What Is Keto? A Beginner’s Guide to the Ketogenic Diet

Updated on March 25, 2018
Daniella Lopez profile image

Danielle Lopez is a published fantasy author, freelance health and medical writer, finance author, and certified birth & bereavement doula.

With Keto, you can have your steak, and eat it, too!
With Keto, you can have your steak, and eat it, too! | Source

My First Experience With Keto

One morning over breakfast, my boyfriend announced that he would like to try out the keto diet to help aid him in his fitness goals. I stared at him blankly, took another bite out of my carb-filled bagel, and did a quick Google search (like a good millennial) to figure out what exactly he was talking about. He’s an engineer and I’m a writer, so I’m often found consulting Google in order to have a semi-comprehensible conversation with him.

After a little digging, and my brain equating keto with no carbs and caveman-levels of meat consumption, I quickly informed him that it sounded like the dietary equivalent of a loveless relationship. He insisted that he still wanted to try it out. I sighed and did what every stay-at-home mother does: I created a Pinterest board and quickly set out to pin as many keto recipes I could find that looked even remotely appealing. After spending a large sum of time pinning recipes and makeup contouring tips that I’ll never do, I set out on a cooking quest.

My first keto-creation consisted of a venison meatloaf. I’m well-versed in cooking with venison, as well as making meatloaf, but this recipe did require me to change up a few of my go-tos when making meatloaf. I had to avoid adding grain/gluten (bye bye, bread crumbs), as well as high fructose corn syrup (there goes most ketchups and BBQ sauce), and sugar (and there goes my secret ingredient: brown sugar). Overall though, the recipe wasn’t daunting and the end result was delicious and enjoyed by the whole family. It has still been an adjustment, however, to not make mashed potatoes with meatloaf. So, instead of the usual carb-filled side dish, I've begun making salads as a side to our meatloaf. Thankfully, no one has protested the sudden inclusion of a ton of greens to our diet, yet.

A Keto diet can only be successful if you also include a healthy fitness regime.
A Keto diet can only be successful if you also include a healthy fitness regime. | Source

What Is Keto?

So, what exactly is ketosis and the keto diet, anyway? The keto diet helps your body enter a state known as ketosis. Ketosis is where your body uses body fat, instead of carbohydrates, to fuel itself. Studies have shown that this is optimal for brain health and activity.

It takes time for the body to enter into ketosis, usually around a 3 to 7 days. However, altering your diet alone will not do much of anything. In order for keto to truly work, you need to alter your lifestyle.

Keto works best when your diet, fitness, and food sources are all working synergistically. You must workout for keto to work. Hydration is also incredibly important during keto, but it needs to be high grade hydration, such as found in water and herbal teas. Also, where you source your food from counts when working towards optimal health with keto. This means you need to source quality, grass fed meats and dairy. Basically, you’ll be shopping at the farmer’s market, or even your own backyard, often while on keto.

For best results, exercise on an empty stomach, maintain healthy fluid levels, minimize your carb intake to only 20g per day, and eat a diet of Keto-approved foods. It’s generally recommended to only do this for about a week, as that appears to be a sufficient amount of time to retrain the body in how it obtains it’s fuel for energy. Once you’ve gone through this step, you can slowly reintroduce some carbs (stick with the healthy ones, like bananas).

A Keto Favorite at Our House: Meatball Bake with Green Beans and Venison Sausage

What Can You Eat on Keto?

So, what exactly can and can’t you eat on keto? The diet really isn’t as restrictive as I initially thought. It’s very similar to Atkins and Paleo. Most foods that are naturally high-fat and high-protein are keto-approved.

Foods that are 100% Keto-approved include:

  • Grass-fed/high protein/wild caught meats (deer, buffalo, fatty fish, etc.)
  • Healthy oils like olive oil, grass-fed butter, ghee, lard, tallow, and coconut oil.
  • Most fruits and vegetables (Go for nutrient-dense, low carb fruits and veg, such as leafy greens)
  • Nut butters (especially fatty nuts, like almond)

Some of the foods that fall into the “eat sparingly” Keto food list include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cured meats (Sometimes contains additives not helpful in a keto diet)
  • Garlic and onions
  • Most full-fat dairy (Hard cheeses especially.)
  • Coffee (Coffee is keto-friendly when consumed in moderation. "Bulletproof coffee" (see below) is usually the preferred method of making coffee while on keto.)
  • Carb-rich fruits (Such as bananas.)

Lastly, keto foods to avoid include:

  • Margarine and vegetable oil
  • Low fat or fat free products
  • Most foods that come prepackaged

For a more concise food list, check out this article.

Bulletproof Coffee is Considered Keto-Friendly

Keto Isn’t for Everyone

The carb restrictions and fast weight loss can make keto not ideal for certain individuals, including people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Individuals interested in starting a new diet plan, including keto, should always consult with their primary health care provider before embarking upon intensive dietary alterations.

Alternatives to keto, but similar, that may be safer for pregnant and nursing women include the Dr. Brewer’s Diet and Paleo. Both diets maintain a heavy focus on healthy proteins and fats, while also maintaining a carbohydrate load that helps to nourish a baby and mother. Again, always consult your healthcare provider before beginning a dietary plan.

Have you tried Keto? Leave a comment detailing if Keto worked, or didn't work, for you.

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Possible Side Effects with Keto

Like all diets, Keto doesn't come without some risks, and it isn't recommended for everyone. Some possible side effects of Keto include:

  • Rapid weightloss
  • Drop or complete loss of milk supply in lactating women
  • Constipation
  • "Keto Rash"
  • Dehydration
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Drowsiness
  • Sugar/carb cravings
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath

If you begin experiencing heart palpitations, muscle weakness, or shortness of breath, consult with your primary health care provider immediately. While these are not common symptoms, some people have reported them after trying a Keto diet.

Before Beginning Keto

Once you’ve gotten the OK to begin keto from your primary health care provider, it‘s a good idea to be completely prepared before jumping right in. Develop a game plan, in conjunction with advice from your health care provider, that is right for you.

First, get on a good multivitamin. While on keto, you may miss out on some of the essential vitamins and minerals you need to maintain a healthy you. Try to find a multivitamin that is targeted for your age range and sex.

Secondly, find a fitness program. You couldo obtain a gym membership, or you may choose to take up cycling or another physical activity. Either way, find a fitness plan that works for you and stick with it all throughout ketosis and beyond.

Lastly, find a support partner, or two, who can help you stay accountable. It could be someone who is doing the diet and workout with you, or just someone you know who will check in with you to make sure it’s all going well.

Be sure to find ways to make this dietary and lifestyle transition enjoyable for you. Make fun meals, plan a fun workout, and try to hang out with friends and family who support and encourage you on this journey.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Danielle Lopez

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      • wpcooper profile image

        Finn Liam Cooper 

        2 months ago from Los Angeles

        Well it sounds very interesting although I don't know about the absence of carbs - good for prediabetics and where to obtain the grass fed mammals since most meat products are produced on farms that provide their specimens with high levels of hormone filled products. I have heard about similar diets working for people wanting to pursue new health regiments...and your article inspires me to want look further.

      • sarahspradlin profile image

        Sarah Spradlin 

        3 months ago from Little Rock, Arkansas

        I know a lot of my friends swear this/

      • profile image

        gerry 

        4 months ago

        i still cant understand what is keto can you buy it then add to your food

      • Blond Logic profile image

        Mary Wickison 

        7 months ago from Brazil

        This type of eating program is one my friend follows. She started using this program for weight loss and she has lost a lot of weight and kept it off. It has been a total life changing experience for her. Not only has it helped her to lose weight but she has seen a lowering of cholesterol as well.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 

        7 months ago from Germany

        Very interesting and informative hub. This is the first time I have heard and read about Keto diet. Thanks for the heads up.

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