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When we started keto over a year and a half ago, we couldn’t find an easy-to-use keto guide for beginners. Now, they’re everywhere and we’re so grateful that there is so much help out there for people trying to get healthy.
The KETO Diet in a Nutshell (A Really big nut!)
Keto for beginners
WHAT IS THE KETOGENIC DIET:
The ketogenic diet is a very low-net-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins, Paleo, and low-carb diets. We’ll use the word keto interchangeably with the ketogenic diet or keto approved throughout this post.
**Net Carbs are measured by taking the Total Carbs and subtracting Fiber or Sugar Alcohols. Since the body doesn’t absorb fibers or sugar alcohol, they don’t count. However, some sweeteners do affect your blood glucose levels so keep that in mind as you move forward and experiment with this diet (Splenda is an example of a glucose affecting sweetener).
The diet involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fats and proteins. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which uses your stored fat for fuel, instead of using Glucose or Sugar.
Yes, you read that right. Ketosis TRAINS your body to burn that stupid fat you’ve been trying to get rid of. It also does a BUNCH of other things you can track.
This is basically a “NO SUGAR, WHOLE FOOD” WAY OF EATING!
Note: We said BASICALLY. There’s nothing “whole” about sugar free Jello, but we’re going to indulge, because LIFE.
The ketogenic diet involves eating foods high in fat such as meat, fish, nuts and cheese, and eating a very low amount of carbohydrates.
Foods containing carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, and fruit, are the body’s main fuel source. The body breaks the food down and uses the resulting sugar (glucose) for energy.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, very low carbohydrate diet.
It was initially developed and recommended for children with epilepsy.
The diet recommends that people eat 30 grams (g) of carbohydrates or below per day. Understanding macronutrients and their role in your body is essential to understanding how your body will react to this way of eating.
The goal is to eat 3 to 4 g of fat for every 1 g of carbohydrate and protein.
WHAT FOODS TO AVOID:
The foods that can kick you out of ketosis are:
- ALL GRAINS (Including rice and oats…this is beyond a “gluten free diet”),
- LEGUMES or BEANS,
- STARCHY VEGETABLES (like corn, potatoes and carrots…most underground veggies),
- FRUIT (Berries are an exception because of their low-sugars and fiber content)
Here is a good Food Chart of what you can have and not have on this diet. Basically, if the food has added sugar or CONVERTS to sugar in the body, it shouldn’t be eaten.
(All this sugar is addictive and causes inflammation in the body anyway!)
Read ingredient labels, you will be surprised at how often “sugar” foods are used and in hiding under terms like corn syrup, modified corn starch, wheat, tapioca starch, and rice flour.
When you go out to eat, just stick to proteins, steamed green veggies, or salads without croutons, or get your hamburger with a lettuce wrap and no bun. You will find that your palate will become more refined and foods will start to taste better without all the “fillers”!
It is actually a lot easier than most people think to eat ketogenically. Keto for beginners is easy enough that once you’ve been doing it a little bit, you’ll feel like you’ve been keto all your life – except for that one time in college when you binged on Costco cake for days (you know what I’m talking about).
There are a number of benefits to eating ketogenically. Let’s focus first on blood sugar levels/blood glucose levels.
Impact on blood sugar levels
Because the ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates, there is not enough sugar available for the body to use as fuel, so it resorts to using fat. The process of breaking down fat is called “ketosis,” and it produces a fuel source called ketones.
A ketogenic diet helps some people with type 2 diabetes because it allows the body to maintain glucose levels at a low but healthy level. The reduced amount of carbohydrates in the diet helps eliminate large spikes in blood sugar, reducing the need for insulin.
Studies surrounding ketogenic diets have found that they can be helpful in the reduction of HbA1c. This is a 3-month average of blood glucose levels.
There’s an impact on your need for medication
Ketogenic diets may help to reduce blood sugar levels. As such, some people with type 2 diabetes following a ketogenic diet may be able to reduce their medication.
However, those following the ketogenic diet, as well as an insulin regimen, may be more at risk of developing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia occurs when blood sugar levels fall to 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less. Your body will push itself into gluconeogenesis and turn resources into the appropriate tools for your needs.
Can you imagine going off cholesterol meds? Diabetes meds? Who knows! The possibilities are endless.
Impact on weight
The ketogenic diet helps the body burn fat, which is beneficial when trying to lose weight. This may be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes, as well as prediabetes.
This specific diet is popular mostly because of the weight loss, but it should be credited with more benefits than just weight loss.
Research has shown that people undertaking a ketogenic diet show an improvement in blood sugar level management. They have also been shown to experience noticeable weight loss, controlled food obsession, decreased PCOS symptoms, decreased endometriosis symptoms, improved MS symptoms, reduction in seizure events, and more.
The ketogenic diet may be a viable treatment option for some people with type 2 diabetes. However, it does have some potential side effects.
Some short-term side effects of the ketogenic diet may be mental fogginess, fatigue, and headaches – usually this comes from the body adapting to being a fat burning system instead of a carb fueled body.
Short-term side effects
As the ketogenic diet entails switching to a different source of energy, it can lead to some side effects. These may include:
- loss of salts
- noticeable change in bowel habits, such as constipation and/or diarrhea
- uncomfortable leg cramps
- noticeable loss of energy
- mental fogginess
- frequent urination
In most instances, the side effects are just temporary and people experience no long-term problems.
Long-term side effects
Long-term effects can include the development of kidney stones and an increased risk of bone fractures due to acidosis – these both can be attributed to other actions or lack of actions that have nothing to do with the diet – like not drinking enough water, etc.
The ketogenic diet can lead to a variety of other benefits including:
- lower blood pressure
- improved insulin sensitivity
- less dependency on medication
- noticeable improvements in cholesterol levels
- Meal planning
- weight loss
- less food addiction
- less food obsession
Ketogenic diets are strict, but they can provide a nutritious diet if followed properly. The idea is to stay away from foods, such as carbohydrates, that could spike insulin levels.
People should focus on developing a diet plan that consists of low carbohydrates, moderate protein, and high-fat content. It is also important to avoid highly-processed foods and indulge in minimally processed and real foods instead.
A ketogenic diet should consist of the following types of food:
- Low carb vegetables: A good rule of thumb is to eat vegetables at every meal. Beware of starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, and spinach are great examples of keto friendly greenies!
- Eggs: Eggs are low in carbohydrates as well as an excellent source of protein.
- Meats: We love all options of meats! Bacon might be a favorite though.
- Healthy fat sources, such as avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil.
- Fish: A good source of protein and it’s tasty too! Little to no carbs.
Things to note:
- You will fill sick (like flu sick) within 24 to 48 hours. THIS IS NORMAL. It’s actually called the Keto Flu Get through it. Do not leave the house – you’ll have diarrhea and be achy.
- Treat it with lots of broths – chicken bouillon, bone broth, etc.
- Lots of water
- NO POP – not even diet. Get through it.
- It is your body switching from glucose burning to ketosis – burning ketones.
- NO breads, starches, etc. Don’t even tempt yourself.
- Want a treat? Try some of these: Keto Cheesecake, Keto Chocolate Milk, Chocolate Almond-Coconut Clusters. The point is to have no sugar and sweetened with Stevia or another low glycemic index sweetener. ***eating too many keto sweets can cause diarrhea.
- Fats are GOOD. Bacons and all the fats we’ve always heard about being BAD are GOOD. Eat them. EAT THEM.
- Supplement with vitamins – a multi, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin C. Normally, we get these from fruits, but you don’t want to even touch those because of their fructose (sugars).
- Avoid milk (skim, 1%, 2%). Have whole milk or heavy cream or coconut milk. There are too many carbs in milk.
- Pssst. There might be a meal plan sample below!
This menu plan is a budgeted plan. I don’t spend a lot on foods for me, because it’s hard to justify the cost. Usually these things are things I’m making my family or just adjusting a bit for me.
Eat if you’re hungry. Don’t force it. Each day will be different, too. You’ll be hungrier one day than the next. Not a big deal. Do what your body wants.
The First 2 WEEKS:
The first couple of weeks, your body is trying to adjust and become “Fat Adapted”, meaning it will need to learn how to use fat for energy and not glucose/sugar.
Since you are cutting carbs/sugar and the carbs hold water, you can easily become dehydrated.
For every 1 gram of carbs 4 grams of water “stick” because of the molecular makeup of the carbohydrates.
It is necessary to stay extra hydrated during this adaption.
Drinking a cup or two of broth everyday, along with plenty of water will help.
Also, taking in Exogenous Ketones each day will help the body adapt quicker and hopefully help you avoid the “Keto Flu”.
THESE ARE NOT REQUIRED!
Keto Plus is a good Exogenous Ketone drink, with all the hydrating benefits. I like the Fruit Punch Flavor. Start with only 1/2 scoop each day and increase to a full scoop for the second week. (But the Exogenous Ketones aren’t necessary, just a help for the first couple of weeks while your body is learning to adapt)
Also, you will want to use Ketone Urine Strips to track everyday, and be sure your body stays in Ketosis.
Test in the evening, and since they expire after 3-4 months, one bottle is more than enough for the whole family! Nurse Hatty brand is a reliable Urine Test Strip.
After 4 months or so, your body will know how to utilize the ketones and will stop excreting them, and a blood tester will be needed if you want to check on your ketosis state. Keto-Mojo is a reliable Blood Tester, but it’s a luxury and not necessary once you have it all figured out.
There are a lot of ways to do keto; strict keto, lazy keto, clean keto, dirty keto, make-up-a-name-keto. All we want you to do is go forward with all of the information that you need to be successful with YOUR style of keto.
Some of our favorite tools for ketosis are:
WEBSITES AND APPS:
CarbManager A great App to keep track of your Carb intake and help you stay on track. The subscription is a bonus, but not needed.
Perfect Keto This is a great site with detailed/scientific information…You do not need to sign up for anything, just go to learn.
Ketodietapp Another site with good information, but not necessary to sign up for. I also tried the App and while it is good, I like the CarbManager better.
Macro Calculator Before your begin, you will need to calculate your Macros, using your weight, age, etc. These numbers will be applied to the CarbManager App, so you know your proper intake to stay in ketosis. It also should be recalculated after EVERY ten pounds lost, so that your Macros adjust.
COOKING AND BAKING KETO-STYLE:
Cooking and Baking with Low Carb ingredients takes some practice.
Almond and Coconut Flour do not have gluten, so it’s necessary to use other ingredients to help give them a lift when using them in some recipes.
Also, since corn or flour are NOT Keto friendly, you will have to find other ingredients to use for thickening. Some of these rising and thickening ingredients are eggs, xanthan gum, baking powder, chia seeds, and arrowroot powder. (Winco has all these in bulk).
So, be sure to read through the actual recipe article and comments of the following recipes before making them so you get all the tips that the authors have to offer, and avoid wasting ingredients. I will make a note next to the recipe, if I made any changes.)
Recipes that I have personally tried and enjoy.
Tortilla Chips (I also use the whole amount for my pizza crust, just roll out to fit a cookie sheet)
Cream Cheese Pancakes (This can be made ahead of time and made into something savory or used as a crepe- treat too!)
Cheesecake (Very yummy with some berries on top)
Taco Soup (I just use regular canned tomatoes….Rotel brand is lower carb)
Keto Mug Bread (I’ve tried several mug breads and found this one to be the best, plus you can make the dry mix up ahead of time!! I use a small-medium egg for this)(I have also found square containers, so it more closely resembles bread: Rachel Ray Ramekins)
Bacon Cheeseburger Casserole (I double this recipe to make a 9×13 and omit the garlic, keep only 1 onion, use McCormicks Montreal Steak Seasoning, use 3 TBL. Dill Relish, instead of actual pickles, and finally, I add 1 can of drained diced tomatoes.Then I cook it for it for 35-40 minutes, until the egg is cooked. Also, this is perfect topped with shredded lettuce after its cooked, for the cheeseburger “crunch”)
Chocolate Keto Blender Cupcakes (I stick with the heavy cream on this one)
Vanilla Berry Mug Cake (Tastes just like a blueberry muffin when you add some blueberries)
Low Carb Zuppa Toscana Soup (I roast my cauliflower in the oven first, using the bacon/sausage grease and add a couple cloves of chopped garlic with the onion)
Keto Chili (Have fun adding and taking away ingredients from this one….consider it a meat only chili)
Soft Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies (I used Almond Emulsion instead of Vanilla extract. I also used it in the frosting.)
STAPLE FOOD ITEMS:
- Heavy Cream
- Berries (Unsweetened Frozen is nice since you use so little at a time)
- Almond Flour (Blanched)
- Coconut Flour
- Golden Flax Seed (Better tasting than plain flax…buy whole from Winco and then grind them with a clean coffee grinder when you need them)
- Whole psyllium Husk
- Xantham Gum
- Alternative Sweetener (I like Swerve, which is a Sugar alcohol or also called Erythitol. Get both Confectioners and Granular. Another Erythitol brand is Sukrin, which has a good Brown Sugar alternative. I also use Monk Fruit and Stevia liquids, which both are derived from Plants. The Monk fruit is more of a mild sweetness, while Stevia can turn bitter if you use too much, so I only use the flavored ones so I don’t have to use so much.)
- Lillys Chocolate Chips
- Sour Cream (Full fat)
- Sugar Free Syrup (I like Maple Grove Farm brand found at Walmart)
- MEAT (Chicken, Beef, Pork, Fish, bacon, sausage, ect. Try to avoid deli meats because cornstarch is generally added)
- Sugar free Dressing (Walden Farms puts out a decent one….you can also have full fat Ranch)
- Sugar Free Pudding (These will add some flavor to some whipped cream for days you need some extra fat)
- Sugar Free Jello (Eating jello will help you get through if you have eaten all your fat, protein, or carbs for the day)
- Ghee (This is clarified butter and has a higher frying smoke point than regular butter)
- Himalayan Sea Salt (This salt has minerals that you need)
- Zip Fizz (I find that drinking this helps give back the vitamins and minerals I don’t get, from cutting out fruit, but a multivitamin supplement can be taken as well)
- Sugar free peanut or almond butter (Get small containers because you should only eat very little and it can go rancid quickly. I try to stay away from a lot of peanut butter since it is technically a legume)
- Sugar free jam (Smuckers has a strawberry and raspberry)
- Coconut Oil (The refined coconut oil works well for recipes and frying, without the coconut aftertaste)
- Cream Cheese
- CHEESE (Mozzarella Cheese and Cheddar cheese are used in a lot of recipes, but having any flavor cheese, including cheese sticks, on hand is nice for snacking)
- VEGGIES (Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Zucchini, Cucumbers, Spinach, Mini Peppers, etc. Fresh is nice, but keep some frozen, so it’s readily available)
- Pickles (Dill …it’s a nice go to snack)
- Sugar Free Water flavors (I like MIO brand. This will help break up the monotonous of water, while keeping up your water intake)
- Chicken and Beef Bouillon (This is necessary for the first couple of weeks, getting into ketosis, but also good to keep on hand for recipes and days you need a filler) (If you have a Costco membership, their deli rotisserie chicken makes a very yummy chicken broth and Costco doesn’t add sugar to their chickens!)
- Canned Tomatoes (All spaghetti sauce has added sugar, except for Rao’s brand, but it is pricey, so have tomatoes on hand to make your own Marinara sauce)
- Parchment Paper (Sticky ingredients keep from burning on baking sheets…can even use baking mats)
- Silicone Mats (A lot of recipes can be sticky and will require to be rolled out and parchment prevents the “stick” but the paper slides, so this helps)
- Rolling pin/stick
- Food Processor
- Coffee Grinder (To be used only for herbs and seeds, like Flax Seed. Do not grind oily foods up, like coffee beans or peanuts or everything else you grind up will taste like it.)
- Measuring Cups/Spoons
- Kitchen Scale
The KETO Diet should just be a gateway diet into a healthy, low-carb eating Lifestyle!
This information should get you started on your Healthy Eating Journey!! Soon, you will have lost weight, gained energy, are sleeping better, and have an overall good feeling, both emotionally and physically!
Enjoy your FOOD FREEDOM!
Sample Meal Plan:
Bfast: Coconut flour pancakes, Sugar free syrup, Butter
If you like coffee add heavy whipping cream or coconut oil to increase fats
*add peanut butter to top your pancakes if you like with sugar free jam
Lunch: Fathead Pizza topped with a simple tomato sauce, more cheese, and toppings – not pineapple!
Snack: Nuts (Cashews are best, but any nuts work)
Dinner: Chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese, spinach, mozzarella cheese, egg, topped with half cup marinara sauce
Side of broccoli if you need a side (cover in cheese)
Bfast: 2 – 3 egg Omelet with sausage or bacon, cheeses, and veggies (peppers, broccoli, etc)
Lunch: Leftover dinner from the night before
Snack: Celery with cream cheese or peanut butter
Dinner: Mozzarella tacos (no beans)
Bfast: scrambled eggs with cheese and salsa and cream cheese, Bacon/sausage
Lunch: broccoli and cheese soup
Snack: Cheese and meat rollups with pickles
Dinner: pork chops with creamy sauce and broccoli/asparagus (whatever), Salad with ranch and nuts and cheese, no croutons