The Ketogenic Diet 101: A Beginner’s Guide

What is a Keto Diet? A keto diet is well..

The Ketogenic Diet 101: A Beginner’s Guide

What is a Keto Diet?

A keto diet is well known for being a low carb diet, where the body produces ketones in the liver to be used as energy. It’s referred to as many different names – ketogenic diet, low carb diet, low carb high fat (LCHF), etc. When you eat something high in carbs, your body will produce glucose and insulin.Glucose is the easiest molecule for your body to convert and use as energy, so it will be chosen over any other energy source.

Insulin is produced to process the glucose in your bloodsteam, by taking it around the body. Since the glucose is being used as a primary energy, your fats are not needed, and are therefore stored.

Typically on a normal, higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as the main form of energy.

By lowering the intake of carbs, the body is induced into a state known as ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process the body initiates to help us survive when food intake is low.

During this state, we produce ketones, which are produced from the breakdown of fats in the liver.

The end goal of a properly maintained keto diet is to force your body into this metabolic state. We don’t do this through starvation of calories, but through starvation of carbohydrates.

Our bodies are extremely adaptive to what you put into it – when you overload it with fats and take away carbohydrates, it will begin to burn ketones as the main energy source.

Ketogenic Diet Benefits

As a side note, I would encourage you to get a full blood lipid panel done before starting the plan, so that you can compare the results of your blood work before and afterwards.

Freedom from hypoglycemia, food fixations and sugar cravings.This is by far the best benefit in my opinion. Having control over your eating habits is very empowering.

Lack of hunger:

Ketone bodies dampen the appetite, and fat is very satisfying. You’ll notice at times, you may forget to eat. You may find this is the most amazing part, especially if you struggle with food addiction issues.

Lower blood pressure:

Low carb diets are very effective at reducing blood pressure. If you are taking any blood pressure medications, be aware that you might start feeling dizzy from too much medication while on a ketogenic diet plan. You may be able to reduce your BP meds (talk to your doctor first).

Drop in Cholesterol:

Cholesterol is made from excess glucose in the diet. As you eat less sugar creating foods, you do less damage to your arterial system and inflammation drops.

Your cholesterol will drop as your body has less glucose from which to make it, and less need for repairing the damages of inflammatory chemicals.

Increase in HDL Cholesterol (the more saturated fat you eat, the higher it will go.) This is actually a good thing, because it improves the ratio of HDL/LDL. Higher HDL levels (above 39 mg/dL) indicate a healthier heart.

A drop in triglycerides:

carbohydrate consumption is closely tied to triglyceride levels, and one of most well known ketogenic diet benefits.

The less carbohydrate you eat, the lower your triglycerides readings will go. The ratio of triglycerides to HDL (expressed Triglyceride/HDL) is the best predictor of heart attack risk and is one of blood test results to which you should really pay attention.

The closer this ratio is to 1:1, the healthier you are. 

Drop in fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin levels:

less sugar coming in, less sugar driving up blood sugar and insulin levels.

Your levels of C Reactive Protein (CRP) and HbA1c proteins will decrease. These are both markers of inflammation and heart disease risk.

More energy. You’ll be amazed at how much energy you have. Any chronic fatigue symptoms should get better. If you are taking a statin (a cholesterol lowering drug) see my statins page on my other website. Statins compromise cellular mitochondria which results in fatigue and muscle pain.

Decrease in stiffness and joint pain. This is one of the best side effects of following a ketogenic diet plan. The diet eliminates grain based foods from your diet, and they, in my opinion are the biggest cause of chronic illness and pain, especially muscle stiffness and joint pain. As I often say, no grain, no pain.

Clearer thinking. The “fogginess” that accompanies a high carb diet will disappear. My theory on this is that the brain is over 60% fat by weight, and the more fat you eat, the better it can maintain itself and work to its full capacity. Others more scientifically inclined might talk about essential fatty acids and neurotransmitter function.

Changes in your sleep patterns and an improvement in sleep apnea symptoms. I believe that sleep apnea is tied to grain consumption, the heartburn it causes, and reactive hypoglycemia from a high carb diet. I used to have apnea, but once I cut grains out of my diet and permanently reduced my carb intake, I no longer have it, just as I no longer get heartburn or hypoglycemia. Another sleep benefit of eating less carbs is that those urges to take a late afternoon nap will go away. Not falling asleep at your desk every afternoon is one of the best ketogenic diet benefits.

Weight loss:

sticking to a ketogenic diet plan can be very effective for normalizing your weight.

However, if you have very high fasting insulin (and high insulin resistance) you may need to add a high intensity exercise program like Doug McGuff’s Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week.

High intensity training has the effect of increasing the insulin sensitivity of your muscles, thereby decreasing your fasting insulin and help you lose weight.

While one of the most common ketogenic diet benefits is weight loss, it may not be as easy as it has been advertised for some.

Most people who are very heavy have very broken metabolisms. However, they are also the people who are most likely to experience many of ketogenic diet benefits. I am one of those people. 

Heartburn relief:

If you suffer from GERD or other heartburn issues, the symptoms should lessen or disappear. Heartburn, I believe, is a direct result of eating grain based foods, sugar and for some people, nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes. I also believe it is tied to problems with sleep apnea, as described above in the sleep section.

Gum disease and tooth decay: sugar changes the pH of your mouth and contributes to tooth decay. Three months into a ketogenic diet, any gum disease you might have will decrease or disappear.

Digestion and gut health get better. You will see a decrease in stomach pain, bloating, gas etc.. These are all associated with grain and sugar consumption.

Mood stabilization. Ketone bodies have been shown to be beneficial in stabilizing neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine which result in better mood control.

As you can see from the list above, the temporary unpleasant effects of switching to a ketogenic diet are totally worth it when you experience the many ketogenic diet benefits.

What foods to eat:

Fat

When buying meats, you want to try and get those with a good fat content.  If you are using lean meat, add fat to it like butter or coconut oil if you are trying to reach your fat macro.

  • Coconut oil
  • Tallow
  • Duck fat
  • Olive oil
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Red Palm Oil
  • Avocado Oil
  • Macadamia Nut Oil
  • MCT Oil

 

Meats/Proteins

When buying meats, you want to try and get those with a good fat content.  If you are using lean meat, add fat to it like butter or coconut oil if you are trying to reach your fat macro.
  • Bacon
  • Steak
  • Ground beef
  • Eggs
  • Ribs (Pork/Beef/Lamb)
  • Roasts (Pork/Beef/Lamb)
  • Pork Loin, Chops & Steaks
  • Chicken (skin-on breasts, thighs, wings, drumsticks)
  • Ham
  • Sausages
  • Deli meats (double check nutrition for certain brands that use carb fillers)
  • Cured Meats (pepperoni, salami, prosciutto)

 

Seafood (CANNED OR FRESH)

  • Shrimp
  • Lobster
  • Tilapia
  • Cod
  • Scallops
  • Crab
  • Tuna
  • Albacore
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Oysters

 

Dairy

The key to finding keto-friendly dairy is to look at the carb and sugar content.  

Regular cows milk is generally out as it’s fairly carb heavy, but heavy creams are a great and tasty substitute.  Experiment with new cheese findings!

  • Full-fat cheeses
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Full-fat sour cream
  • Butter (avoid margarines)
  • Full-fat cream cheese

 

Vegetables

You will want your carb sources to basically be vegetables/limited fruits.  The purpose of this diet is to eat high fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate.

  • Asparagus
  • Squash (spaghetti, butternut, etc.)
  • Peppers (jalapeno, bell, banana, etc.) 
  • Mushrooms
  • Cucumbers
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Various leafy greens (spinach, romaine, arugula, bib lettuce, etc.)
  • Broccoli
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Garlic 
  • Onion 

 

Fruits

  • Avocado
  • Blueberries 
  • Raspberries 
  • Blackberries 
  • Strawberries 
  • Cranberries 

 

Nuts & Seeds

Be careful when consuming nuts. They are extremely easy to overeat and they do have a carb content. This includes nut butters.

 

Condiments

  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Soy sauce (tamari if you’re eating gluten-free like me)
  • Hot sauce
  • Salad dressings (full-fat Ranch, Caesar, Bleu Cheese, Italian) 
  • Lemon/Lime Juice

 

Misc.

  • Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • almond milk (unsweetened)
  • coconut milk/cream (unsweetened)
  • Almond meal/flour
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Pork Rinds
  • Beef Jerky
  • Dark Chocolate (85% cocao+)

 

Sweetners

  • Erythritol
  • Stevia
  • Splenda (I don’t use this, personally, but many do)

 

This is just a simple and barebones version of a ketogenic diet food list.

 It will then be your choice to decide whether some things are worth purchasing, like diet sodas, for example. Always read the food labels to make sure they are low in carbs!

What Happens To My Body

Your body is used to the simple routine of breaking down carbohydrates and using them as energy.
Over time the body has built up an arsenal of enzymes ready for this process, and only has a few enzymes for dealing with fats – mostly to store them.All of a sudden your body has to deal with the lack of glucose and increase in fats, which means building up a new supply of enzymes. 

As your body becomes induced into a ketogenic state, your body will naturally use what’s left of your glucose.

This means your body will be depleted of all glycogen in the muscles – which can cause a lack of energy, and a general lethargy.

In the first few weeks, many people report:
  • Headaches
  • Mental fogginess
  • Flu-like symptoms (known as the “keto-flu”)
  • Dizziness
  • Aggravation
  • Yep, it’s pretty much a week of PMS for everyone!

 

Most of the time, this is the result of your electrolytes being flushed out, as ketosis has a diuretic effect. Make sure you drink plenty of water and keep your sodium intake up.

In fact, you should go overboard with the salt – salt EVERYTHING! This will help with water retention, and help replenish the electrolytes.

For a normal person that is starting a ketogenic diet, eating 25-40g of net carbs a day, the total adaptation process will take about 2 weeks.

My advice is to cut your carbs to fewer than 15g to ensure that you are well on your way into ketosis within 1 week.

You may notice that if you’re an avid gym goer, you lost some strength and endurance. This is normal. Once your body becomes keto-adapted, your body will be able to fully utilize the fats as its primary source of energy.

Many studies done have shown that there is no long term drop in performance for professional athletes on a very low carb ketogenic diet. Many also report more energy at sustainable levels throughout the day.

Ketogenic Diet Example Meals

Breakfast
  • 4 ounces ground beef, mixed with spices, 1 ounce of chopped onion, another ounce of low carb vegetables, fried in butter or olive oil
  • unsweetened herbal tea or coffee with heavy cream

 

Lunch
  • 4 oz baked fish with dill butter sauce
  • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped and sauted in butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup of salad greens sprinkled with blue cheese and dressed with a tablespoon of full fat dressing
  • water or unsweetened flavored sparkling water or other unsweetened beverage

 

Dinner
  • 6 oz pulled pork shoulder
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage sauteed in butter with caraway
  • salad greens with high fat dressing
  • water or unsweetened flavored sparkling water or other unsweetened beverage
  • unsweetened herbal tea or coffee with heavy cream

 


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Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

We eat clean, are always motivated and helpout beginners in need. We sell guides on Cutting, Bulking and Muscle Building. Checkout our website!

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