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Keto Diet: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide

The keto diet (short for ketogenic) is a low carb/high fat diet that has recently gained popularity in the diet world. Boasting quick weight loss while allowing followers to indulge in fatty foods that are typically off-limits in other styles of eating, the ketogenic diet relies on the body’s process of ketosis, or the breaking down of both dietary and stored fat for energy. 

The Ketogenic diet can also lead to faster weight loss based on the staple foods of the diet. Foods high in fat and protein result in more satiety compared to processed carbohydrates. This change in fuel sources leaves followers feeling less hungry while still being able to lose weight.

Although research is unclear on the long-term effects of following this diet, there are pros and cons to consider when deciding if the ketogenic diet is right for you. Let’s take some time to go in depth on the keto diet to help you decide if it the diet for you!

Based on this shift in fuel source from glucose to fat, the body’s insulin levels can drop dramatically and stabilize, which can aid in weight loss. Getting into true ketosis can be difficult as everyone’s body responds differently to carbohydrates and fats. To ensure true ketosis is met, it can be helpful to consult a medical professional, and use tools such as Ketone strips, which show followers whether they are in a true state of ketosis or not.

Without the proper testing and processes to determine whether you are in ketosis or not, this diet can turn into a guessing game. If ketosis is not truly reached, the results and benefits of this diet may never be utilized to their full potential. To understand the differences in protocols, let’s take it back to the origins of the keto diet to understand what it was truly created for.

Where did the keto diet come from?

Although the keto diet has been popularized for weight loss over the past ten years, it has been used in clinical settings for decades and has been shown to effectively treat epilepsy in children. Given other neurological side effects of the diet, research is also beginning to show efficacy in treating other diseases such as parkinsons, alzheimers, and certain forms of cancer.

First and foremost, the keto diet was not invented for weight loss, but as a therapeutic diet for those suffering from epilepsy. “Classic Keto” founded by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1923 has a more strict breakdown than more mainstream keto diets, where 90% of calories come from fat, 6% from protein, and 4% from carbs.

Potential followers of this diet should also understand that in a clinical setting, the diet is very controlled. Patients following this protocol are not simply eating steak and avocado all day. In these clinical settings, food choices are monitored by Registered Dietitians and Physicians, who ensure saturated/unsaturated fat ratios, fiber, and the necessary vitamins and minerals are taken into account, to prevent nutrient deficiencies an adverse reactions to improper nutrient ratios.

How to start the keto diet

For those wanting to start the keto diet, it’s important to first think through your eating style and preferences. Since the keto diet relies heavily on fat and protein, you should enjoy these foods and feel that you can sustain eating high quantities of them. Given keto’s inherent restrictions around carbohydrates, planning and preparing foods ahead of time is also key to success.

Below are some simple steps to start the keto diet in a sustainable and balanced way!

1. Begin reading and understanding food labels

To follow the keto diet, food choices must provide the body with the correct amount of fat and protein to lead to ketosis. If you are unfamiliar with foods that allow for this, it can be helpful to start paying attention to your favorite foods and what their macronutrient (protein, fat, carbs) profiles look like.

2. Find keto recipes you enjoy

From a sustainability approach, finding recipes you enjoy and can easily prepare is extremely important no matter what diet you follow. Given keto’s specifics, taking the time to identify and experiment with new recipes can be key to sticking to the keto diet but also enjoying your food!

3. Develop mindfulness/awareness around calorie intake through logging

Too often, followers just jump into keto and start eating whatever they want that fits within the bounds of keto. Although satiety may be easier to maintain given these dense foods, logging should not be overlooked.

A common mistake for beginners starting the keto diet is that there is no planning around calories or overall food intake. For many, keto is approached as an “eat as much as I want and still lose weight” approach, which is just plain wrong! Given the caloric density of the staple foods on the keto diet, logging and mindfulness around daily calorie budget should be a top priority. To help this planning and mindfulness, let’s jump into foods you can expect to eat while following the keto diet.

female chopping food ingredients

Below, is a basic keto diet food list to help you get started finding the staples you can use on keto.

Produce

  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Cucumber
  • Onion
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Celery
  • Avocados
  • Spinach

Protein

  • Chicken breast
  • Deli turkey
  • Grass-fed ground beef
  • Pork chops
  • Bacon
  • Salmon fillets

Dairy

  • Grass-fed butter
  • Full-fat yogurt
  • Cheddar cheese

Seasonings

  • Cayenne
  • Paprika
  • Garlic
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Hot sauce

Healthy fats

  • Almond butter
  • Mayo
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Coconut milk
  • Cashews
  • Avocado
  • Walnuts

Keto diet recipes

To provide those new to keto with ideas on what keto meals may include, we have compiled a list of some of our favorite keto recipes. Keep in mind, a sustainable and balanced approach to any diet but especially keto should include some form of meal logging or calorie tracking, to ensure proper amounts of macronutrients and calories are consumed. 

Breakfast

Keto Egg Cups: A staple keto breakfast, these egg cups provide a portable and filling breakfast option.

Keto Breakfast Sandwich: A keto sandwich? That’s right, this low carb breakfast will keep you full and not missing bread at all. 

Keto Mexican scramble: A filling and flavorful scramble that transforms boring eggs to a flavorful and spicy breakfast.

Lunch

Keto Hamburger Salad: Everything that is good about a hamburger, just in salad form! 

Turkey Veggie Roll-up: A fresh and healthy keto lunch option that relies on crisp veggies and protein rich lunch meat. 

Low Carb Greek Chicken; A one pan wonder! Herby and flavorful greek chicken that is easy to prepare for the week.

Dinner

Baked Salmon: Full of healthy omega-3s and anti-inflammatory properties, salmon should be a staple in any diet, but especially keto! This is a simple and flavorful approach to cooking this fatty and healthy fish. 

Chicken with Avocado Salsa: Bacon + chicken + avocado = enough said.

Vegetarian Keto Salad: Although it can be difficult to follow the keto diet as a vegetarian, these recipes can be a great staple and help you approach keto with vegetarian choices in mind!

7 day keto meal plan

To give more insight, and provide a jumping off point for starting keto, we have created a 7 day keto meal plan that can be tweaked and adjusted based on your preferences and choices. This serves to give you an idea of what meals can include and how to utilize the keto grocery list provided.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Avocado and kale scramble
  • Snack: Almond butter and 100% dark chocolate
  • Lunch: Turkey veggie roll-up
  • Dinner: Pork chop with cauliflower rice

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs
  • Snack: Celery with guacamole
  • Lunch: Chicken salad
  • Dinner: Meatballs on zucchini noodles

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Egg and sausage scramble
  • Snack: Almonds and macadamia nuts
  • Lunch: Chipotle chicken bowl with extra guacamole
  • Dinner: Roasted Salmon with asparagus 

Day 4

  • Breakfast: Keto smoothie with protein powder, almond butter, and cinnamon
  • Snack: Egg salad with veggies
  • Lunch: Low carb greek chicken
  • Dinner: Grilled steak with broccoli 

Day 5

  • Breakfast: Egg cups
  • Snack: Celery and peanut butter
  • Lunch: Hamburger in lettuce wraps
  • Dinner: Peanut satay

Day 6

  • Breakfast: Keto smoothie with protein powder, almond butter, and cinnamon
  • Snack: Beef jerky and half avocado
  • Lunch: Salmon poke bowl
  • Dinner: Beef stir fry

Day 7

  • Breakfast: Avocado and kale scramble
  • Snack: Almonds and macadamia nuts
  • Lunch: Tuna salad on cucumbers
  • Dinner: Roasted chicken and cauliflower mash

1. MCT oil

MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) oil is a form of fatty acid most commonly found in coconut. These supplements are extremely concentrated amounts of MCT which are efficient at being picked up by the liver and used for energy. Be warned, a little goes a long way! This oil can be added to coffee, protein shakes, or taken in capsule form.

2. Fish oil

A healthy supplement for anyone, fish oil is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which have been associated with reduced inflammation. These fatty acids will not be used as quickly or effectively as MCT for energy, but can be a great supplement for keto diet followers, especially those who are not big fans of eating fish.

3. Exogenous ketones

Although research is limited, exogenous ketones look to mimic the internally produced ketones of the body. When taken, they can help followers reach ketosis faster, but should not replace a high fat diet approach to ketosis.

Keto benefits

As mentioned earlier, keto’s efficacy comes from the process of burning fat for energy instead of glucose. All of us probably know that the body stores fat. This however does not mean that eating fat, causes the body to store more fat. The body stores any excess calories, whether fat, protein, or carbs as body fat. This process is truly evolutionary and meant to aid in survival during times of famine or food shortage. Given present day food security, this natural process of storing excess calories as fat has resulted in individuals gaining weight and developing many metabolic conditions.

The keto diet’s ability to harnesses this survival process and create a favorable environment for body fat to be used as fuel, leads to many benefits including: 

Weight loss: When in ketosis, the body uses body fat as fuel, which can be an efficient way to lose weight. 

Reduced appetite: The process of ketosis can impact certain hunger hormones which may lead to a reduced appetite. The food choices on keto are also more calorically dense which can also lead to higher satiety with less consumed food overall. 

Stabilized blood sugar/energy levels: Once in ketosis, the body’s insulin and blood sugar levels can stabilize, resulting in more energy and fewer crashes throughout the day. 

Mental clarity: Recent research has demonstrated that certain ketones, specifically β-hydroxybutyrate (where them #NoomNerds at?!), could be a more efficient fuel for the brain, when compared to glucose. This could result in higher mental clarity and overall energy when in ketosis.

Keto risks

Although you may be loving the food choices, benefits, and weight loss potential keto can provide, the risks of this diet should be taken seriously. Given its intense and restrictive nature, there are risks associated with starting the keto diet. The most common short term risks include:

Nutrient Deficiencies: Limiting fruits, vegetables, and grains can lead to a deficiency in micronutrients that are important for a healthy body. Supplements and careful food selection should be used to prevent deficiencies.

“Keto Flu”: Reaching true ketosis can take time. Removing the fuel source that your body has used for most if not all of your life, can lead to unfavorable symptoms. Followers of the diet typically refer to the two to three week period of adaptation as the “keto flu”. The keto flu can include fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritability. As the body adapts to using ketones as fuel, these symptoms should improve.

Liver/kidney problems: Although less common, sudden increases in protein consumption can take a toll on the systems that metabolize protein i.e. the kidneys and liver. These risks are typically higher if the diet is not approached in a fat-dominant way. Eating meat all day every day is not keto, and can have negative consequences on the body.

Is Keto right for you?

It’s true that the keto diet can be an effective way to lose weight and manage blood sugar levels, but the keto diet’s efficacy is called into question looking at long term success. There is very little research on the long term implications of following the diet because it is so difficult for most to maintain.

Given the history of this diet, it’s true that it does serve an important purpose in clinical settings and treating conditions such as epilepsy. Does this mean it’s the right diet for your weight loss goals? That is up to you! 

Like with any diet, completely cutting out a food group is not sustainable and can be difficult to follow. At Noom, we don’t think restrictive diets are sustainable. Awareness around your preferences and habits is where power to reach your goals is truly found. Tired of going in and out of ketosis? Tired of yo-yo dieting? Want to have your carbs and eat them too? Try Noom today to find your true sustainability!