Ketogenic Diet: A Beginner’s Ultimate Guide to Keto
This article was previously published May 26, 2018, and has been updated with new information.
Increasing numbers of people around the world are suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and the main culprit is usually the food they eat. The standard American diet, for example, consists of excessive amounts of protein, processed grains and carbohydrates — particularly in the form of refined, added sugars — none of which is good for your health.
If you continue on a diet like this, eventually you will develop insulin and leptin resistance and, as a result, you not only will gain excess weight, but will develop chronic inflammation and will become prone to mitochondrial and cellular damage.
To get back on the road to health and stay there, significant changes in your diet are necessary. These changes begin with first understanding what mitochondria are, and then learning their importance to your overall health.
Next, you need to know how inducing your body into a state of nutritional ketosis, a condition in which your body burns fat as its primary fuel, can regenerate your mitochondria. But, in order to reach nutritional ketosis, you must follow a ketogenic diet. So, what exactly is a ketogenic diet?
This guide will tell you everything you need to know about a ketogenic diet — how you can apply it to your lifestyle and what positives you can reap from it.
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
A ketogenic diet is a dietary approach that focuses on minimal carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein and high healthy fat consumption — the three keys to achieving nutritional ketosis. In fact, it’s what I recommend for most people who would like to optimize their health.
There are many reasons why you should try a ketogenic diet. It can be very beneficial for people suffering from chronic conditions, or for those who would simply like to be healthier. You’ll be excited to know that a ketogenic diet can help with the following:
• Weight loss — If you’re trying to lose weight, then a ketogenic diet is one of the best ways to do it, because it helps access your body fat so that it can be shed. Obese people in particular can benefit from this method.
In one study, obese test subjects were given a low-carb ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet. After 24 weeks, researchers noted that the low-carb group lost more weight (9.4 kilograms or 20.7 pounds) compared to the low-fat group (4.8 kilograms or 10.5 pounds).1
Even my own body was able to feel the benefits of following a ketogenic diet. I was able to drop my weight from 180 to 164 pounds, despite eating 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. Since then, I have increased my consumption to 3,500 to 4,000 calories just to maintain my ideal weight.
• Fighting inflammation — The human body can use both sugar and fat as fuel sources. However, fat is preferred because it is a cleaner, healthier fuel that releases far fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals. By eliminating sugar from your daily food consumption, you’re decreasing your risk of developing chronic inflammation throughout your body.
• Increasing muscle mass — Jeff Volek, Ph.D., is a registered dietitian specializing in how a high-fat, low-carb diet can affect health and athletic performance.
He’s written many scientific articles on this topic, as well as two books, and he explains that ketones have a similar structure to branched-chain amino acids that can be useful for building muscle mass. Ketones spare these amino acids, leaving higher levels of them around, which can help promote muscle mass.
• Reducing appetite — Constant hunger can cause you to consume more calories than you can burn, which can eventually lead to weight gain. A ketogenic diet can help you avoid this problem because reducing carbohydrate consumption can reduce hunger symptoms. In one study, participants who were given a low-carbohydrate diet had reduced appetites, helping them lose weight easier.2
• Lowering insulin levels — When you consume carbs, they are broken down into sugars in your body. In turn, this causes your blood sugar levels to rise and leads to a spike in your insulin. Over time, you may develop insulin resistance, which can progress to Type 2 diabetes.
By altering your diet to a ketogenic approach, you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers noted that diabetics who ate low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets were able to significantly reduce their dependency on diabetes medication, and may even reverse it eventually.3
Keto May Help Lower Your Risk of Cancer
Cancer is a devastating disease and is one of the leading causes of death all over the world. To make things worse, the medical profession has practically ignored evidence that indicates cancer as a metabolic and mitochondrial problem, causing conventional cancer treatment methods to fall short on their promises.
I believe (as well as the numerous experts I have interviewed) that over 90% of cancer cases are either preventable or treatable. The key here is to view cancer as a metabolic dysfunction, allowing you to gain control over this dreadful disease. Simply put, the right foods and strategies may help suppress cancer growth while simultaneously pushing it into remission.
What most people don’t know is that cancer cells are mainly fueled by glucose. In this regard, the ketogenic diet may be the best answer. By depriving them of their primary source of fuel, as well as protein restriction, cancer cells will literally starve to death.
In addition, research regarding the ketogenic diet in relation to fighting cancer has grown over the years, and the data indicate that aside from being a form of cancer prevention, the ketogenic diet may help complement common cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.4
Different Types of Ketogenic Diets You Can Try
There are several variations of the ketogenic diet based on specific needs:
• Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD) — SKD is the type I typically recommend for most people, because it is very effective.
It focuses on high consumption of healthy fats: As I explain in my book, “Fat for Fuel,” you should aim for having 70% to 85% of your total daily calories to come from healthy fats. For your protein intake, the general rule of thumb is to follow the formula of 1 gram of protein for every kilogram of your lean body mass. Your net carbohydrates should be no more than 4% to 10% of your daily calories.
Keep in mind that there’s no set limit to the fat, because energy requirements vary from person to person, depending on their daily physical activities. However, the majority of your calories still need to come from fats, and you still need to limit your consumption of carbohydrates and protein for it to become a standard ketogenic diet.5
• Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD) — TKD is generally geared toward fitness enthusiasts. In this approach, you eat the entirety of your allocated carbs for the day before and after exercising. The idea here is to use the energy provided by the carbs effectively before it disrupts ketosis.6
If you’re following this approach, I recommend that you eat carbs that are easily digestible with a high glycemic index to avoid upsetting your stomach. Then, when you’re done exercising, increase your intake of protein to help with muscle recovery, then continue consuming your fats afterward.
• Cyclic Ketogenic Diet (CKD) — Whereas TKD is focused on fitness enthusiasts, CKD is focused more on athletes and bodybuilders. In CKD, you cycle between a normal ketogenic diet, and a short period of high carb consumption or “re-feeds.”7 The idea here is to take advantage of the carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen lost from your muscles during athletic activity or working out.8
If you’re a high-level athlete or bodybuilder, CKD may be a viable method for you. It usually consists of five days of SKD, followed by two days of carb-loading. Again, this method isn’t recommended for most people who do not have a high rate of physical activity.9
• High-protein Ketogenic Diet — This method is a variant of the SKD. In a high-protein diet, you increase the ratio of protein consumption to 10% and reduce your healthy fat consumption by 10%.
In a study involving obese men that tried this method, researchers noted that it helped reduce their hunger and lowered their food intake significantly, resulting in weight loss.10 If you’re overweight or obese, this may help you at first, then you can transition to SKD after you normalize your weight.
• Restricted Ketogenic Diet — As mentioned earlier, a ketogenic diet can be an effective weapon against cancer. To do this, you need to be on a restricted ketogenic diet. By restricting your carbohydrate and calorie intake, your body loses glycogen and starts producing ketones that your healthy cells can use as energy. Because cancer cells cannot use these ketones, they starve to death.11
As of the moment, there is no industry standard as to how many calories should be consumed in a restricted ketogenic diet, but there are published studies that provide estimates.
In one example, a 65-year-old woman who was suffering from glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive type of brain cancer, was put into a restricted ketogenic diet that started with water fasting and then proceeded to consuming 600 calories a day only.
After two months, her weight decreased and the ketones in her body elevated. Furthermore, there was no discernable brain tumor tissue detected using magnetic resonance (MRI) or fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) imaging scans.12
In another study that involved mice with brain tumors, administration of 65% to 75% of the recommended daily calories helped reduce tumor growth by 35% and 65% among two different test groups. Total carb consumption was restricted to 30 grams only.13 A different mice study strictly limited carb consumption to 0.2% only, which helped reduce the growth of glucose-fermenting tumors.14
In a pilot trial published in Nutrition & Metabolism, a 70-gram carbohydrate restriction combined with a ketogenic diet may help improve quality of life among patients affected with late-stage cancer. However, more trials will need to be conducted regarding its effectiveness against cancer progression, according to the researchers.15
At any rate, if you wish to undergo a restricted ketogenic diet for specific health reasons, consult with your doctor first. They may be able to help you figure out the optimal number of calories to consume and carbohydrates to restrict for maximum effectiveness.
Popular Low-Carb Diets Versus the Ketogenic Diet: How Do They Compare?
Of course, the ketogenic diet is not the only low-carb diet out there, and you may have heard of other popular eating strategies that may help improve your health. So how do they stack up against the ketogenic diet?
• Atkins Diet Versus Ketogenic Diet — The Atkins diet is a low-carb eating program promoted by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who wrote about it back in 1972.16 In essence, the diet is all about restricting carbohydrate consumption while emphasizing protein and healthy fats as sources of fuel, as well as high-fiber vegetables to help promote weight loss.17
Similar to the ketogenic diet, with Atkins you will have to avoid starchy and sugary sources of carbohydrates like bread, pasta and potatoes, as well as processed meats and junk foods. Instead, you will consume more grass fed meats, pasture-raised eggs, cheese and fatty fish.18
One key difference that set the early Atkins diet apart from the present ketogenic diet was that it allowed unlimited consumption of protein,19 which can cause a significant drawback to your health.20 Research suggests that excessive protein consumption can stimulate your mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, accelerating aging and cancer growth.
Atkins has since revised its protein recommendations,21 however, and now instructs followers to weigh their protein servings and avoid eating “too much” protein as it not only can interfere with your weight loss, but may cause carb cravings.
• Paleo Diet Versus Ketogenic Diet — The Paleo diet is another popular eating trend based on the habits of our Paleolithic ancestors. Its foundation focuses on eating lean meat, seafood, fresh fruits and nonstarchy vegetables. You must also remove processed foods, drinks, grains and sugar from your eating habits for the Paleo diet to have a positive effect on you.
While research suggests that the Paleo diet may benefit your health, one foreseeable problem with this eating regimen is that it consumes too much protein, which can negatively affect your health in the long run. Instead, I believe it is far better to moderate your protein intake and increase consumption of healthy fats.
How Many Carbs a Day Should You Get on a Ketogenic Diet?
When determining the ideal max carbs on keto, I believe that the following amounts can be effective for most people:
• 70% healthy fats
• 25% high-quality protein
• 5% carbohydrates
Ideally, your keto carb limit should be kept to under 50 grams a day, or 4% to 10% of your daily calories. This will help you transition to burning fat for fuel. However, this number may change depending on various factors. For example, if you have Type 2 diabetes, you will have to restrict your carb intake to as little as 20 grams per day. All in all, you will have to rely on your body’s feedback to help you identify the ceiling amount for your carb intake.
How to Get Started on the Ketogenic Diet
Taking your first step into the ketogenic diet is an exciting phase for your health. But before coming up with an actual ketogenic diet food list, it’s important to first take a look at what you’re eating now and take out anything that’s unhealthy. This means that you have to remove sugars, grains, starches and packaged and processed foods from your diet. Basically, anything that won’t add to your new eating regimen has to go. This is what I call a “pantry sweep.”
Furthermore, avoid drinking milk because it contains the carbohydrate galactose — drinking just one glass can basically eat up your entire carb allotment for the day. In addition, avoiding milk helps lactose-intolerant people to implement the ketogenic diet. The table below provides a good overview of many other foods that are surprising sources of sugar. If you have any of the following in stock, I encourage you to take them out immediately:
|Fresh or dried fruits
|Many Thai and Vietnamese dishes, such as Pad Thai
|Packaged salad dressings
|Commercially prepared smoothies
Hydrogenated fats, such as canola and sunflower oil, must also be avoided, as they’re typically high in omega-6 fats, which can easily throw off your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
Another thing that you should work on improving is your skill in reading product labels, particularly total carbohydrates. This will be your most important indicator to help you compute your overall carbohydrate consumption, allowing you to create your ketogenic diet.
The Best Keto Diet Foods to Eat
When it comes to the core of an actual ketogenic diet, remember that you need to consume only moderate amounts of protein, or about one-half gram per pound (1 gram per kilogram) of lean body mass, each day. In addition, carbohydrates must be minimized and high-quality fats increased to serve as your new fuel source.
To ease yourself into a ketogenic diet meal plan, I recommend adding C8 medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil into your food. It’s typically more expensive than other types of MCT oil, but I prefer it because it converts into ketones more effectively.
You can start with 1 teaspoon per day, then gradually increase your consumption to 2 to 3 tablespoons. If your stomach does not agree with MCT oil, you can try MCT powder, which is easier on your stomach. From there, you can start adding more healthy fats to your diet using the keto food list below:
• Fats — As mentioned earlier, the bulk of your daily calorie consumption (around 70%) should come from healthy fats. This will help your body switch from burning sugar to fat for energy in the long run because you’re removing the majority of carbohydrates from your system. To get you started on the right path, you can refer to the table below:
Raw, grass fed butter
Grass fed meats
Raw cacao butter
Lard and/or tallow
Ghee (clarified butter)
Organic pastured eggs
Olives and olive oil (make sure they are third-party certified because most olive oils are diluted with vegetable oils)
Raw nuts, such as macadamia, almonds and pecans
Animal-based omega-3 fats from healthy sources such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and krill
Various seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, cumin and hemp
For dairy-based healthy fats, make sure that they are made from raw, grass fed milk. This ensures that you’re getting the best nutrition possible because grain-fed sources may potentially harm your health due to pesticide exposure.
To help compute your daily fat calorie requirements, you can use an app like my completely free Cronometer or MyFitnessPal, which has a large database of foods. Make sure to enter the correct food and track your servings properly.
• Protein — The ideal protein intake should be one-half gram per pound (or 1 gram per kilogram) of lean body mass per day. This will help you maintain enough muscle mass without triggering your mTOR. Excess protein can stimulate this pathway, which may increase your risk of cancer. Common sources of protein include red meat (beef and pork) and poultry (chicken). To find out how much protein you’re consuming, follow this handy guide:
• Red meat, pork and poultry contain 6 to 9 grams of protein per ounce
• One egg contains 6 to 8 grams of protein
• Seeds and nuts average 4 to 8 grams of protein per quarter cup
• Cooked beans have 7 to 8 grams of protein per cup
Whatever the source of protein you consume, make sure they are organic grass fed and antibiotic-free, as they are generally healthier and safer for your body. In one study, researchers indicated that grass fed beef (regardless of cuts) contains more omega-3 acid and conjugated linoleic acid compared to grain-fed beef.22 As for non-meat sources of protein, try to look for organic and pesticide-free varieties.
• Vegetables — Veggies play an important part in the ketogenic diet because they are low in carbohydrates and high in dietary fiber, a nutritional component that can help promote better digestion and overall gut health. Research indicates that fiber can offer various health benefits, depending on what type you consume:
◦ Soluble fiber — This type of fiber helps you feel full longer, which can prevent you from overeating. It also hinders the breakdown and digestion of dietary cholesterol, which may help normalize your cholesterol levels. Additionally, it helps slow the rate of carb digestion, which may control blood sugar spikes.
◦ Insoluble fiber — Commonly found in vegetables, this type of fiber adds bulk to your stool, which can help facilitate regular waste elimination. In addition, it may reduce the risk of bloating, pain and constipation.
◦ Digestive-resistant starch — This type of fiber ferments in your large intestines, nourishing your gut bacteria to support optimal health.
Leafy vegetables are great sources of fiber (as well as various nutrients and antioxidants), such as:
You may also consider adding these other low-net carb vegetables to your regular meals:
It’s important that you strictly consume the vegetables recommended above, as they are low in carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes,23 sweet potatoes,24 corn,25 white beans26 and green peas are high in carbohydrates, making them unfit for the ketogenic diet.
• Nuts — Real nuts, which come from trees, are great for helping you meet your fat requirements. They also make for great keto-friendly snacks if you suddenly feel the need for a quick bite. There are several healthy options to choose, such as:
◦ Macadamia — Out of all nuts, macadamia nuts have the highest fat, with low protein and carb content. They’re also rich in other nutrients such as manganese, thiamin and magnesium.
◦ Pecan — This type of nut comes close to macadamia’s fat content, and has high magnesium and manganese content, too.
◦ Walnut — Consuming this nut can help boost your omega-3 intake, as well as your copper, biotin and manganese levels.
◦ Brazil nuts — These nuts are known for their selenium content, which possesses effective antioxidant capabilities. They also have a good combination of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
• Fruits — While fruits are generally healthy for you, the majority of them should be avoided in a ketogenic diet because of their high amounts of sugar. This includes healthy (but sweet) ones such as bananas, apples, mangoes and grapes.
However, certain citrus fruits and berries are safe to eat in moderate quantities, because they are rich in antioxidants that support your health.
- Limes and lemons (You can add a few slices to your drinking water)
- Grapefruit (eat a few sections in lieu of vegetables)
• Beverages — As for beverages,..