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet aims to keep protein at a moderate intake. Too much protein can kick your body into gluconeogenesis and out of ketosis. Aim for between 20 to 35% protein. To know for sure you are in ketosis you can test your ketone levels.
- My urine smells different, why is this?
It’s common for urine to smell fruity on a ketogenic diet due to the excretion of byproducts created during ketosis.
- Does the ketogenic diet cause kidney stones?
There is some evidence of this particularly for people predisposed to kidney stones, however drinking plenty of water and eating vegetables typically prevents kidney stones. Some people require potassium citrate supplements while on a ketogenic diet. It’s best to discuss kidney stones with your doctor before going on a ketogenic diet.
Other Ketogenic Diet Considerations
The ketogenic diet has been found to be an effective way for obese patients and type 2 diabetics to lose weight and improve their metabolic health. Healthy people and even bodybuilders have successfully used the keto diet reach their fitness goals. That said, there are other diets that your doctor may recommend for your particular needs.
Following a ketogenic diet long term can be quite challenging, and in some cases can require doctor supervision for those with pre-existing health conditions.
A high fat diet may not be necessary for you to reach your particular goals, and this should be weighed against starting on a diet that requires a good deal of attention and detail. The last thing you want to do is eat high fats and high carbs at the same time because you aren’t fully dedicated to the diet or you tend to overeat in general.
This is a specialized diet and it takes consistency to get it right.
To Sum Up: The ketogenic diet has been shown to effectively help overweight people lose weight and improve overall health. Yet the diet isn’t suitable for everyone. You should consider your dieting habits, your ability to adhere to the diet, your fitness goals, and of course recommendations from your doctor.