Ketogenic diet for beginners

A keto or ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet which can help you burn fat more effectively. Many people have already experienced its proven benefits for weight loss, health and performance.

What “keto” means

The “keto” in a ketogenic diet comes from the fact that it allows the body to produce small fuel molecules called “ketones”. This is an alternative fuel source for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.

Ketones are produced if you eat very few carbs (that are quickly broken down into blood sugar) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein can also be converted to blood sugar). The liver produces ketones from fat. These ketones then serve as a fuel source throughout the body, especially for the brain.

On a ketogenic diet, your entire body switches its fuel supply to run mostly on fat, burning fat all the time. When insulin levels become very low, fat burning can increase dramatically. It becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn them off. This is great if you’re trying to lose weight, diabetic or looking to improve your metabolic health but there are also other less obvious benefits such as reduced hunger and a steady supply of energy which can help keep you alert and focused.

When the body produces ketones, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis. The fastest way to get there is by fasting – not eating anything – but nobody can fast forever.

A keto diet, however, can be eaten indefinitely and also results in ketosis. It has many of the benefits of fasting, including weight loss, without having to fast.

A ketogenic diet is NOT for…

  • Elite athletes or those wishing to add large amounts of muscle or weight.
  • Special consideration has to be given to those who:
    • take medication for diabetes
    • take medicines for high blood pressure

How to get into ketosis

    1. Restrict carbohydrates
    2. Restrict protein
    3. Eat enough fat
    4. Avoid snacking
    5. If necessary, add intermittent fasting
    6. Add exercise
    7. Sleep enough.

Ketogenic diet - foods to eat

Base most of your diet on real low-carb foods (<5%) like meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and plenty of low-carb veggies.
  • Meat -Red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken and turkey.
  • Fatty fish -Such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel.
  • Eggs -Look for organic/pastured or omega-3 whole eggs.
  • Butter and cream – Grass-fed when possible.
  • Cheese -Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella).
  • Nuts and seeds -Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
  • Healthy oils -Primarily extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil.
  • Avocados -Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
  • Low-carb veggies grown above ground -Most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
  • Condiments -You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.
Drink: water, coffee (with small amount of milk and no sugar), herbal/tea and bone broth.

High carb foods to be eliminated on a ketogenic diet

  • Sugary foods – Soda, fruit juice, smoothies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc.
  • Grains or starches – Wheat-based products, rice, pasta, cereal, etc.
  • Fruit – All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries.
  • Beans or legumes – Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Root vegetables and tubers – Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
  • Low-fat or diet products – These are highly processed and often high in carbs.
  • Some condiments or sauces – These often contain sugar and unhealthy fat.
  • Unhealthy fats – Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils, mayonnaise, etc.
  • Alcohol – Due to their carb content, many alcoholic beverages can throw you out of ketosis.
  • Sugar-free diet foods – These are often high in sugar alcohols, which can affect ketone levels in some cases. These foods also tend to be highly processed.

Side effects from ketogenic diet

  • Although the ketogenic diet is safe for healthy people, there may be some initial side effects while your body adapts. This is often referred to as the keto flu and is usually over within a few days. Keto flu includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance.
  • To minimise this, you can try a regular low-carb diet for the first few weeks. This may teach your body to burn more fat before you eliminate carbs.
  • A ketogenic diet can also change the water and mineral balance of your body, so adding extra salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements can help.
  • At least in the beginning, it is important to eat until you’re full and avoid restricting calories too much. Usually, a ketogenic diet causes weight loss without intentional calorie restriction.

How you know you’re in ketosis

Tell-tale symptoms include keto (fruity) breath, dry mouth and increased thirst from increased urination.

Measuring ketosis

It is possible to measure ketosis by testing:
  • urine using urine strips
  • breath using breath-ketone analysers
  • blood using ketone meters like the HCT range which measure the exact and current level of ketones in your blood.

Reaching optimal ketosis

You can be in different degrees of ketosis, as this chart demonstrates.

The following numbers refer to values when testing blood ketone levels:
  • Below 0.5 mmol/l is not considered “ketosis”, although a value of, say, 0.2 demonstrates that you’re getting close. At this level, you’re still far away from maximum fat-burning.
  • Between 0.5 – 1.5 mmol/l is light nutritional ketosis. You’ll likely be getting a good effect on your weight, but perhaps not optimal.
  • Around 1.5 – 3 mmol/l is called optimal ketosis and is sometimes recommended for maximum mental and physical performance gains. It tends to maximize fat burning, which may increase weight loss.
  • Over 3 mmol/l is higher than necessary. It will probably achieve neither better nor worse results than being at the 1.5–3 level. Higher numbers can also sometimes mean that you’re not getting enough food (“starvation ketosis”). For type 1 diabetics, it can be caused by a severe lack of insulin that requires urgent attention.
  • Over 8–10 mmol/l: It’s normally impossible to get to this level just by eating a keto diet and means something is wrong. The most common cause by far is type 1 diabetes, with severe lack of insulin. Symptoms include feeling very sick with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and confusion. The possible end result, ketoacidosis, may be fatal and requires immediate medical care.