Heard of the ketogenic diet? It’s a proven weight-loss method benefiting health.
This step-by-step guide tells you everything you need to know AND everything you didn’t know, about the ketogenic diet.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
Often referred to as “keto,” the ketogenic diet consists of two simple principles: low carbs and high fats. In that respect, it’s similar to the well-known Atkins diet.
In a nutshell, you completely cut out carbs from your diet and, instead, chow down on fats. This can increase your metabolic rate, or ketosis. (10)
The final result is that your body becomes a fat-burning machine. This not only helps you lose weight; the diet helps convert fat in your liver into ketones.
What are ketones you ask?
Ketones are energy sources. When glucose is in limited supply, ketones are used as fuel. Ketones are made in the liver when fats are broken down.
Final Thoughts: The ketogenic diet consists of replacing carbs with high-quality fats. It boosts your metabolism, helps you burn fat, and produces much-needed ketones. The ketogenic diet also helps reduce your blood and sugar levels.
Types of Keto Diets
There are different ways of following the ketogenic diet. The most common, also known as the “Standard Ketogenic Diet” (SKD), involves eating moderate amounts of protein and fats. You keep your carb levels extremely low, usually at about 5% to 75% fat and 20% protein.
Another form of the ketogenic diet is the Cyclical ketogenic diet. In this variation, you have “refeeds” in which you can eat higher levels of carbs. You might have five high-fat ketogenic days followed by two days in which you can eat a healthy amount of carbs.
There’s research showing those who refeeed increase metabolic rate.
There’s also the high-protein ketogenic diet, which is somewhat similar to the regular ketogenic diet. The difference is that you consume a lot more protein. The ration is about 35% protein to 60% fat and 5% carbs.
Final Thoughts: There are many different variations of the ketogenic diet. The most common (and the one with the most scientific backing) is the Standard ketogenic diet.
How the Ketogenic Diet Works
An additional benefit of the ketogenic diet is that it fills you up and is satiating. This helps you lose weight without struggling with hunger. (31)
After following up with participants on the ketogenic diet, researchers found that they lost over twice the amount of weight as people who followed a low-fat diet. They also saw an improvement in their bodily levels of triglyceride and HDL cholesterol. (32) (33)
Also, the ketogenic diet is associated with lower blood sugar levels and better sensitivity to insulin.
Final Thoughts: The ketogenic diet offers weight-loss results superior to low-fat diets. Plus, you don’t have to starve yourself!
Is a Ketogenic Diet Safe?
When you have diabetes, you’re subject to changes in your metabolism. You also experience high blood sugar and difficulty balancing your body’s insulin levels.
Because the ketogenic diet helps you lose fat, it has a positive effect on people who have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Final Thoughts: The ketogenic diet is useful for improving insulin sensitivity. It helps burn fat, which is good for people suffering from prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Health Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
Initially, the ketogenic diet was used for alleviating neurological diseases, most prominently epilepsy.
Besides epilepsy, the ketogenic diet is good for many other conditions.
Acne is another condition that can be treated with the ketogenic diet. When you follow this diet, you cut down on processed foods and sugar—substances known to stimulate acne. (49)
While research into the relationship between the ketogenic diet and these conditions is not yet conclusive, there’s much evidence to suggest that a high-fat, low-carb diet can be of immense help.
Final Thoughts: The ketogenic diet is very beneficial for many conditions, particularly neurological and metabolic diseases.
Ketogenic Diet Foods to Avoid
The gist of the ketogenic diet is to limit your consumption of carbs.
These are some of the biggest foods to stay away from.
- Sweets: Anything with high amounts of sugar, especially processed sweets like candy, soda, cake, and ice cream. . (58) (59) (60)
- Fruit: Although fruit is natural and has a lot of vitamin C, it is super high in sugar. One fruit you can eat without worry is berries (in moderate portions.
- Starches: Anything made out of wheat (pasta, bread, cereal) is high in carbs and should be avoided.
- Root vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, and similar vegetables are surprisingly chock-full of carbs.
- Diet Products: Although many diet products claim to be healthy, the truth is that most are incredibly processed and loaded with carbs.
- Alcohol: Most alcoholic beverages are high in carbs. (61)
Final Thoughts: Many foods available at your local grocery stores contain very high amounts of carbs. Foods to avoid include candy, soda, starches, and most fruits.
What to Eat on the Ketogenic Diet
Now you’re probably asking yourself “What can I eat?” A great thing about the ketogenic diet is that there’s a huge variety of delicious foods to choose from. As a matter of fact, the ketogenic diet allows you to munch on some of your favorites—delicious meals you’d have to avoid under a low-fat diet.
- Meat: This is the big one that the ketogenic diet instructs you to chow down on. Eat red meat, chicken, fish (especially the fatty kind, like trout and salmon), turkey, sausage, steak—without any guilt whatsoever! (62) (63)
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheeses like goat cheese, blue cheese, and cheddar are good keto foods, but remember everything in moderation. (64) (65)
- Eggs: Like omelets? Scrambled eggs? No problem! They’re perfectly acceptable when following the ketogenic diet!
- Nuts: Nothing quenches an appetite like munching on crunchy nuts. Options like walnuts and almonds are full of flavor and help you feel full. (66) (67) (68) (69)
- Avocados: These green fruits (yes, fruits!) are one of the best things you can munch on. They have incredible health properties and they taste delicious in a broad spectrum of dishes. (70) (71) (72) (73)
- Low-carb vegetables: Green vegetables are good. You can also add tomatoes, peppers, and onions to your “to-eat” list.
- Good oils: Don’t fret when it comes time to cook. Use healthy oils without remorse. There’s extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and even coconut oil to choose from!
- Condiments: Feel free to use pepper, salt, and spices in moderate amounts. The ketogenic diet lets you eat well. No sacrificing the flavor!
Final Thoughts: The ketogenic diet allows you to eat your favorite foods: Meat, fish, cheese, eggs, and veggies are all fair game!
Ketogenic Meal Plan Ideas
The ketogenic diet gives you a world of scrumptious food options. Here are a few of the tastiest varieties to get you started.
Keto Foods for Breakfast
- A healthy milkshake made from keto-friendly ingredients like strawberries or peanut butter
- Yogurt (sugar-free, of course) flavored with cocoa powder or a non-sugar sweetener
- A cheese omelet made with avocados, onion, and salsa
- Steak and eggs with a fresh salad on the side
Keto Lunch Ideas
- Shrimp salad; throw in some avocado and olive oil for extra flavor
- Beef stir-fry with a liberal helping of your favorite veggies
- A cheeseburger with guacamole
- An appetizing salad with grilled chicken can be made even more mouthwatering with bits of feta cheese.
Keto Foods for Dinner
- A warm plate of meatballs with cheddar or mozzarella cheese on top and veggies on the side
- Smoked salmon with asparagus cooked in butter
- Parmesan cheese-covered lamb chops with a side of broccoli
As you can see, the possibilities truly are endless. For the best health benefits, rotate out your choices of veggies and meets. That way, you provide your body with the full range of nutrients each food offers.
Final Thoughts: Unlike other diets, the ketogenic diet doesn’t force you to choose nutrition over flavor. You get both. In fact, you get to eat many of your favorite foods.
Low GI Snacks
The ketogenic diet isn’t about starving. It’s about living (and eating) fully. And what’s life without some tasty snacking?
Here are some of the best keto-friendly snacks:
- Dark chocolate (make sure it’s at least 90%)
- Full-fat yogurt
- A few pieces of cheese
- Seeds or nuts
- Strawberries and cream
- Celery dipped in guacamole or salsa
- A low-carb milk shake
- A couple of hard-boiled eggs.
Final Thoughts: There are many ways to snack when you’re on the ketogenic diet. You can eat cheese, eggs, dark chocolate, yogurt, and more. As long as the carb level is low, the sky’s the limit!
What Can You Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?
One of the biggest advantages of the ketogenic diet is that it’s super simple to turn restaurant meals into ketogenic dishes. Just remove (or avoid) the high-carb elements like bread, buns, or pasta.
After all, the centerpiece in most restaurant entrées is meat—which is exactly what you want when you’re on the ketogenic diet. It’s just a matter of replacing the high-carb food with veggies or a salad.
Everybody loves burgers. To make your burger ket-friendly, you can eat it bun-less (or if you really want the bun, have vegetables instead of fries). The ketogenic diet even encourages you to add plenty of cheese and bacon to your burger!
When it’s time for dessert, look for combinations of double cream, cheese, and berries. All have lower carbs and fit into a ketogenic diet.
Final Thoughts: Look for meat, eggs, and fish. Ditch the carbs and order veggies instead. Cheese, berries, and cream are excellent for when you have a sweet tooth.
What are the Keto Diet Side Effects?
The ketogenic diet is safe and healthy for the vast majority of people. Some experience side effects as their body adjusts to the new diet.
This adaptation period, commonly known as “keto flu,” generally lasts only a few days.
Symptoms associated with keto flu hunger, lower energy levels, difficulty concentrating, nausea, and slight sleeplessness.
The best way to mitigate keto flu is to adopt your new diet gradually. Don’t abandon carbs cold turkey! Rather, follow a low-carb diet for a few weeks. Your body gets used to the change, making the transition easier.
Another possible side effect is that your water and mineral balance temporarily goes out of whack.
When you first start out, be sure to eat until you feel full. You don’t want to limit your calorie intake too much.
Final Thoughts: Although there are mild side effects when you first begin the ketogenic diet, they can be reduced. It helps to work into the diet gradually and to take mineral supplements.
What are the Best Keto Diet Products?
There’s no rule saying you have to take any supplements when you’re on the ketogenic diet. However, you may find it useful to incorporate some of the following:
MCT Oil added to yogurt or drinks helps increase energy and ketone levels.
Healthy doses of caffeine increases metabolism and promotes weight loss.
Whey is a good source of protein that you can easily add to your shakes and yogurt.
Final Thoughts: When you’re on a ketogenic diet, you can see better results by taking some supplements. A few of the most beneficial are whey, caffeine, creatine, and MCT oil.
Questions about the Ketogenic Diet Weight Loss Plan
You probably have a lot of questions regarding the ketogenic diet. Here are some of the ones we get most often.
Does the keto diet cause muscle loss?
While any diet might lead to muscle loss, that’s an unlikely occurrence with this diet. Remember that, under the ketogenic diet, you eat high amounts of protein, healthy fat, and ketones to help minimize any potential muscle loss.
If you’re lifting weights and trying to build muscle, the ketogenic diet may not be the best choice for you. Instead, consider a moderate-carb diet.
Are carbs off-limits forever?
You don’t have to stay away from carbs for the rest of your life. It’s only for the first 2 to 3 months that you need to avoid them altogether. After that, you can have them every once in awhile in moderate portions.
Why do I feel tired on the Keto Diet?
If you experience constant fatigue, it may be that you’re not correctly using fats and ketones. You will likely need to lower your intake of carbs and take MCT oil or ketone supplements.
Does eating keto foods cause bad breath?
Ketosis causes bad breath. This happen when beginning a ketogenic diet. You can rid of it by chewing gum or drinking naturally-flavored water.
Why do some people say ketosis is dangerous?
Ketosis is safe. People who say ketosis is dangerous are confusing it with ketoacidosis, which is dangerous.
Ketoacidosis only takes place in people who have uncontrolled diabetes. It is not associated with the ketogenic diet.
Why does my urine have a “fruity” smell?
Your urine may acquire this smell temporarily due to byproducts of the ketosis process. Don’t worry—it goes away!
Am I supposed to have digestion issues?
Some people get diarrhea or constipation as side effects during the first few weeks of the diet. If it doesn’t go away after that, you may need to eat more vegetables with high-fiber content (peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts). Magnesium supplements can also be helpful.
Final Thoughts About the Ketogenic Diet?
Everyone’s health situation is different. The people who most benefit from the ketogenic diet are those who have diabetes, obesity, or excess body fat. It also helps those who want better metabolic health.
If you want to build muscle mass, choose a diet that includes moderate amounts of carbs.
The ketogenic diet works. It can help you lose weight, but you have to follow it day in and day out.
If you put in the effort, the ketogenic diet can help you achieve lasting weight-loss results and amazing health benefits.
Summer Banks, Director of Content at Dietspotlight, has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with doctors specializing in weight loss and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University. full bio.