The ketogenic (keto) diet has become increasingly well-known in the past ten years; yet, despite the keto diet existing since the 1920s, when doctors used it to manage epilepsy, many do not know what the keto diet entails or what it does to or for the body.
Whether you are interested in implementing this diet into your life or just learning more about it, this beginner’s guide will assuredly help you understand what the keto diet is and how it works.
Table of Contents
What is the Keto Diet?
The Ketogenic (Keto) diet aims to reduce glucose in the body, which causes the body to turn to ketones for energy and fuel.
To do so, the diet demands consuming fat-rich foods, alongside moderate consumption of protein, and limiting the use of carbohydrates.
The body primarily draws fuel and energy from carbohydrates, which consists of nearly half of the daily caloric intake of the average human in the modern era.
The body takes the carbohydrates and transfers them into glucose. The body burns this glucose to create energy.
When the body burns through the glucose or the glucose is limited, the body goes into fasting and burns fat.
If fasting occurs too long, and all the stored fat is used, the body will begin to burn muscle.
The ketogenic diet reduces glucose and begins to use stored fat for energy. Instead of entirely burning stored fat, the body is trained to use the fat from the fat-rich foods consumed in the diet.
Therefore, the body will use the fat-burning metabolic processes for energy instead of burning glucose.
As the body burns the fat, not glucose, the fat that is not entirely burned leaves ketone bodies in the bloodstream.
Keto bodies take the forms of beta-hydroxybutyric acid, acetone, and acetoacetic acid.
In short, the keto diet reduces carbohydrate intake to nearly 5 percent, which causes the body to burn fat that is consumed and stored in the body.
The body burns the fat and leaves behind ketones, some of which are used by the brain.
Once the ketones build, the body is put in a state of ketosis, where this fat-burning state is sustained for an extended period.
What are the Different Types of Keto Diet?
While there are several different types of Keto diet variations, nearly all of the variations of the diet include a low-to-no carbohydrate intake.
1. Standard Keto Diet (SKD)
The standard keto diet (SKD) has a high percentage of fat and a low percentage of carbs for daily intake.
For this standard diet, you should consume around 75% fat, 5-10% carbs, and 15-20% protein.
The minimal carbohydrates primarily derive from vegetables, since most starch-rich foods like bread contain more than the allotted daily amount of carbohydrates.
Therefore foods like berries can be eaten to get a small percentage of carbs.
2. Targeted Keto Diet (TKD)
The targeted keto diet (TKD) increases protein and carb intake. Along with nearly 70% of your daily intake coming from fat, you can have around 20% protein and about 10-15% carbs.
For those who want to use the keto diet in their life but need more carbs, this could be a good alternative.
3. Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD)
The cyclical keto diet (CKD) uses a “days on—days off” system. This gives individuals the benefits of the keto diet while also returning to a full, balanced eating regime on the “days off”.
Some cycles can be five days of keto and two days back to normal. Others may choose to do keto for seven days and then take three days off.
Other individuals choose to make special occasions the “days off.”
4. High-protein Keto Diet (HPKD)
The high-protein keto diet (HPKD) includes more protein and reduced fat intake.
The daily intake of this variation is around 65% fat and 30% protein for daily consumption. The carbohydrates are still restricted to 10% of caloric intake or less.
Individuals that need to eat or would like to eat more protein and less fat may find this one more benefit.
However, reaching ketosis can be more demanding on this diet variation.
Does the Keto Diet Help You Lose Weight?
The ketogenic diet has been historically shown to help individuals lose weight.
Aside from training the body to metabolize stored fats and consumed fats, the diet causes several other experiences that promote weight loss.
The low-carb diet causes many individuals to feel full after eating. It also reduces cravings, which means keto users tend to eat less and snack less.
Additionally, the reduction of caloric intake that occurs during this diet naturally causes weight loss.
Dieticians and nutritionists often suggest the ketogenic diet to individuals who are morbidly obese to begin losing weight and moving toward a healthier lifestyle.
The keto diet is especially beneficial to those who have trouble just starting to lose weight or need to lose a significant amount of weight.
The keto diet isn’t necessarily to help those who want to maintain their weight.
Historically and scientifically, the keto diet is more often used with individuals who need to lose excess weight. It is less frequently used for those who need to maintain weight.
Ketogenic Diets for Diabetes and Prediabetes
Ketogenic diets have been proven in studies to help with diabetic conditions, pre-diabetic conditions, and side-effects of diabetes.
In one study, more than half of the participants who had diabetes saw improvements in insulin levels, weight loss, glucose levels, and hemoglobin, and lipoprotein cholesterol.
Ninety-five percent of the carbohydrate-restricted diet subjects managed to reduce or eliminate their diabetes medication.
The study concluded that “lifestyle modification using low carbohydrate interventions is effective for improving and reversing type 2 diabetes” (Westman).
Those with diabetic conditions must consult their doctors before starting a keto diet. Insulin levels can change drastically after beginning the ketogenic diet.
The standard ketogenic diet listed previously is the right place to start when thinking about and discussing the keto diet with a nutritionist or doctor.
You can adapt the standard diet based on your needs, conditions, or side effects after starting.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
There are several health benefits to the keto diet, as long as it is used safely and knowledgeable.
For those who are overweight or who need to shed a few pounds, the keto diet is a great way to lose some weight.
Additionally, low-carb diets like keto have shown that those losing weights tend to be less hungry while they are losing weight.
Low-carb diets like keto also help to lose fat around organs in the abdomen and reduce inflammation. This fat in the stomach is dangerous, especially for men.
Losing this fat can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart diseases.
The keto diet can also help manage or reduce insulin levels and blood sugar levels. In addition to these benefits, low-carb diets such as keto may maintain lower blood pressure.
The reduction of blood pressure can also reduce the risk of heart diseases.
Historically, the keto diet was initially used to help children who experienced seizures. The keto diet was found to help children reduce or eliminate seizures. Nearly half of the children who began the keto diet decreasing seizures.
Currently, scientists are studying the use of keto to help treat other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
What Foods Should You Avoid on a Keto Diet?
The foods you should avoid on keto are all the foods that are rich in carbohydrates.
You should avoid grains and several starches. Wheat, rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa are some grains and rice to avoid. In terms of grain, users should avoid bread, cereal, pasta, rice, crackers, dough/crusts, popcorn, granola, and bagels.
Root vegetables are also something you can avoid. Potatoes, including sweet potatoes, should not be consumed. Carrots, yams, beets, turnips, and parsnips are also root veggies to avoid.
Users should also look out for some alcohol. These include beers, ciders, (sweet) wines, and sweetened alcohols.
Beans are another category to look at. Keto users should avoid black beans, pinto beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, and lentils.
Fruits are avoided when on the keto diet. Aside from berries, most fruits are not permitted on keto. Fruits are full of sugar and carbs, so they are avoided.
What Foods Can I Eat While on a Keto Diet?
The foods to look for on keto are those high in fats.
Various meats can be eaten while on Keto. Dieters can eat chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and turkey.
In the seafood realm, keto includes salmon, trout, tuna, catfish, lobster, crab, scallops, halibut, and cod.
Fatty oils are also included, which means users can consist of butter, coconut oil, lard, avocado oil, mayonnaise, and olive oil in their diets.
Vegetables can be eaten, but users should know the nutrients in the veggies they consume.
The keto allows veggies like cabbage, broccoli, peppers, zucchini, lettuce, spinach, olives, asparagus, eggplants, and avocado.
Nuts and dairy that are high in fat are also included. Keto permits almonds (and almond butter), peanuts (and peanut butter), pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts.
In terms of dairy, keto followers can consume heavy creams, cheeses, sour cream, and cream cheese. Eggs are also permitted.
What Should You Eat on a Night Out While on Keto?
What you should eat on a night out depends on the keto diet you follow and where you go.
For a standard keto diet (SKD), a list of foods to eat and avoid are listed above. If you are going t to a restaurant, look for meats like chicken, fish, or beef.
These are good options for the main course meal. Avoid pasta if your night out includes a nice restaurant.
Additionally, you can look for dishes that use the vegetables accepted in the keto diet. This includes dishes with peppers, salads with lettuce, and avocado.
You can drink alcohol on keto, but you need to be aware of what you can drink and what you are drinking.
Keto allows for mostly clear alcohols, like tequila, vodka, and gin, while it also permits alcohols around 40%, such as whiskey and scotch.
There are also other drink options. Water or water with lemon is a safe alternative included in keto. Teas, with permitted sweeteners, can be consumed. Diet soft drinks are acceptable, as well as coffee.
The drinks to avoid are smoothies, Frappuccino’s, energy drinks, juices, iced teas, milkshakes, and regular soft drinks.
If you go to a place like a movie theater, buy nuts instead of candy if you know beforehand that you are going to a place where you cannot buy a snack, bring a bite on your own that follows your keto diet.
If you follow a cyclical diet, you can use this night out as one of your days off. If you use the night out as your day off, be sure to order or eat a balanced meal.
Side Effects of the Keto Diet
There are several side effects to the keto diet, so users should always keep track of how their body is responding.
Some side effects include:
- Brain fogginess
- Weakness in the body and muscles
- Change in mood
- Constipation (this seems to be a common problem with those who are doing the diet)
- Kidney stones (a minimal risk)
- Uric acid increase
- Higher cholesterol (This is a fat-rich diet, and some cannot metabolize the fat properly or entirely)
- Hyper-acidosis (ketone levels become too high)
- Increased risk of osteoporosis (this diet is low in calcium and vitamin, especially vitamin D)
- Pancreatitis (the fat-rich diet causes the pancreas to work harder, and it may not be able to handle the amount of fat consumed)
- Excess weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Nearly ¼ of individuals who begin the keto diet feel sick after integrating it into their lifestyle.
Some symptoms include weakness, fatigue, and dizziness and this is probably due to the body burning through its sugar and energy.
The body’s move to fat storages can be alarming to the body.
Constipation is a common side-effect, as well as diarrhea. There are minimal amounts of fiber in the keto diet.
Ketoacidosis is a severe side effect of the keto diet. This happens when the ketone levels in the body are too high, and the blood in the body becomes acidic.
When this happens, the liver, brain, and kidneys can be severely damaged.
Ketoacidosis is dangerous for all users, but those with diabetic conditions need to be especially careful of this.
To watch for ketoacidosis, monitor yourself for dry mouth, bad breath, urination, blood in urine, and problems breathing.
Keto diet users should also keep close watch of their weight and mass.
The keto diet can cause individuals to lose significant amounts of weight, even if an individual is using the diet to maintain weight.
Significant weight loss can harm the body, especially if the diet renders an individual underweight. It can also lead to weakness and fatigue.
Always make a note of your body before your diet and after you implement the diet. Always contact your doctor if you notice serious side effects.
Supplements of a Ketogenic Diet
Since the keto diet is restrictive, keto dieters need to use supplements to make up for vitamins and nutrients not gained through daily food consumption.
An essential supplement needed includes electrolytes. The keto diet severely hinders calcium intake, so a calcium supplement is required.
Other required electrolytes include sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
These electrolytes help normalize fluid balances, immunity, and muscles.
Vitamin D is also a necessary nutrient that the keto diet reduces, so a Vitamin D supplement is essential. This vitamin helps absorb and process electrolytes, and it helps support the cardiovascular and immune systems.
The keto diet can be high in omega-6, especially from the meats included, but it tends to minimize omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA, DHA, and ALA.
These fatty acids help the brain function, so taking omega-3 supplements is a good idea during the keto diet.
Since the keto diet does not allow for many fruits and some vegetables, a micronutrient powder that includes vitamins and minerals provided by both is ideal.
Antioxidant and green blends may be helpful during this diet, giving the body nutrients it needs but doesn’t get, from fruits and vegetables left out of the diet.
Are ketogenic diets harmful?
While there are minimal long-term studies done on keto, this diet regime has both positive and negative side effects.
The benefits and harm depend on the body of the individual, as well as how the individual is using keto.
The keto diet has been shown to help individuals who suffer from diabetic conditions and epilepsy.
It also helps individuals lose excess weight while managing hunger, managing blood sugar, and reducing heart diseases.
However, individuals can misuse the diet, leading to excess weight loss, kidney problems, excess ketones in the body, and body weakness.
Individuals who are looking to maintain weight should not use this diet. It is especially harmful to those who are healthy but are using the diet for cosmetic/appearance reasons.
Is Ketosis Bad for the kidneys?
Science shows that ketosis poses minimal risk for those who have healthy kidneys.
However, those with kidney issues may have problems with the keto diet. The added protein will stress kidneys with pre-existing conditions.
Some reports conclude that a high-protein diet can cause more calcium to sweat from the body. However, keeping track of nutrients going into the body will reduce this.
Is ketogenic diets safe long term?
There is currently little-to-no research on the long-term effects of the keto diet. Most doctors and nutrients recommend the keto diet short term.
The reason for this is that the keto diet is primarily designed to help individuals lose weight and then eat a balanced diet to maintain their weight. It is not necessarily even intended to be used long-term.
Can you do Keto with kidney disease?
Doing the keto diet with kidney disease can be tricky and challenging, but it can be done.
Already diseased kidneys may be overly stressed by this diet, so it is recommended that you first talk with a professional before undertaking this diet.
Can ketosis cause heart palpitations?
When misused, ketosis can cause heart palpitations. This often happens during the first few weeks of the diet. This could be caused by a few different factors.
One is that you may be dehydrated or have too low sodium intake. Additionally, if you drink too much coffee without matching it with water, then the caffeine may be increasing your heart rate.
Additionally, if you are losing too much weight, your heart may be strained.
Can I eat carbs on a Keto diet?
Keto is a low-carb diet, meaning you eat minimal amounts of carbs. On the standard keto diet, only 5-10% of your daily caloric intake comes from carbs.
Will I lose muscle?
Unless misusing the diet, it is unlikely that you will lose muscle on this diet. The diet includes high amounts of protein, so it can help maintain muscle mass.
However, for those who are losing too much weight, the diet may run out of fat to consume and move to burn the muscles. Therefore, the keto diet should be appropriately used to avoid muscle loss.
Can muscle be built on a Keto diet?
While you can maintain muscle on the keto diet, it is harder to build muscle on the keto diet.
The process of building muscle on keto is slower, but the muscle you will put on will most likely be lean.
If you are looking to build lean muscle, you will need to carefully track your protein intake and train harder to put on muscle mass.
How much protein can be eaten on a Keto diet?
The amount of protein you can eat depends on the keto diet variation that you follow. The standard keto diet suggests that 15-20% of your daily caloric intake come from proteins.
On the other end of the spectrum, the high-protein keto diet raises that percentage to 30%.
Why does my urine smell like fruit?
Your body could be trying to expel excess glucose in the body.
It could also be ketones, which means there isn’t enough insulin to manage the glucose in the body. Therefore, blood sugar in the body is not being regulated.
I have digestion issues and diarrhea, is this normal?
Constipation and diarrhea are common issues during the keto diet.
The body is switching from glucose to fat so that it may be stressed. Additionally, you are probably not getting enough fiber.
Taking fiber supplements can assist in your digestion.
Considering the Keto Diet
The keto diet can be challenging to start and maintain. The high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet can make some individuals sick, and it leaves out foods that many people love and can include in a balanced diet.
Regardless of your ability to maintain it, the keto diet has its benefits and side-effects.
It can be stressful to the body and can cause more weight loss than needed. However, it can help individuals maintain sugar levels and start a path to a healthy lifestyle.
The best way to figure out if the keto diet is right for you is to access your physical and health needs. Then, talk to a professional about whether or not the keto diet will work with your body and your goals.
The keto diet may be able to help you lose that excess weight, get your eating on track, reduce diabetic conditions, or help a loved one with seizures.
Once you have accessed your needs, start talking with others to see if a variation of the keto diet can help you achieve success!
- Mackenzie, C., MD., et al. (2016). The Ketogenic and Modified Atkins diet: Treatments for epilepsy and other disorders. New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
- UNM School of Medicine. “The Ketogenic Diet.” Continuum of Care. https://coc.unm.edu/common/pdf/Ketodiet_eng_10Dec09.pdf
- Westman, Eric C., et al. “The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Nutr Metlab, 5(36), 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633336/