Unless you’ve been chilling in Antarctica, you’ve probably heard of the keto diet. It’s basically the newest, “trendiest” diet of 2019, and for sure heading into 2020, and it’s been touted by countless health experts and celebs as being a fast track diet towards rapid weight loss. Something we all want when dieting, right?!
It’s not a “fad” diet, which might be a charcoal juice cleanse or something that focuses on calorie deficits for the short-term, but rather a great diet that promotes wellbeing, fat loss, more energy, a sharper mind, and other awesome benefits.
Plus, there’s ZERO calorie counting and ample opportunities to pile on fats and some protein for greater muscle gains. So, for the guy who likes eating buttered steak and doesn’t want to give it up for a light lentil salad, there’s no problem here.
And the best part? The keto food market is booming, with tasty low-carb cookies, chips, baked goods, smoothies, and more. They’re so good that even non-keto dieters are grabbing those bars and chocolate snacks. (I love Perfect Keto and Atlas protein bars myself and some Lily’s chocolate peanut butter cups.)
And that’s why so many people are hopping on board and sharing transformation photos and stories online about their rapid weight loss! I mean, if you heard this miracle diet could help you get rid of that beer belly that doesn’t seem to ever budge, you’d want in, too, right?!
In this guide you’ll find all your pressing keto questions answered and get the essential tools needed to start, continue, or find better results from the ketogenic diet. There are 15 total points. Consider our handy guide “keto 101.”
In this keto beginners guide, you’ll find:
- What is Keto and How Does it Work?
- Is Keto Healthy and Safe?
- Side-Effects and How to Minimize
- Benefits of Keto
- Losing Fat on Keto
- Foods to Eat (and Avoid)
- Types of Keto
- Common Mistakes
- Testing for Ketones: How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
- Sample Keto Meal Plan
- Keto Recipes
- Keto Snacks
- Store-Bought Keto Brands
- Dining Out Tips
Chapter 1: What is Keto and How Does it Work?
How does the keto diet work? The keto diet has been touted as a great diet for weight loss, where the body uses fat instead of carbs for fuel to burn body fat and help you shed those stubborn pounds.
Once your body is using fat for fuel, it goes into a state called “ketosis.” And that’s a pretty great state to be in, and it’s where you’ll want to stay throughout the day.
Why? When you’re in ketosis, your body is burning fat so you’ll start to trim down, have more sustainable energy, and focus better both at work and during your workouts.
It might seem daunting, but it’s actually really simple!
Limit net carbs to 25 grams per day
In a nutshell, keto is all about counting carbs to keep your daily budget in check. Based on keto diet guidelines, you’d cut your carbohydrate intake down to about 25 grams of net carbs a day. This is where it gets a little tricky.
When you think about how many carbs are in foods, it might be a shocker. Really. Get this: a banana has 27 grams of carbs. That’s literally over the keto budget! Crazy. That’s why bananas aren’t really keto-friendly, after all.
And you use net carbs, not total carbs, to make up that 25 grams or so.
Net carbs = Total carbs – (fiber and sugar alcohols)
What are net carbs? “Net carbs” is just subtracting total fiber and total grams of sugar alcohols from total carbs. It’s pretty simple though, as you’re just reading the label and doing basic math.
Sugar alcohols are carbless sweeteners that your body doesn’t absorb
Sugar alcohols are things you’d find in gum, keto ice cream and snacks, and zero or low calorie, sugar-free drinks, like Bai drink, which uses erythritol.
Why? Sugar alcohols are sweeteners that are not absorbed by the body but pass through, so they do not count as having an effect on blood sugar levels like glucose does or count towards the carbohydrate budget. They would not lead to weight gain, as would table sugar.
So, they get a free pass. A sugar alcohol like erythritol, as well as other natural sweeteners like monkfruit, stevia, and allulose, all contain virtually no calories or carbs and don’t count. So, if you see it on a label, you’re good!
Increase fat intake to 75% of your daily calories
Once you’ve tackled carb counting, you’ll then want to focus on bumping up those fats, as fat keeps you fuller longer and keep you energized and awake throughout the day.
To get into ketosis, you’ll want to boost fat intake to make up around 75 to 80 percent of your daily calories. To figure out your daily number of calories you need for your body and your exertion level, meet with a dietitian. They can help!
Chapter 2: Is Keto Healthy and Safe?
The keto diet is a safe diet, and most people can feel comfortable trying it out. In understanding how the keto diet works, you should also speak to a physician to make sure there aren’t any worrisome side effects depending on your health condition. Although, if you are pregnant, you shouldn’t do keto, as your baby needs a higher carbohydrate intake.
What’s more, doctors and research support it as being safe and effective. for the general public.
For starters, according to Marcelo Campos, MD. and medical advisors at Harvard, it has been shown to be safe and helpful for balancing blood sugar and leading to weight loss in the short term.
And that’s not it. There are numerous claims about how crazy good the keto craze really is, all showing it’s safe and effective in triggering weight loss, as well as celeb and doctor approval from people like Dr. Mark Hyman, Drew Manning, and Dr. Ryan Lowery. It might even help keep those in the military get in tip-top-shape, according to new research, as well.
Chapter 3: Side-Effects and How to Minimize
Because of how the keto diet works it can lead to dehydration (short and long term), but the side-effects mostly occur in the transition phase, or “keto flu.”
Keto flu symptoms
Keto flu symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, decreased endurance, cravings, a disrupted sleep pattern, and lack of concentration; however, these will pass.
Keto flu remedies
How to get rid of these symptoms? Drink lots of fluids like water and electrolyte drinks, like unsweetened coconut water and sugar-free Gatorades or sports drinks, as well as tea and coffee.
And popping handy helpers like electrolytes pills and MCT oil packets, and using exogenous base to promote more energy and to fuel workouts can do a great job of managing symptoms, too.
And if you have a craving, give in! But in a keto way. Take one of those salty, sweet, smooth, or crunchy craving options below in your bag when on the go so you can satisfy when you need. That’ll keep you on track without feeling deprived.
Chapter 4: Benefits of Keto
As for a keto diet plan for beginners, you can read more about the benefits like:
- Fat Burning
- Weight Loss
- Greater Energy
- More Endurance
- Fewer Cravings
- Less Brain Fog
It also improves heart health, so it’s a helpful diet for those with diabetes and pre-diabetes. Sounds pretty great, right?
And a super cool benefit you might not realize? Most of the fat first comes off the abdominal region, aka, your belly! Which is also the most stubborn and annoying spot to get rid of…
With instant perks, you’ll clear the diet of junk and processed foods, get off the sugar roller coaster, and feel better in your skin! And you’ll develop healthy habits to keep feeling AWESOME, even if you choose to introduce a few more carbs into the diet long-term.
You can of course choose to do it short-term if you want to jumpstart weight loss and gain control of your diet and lifestyle, where you have more energy, think clearer, and sleep soundly at night.
Yet, you can stay on it for the long haul, too. Since it’s easy to stick with once you’ve figured out how to meal plan, what to eat, have bought the tastier, easiest snacks to find at the store, and are loving the weight management end, you can commit to ketosis by simply keeping up with your schedule.
For instance, if you sign up for a keto meal delivery service that provides daily or weekly keto meals for you, it’s easy to stick with the program and have ready-to-eat keto meals that taste great right at your doorstep.
Chapter 5: Losing Fat on Keto
Okay, so how do you lose fat if you’re eating fats, fats, fats? All. Day. Long. You have ketones to thank.
Higher levels of ketones = elevated metabolism = burn fat quicker
The keto diet is about keeping higher levels of ketones in the body, so the metabolism stays elevated and you can burn more fat at a faster rate.
Ketones use fat instead of sugar to function
What are ketones, exactly? Ketones are chemicals made in the liver that carry energy to your muscles and cells. Think of them as mini power plant workers that use fat instead of sugar to function. And they’re super, super handy for keeping you in ketosis and burning that fat fast.
So, when you’re in ketosis, you’re burning fat for fuel instead of sugar, and that means you’re losing weight instead of storing it. Sweet, huh?
And for this reason, many people have rapid weight loss, specifically in the abdominal region. Always a plus.
Chapter 6: Foods to Avoid on Keto
Food categories to avoid on keto:
- Carb-loaded packaged foods
- Highly processed foods
- Inflammatory foods
When starting a ketogenic diet plan, go through your pantry and toss out sweet, carb-loaded packaged foods, as well as sugar, juice, and soda. The keto diet eliminates these highly processed and inflammatory foods, and it keeps other foods in small doses, like starchy veggies, beans and legumes, fruit, and grains.
These foods lead to inflammation in the body, which can lead to bloating, fatigue, and other nasty symptoms that will impair your progress. Instead, eating the right foods will help you have a flatter belly and naturally get that carb count low. And you can probably eat more then too since you’re using your budget wisely, which is definitely a plus.
Foods to Eat on Keto
Food categories to eat on keto:
- Whole foods
- Green vegetables
Keto focuses on whole foods, fats, protein, and green vegetables. The best sources of fats will come from lean, healthy sources like avocado, grass-fed beef, fortified eggs, nuts and seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, as well as coconut and MCT oil.
Protein will be consumed in moderation, making up about 20 percent of calories. That might be a 4 oz. serving of protein like chicken or steak at a meal to go with greens and some good fats. That might be an average size of an “add on “ protein for a salad you’d see when building your own at a salad shop.
Of course though it depends on how much protein you’re eating throughout the day: handful of nuts, stick of jerky, etc. So, always factor in.
The good news is these foods are super delicious and easy to make! Enjoy creamy, rich dressings and sauces, and lather steak, eggs, and fish with yummy butter and herb sauces or avocado “green goddess” dressings.
And you can make a big batch of these foods, like deviled eggs or trail mix, to then keep on hand for the week.
Chapter 7: Types of Keto
There are several versions of the ketogenic diet you can choose from based on your bodily needs, workout schedule, dietary restrictions, and more. So, if you don’t like standard keto or need something extra, don’t sweat it.
These different variations are meant to make keto easier to stick to long term, so if you’re hoping to stay loyal to keto but need a little wiggle room, you totally can. A few of these options include:
Keep net carbs to 25 grams or under and fat intake to about 75 to 80 percent of daily calories.
The standard keto is good for someone who wants the classic structure that is super simple. Why mess with something that is doing well for tons of people, huh?
Still, not everyone can hang with the original. Standard keto might be hard to stick to for some, but the good news is there are several variations that are more flexible and easier to stick with in the long-term.
Eat your carbs around specific times, like a workout, where your carb intake is targeted for specific needs. If you’re going to hit the weight room or go for a HIIT class or run, you’ll need added fuel.
So, you might have your carbs right before and then right after, and then not eat carbs for the rest of the day. Or you might even give yourself an extra 20 grams of carbs a day on workout days for better muscle gains.
And then you’d have 10 grams before the workout and 10 grams after around it (or maybe just 20 grams right before for that pre-workout snack). It’s pretty flexible, but that’s the gist for concept and how it’d work. How many grams before or after is your choice.
Targeted keto is definitely easier than standard keto because you’re eating more carbs in the day and you can mostly better fuel and recover from workout sessions. Why not make the most of your sweat and muscle building efforts?
You might want to take Saturday off as a non-keto day to enjoy your favorite pancake dish at the local diner for brunch. Or maybe you want some non-keto drinks, like beer for game day.
Here you can cycle carbs, so you can eat more carbs on certain days than others. Keep in mind you will get out of ketosis this way, and you’ll need to get back in.
Cyclical keto is way easier than standard keto because there’s tons of wiggle room for cheat meals. You could even take one or two days off each week! You might not get the same progress in the shortest time this way, but it’s better for long term success and sustainability.
This one amps up protein so you’re eating more than you would on standard keto. Protein should make up about 30 percent of calories, with the other 65 percent for fat and just 5 percent from carbs.
So, it’s not a big increase. It’s basically just 10 to 15 percent of the fat portion going towards protein. Think of that as adding in 2 or 3 oz. to your serving size at meals. Instead of 3 oz. of fish you might have 5 oz. or 6 oz. at that meal.
Or maybe you eat an extra low carb protein bar for snack time or have an extra high-protein snack during the day, like hard boiled eggs or jerky.
High-protein keto is around the same difficulty as standard keto, but perhaps a little harder because you’re trying to get in a bit more protein intentionally. It’s a good choice for guys who lift and are looking to bulk up and build stronger muscles.
Very Low Carb Keto
Keep fat intake the same but drop net carbs lower, down to below 20 grams net or fewer. This will be harder than standard. I mean, hello, you’re giving up 5 grams of net carbs, at least.
Very low carb keto might be best for someone who is really trying to lose weight at a faster rate or might have blood sugar problems, like diabetes, and needs a lower number. (Though ask your physician first.)
And if you get through it, kudos bro.
Well Formulated Keto
Well formulated keto focuses on mineral balance and electrolytes as well as higher green vegetable intake. This one could be great for athletes or those who tend to sweat more profusely and must strive to better replenish electrolytes throughout the day.
Minerals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and magnesium, for example, and these get depleted through sweat and exercise. So, someone on this diet would focus on getting these in foods or taking supplements to keep intake high.
This one might be a little harder because it requires more effort. But it’ll likely make you feel better, too, making keto seem easier long term.
In this version, MCT oil is included in all meals and snacks, so you are getting more in the day than you would on standard keto.
MCT keto could be for someone who needs assistance producing more ketones, so perhaps a beginner starting out who wants more immediate sources of MCTs to burn fat fast. It’s not much harder or easier than standard keto, as you’re just adding in some MCT oil.
Dirty keto has the same macronutrient breakdown but lets you eat “less healthy” fats, like bacon, burgers, and fried meats, as opposed to leaner meats, nuts, and fish.
This one would be for someone who is half going on keto to eat whatever meat, fatty fried foods, and “bad” foods they want thinking that they can! (This is not the best one to choose, to be honest.)
It’s WAY easier than standard keto. Um hi, you’re eating fried, fatty food and tons of meat like burgers and bacon. You’re basically cheating. (And FYI, you probably won’t lose weight but gain it all back!)
Clean keto focuses on high quality ingredients, like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, free-range eggs, wild-caught seafood and green veggies.
This diet is for someone who cares about the quality of sources and wants to practice safety in eating, as well as help the environment. Those who go around looking for the organic label on everything will LOVE this plan.
Clean keto is harder than standard keto, and pricier! Those organic and high quality foods cost more money and you need to look harder for them when shopping. Plus, it makes eating out harder. But if it matters to you, you gotta go with it.
The same macronutrient ratios but eliminating animal sources of protein and fat. This version is for those who only eat plant-based and cannot eat dairy or meat for sources of fat and protein.
Vegan keto is also harder because high-fat foods that are naturally low in carbs often involve animal protein. Most vegans eat lentils, beans, and grains, which aren’t keto friendly.
Limiting animal protein and fat in favor of plant-based options with the same macronutrient structure.
Eco keto would be great for those who want to practice keto in an environmentally conscious way and also focus on more plant-based eating, rather than animal protein. Keep in mind, it’s harder too.
Chapter 8: Common Mistakes
There are a few common rookie mistakes you might be making when starting. Though, don’t worry, you’re not alone here! Trust us.
Here are the five bad boys to watch out for:
- Water – not drinking enough water
- Exercise – forgetting to exercise
- Carb Overload – blowing your carb budget
- Salt – not eating enough salt
- Keto Test – not checking in on your ketosis status
Okay let’s dive deeper.
Water is key. Don’t leave that water bottle at home.
If you don’t drink enough you’ll be dehydrated, which is a common side-effect. When dehydrated, the body will be tired and puffy, so you won’t be able to get through workouts, think clearly, or see your fabulous weight loss results due to water weight.
Make sure to sweat regularly. Don’t just grab a keto bar and chill on the couch for hours after work.
Why? Well while diet is super important, so is burning calories through physical activity, and that’s how you end up also toning up and developing stronger muscles. That set of abs needs some core work thrown into the mix, too.
Carb counting is a MUST. By forgetting to track carbs, you might go over, which can kick you out of ketosis and stall progress. Hey, STOP progress if you do it every day.
And don’t be afraid to grab that salt shaker. Sprinkle salt and take electrolytes as supplements to get some sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium in. Your body needs these to fight dehydration.
Lastly, you should always track ketone levels, especially in the beginning or when you think you might be going overboard. Of course, as you get adjusted to the diet, you can let it slide a bit, but if you’re worried or are feeling off, check and see where you’re at!
Chapter 9: Testing for Ketones – How to Know if You’re in Ketosis
To make sure you’re burning fat efficiently, it’s a great idea to test throughout the day to measure ketone levels. There are 3 different types of tests:
- Breath Analyzer
Ketone levels will go up and down based on how many carbs you’re eating. When you go over your budget, they will go down and you’ll fall out of ketosis. When they are higher, you have an easier time staying in ketosis and burning fat.
When first starting, test a few times each day to get the hang of it. Yet once you’re in keto for a bit, you can be more lax. Just make sure to check if you’re worried your levels are out of whack (like let’s say a holiday or a weekend when you might indulge a bit more!).
Chapter 10: Sample Keto Meal Plan
Meal planning on keto makes it a breeze, so set aside time to chop veggies once or twice a week, cook in bulk when you can, and re-use leftovers. This way you can simplify the keto lifestyle and never go hungry during the day or upon coming home after a long, grueling day at the office.
Here are a few examples of healthy keto meals you can make in a matter of minutes, which is perfect for those with a busy lifestyle (which is probably everyone).
Breakfast: Egg and veggie cups; plain Greek yogurt with nuts; baked avocado with diced chicken breast.
Lunch: Green salad with salmon, avocado dressing, veggies, and pistachios; chicken salad inside half a pepper.
Dinner: Steak in lettuce wraps with avocado, sour cream, and veggies; tuna poke over cauliflower rice or zoodles with avocado and sesame seeds.
Chapter 11: Keto Recipes
As long as you have the shopping basics you can make great recipes. When choosing keto recipes, look for zero sugar (or low sugar) with healthier sweeteners, like erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit, as well as low net carbs.
And check for higher fat count and moderate protein. Invest in an air fryer, spiralizer, and food processor, and add fat to protein when you can. (Ghee on steak, for example.)
Some ideas might be:
- Steak with herbed butter, asparagus with olive oil, and mashed cauliflower rice for a take on mashed potatoes.
- Salmon with charred Brussels sprouts cooked in butter or oil and a bed of salad greens with olive oil, slivered almonds, feta, and avocado.
- Spiralized zoodles for “pasta” night with turkey meatballs or ahi tuna poke on top, along with a creamy high-fat sauce or dressing, like a ginger or peanut dressing for the tuna or an Alfredo sauce for the meatballs.
Check out our easy, 5-step keto recipes here.
Chapter 12: Keto Snacks
So, what about snacks?
When making keto snacks, increase the fats and find ways to add a bit of protein and fiber, as well as electrolytes, like potassium and magnesium.
If you’re a grazer, reach for some nut butter on keto-approved bread, a string cheese with a handful of almonds, or veggie sticks dipped in creamy guac or hummus.
If you are craving protein or salt, you can also snack on beef or turkey jerky, like The New Primal, which has great stick options for adults and kids.
And if you want something salty and maybe a little sweet, a blend of lightly salted homemade trail mix made of nuts and seeds.
If you want something softer and simple, try a hard boiled egg! You can dip it in some guac or hummus, too, as another option if you don’t want veggies or crackers.
Chapter 13: Supplements
It’s helpful to supplement on keto to make sure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs from carbohydrate restriction.
Such supplements include MCT oil and exogenous ketones to produce more ketones and energy, as well as electrolytes and fiber to stay regular and fight dehydration.
For example, MCT is known to also boost brain health, power workouts, keep blood sugar stable, suppress the appetite, and more, all backed by science. Yes, science! So, ya know, it’s legit.
Getting into ketosis ASAP is helpful because then you can avoid these nasty symptoms (who wants keto flu AGAIN?), and you can get back to burning fat and making progress. Doing these measures can help speed the process by a few days, for sure!
Chapter 14: Store-Bought Keto Brands
While you can make your own keto snacks and sweets, store-bought brands have delicious options that are keto approved.
Have a sweet tooth? Go for Love Good Fats Bars, which are rich and creamy and taste just like a mousse (try the peanut butter chocolate flavor, our favorite), or Keto Chocolate Snacks, which are chocolate covered almonds and macadamia nuts.
Chapter 15: Dining Out Tips
Dining out on keto doesn’t need to be impossible, as long as you know where to go and what types of foods to eat.
Remember these 3 Rules for Dining Out:
- Check for keto-friendly options at restaurants. Sometimes they are listed on the menu as being low carb or keto approved. If so, that’s a clear sign you can grab a fork and dig in!
- Focus on options that have vegetables, creamy sauces and dressings, and protein, like steak, fish, or chicken. These will likely be naturally carb-free or low in carbs, as well as being higher in fats and protein. Just don’t go for breaded protein.
- Avoid sugary sauces/marinades, grains, and pastas. These should just SCREAM carbs! Use your noggin’ here.