The Ketogenic Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide to Keto

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The ketogenic diet is characterized by a drastically reduced consumption of carbohydrates, which are instead replaced with fats, promoting fat-burning as the body’s main energy source. This dietary approach can lead to benefits such as weight loss and a reduced risk of certain health conditions.

The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is characterized by its low-carb, high-fat composition and is associated with a multitude of health benefits.

Various scientific studies prove that this diet can help in shedding excess weight and boosting overall health.

According to different studies Ketogenic diets may provide potential benefits in the fight against conditions like diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease. Study 1, Study 2, Study 3, Study 4

Let’s take a look at a detailed beginner’s guide to the keto diet.

What is a ketogenic diet (keto diet)?

The Basics

The ketogenic diet, which is high in fats and extremely low in carbohydrates, has a lot in common with the Atkins and other low-carb diets.

This diet requires a significant decrease in carbohydrate consumption, which is replaced with fat. As a result of this drastic reduction in carbs, your body enters a metabolic state known as ketosis.

When your body enters ketosis, it becomes very efficient at using fat as an energy source. Additionally, it transforms fat into ketones within the liver, which can then provide energy for the brain. Study 1

Ketogenic diets can lead to substantial decreases in blood sugar and insulin levels. Combining that with the elevation of ketones, this brings about several health benefits. Study 1, Study 2

Types of ketogenic diets

Here are several variations of the ketogenic diet:

  • Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): This diet includes very low carb, moderate protein, and high fat intake. It typically comprises 70% fat, 20% protein, and just 10% carbs. Study 1
  • Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): This diet features phases of higher carb consumption, for example, five ketogenic days with two high carb days.
  • Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): This diet allows the inclusion of carbohydrates around physical workout sessions.
  • High Protein Ketogenic Diet: This is similar to the standard ketogenic diet but includes a higher amount of protein. The typical ratio is 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.

What is ketosis?

Ketosis is a metabolic condition where your body relies on fat as its primary energy source instead of carbs.

This state is achieved when you substantially decrease your carbohydrate intake, restricting the availability of glucose (sugar) – the primary energy provider for cells.

Following a ketogenic diet is the best method to achieve ketosis. This typically means limiting carbohydrate consumption to around 20g (grams) to 50g (grams) per day and focusing on fats, such as those found in meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and healthy oils.

Maintaining a moderate protein intake is also important because if too much protein is consumed, it can be converted into glucose. This could potentially slow down your transition into the ketosis state.

Adding intermittent fasting into your routine may also accelerate your body’s transition into ketosis. There are various intermittent fasting methods available, but the most common approach involves limiting food consumption to approximately 8 hours daily and fasting for the remaining 16 hours.

You can use blood, urine, and breath tests to determine if you’ve entered ketosis, as these tests measure the amount of ketones your body is producing.

There are specific symptoms that may suggest you’ve entered ketosis, such as amplified thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination, and diminished hunger or appetite.

Ketogenic diets can help you lose weight

According to many studies adopting a ketogenic diet can be an effective approach to losing weight and diminishing the chances of developing risk factors for diseases. Study 1, Study 2, Study 3, Study 4, Study 5

Studies indicate that the ketogenic diet might be equally effective for weight loss as a low-fat diet. Study 1, Study 2, Study 3

Moreover, the ketogenic diet can be so satisfying that you can shed pounds without monitoring your calorie intake or meticulously tracking your food consumption.

A review of 13 studies determined that adhering to a very low carb, ketogenic diet was slightly more advantageous for maintaining long-term weight loss than a low-fat diet. Individuals who adhered to the keto diet lost an average of 2 pounds (0.9 kg) more weight than those who followed the low-fat diet.

Additionally, following the ketogenic diet resulted in reductions in diastolic blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

In a study that involved 34 older adults, it was observed that those who followed a ketogenic diet for eight weeks lost almost five times more total body fat than those who followed a low-fat diet.

The ketogenic diet’s ability to increase ketone levels, lower blood sugar levels, and enhance insulin sensitivity may also have a crucial role to play for weight loss.

If you want to learn more about the weight loss benefits of the ketogenic diet, you can refer to this article for more information.

Ketogenic diets for diabetes and prediabetes

Changes in metabolism, high blood sugar, and insulin dysfunction are defining features of diabetes.

According to many studies, adopting a ketogenic diet can help you lose excess body fat, which is closely associated with type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Study 1, Study 2, Study 3, Study 4

An older study discovered that the ketogenic diet led to a remarkable 75% improvement in insulin sensitivity.

In a small study involving women with type 2 diabetes, it was found that following a ketogenic diet for 90 days resulted in a significant decrease in levels of hemoglobin A1C which is a marker of long-term blood sugar regulation.

In another study involving 349 people with type 2 diabetes, it was observed that those who followed a ketogenic diet lost an average of 26.2 pounds (11.9 kg) over two years. This is a crucial benefit when taking into consideration the connection between weight and type 2 diabetes.

Moreover, the individuals in the study experienced better blood sugar control, and there was a decrease in the use of specific blood sugar medications by the participants throughout the study period.

Other health benefits of keto

The ketogenic diet was initially developed as a remedy for neurological disorders, particularly epilepsy.

Research has now shown that the diet can be beneficial for a broad range of health conditions:

  • Heart disease: It can help improve risk factors like body fat, HDL (good) cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Study 1, Study 2
  • Cancer: The diet is being investigated as a possible supplementary treatment for cancer, as it may help reduce the growth of tumors. Study 1, Study 2
  • Alzheimer’s disease: The keto diet may help reduce symptoms and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Study 1, Study 2
  • Epilepsy: Research shown that the diet can cause significant reductions in seizures in children with epilepsy.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Although more research is required, one study indicated that the diet helped improve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: The ketogenic diet may help lower insulin levels, which could play a crucial role in polycystic ovary syndrome. Study 1, Study 2
  • Brain injuries: Some research suggests that the diet may lead to improved results in people with traumatic brain injuries.

It is important to note that the research regarding many of these areas is not yet conclusive.

Foods to avoid

Any food that is high in carbohydrates should be limited or eliminated.

The following foods should be limited or eliminated when following a keto diet:

  • Sweet items: soft drinks, fruit juices, smoothies, cakes, ice cream, sweets, etc.
  • Grains and starches: products containing wheat, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.
  • Fruits: all fruits, except small amounts of berries such as strawberries.
  • Beans and legumes: green peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Root vegetables and tubers: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
  • Low-fat or diet products: low-fat mayo, salad dressings, and condiments.
  • Certain condiments and sauces: bbq sauce, honey mustard, teriyaki sauce, ketchup, etc.
  • Unhealthy fats: processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Alcoholic beverages: beer, wine, spirits, cocktails, etc.
  • Sugar-free diet items: sugar-free candies, syrups, puddings, sweeteners, and desserts.

Foods to eat

You should mainly focus around the following foods for your meals:

  • Meat: red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken, and turkey.
  • Fatty fish: examples include salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel.
  • Eggs: choose pastured or omega-3 enriched whole eggs.
  • Butter and cream: opt for grass-fed butter and heavy cream.
  • Cheese: select unprocessed varieties such as cheddar, goat, cream, blue, or mozzarella.
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
  • Healthy oils: use extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil.
  • Avocados: consume whole avocados or freshly prepared guacamole.
  • Low-carb vegetables: include green vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
  • Condiments: season with salt, pepper, herbs, and spices.

For optimal health, base your diet predominantly on whole, single-ingredient foods. Here is a list of the 20 best keto diet foods.

A one-week keto meal plan example:


  • Breakfast: Tomatoes and vegetable egg muffins.
  • Lunch: Chicken salad with feta cheese, olives, olive oil, and a side salad.
  • Dinner: Butter-cooked salmon and asparagus.


  • Breakfast: Spinach, tomato, basil, and egg omelet.
  • Lunch: Almond milk, peanut butter, spinach, cocoa powder, and stevia smoothie, served with sliced strawberries.
  • Dinner: Cheese-shell tacos with salsa.


  • Breakfast: Chia pudding with nut milk, topped with coconut and blackberries.
  • Lunch: Shrimp and avocado salad.
  • Dinner: Parmesan-crusted pork chops with broccoli and a side salad.


  • Breakfast: Spiced omelet with avocado, salsa, peppers, and onions.
  • Lunch: Guacamole and salsa with celery sticks and a handful of nuts.
  • Dinner: Pesto and cream cheese-stuffed chicken with grilled zucchini on the side.


  • Breakfast: Sugar-free, whole milk Greek yogurt with peanut butter, cocoa powder, and berries.
  • Lunch: Ground beef lettuce wrap tacos with sliced bell peppers.
  • Dinner: Loaded cauliflower with mixed vegetables.


  • Breakfast: Cream cheese pancakes with blueberries and a side of grilled mushrooms.
  • Lunch: Zucchini and beet “noodle” salad.
  • Dinner: Olive oil-cooked white fish with sautéed kale and pine nuts.


  • Breakfast: Fried eggs with mushrooms.
  • Lunch: Low-carb sesame chicken and broccoli.
  • Dinner: Spaghetti squash Bolognese.

Consistently switch up the meat and vegetables in your diet, as each type offers different nutrients and health benefits.

Healthy keto snacks

If you feel hungry between meals, consider these keto-friendly snack options:

  • Fatty meat or fish
  • Cheese
  • A small serving of nuts or seeds
  • Keto sushi bites
  • Olives
  • One or two hard-boiled or deviled eggs
  • Keto-friendly snack bars
  • 90% dark chocolate
  • Full-fat Greek yogurt combined with nut butter and cocoa powder
  • Bell peppers with guacamole
  • Strawberries and unflavored cottage cheese
  • Celery sticks with salsa and guacamole
  • Beef jerky
  • Smaller portions of leftover meals
  • Fat bombs

Keto tips

Following the path of a ketogenic diet may seem daunting, but using various tips and tricks can help ease the process. Here are some of them:

  • Begin by familiarizing yourself with food labels, checking fat grams, carbs, and fiber content to determine how your preferred foods fit into your diet.
  • Planning meals ahead of time can be advantageous and save you time throughout the week.
  • Numerous websites, food blogs, apps, and cookbooks provide keto-friendly recipes and meal ideas, helping you create a personalized menu.
  • Some meal delivery services offer keto-friendly choices for a hassle-free way to enjoy keto meals at home.
  • Consider healthy frozen keto meals when you’re short on time.
  • When attending social events or visiting loved ones, think about bringing your own food, making it simpler to resist temptations and adhere to your meal plan.

Tips for eating out on a ketogenic diet

While the ketogenic diet is generally safe for most healthy people, some initial side effects may occur as your body adjusts.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that these effects, often called the keto flu, usually subside within a few days. Keto flu symptoms reported include diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Other less frequent symptoms are:

  • poor energy and mental function
  • Increased hunger
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Reduced exercise performance

To mitigate these effects, consider starting with a regular low-carb diet for the first few weeks, which can help your body learn to burn fat more effectively before fully cutting out carbs.

A ketogenic diet may also change your body’s water and mineral balance, so adding extra salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements could be beneficial. Consult your doctor about your specific nutritional requirements.

In the beginning stages, it’s crucial to eat until you’re full and avoid excessive calorie restriction. A ketogenic diet typically results in weight loss without intentional calorie limitation.

Risks of the keto diet

Maintaining a keto diet in the long term may lead to some negative effects, including risks of:

  • Low blood protein levels
  • Excess fat in the liver
  • Kidney stones
  • Micronutrient deficiencies

Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, a type of medication for type 2 diabetes, can increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis—a dangerous condition that raises blood acidity. Those taking this medication should avoid the keto diet.

Long-term safety of the keto diet is still being researched. Keep your doctor informed about your dietary plan to ensure proper guidance.


Supplements are not needed but can be useful:

Frequently asked questions

Here are responses to some common questions regarding the ketogenic diet.

1. Can I consume carbs again?

Yes, but initially, you should significantly reduce your carb intake. After the first 2 to 3 months, you can have carbs on special occasions however, you must return to the diet right after.

2. Will I lose muscle?

Any diet carries the risk of losing some muscle. However, adequate protein consumption and high ketone levels may help minimize muscle loss, particularly if you do weight training. Study 1, Study 2

3. Can I build muscle on a ketogenic diet?
Yes, but it might not be as effective as on a moderate carb diet. Study 1, Study 2

4. How much protein should I consume?
Keep protein consumption moderate since a very high intake can increase insulin levels and decrease ketones. Around 35% of total calorie intake is likely the upper limit.

5. What if I constantly feel tired, weak, or fatigued?
You might not be in full ketosis or efficiently utilizing fats and ketones. To address this, lower your carb intake and review the points above. Supplements like MCT oil or ketones may also help.

6. My urine has a fruity odor. Why?
Don’t worry. This is due to the excretion of by-products produced during ketosis.

7. My breath has an unpleasant smell. What can I do?
This common side effect can be managed by drinking naturally flavored water or chewing sugar-free gum.

8. Is ketosis extremely dangerous, as I’ve heard?
People often confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is dangerous, but ketosis on a ketogenic diet is typically safe for healthy individuals. Consult your doctor before starting any new diet.

9. I’m experiencing digestive issues and diarrhea. What can I do?
This common side effect usually subsides after 3 to 4 weeks. If it continues, try consuming more high-fiber vegetables.


A ketogenic diet may be ideal for individuals who:

  • are overweight
  • have diabetes
  • want to enhance their metabolic health

However, it might not be the best fit for elite athletes or those aiming to gain significant muscle mass or weight.

The diet may also not be sustainable for certain people’s lifestyles and preferences. Consult your doctor about your dietary plan and objectives to determine if a keto diet is suitable for you.

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