The Beginner’s Guide to the Keto Diet

May 2nd, 2019 Diet
keto diet

Have you heard of the ketogenic diet, usually abbreviated to just the keto diet? It has become increasingly popular because it fills you up, is good for your health, and is enjoyable to follow.

So much of the focus of the keto diet has been on how it helps people lose weight. While it can be useful for that, there are so many benefits of maintaining ketosis.

Switching to the keto diet will create numerous positive changes in your body, beyond the aesthetics most mention.

However, we also need to ensure that food consumption doesn’t lead to weight gain—one of the major causes of disease. So we will address this aspect of the keto diet, too.

Moreover, eating in a keto-friendly way is enjoyable, due to its high fat content. It is an instinct to seek out fat, and “being keto” means your diet will have a lot of fat in it.

The keto diet is not a short-term diet but a framework to permanently alter your lifestyle. Which means the changes you make must be sustainable. If you view your diet as a chore, then you will not stay with it. So it is better to create enjoyable habits that are also healthy.

This article brings you everything you need to know about this powerful and effective food regimen—explaining what it is, how it works, the benefits you can receive, and some tasty meal ideas.

Consider this Keto 101—and the route to a satisfying way of life.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet has a rather unusual history. Back in the early 1920s, this food-watching plan was developed as a medicine-free treatment for epilepsy in children—and it’s still being offered as an alternative therapy to this day.

So the keto diet isn’t a program involving in-depth food-group management, calorie counting, or other extra steps.

Quite simply, it involves dropping carbohydrates (or dramatically cutting back) and eating healthy fats instead.

In many discussions of nutrition, true scientific studies can be hard to find. One thing that appeals to us about keto is that is has been extensively studied and researched. Its benefits have been quantified, measured, and validated by the scientific community.

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How Does the Keto Diet Work?

Before we look specifically at the keto diet, it’s worth a brief mention of how food energy is used.

Within the human body, the fuel source comes from food, a type of chemical energy. When we ingest nutrients, digestion allows them to be stored within the body as an energy reserve—sometimes as fat but most often as glycogen, a form of glucose.

This glycogen is formed from the consumption of carbohydrates and is the body’s go-to source of energy. However, if carbs are either drastically reduced or omitted entirely from the diet, the glycogen stores fall and your body needs to look elsewhere for its fuel.

And this is how the keto diet functions. The body, sensing the lack of carbs, goes into a type of starvation mode—knowing that in order to survive, it needs to create more energy. So it turns to the liver for help.

The liver turns stored fat into both fatty acids and ketones (water-soluble molecules). These ketones push the body into using the fatty acids as fuel—known as a state of ketosis (or ketogenesis). The result is that fat stores are being depleted.

The key points in brief:

  • The body’s primary source of energy is carbohydrates.
  • In the keto diet, carbohydrates are omitted.
  • Without carbohydrates, the body is pushed into a state of ketosis by the creation of ketones.
  • As fat is burnt for energy, fat stores are lost.

How Long Does It Take to Get Into a State of Ketosis?

As long as you follow the keto carb, fat, and protein targets in the following section, you should reach a state of ketosis within about two to three days.

Having said that, everybody’s metabolism is different, so for some people, this could take up to a week.

However, there’s a cheat you can use to speed up the process. Once you’ve started the keto diet, try to do some intense exercise in the morning before breakfast. This can have the effect of depleting your existing glycogen stores more quickly—meaning your body has to turn to fat for energy sooner.

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Are There Different Types of Keto Diets?

Over the years, the keto diet has evolved slightly different takes on this food program designed mainly for athletes and bodybuilders looking for specific targets.

That being said, generally speaking, people like you and me tend to use the original or standard version—and that’s what this article will concentrate on.

However, for clarity, the forms of the keto diet you may come across are:

The Standard Form Keto Diet

The most common and simplest keto diet to follow. Typically, it means consuming no more than 5 percent carbohydrates, around 75 percent fat, and 20 percent protein.

The High in Protein Keto Diet

Often used by bodybuilders, this diet promotes muscle protein synthesis (the way muscles build) through increased protein intake.

A common breakdown of this form means 5 percent carbs, 35 percent protein, and 60 percent fats.

The Cyclical Keto Diet

This method is often used by athletes looking to lose fat, gain lean muscle, and still have enough energy in reserve for sporting performance.

It involves two different stages: following the standard keto diet and then loading yourself with carbohydrates. A weekly cyclical diet could look like this:

Day 1 to day 5:        5 percent carbs, 20 percent protein, and 75 percent fats

Day 6 and day 7:        70 percent carbs, 25 percent protein, and 5 percent fats

The Targeted Keto Diet

This form is specifically designed for those really pushing themselves to the limit in the gym—people who need at least some carbohydrates to power intense training sessions.

Carbs are loaded before training, while a standard keto diet is followed for the rest of the week—that is, targeting carbs on the workout.

In this scenario, you should aim to consume 30–50 grams of carbs around 30–45 minutes before you commence your training session.

Is the Keto Diet for You?

While no diet is suitable for everyone, the simplicity and effectiveness of the keto diet has made it one of the most popular forms of healthy eating.

Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect with keto:

  • You will be able to enjoy fats and meats, but it will limit your ability to drink alcohol or have breads.
  • It can help you lean out but may not be the best choice if you’re specifically trying to get more muscular.
  • Since meat, fish, eggs, and dairy form a central part of the diet, it can be difficult for vegetarians or vegans to find alternatives and keep a sense of variety.

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Health Benefits of the Keto Diet

Research has indicated that a keto diet can have numerous benefits on overall well-being. Let me take you through some of the main ones.

Enhances Skin Condition

Carbs can contain simple sugars—a known cause of acne. Following a keto diet means fewer of these are consumed, leading to an improved skin condition. Scientists are now considering the keto diet as an alternative treatment for acne.

Improves Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

There’s increasing evidence that a keto diet can improve the awful symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

It appears that putting the body into a state of ketosis can improve motor neuron function and, therefore, enhance movement and mobility.

Can Slow the Progress of Cancer

Research indicates that the keto diet can help to reduce the rate of tumor growth associated with cancer by increasing the efficacy of both radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Reduces the Chance of Cardiovascular Disease

Cutting out the carbs and concentrating on healthy fats and protein can prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol levels.

Can Reduce the Occurrence of Epileptic Seizures

As I’ve already mentioned, the keto diet was originally formulated as a treatment for epilepsy and continues to this day.

A study of 150 children who suffered from difficulty to control seizures indicated that after being on the keto diet for 3–6 years, their condition improved so dramatically that in many cases medication could be dropped entirely.

Assists with Brain Injury Recovery

Research has indicated that the keto diet can enhance the healing of traumatic brain injuries.

Weight Management

One of the main reasons both men and women switch to a keto food regimen is to lose weight. And it’s very effective.

Studies have indicated that people on a keto diet lose weight, experience a decrease in appetite, and reduce their overall food intake.

A 2003 study compared the keto diet against a calorie-controlled diet. The results illustrated that those who went keto lost more than double the amount of weight than those watching their energy intake.

Going keto helps you avoid “bad” calories. Reducing your carbohydrate intake means that you’re avoiding many foods and drinks which include weight-gaining simple sugars.

And you replace them with protein and fat, which can make you feel fuller. Not only does this mean that you’re happier on this diet, but also you’re, ironically, less likely to overeat.

Research has indicated that the keto diet means you are more responsive to the effects of insulin—the blood sugar regulator. This means that the food you consume is more efficiently metabolized.
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Can Ketosis Be Dangerous?

If followed correctly, the keto diet is usually safe for most people. However, as with any change in diet, care needs to be taken to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits and do not place yourself at risk.

Here are the important factors to consider:

Kidney Stones

Mention the keto diet to the average Joe on the street, and often the first thing they’ll  come back with is be careful, it’s bad for your kidneys.

Mostly, this is a myth. It’s true that consuming a high-protein diet does place extra stress on the kidneys. However, as long as they’re healthy in the first place, there’s no reason to believe that working them hard will induce any detrimental effects.

A 2016 study, which examined 1000 people on a low-carbohydrate diet, found no proof that it causes any kidney issues at all.

However, there seems to be evidence that a keto diet may be detrimental to children’s kidneys—although why this age group in particular is more susceptible remains unknown.

Out of 195 youngsters who were using the keto diet as a treatment for epilepsy, 13 developed kidney stones. Although, if they supplemented potassium citrate, it prevented this condition from occurring.

The bottom line is this, if you have an existing kidney condition, check with your health practitioner first that it’s safe to follow the keto diet.

Low Potassium

Potassium is an essential nutrient that the body requires to maintain healthy bone structure and keep blood pressure under control.

As this nutrient is often found in starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, the keto diet can lead to a deficiency when these carbohydrate-rich foods are omitted.

However, consuming keto-friendly foods—such as spinach and a little avocado—can boost potassium levels.

Constipation and Diarrhea

The keto diet means cutting back on fruits, whole grains, and beans—all sources of fiber.

For a healthy digestive system, and to keep you “regular,” the body requires sufficient doses of fiber—too little and the dreaded constipation will occur, with all of its uncomfortable symptoms.

Research from 2015 illustrated that children following the keto diet to treat epilepsy were highly likely to develop constipation—with 65 percent of the subjects suffering from it.

Ironically, high-fat consumption on the keto diet can lead to the opposite effect—diarrhea.

The key to avoiding these issues is this: Consume healthy amounts of fiber by eating foods such as chia seeds, coconut, or almonds and slowly increase the amount of dietary fat intake over a period of two weeks.

Bad Breath

One of the ketones that is produced while following the keto diet is acetone, which is expelled from the body through breathing. Unfortunately, acetone is not the nicest smelling of chemical compounds and leads to “keto breath.”

Sadly, apart from cleaning the teeth and using mouthwash regularly, in the short term, there’s little that can be done. Usually, this side effect subsides after a few weeks.

Can Affect Menstruation

This isn’t so much an effect of the keto diet but of its results.

Women often discover that while using this food regimen, weight drops off—fast. Dramatic reductions in weight can lower estradiol, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone levels—those responsible for regular menstruation.

This can result in either intermittent periods or seeing them cease altogether. That being said, once the initial drastic pound-shedding has taken place, menstruation usually returns to normal.

Naturally, if they don’t return to normal, speak to your health practitioner.

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What Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?

One of the most attractive features of the keto diet is that it offers a wide range of tasty foods that you can eat. Here are the key keto-friendly foods that your meals should focus on—all of which are high in protein and fat and low in carbs:

  • Cheese: Look for those that have not been processed, as those often include simple sugars. Select cheese like cheddar, Red Leicester, Gouda, or goat cheese.
  • Oily fish: High in healthy omega-3 oils, select fresh and sustainable tuna, mackerel, trout, sardines, and salmon.
  • Beneficial oils: Choose unsaturated fats or those high in medium-chain triglycerides, such as coconut, avocado, and virgin olive oil.
  • Fresh meats: Virtually all meats are ideal for the keto diet, whether they are chicken, beef, lamb, or turkey—it’s down to your preference.
  • Low carbohydrate vegetables: Spinach, cauliflower, spring greens, peppers, and onions.
  • Free range eggs: Serve scrambled, boiled, poached, fried, or as an omelet.
  • Dairy: High in fat and protein, they’re ideal for keto, so we’re talking about milk, butter, cream, and yogurt.
  • Seeds and nuts: Concentrate on trail mix, chia, sesame, pumpkin, flax, walnuts, and almonds.
  • Avocado.

Also, think about how you can adapt the above foods to replace your typical sides or meal bases, such as potatoes, rice, and pasta.

For example, cauliflower can be made into a tasty rice alternative, and cucumbers or zucchini can be spiralized into “spaghetti.”

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What Can’t You Eat on a Keto Diet?

Just as important as the foods you can eat are the ones you can’t.

If you slip up and mistakenly consume high levels of carbohydrates, you push yourself out of ketosis. As a result, your hard work will be undone. This means you’ll have to go through the 3-day ketosis-inducing state again.

Foods to steer clear of are:

  • Fruits: As most of them contain the simple carbohydrate, fructose, fruits are virtually forbidden—excluding a few berries and avocado.
  • Alcohol: Many of these drinks, especially beer, contain carbohydrates—although low-carb varieties are increasingly becoming available.
  • “Bad” fats: Steer clear of trans fats and hydrogenated oils, which cause obesity and heart disease. Don’t touch margarine, sunflower oil, or cottonseed.
  • Legumes, lentils, and beans: High in carbs, so don’t consume chickpeas, peas, kidney beans, fava beans, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables: These include carrots, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, and yams.
  • Simple sugar foods: Fruit juice, ice cream, sweets, cotton candy, cakes, biscuits, and sodas are out.
  • Wheat and grains: Avoid cereals, rice (white and brown), pasta, crackers, and cookies.

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Keto Diet Menu for Beginners

Starting on a completely new diet regimen—especially one which is unfamiliar—can initially seem a little overwhelming.

So to help you on your way, I’ve put together a simple 7-day keto menu to kick-start you on the way.

Naturally, individual preferences or allergies may mean that some meals included in this diet plan may not be suitable for you. If that’s the case, feel free to switch and alter foods with any of those I mentioned earlier in this article. Just avoid the carbs!

Monday

Breakfast

Sunny-side up fried eggs combined with streaky bacon and a handful of spinach.

Midmorning Snack

Three tablespoons of fresh walnuts and two tablespoons of raspberries.

Lunch

Organic beef burger served with a bun made out of lettuce leaves, with half an avocado as a side.

Afternoon Snack

Celery batons with an organic almond sauce to dip.

Evening Dinner

Oven-baked tofu pieces with a cup of riced cauliflower, some broccoli florets, and charred red peppers finished off with a pure unsalted peanut butter topping.

Tuesday

Breakfast

Three soft-boiled, free-range eggs served on an avocado base.

Midmorning Snack

Homemade curly-kale crispy chips.

Lunch

Milk-poached, line-caught salmon combined with smashed avocado and surrounded by lettuce.

Afternoon Snack

Spicy beef jerky bar (or chicken, turkey depending on taste).

Evening Dinner

Chargrilled lamb kebabs topped with sliced green peppers and boiled broccoli florets.

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Wednesday

Breakfast

Scrambled eggs (three) mixed in with some finely diced chives and served with spinach.

Midmorning Snack

Celery batons dipped into pure unsalted peanut butter, with a side of hard cheese (cheddar, for example).

Lunch

Mackerel served with mayonnaise on a bed of avocado (half).

Afternoon Snack

Turkey or beef jerky bar (ensure that it doesn’t contain any added sugars).

Evening Dinner

Fried rainbow trout served with generous lashings of butter and a side of sautéed pak choi.

Thursday

Breakfast

Fried eggs (three) topped with finely sliced peppers and cayenne flakes, served on a butter lettuce bed.

Midmorning Snack

A quarter-cup of unsalted sunflower seeds.

Lunch

Line-caught grilled salmon presented on a bed of sauteed fresh bok choy.

Afternoon Snack

Strips of both red peppers and celery dipped into homemade guacamole.

Evening Dinner

Grilled pork chop seasoned with pepper and served with mashed cauliflower and a red and white cabbage slaw.

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Friday

Breakfast

Three eggs (hard boiled) served with chopped celery dippers.

Midmorning Snack

Three tablespoons of ethically sourced macadamia nuts.

Lunch

Oven-baked tomatoes stuffed with tinned, dolphin-friendly tuna.

Afternoon Snack

Diced hard cheese wrapped in thinly sliced roast beef blankets.

Evening Dinner

Meatballs (beef or pork, without breadcrumbs) served on a bed of spiralized zucchini “pasta” and finished with a creamy garlic sauce.

Saturday

Breakfast

A four-egg omelet topped with grated cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and finely sliced chives.

Midmorning Snack

Greek yogurt (unflavored and full fat) finished with some finely chopped pecan nuts.

Lunch

Celery and spinach soup, with chips made from crispy kale as a side.

Afternoon Snack

An almond-based milk smoothie, with a scoop of whey isolate protein and Greek yogurt.

Evening Dinner

Roast free-range chicken served with asparagus spears and fried portobello mushrooms (sliced).

Sunday

Breakfast

An almond milk-based smoothie mixed with some almond butter, one scoop of whey protein isolate, and full-fat Greek yogurt.

Midmorning Snack

Two soft-boiled eggs served with sliced celery dippers.

Lunch

Free-range chicken breast (with skin) served on a spinach and avocado base, accompanied by cucumber batons and hard cheddar cheese.

Afternoon Snack

Diced cheese squares with sliced red and green pepper.

Evening Dinner

Fried king shrimp served with butter and grated lemon zest sauce, with an asparagus spear side.

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How Do I Know If I’m in a State of Ketosis?

So you’ve followed the keto diet for a week, and now you’re thinking ok, so is it working?

First, if you’re beginning to drop weight while consuming healthy levels of protein and fats, it’s a good sign that you’ve entered the state of ketosis.

But sometimes it may take a while and you need incentive to carry on and know that your body is producing ketones.

There’s a simple way to check whether you’re in ketosis to give you that boost.

Keto strips indicate how far into a state of ketosis you are. Quite simply, you urinate on them, and they change color. They work by testing for the ketone acetoacetate.

You then compare the color with an included chart, which indicates how deep into ketosis you are. If you aren’t improving your ketone levels over a couple of days, it’s time to go back and check your diet to see what’s stopping you from entering this state. Here’s a demonstration video on how keto strips are used.

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Can You Get Into a State of Ketosis Without the Diet?

While many people find the keto diet enjoyable and easy to follow, it can be problematic for others.

For example, this food program can cause issues for those who:

  • Are on a limited budget: although vegetables are fairly economical, healthy fats, meats, and fish can prove costly.
  • Need to travel often: eating away from home can make sourcing keto-friendly meals in hotels and restaurants difficult.
  • Attend a friend’s for dinner: you may find it awkward to ask for specific foods.
  • Are vegetarian or vegan: much of the diet is based on meat and dairy.

In these scenarios, there’s a way to enter a state of ketosis without following the diet: supplementation.

The body enters a ketogenic state when it is deprived of carbohydrates—and hence produces ketones, the clever compounds that tell the body to burn fat.

Supplements supply the body with exogenous ketones—in short, those which originate from an exterior source. These products typically contain the powerful ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which naturally occurs in the body when a state of ketosis is reached.

Available in various forms, such as oils, salts, and esters, they can provide an effective way of losing weight through ketosis when the diet is impractical to follow.

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Keto Diet Summary

The keto diet is an effective and proven lifestyle plan that enables you to enjoy fantastic-tasting foods, including fats, without having to count calories.

People often discuss the keto way of life as a means to lose weight. However, the keto diet has many benefits to your overall health and well-being.

The amount of meat and fats you’ll be eating will make it easier to stick to this food regimen and incorporate it into your life permanently.

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