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Nutrition » Diets » Keto » The Keto Diet Basics: Foods, Tips, and Benefits

The Keto Diet Basics: Foods, Tips, and Benefits

Keto Diet Basics

What is a keto diet? 

A keto diet is a nutrition trend that has become extremely popular in recent years. It is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat eating plan that helps put the body into nutritional ketosis. This low-carb diet involves eating high-fat foods like cheeses, oils, dairy products, avocados, eggs, bacon and more. At the same time, it excludes high carbohydrate foods that can be found in most fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, alcohol, grains, and sugars. Although ketogenic dieters eat a lot of high-calorie foods, it is considered to be an extremely effective way to lose weight. The standard ketogenic diet recommends limiting your intake of carbohydrates to 50 grams or 5% of your daily calorie intake. 75% of daily calorie intake should come from healthy fat and about 20% from protein (6).What is a keto diet? 

How does it work? 

When people stick to a regular diet plan that includes carbohydrates, the body converts them into glucose (blood sugar) which is then used as a source of energy. Glucose is the primary source of energy in our bodies and if we are lacking it, then it starts using stored fat for fuel. The main goal of this eating pattern is to minimize your carb intake to make the body use fat as a source of energy. When you drastically reduce your consumption of carbs and increase fat intake, your liver starts producing ketone bodies from fat. Ketone bodies are small molecules that serve as an alternative source of energy for the body and brain. Ketosis is a state when your body uses ketone bodies (fat) as a primary source of energy. This diet contains all essential nutrients, and minimizes feelings of hunger as you can eat high fat foods that lead to a feeling of satiety. Thus, elimination of carbohydrates forces the body to start the process of breaking down fats which leads to weight loss.

Keto diet benefits

Numerous studies show that this eating plan not only promotes weight loss but also has plenty of health benefits (6). Above all, it can help reduce the risk of health conditions like cancer, acne, diabetes, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease (4, 5, 1). Moreover, this diet can help: 

  • Stabilize blood sugar 
  • Increase energy
  • Lose weight
  • Reduce food cravings
  • Improve brain function

How to start? 

Start a keto diet step by step, gradually reducing your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams per day. Increase your fat intake every day for satiety, while maintaining your protein the same. All meals should be planned in advance, evaluating the nutritional value of each of them. It is important not to deprive your body of fiber. Fiber is extremely important for intestinal health and can help you get into ketosis without experiencing symptoms of keto flu. If you can’t rigidly track your carb intake, you can try a gradual elimination method. Remove onethe source of carbohydrates from your diet every week. For example:

For example:

  1.  Replace sugary drinks with non-calorie ones during Week 1.
  2.  Remove all desserts and sweet snacks such as cakes, pastries, and chocolate bars.
  3. The third week is the time to say goodbye to starchy foods like pasta, pizza and packaged snacks.
  4. Remove all bread, rolls and starchy vegetables.
  5. By Week 5 you are probably down to 50 g of carbs a day. If you want to restrict carbohydrates further, then cut out fruit and sauces that contain carbs.

how to start

What to eat on a keto diet? 

If you’ve decided to follow a keto diet, then you should know that there are specific foods that are to be avoided in order to stay in ketosis and lose weight effectively. A keto diet restricts more than 100 foods that can lead to metabolism slow-down and  limit the fat-burning abilities of the body. Let’s find out what foods are to be included and avoided to get yourself on track for success.

Keto diet foods

You should base your keto meal plan around these foods: 

  • Meat and animal protein: beef, poultry, pork, lamb, goat, turkey, organ meats (liver, tongue), ham, sausage, bacon, eggs
  • Seafood: mackerel, salmon, tuna, trout, cod, oysters, lobster, crab, octopus, shrimp
  • Fats and oils: butter, ghee, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, lard, duck fat, and avocado oil or avocados
  • Non-starchy vegetables:  most greens such as lettuce and kale, tomatoes, celery, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, peppers
  • Dairy: cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue, parmesan, mozzarella), sour cream, full-fat yogurt, mayonnaise, heavy cream
  • Low-sugar fruits: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, cherries
  • Nuts and seeds: macadamia nuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds

What to eat on a keto diet? 

Keto diet snacks

The best thing about the keto diet is that it reduces hunger pangs  since you are eating high-fat foods that promote a feeling of satiety (2). This low-carb diet is nutritious, so snacking is The low-carb diet is nutritious but due to the high-fat content of foods, regular snacking is not a good idea as it may lead to overconsumption of calories. If you regularly have a feeling of hunger and are snacking all the time, then try to add more fat and protein to your meals (1). However, if you occasionally need a little something to get you through, a perfect snack will be a handful of nuts, coffee with butter, bacon chips, hummus, cheese, or full-fat yogurt. But many people prefer keto smoothies. Here are a few keto smoothie recipes that will help you satisfy your hunger if you are on a keto diet. 

Kia Smoothie with Chia Seeds

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp chia seed
  • ½ cup fresh spinach
  • 5-10 mint leaves
  • 1 cucumber
  • 5-7 strawberries
  • ½ lemon
  • ¼ lime
  • 1 cup cream (fatty)
  • 1-2 tsp sweetener

Preparation:

Soak chia seeds in cold boiled water for 7-10 min. Process the following ingredients in your blender: spinach, mint, cucumber (cut into cubes), strawberries, lemon, and lime, add cream and sweetener, do not forget about chia seeds. The smoothie is ready!

Vegetable Smoothie

Vegetable Smoothie

Ingredients:

  • ½ cucumber
  • ½ lemon
  • parsley – to taste
  • ½ avocado
  • 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1 cup coconut (or plain) water

Preparation:

Process all ingredients in a blender. A refreshing smoothie is ready! Yes, that’s so simple.

Keto diet tips

Avocado smoothie

Ingredients:

  • avocado
  • green banana
  • a handful of spinach
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 cup of kefir
  • 1 tsp match
  • sweetener to taste

Preparation:

In a blender, mix all the ingredients and enjoy a light bite.

Foods to avoid 

  • Grains: wheat, barley, oats, rice, corn, rice, buckwheat, bulgur millet
  • Sugar: honey, raw sugar, sugar syrups, honey
  • Beans and legumes: chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, green peas
  • Fruits: bananas, pineapple, apples, oranges, grapes, dried fruits
  • Starchy or sugary veggies: carrots, potatoes, corn, cherry tomatoes, winter squash
  • Dairy: milk, fat-free or low-free dairy products
  • Unhealthy oils: corn, sunflower, canola, soybean oil
  • Alcohol and soda: beer, cider, any fizzy drinks, any zero/diet drinks

Keto diet tips

  • Track your water intake and drink a lot of water
  • Make sure to get enough protein to prevent muscle loss
  • Do not eat too much protein as excess protein is converted to glucose which can interfere with ketosis
  • Replenish electrolytes to avoid symptoms of keto flu
  • Most carbs should come from non-starchy vegetable
  • The best fats are olive oil, ghee butter, red meat, and coconut oil
  • Carefully track all your carbs, fats and protein intakes to get into ketosis

Is a keto diet safe?

There is clear evidence that a ketogenic diet can help treat obesity and improve insulin resistance (2). But the long-term effects of the ketogenic diet on overall health need further research. Here are a few things you should know before you start. Yes, you might lose pounds really quickly, but you should also watch out for the side effects or complications.

Drastic changes in nutrition can cause headaches, dizziness, weakness and fatigue, aches throughout the body, nausea and other common symptoms of flu. Often, people who stick to a keto diet experience this kind of discomfort, however, the reason behind this is not a virus or infection. The keto flu is caused by the body’s reaction to carbohydrate restriction. Your body is used to using carbs as a source of energy, so drastically reducing them can make you feel lethargic and lifeless. Your body needs some time to adapt to a new eating plan, usually, it takes around 24-48 hours.

These are the most common symptoms of keto-flu:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Dizziness
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Poor focus and concentration
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea
  • Cramping
  • Muscle soreness
  • Insomnia

As you see, keto-flu can feel similar to ordinary flu. You may or may not have all symptoms from the list. Some switch to keto diets so easily that they experience few or no unpleasant symptoms, others feel sick from the first days until the end of the diet but that is not common. A person’s experience depends on many factors like metabolic flexibility, health status, and lifestyle. The adaptation period depends a lot on your metabolic flexibility which is how well you can adapt to using different fuel sources (i.e., carbs, fats, protein, and ketones).

How to reduce the symptoms of keto flu? 

Here are some tips on how to reduce the symptoms of keto-flu and become keto-adapted more quickly:

  • Drink plenty of water (with a pinch of crude salt.) It’s extremely important to stay hydrated during the day, especially, during the transition period in order to avoid keto flu.
  • Supplement your diet with sodium, potassium, and magnesium. This will help you to replace electrolyte loss, therefore reduce the symptoms of keto flu.
  • Do regular low-intensity workouts in the morning (swimming, yoga, jogging). When you work out, you force your body to look for an alternative source of energy. Your liver then produces more ketones, and your body adjusts to the new source of fuel.

Remember that stress, high-intensity exercises, and eating too much protein can make the process of keto-adaptation harder. That’s why it is important to eat the right amount of protein, do low-intensity exercises, sleep well and meditate to help get rid of keto flu.

Keto flu

How to lose weight on this diet?

This low-carb diet is an effective way to lose weight. However, it is important to follow all recommendations to succeed. Here are a few tips that will help you stay in ketosis and achieve your weight-loss goal.

Things to do

  • Watch out for hidden carbs. Even a small amount of carbohydrate can raise your blood and insulin levels and kick you out of ketosis. Make sure to read the food labels before buying any products.
  • Intermittent fasting is an effective way to get into ketosis faster. When you combine a ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting, your body produces more ketone bodies. Start with the easiest fasting window of 8-10 hours between dinner and breakfast.
  • Track your carb intake. Carb restriction lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to the release of ketones. Make sure to stick to the recommended daily intake of carbs to enter ketosis and get all the benefits of this metabolic state.
  • Try to add more healthy fats into your daily routine instead of eating saturated fats and highly-processed foods. 75% of your daily caloric intake should come from fat, as it will boost your ketone levels. Focus on healthy fats like chicken broth, olive oil, ground beef, butter, avocado, avocado oil, nuts, flax seeds, hemp hearts, chia seeds, olives, fatty fish, whole eggs, and coconut oil. Avoid eating artificial trans fats (cakes, cookies, pastries, biscuits, crackers), processed meats (deli meat, sausages, salami, hot dogs, and cured and smoked meats) as well as fried food.
  • Use MCT oil regularly. The medium-chain triglyceride fat in MCT oil will help you raise the ketones level in your body.
  • Avoid starchy vegetables, grains, and white rice. Be careful with fruits, non-green vegetables, legumes, dairy, beverages.

Things to avoid

  • Most importantly, do not cut down your protein intake as it will suppress ketone production and will harm your body. Your body needs a moderate amount of protein consumption to produce amino acids. Aim for at least 20-25 grams of protein at each meal.
  • Avoid starchy vegetables, grains, and white rice. Be careful with fruits, non-green vegetables, legumes, dairy, beverages.
  • Eat less saturated fats and highly-processed foods, try to add more healthy fats into your daily ration. At least 60% of your daily intake should come from fat, it will boost your ketone levels. So, focus your nutrition on healthy fats like chicken broth, olive oil, butter, avocado, nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, olives, fatty fish, whole eggs, and coconut oil. But avoid eating artificial trans fats (cakes, cookies, crackers), processed meats (deli meat, sausages, and cured and smoked meats) as well as fried food. 


Keto diet sample menu

Keto diet sample menu

Day 1

Breakfast: two boiled eggs

Snack: Avocado

Lunch: salad with walnuts, cheese and beef, chicken broth

Snack: kefir

Dinner: stuffed cabbage with beef

Day 2

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with ham

Snack: a handful of nuts

Lunch: mushrooms with cheese, green salad

Snack: fermented baked milk

Dinner: cheesecakes with sour cream

Day 3

Breakfast: Peanut Butter Toast

Snack: egg

Lunch: fish soup

Snack: kefir

Dinner: meat salad

Day 4

Breakfast: cottage cheese

Snack: cheese, apple

Lunch: chicken stock, boiled egg

Snack: fermented baked milk

Dinner: beef steak, green vegetable salad

Day 5

Breakfast: 2-egg omelet

Snack: Avocado

Lunch: baked chicken, greens

Snack: cottage cheese with nuts

Dinner: cheese, zucchini fritters

Day 6

Breakfast: ham and cheese toast

Snack: a slice of cheese, a green apple

Lunch: fish cake, tomato cucumber salad

Snack: yogurt without additives

Dinner: pork chop, greens

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Day 7

Breakfast: 3 egg omelet

Snack: boiled beef salad and green vegetables

Lunch: brown rice with meat

Snack: fermented baked milk

Dinner: baked redfish, vegetables

Besides eating keto frindly foods and planning your meals, it is useful to include physical activity into your daily routine. It is especially true if you lead a sedentary lifestyle and spend little time in motion. Choose the type of exercise that suits you best. It might be yoga, dancing, swimming or a short 20 Minute Full Body Workout at Home. Check out the video below.

DISCLAIMER: 

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  2. Nutritional Ketosis for Weight Management and Reversal of Metabolic Syndrome (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. The calorically restricted ketogenic diet, an effective alternative therapy for malignant brain cancer (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus (2008, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. The ketogenic diet: a 3- to 6-year follow-up of 150 children enrolled prospectively (2001, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. The ketogenic diet: one decade later (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Kristen Fleming

Kristen Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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