So you want to know what keto is all about?
In the years since its rise to popularity, countless articles have been written to rant, rave, and pick apart every detail related to this way of eating.
All that information can be overwhelming for beginners looking for a simple, well-organized overview that will help them understand the basics.
That’s where this guide comes in! It’s designed to touch on all the important keto guidelines without getting you too bogged down in technical information.
(To learn more about the topics relevant to you, follow the links in each section to dive in deeper.)
By the end of this guide, you’ll understand ketones and ketosis, macros and calories, benefits and side effects, what to expect and what to avoid, and much more.
So let’s begin with square one.
The definition of a keto or ketogenic diet is a controlled way of eating in which you focus on consuming very few carbohydrates, a moderate amount of protein, and a high amount of fat.
This method can be used to lose weight, improve your health and well-being, and even help treat certain medical conditions.
Understanding the keto diet basics for beginners:
This is only a general overview of the keto principles. Don’t worry if you don’t know what all of the terms mean yet. We’re just getting started! Everything will be explained in more detail as we move forward.
Let’s start with the simple answer.
Long story short, “keto,” pronounced “key-toe,” means that your body is burning fat for energy instead of carbs.
Ready for the long version?
It’s just a shorter way to say ketogenic, which means something that produces (or generates) special molecules called ketones.
When you follow a ketogenic diet, your body turns fat into ketones, which can be used for energy. It does this only when it doesn’t have enough carbs to run on, so you have to keep your carb intake very low.
Since you want to limit your carb intake, the less carbs a food has, the more keto-friendly it is.
Essentially, you’re aiming to eat low-carb foods that fit into your daily macronutrient ratios (around 70-80% fat, 20% protein, and 5-10% carbs). These include meat, fish, eggs, leafy greens, a variety of vegetables, and some fruits.
We’ll take a closer look at what foods to eat and avoid a bit further down the page. Or, if you want all the details, check out our complete guide to keto-friendly foods.
About a century! The history of ketogenic eating harks back to the early 1920s, when it was designed by doctors to treat epilepsy.
The star of the origin story is Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic, who created the term “ketogenic diet.” He first studied the meal regimen as a treatment for epileptic patients in 1921.1
More recently, the ketogenic diet became wildly popular in 2018, and it’s now considered mainstream for the general population. People use it to lose weight, gain energy, and enjoy a wide range of health benefits.
Many doctors recommend this way of eating for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to weight loss. If you are thinking about changing your eating habits, speak with a medical professional first so they can determine if it’s compatible with your unique medical history.
Doctors stress that dieters should pay attention to the quality of the food, not just the number of macronutrients.
For example, we can compare a grilled salmon fillet vs. a double bacon cheeseburger with no bun. Both have 0 g (zero) net carbs, but the salmon is a much healthier option.
This eating style works by making your body process food in a different way.
The body usually gets its energy from glucose, a type of carbohydrate that comes from sugary and starchy foods. When you barely eat any carbs, the body has to get its energy from somewhere else.
So it switches to burning fat instead. It also makes molecules called ketones, which it can use as an additional energy source, especially for the brain.
Once your metabolism switches over, you become highly efficient at burning fat, both from your body and from the food you eat. This new metabolic state is called ketosis.
It usually takes 3 to 4 days to enter ketosis after you change your eating habits. Every person is a little bit different.
You will need some time to adjust to the new diet. But soon enough, your body will self-regulate and the negative symptoms will fade away. This is called adaptation.
Wondering how long it takes to become keto-adapted?
Ketosis is a natural metabolic state in which you convert fat into ketones and use them for fuel.
You go into this state when you don’t have carbohydrates to use for energy. When the body realizes it needs to get energy from somewhere else, it makes a metabolic switch and starts burning alternative fuels: fat and ketones.
There are 2 main ways to get your body into ketosis:
You can only fast for limited amounts of time, so sticking to a low-carb diet is the best way to stay in ketosis for longer periods.
You burn fat quickly and efficiently, and your body produces more ketones to use for energy. Plus other benefits you’ll learn about below.
You can stay in this natural state for as long as you choose, for many months at a time. Some people do it for years. Just make sure you are eating enough healthy foods to give your body the nutrients and fuel it needs.
Wondering how to tell if you’re in ketosis?
Listen to your body and learn to read the signs of what ketosis looks and feels like.
Common things that happen when your body goes into ketosis:
The following symptoms are common when first entering ketosis, but will clear up as your body fully adapts:
If you are feeling cold on keto, this could be a sign that you are not getting enough calories. Try eating more fat.
You can check if you’re in ketosis by measuring the ketone levels in your blood, urine, or breath.
In terms of ease and affordability, the best way to test for ketosis is to use test strips made for urine. You can find them at most pharmacies or online.
Just submerge the strip in a urine sample, and in less than a minute you can read the results. The instructions include a color code that shows what color the strip should be, so all you have to do is see if yours matches. Usually the darker the color, the more ketones you have.
To measure the levels in blood, you need a blood ketone meter, a strip, and a disposable lancet to prick your finger. A special device is also needed to verify levels in your breath.
When your body doesn’t have enough carbs to run on, it switches to using fat and ketones. But this change isn’t permanent.
Glucose (made from breaking down carbohydrates) is your body’s preferred fuel. So if you eat too many carbs, your body will happily switch back to using them for energy, kicking you out of ketosis.
Things that knock you out of ketosis:
Do you suspect this might be you? Check if you’re experiencing any of the typical out of ketosis symptoms:
Starting a new diet is a bit like getting into a swimming pool: there are two main ways to do it.
Either you jump in all at once, or you ease in little by little.
However, in this case, one of these methods is better than the other.
The best way to start keto is to go slowly, step by step, so that your body has time to adapt. That way you can avoid an unpleasant shock to your system.
If you’re like most people, you probably get at least half your daily calorie intake from carbs. Going from 50% down to 5-10% carbs is a big change, and it can be tough on your body (and mind!) to do it all at once.
This gives you time to learn and adjust along the way as you transition to keto.
When your body is acclimated and you’re ready to go all the way, the following steps can help get into high gear.
This lifestyle change affects different people in different ways:
This diet is not recommended for children or teenagers, except under the guidance of a doctor for medical reasons.
A number of couples have reported increased success in getting pregnant after starting keto. One likely explanation is that both men and women are more fertile when they are at a healthy weight. In this way, this eating method can boost fertility in women and men. There may be additional ways the diet increases fertility, and more studies are being done on the topic.3
Men and women tend to have different diet experiences. Some studies have shown that men are more likely to lose weight faster, which may cause tension in the relationship when couples begin the diet together. It is important to manage expectations from the start. Be aware that each person’s body will react differently, and women may face additional challenges.
There is a natural decline in muscle mass as we age, so older adults need more protein than others. Be sure to include your age when calculating your macronutrients.
To combat a natural decrease in muscle mass, add resistance training to your exercise routine and eat enough calories by including healthy fats, like those from avocados, eggs, and fish. Healthy fats have also been shown to tighten skin, encourage hair growth, and help with arthritis pain, all reasons why this diet may have special benefits for the older crowd.
Like any time we change our habits, starting a new diet can be challenging at first. But you’ll soon see the light on the other side. Here’s what the first few weeks will look like.
What to expect on keto diet week 1:
Week 2 of keto:
Week 3 of keto:
TAKE A KETO QUIZ
There are actions you can take to improve your ketogenic diet success rate. We’ve put together some advice to help you achieve your goals.
Keto diet tips and tricks:
As with any decision, it’s important to look at the pros and cons before making a change. This section focuses on the many health benefits of eating this way, both short term and long term.
Lots of people start this diet to slim down, and thanks to everyone who shares their story, we know it works!
How long does it take to lose weight on keto? How much can you lose?
Most people start dropping pounds in the first week, specifically 2 to 10 lb. This is mostly water weight. In week 2 and beyond you’re likely to lose fat at a rate of 1 to 2 lb per week, or 4 to 10 lb per month. This varies depending on your personal characteristics and activity level, and it slows as you get closer to your goal.
The keto diet can be good for people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes because it helps with two major aspects of diabetes control:
People who are insulin resistant can also benefit from this style of eating because it decreases the amount of insulin your body needs and makes.
Before starting a keto diet for diabetes, seek personalized medical guidance from your doctor. Those with type 1 should be especially cautious as they face additional risks.
Studies have shown that this way of eating can increase HDL, the good kind of cholesterol.
Keto can also lower blood pressure in a healthy way. If you already take medicine for this, it’s important to closely monitor your levels. If they get too low, talk to your doctor about lowering your medication dosis. For some people, this way of eating can eliminate or lessen the need for pills.
The ketogenic diet can help lower the risk of heart disease by increasing HDL levels, reducing blood pressure, and lowering blood sugar, as mentioned in the previous two sections.
Being overweight puts people at a higher risk for heart disease, so keto also helps by advancing weight loss.
For best results, make sure you are choosing healthy fats to eat and avoiding trans fats.
Many studies and clinical trials are being done in the promising field of keto and cancer. So far, research has shown that the diet may potentially help patients in the following ways:
Some evidence suggests that this way of eating may help fight cancers in the brain, prostate, stomach, and liver.
At this time, the research is not yet conclusive. Speak with your oncologist or doctor before changing your diet.
This eating method has been used as an effective medical therapy for epileptic children for almost 100 years. Today, doctors often recommend the ketogenic diet for seizures in children who have not responded to medication. It is also sometimes used in conjunction with anti-seizure drugs to find the ideal balance that works for the individual patient.
The food regimen has been found to be especially helpful for epilepsy conditions including infantile spasms, Doose syndrome, Dravet syndrome, GLUT-1 deficiency, Rett syndrome, and tuberous sclerosis complex.
The ketogenic diet for epilepsy should always be followed with a doctor’s supervision and guidance.
Around 10% of women of child-bearing age suffer from PCOS. This condition can lead to problems such as acne, skipped periods, and difficulty getting pregnant. It is even more common in women who have conditions related to insulin resistance, such as type 2 diabetes, excess weight, and hypertension.
Since this way of eating has been shown to help control insulin resistance and lower weight, researchers and doctors are seeing that the keto diet for PCOS shows great promise.
Most dieters daydream about all the decadent foods they aren’t eating.
But this one is different: keto kills cravings!
It’s common to have little or no appetite on the ketogenic diet. This is due to a number of factors, such as:
If you’re not feeling hungry on keto, that is perfectly normal. Just make sure you’re getting enough of the right nutrients.
It has been shown that a keto diet can help with acne in three major ways:
This helps explain why there are so many accounts of people who’ve successfully used keto for skin improvement. Oftentimes, this benefit is discovered accidentally!
More than 1 in 10 people suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, so it comes as no surprise that lots are wondering if keto and IBS is a good combination.
Doctors and patients have commonly found that this way of eating helps IBS symptoms, but there haven’t been extensive scientific studies on the topic yet. Meanwhile, research does show that avoiding FODMAP foods can help with the condition, so you can use this knowledge to guide you.
The diet restricts many high FODMAP foods, like wheat and legumes, which could help explain why people find that the diet calms their symptoms. However, some of these ingredients are allowed, like onions, garlic, and cheese. Before restricting even more foods, chat to your healthcare professional to make sure you plan a diet that gives you everything you need to be healthy.
There is still a lot we don’t know about this condition, and no cure has been found. The data is inconclusive so far, but there are some reasons to believe that the ketogenic diet could help with Alzheimer’s disease:
Parkinson’s happens when dopamine-producing cells in the brain deteriorate. Scientists don’t currently understand why the deterioration of these cells happens.
Preliminary case studies and reports have shown that this diet can help Parkinson’s disease patients improve. While further research is needed to better recognize the possible benefits of a ketogenic diet for Parkinson’s disease, scientists have some theories:
Research is likely to continue in this area due to the promising results so far.
As mentioned above, it has been shown that ketones can have a powerful positive effect on the brain. The ketogenic way of eating boosts the production of ketones, which are used as fuel to feed the brain instead of glucose.
Additionally, many people report that switching to keto has improved their brain health in noticeable ways:
Typically, the body gets its fuel from carbohydrates (sugar and starches), which it breaks down into glucose (also called blood sugar). You experience a powerful spike after you eat, but then you crash when your body uses up the fuel.
Why do you have more energy on keto?
This style of eating makes your body use fat for fuel. This can come from what you eat, or from stores already in your body. Since fats digest slower than carbs, plus you can tap into your fat stores at any time, you get a steady stream of energy instead of spikes and slumps.
Keto and multiple sclerosis is a new field of research that is beginning to show promise.
The way that this eating style decreases inflammation may help alleviate symptoms of MS. The diet may also benefit MS patients by potentially helping to protect brain and nerve cells, which in turn could slow down the process of neurodegeneration. Furthermore, obesity can worsen MS, so the diet can also help in this regard.
More studies are needed to better understand these potential benefits.
There is no one way of eating that works for everybody, and that’s okay! Several different types of eating have been created around the ketogenic method to support the needs of different people.
By now, you’ve heard the term “macros” get thrown around at least a few times. So you may be wondering: What are keto macros?
Macros is short for macronutrients. There are three types: fat, protein, and carbohydrates. In the context of ketogenic diets, people use the word “macros” to refer to the ratios of these macronutrients that you want to include in your diet.
Generally speaking, the percentages or ketogenic macro goals to aim for are:
However, your ideal percentages also depend on things like your age, weight, gender, how active you are, and what you want to achieve with your diet.
Another common question beginners have is: Do calories matter on keto?
They sure do! If you want to lose weight, how many calories a day you’re eating is a factor. If you eat more than you use, your body stores the extra amount, and you can end up gaining weight instead of losing it.
The good news is that often you can eat as much as you want on keto without going over your calorie limits.
Why? Because the types of foods you’ll be eating make you feel full for longer, plus ketosis reduces your appetite.
How many grams of carbohydrates per day should you be aiming for?
Typically you’ll want to limit yourself to less than 50 grams of net carbs a day, and as low as 20 g. It depends on your individual profile. For most people, more than 50 grams per day will kick you out of ketosis. For reference, eating a medium plain bagel would put you just over the 50 g limit.
How to count carbs on keto: do you count the total or net amount?
What you want to count is the net amount. To calculate net carbs for keto, take the total carbohydrates and subtract the fiber. You can get these numbers by looking at the food label of nutrition facts (for packaged foods) or looking it up online (for food without a label). Almost all foods contain carbohydrates — including vegetables! — so look up the info for everything you eat.
Exactly how much fat to eat will depend on your individual profile. Since you are aiming for around 75%, if you are eating 2,000 calories, you would want about 156-178 grams of fat per day.
What happens if you don’t eat enough fat on keto?
To make sure you get enough, you can add these on top of just about any meal: avocados and avocado oil, olives and olive oil, grass-fed butter, flax and chia seeds.
Focus on healthy ingredients, not just any source. Remember, the number of grams isn’t the only thing that counts.
This macronutrient is eaten at a moderate amount, around 20% of your diet.4 Following the 2000-calorie example, you would need about 100 grams of protein per day on a ketogenic diet.
Keep in mind that the more active you are, the more you will need to eat this type of food. Athletes or those who want to build muscle will want to consume more. This will be calculated when you set up your macros.
What happens if you eat too much protein on keto? It’s possible that your body may:
But it’s important to keep in mind that many essential nutrients come from proteins. It’s a good idea to calculate how much you need and make it a priority to reach that amount every day, without going under.
The easiest way to figure out the correct macros for your body, lifestyle, and goals is by using a keto macro calculator.
You’ll enter information such as your age, gender, weight, exercise level, and whether you wish to lose, gain, or stay the same weight.
The calculator will tell you the number of calories to eat each day as well as your daily amount for each macronutrient (fat, protein, and carbs) in ounces (oz) or grams (g).
GET STARTED ON THE KETO DIET
Before you go to the grocery store, you’ll want to have a good idea of what to eat on a ketogenic diet plan. This way, you can stock up on the right kinds of healthy products.
Pay attention to the quality of the ingredients. Fresh, whole, grass-fed, and pasture-raised options are better for you than prepackaged, processed products, such as deli meats and bacon.
You also need to know what not to eat, starting with bread, pasta, pizza, beans, corn, ultra-processed items, and sugary foods and drinks. Do yourself a favor and do not keep these around the house!
Wondering what you can eat on this diet? Here’s an introduction to just some of the many keto-safe foods you can enjoy. This is not an exhaustive list!
Remember that many of these do include some proteins and/or carbs, so you still have to pay attention to serving sizes and how much you eat of each.
Some keto approved foods:
There are some non-keto foods to look out for. This doesn’t mean you can never eat these foods, but you will want to restrict your intake. Measure any amounts you do eat carefully to ensure they fit within your macros.
Here is what not to eat on keto:
As a beginner, the easiest way to make a keto meal is to follow an example. Over time, you’ll get a better idea of keto serving sizes, nutrition balances, and common ingredients.
Here are some easy ketogenic meal ideas to get you started. Cook with butter or oil to play with different flavors while adding fat.
Read on for more meal ideas for each part of the day.
With eggs, avocado, and bacon as top ingredients, there are lots of delicious ways to start off your day with energy. Here are just a few basic ideas you can tweak and play around with:
Do you eat lunch at home or pack it up and take it on the go? Whatever your routine looks like, midday is an opportunity to enjoy a break and relax with something tasty.
Here are some keto lunch ideas:
Whether you enjoy cooking a more elaborate meal or want something you can throw together quickly, dinner is a labor of love that is often shared with family and friends. Luckily, there are lots of ketogenic dinner meals that everyone can enjoy, even people who are not following the diet.
Here are some examples of quick keto dinner ideas:
Everyone craves a sweet treat every now and again! Many keto desserts incorporate almond or coconut flour, sugar substitutes like stevia or monk fruit, and a liquid like cream, butter or even Greek yogurt.
To prove that this lifestyle doesn’t have to feel like a diet, here are some keto dessert ideas:
For those times between meals, sometimes you need a little something to keep you going. It’s good to have ideas ready so that you’re not tempted to nibble on anything you can find, which can easily skew your carefully calculated macros. Preparation is key!
For store-bought keto snacks on the go, try:
For quick and healthy keto snacks you can make at home, try:
Nobody likes to give up the foods they already know and love. Here are some easy ways you can remove problematic ingredients from your favorite recipes and swap them out with keto substitutes.
Looking for guidance on how to start a ketogenic diet plan?
Keto meal planning is the easiest way for beginners to get off the right foot. You decide what you will eat ahead of time, saving you time, effort, and mental space during your busy week.
There are different types of diet plans, ranging in time from 7 days to 6 months. The plan describes all the meals for each day and how to prepare them. The best complete plans will also include the nutritional information so you can keep an eye on your macros and the breakdown of fats, protein, and carbs.
You can also try a keto custom plan that is tailored to your personal characteristics, tastes, allergies, and dietary choices.
GET YOUR PERSONALIZED PLAN
Here’s a basic 1-week ketogenic meal plan for beginners:
This is just a quick and basic sample of what your weekly ketogenic meal planning might look like. As you can see, there is a wide variety of ingredients you can use to satisfy your taste buds as well as your macros. Another benefit of looking at the weekly overview is you can make sure that you are getting a healthy balance of different nutrients from a variety of sources.
Another benefit of organizing your meals ahead of time is making less trips to the grocery store! Just check the ingredients for the weekly recipes and write them all on one list.
Here’s an example of what a keto-friendly shopping list for beginners could look like.
Dining out brings people joy. It is actually one of the world’s most popular recreational activities! It gives us opportunities to relax and connect with friends and family, or to discover new places, flavors, and people.
To make sure this experience is a happy one, it’s a good idea to plan ahead before eating out on keto. Check out the menu online, and decide on at least 2 or 3 possible dishes. That way, you go in with a plan and won’t feel stressed or rushed at the table. Some restaurants even provide nutritional information on their website!
5 keto-friendly fast food restaurants:
The easiest ways to eat keto at any restaurant:
5 best sit-down restaurants for keto:
We humans have a habit of wanting what we can’t have! You may find yourself daydreaming about a carb-a-licious treat every once in a while. If you can’t get a craving out of your mind, allowing yourself to make a very occasional exception can help you stay motivated to stick with your meal plan.
Best tips for keto cheat days:
So what will happen when you cheat on keto?
How often can you cheat on keto?
It’s best not to do it at all. But if you must…
If you are using the diet for medical purposes, cheating is not a good idea at any time.
It’s common for people to take a short break or detour, especially around the holiday season or during a vacation.
These steps will help you start keto again:
Here are some tips on how to save if you’re eating keto on a tight budget:
Low-cost keto meal ingredients for your grocery list: eggs, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, zucchini, canned tuna, canned sardines.
TAKE OUR FREE KETO QUIZ
Special pills and powders are not usually necessary, but some people can find them helpful. Since this diet restricts certain types of food, supplements can help you get specific nutrients.
Best recommended keto supplements:
Do keto supplements work?
There is a wide variety of products out there, all with different levels of effectiveness. While certain supplements can help, they are just that: supplements. They should be used in addition to, not instead of, the ketogenic diet.
Fasting on the ketogenic diet can have benefits such as:
There are many different ways of how to fast. The most common type is probably the 16:8, when you don’t eat for 16 hours straight (you’re asleep for part of the time!) and then you eat all your meals in an 8-hour window. A much more extreme version is Speed Keto, in which you work towards eating only 1 meal a day.
Like any diet, this way of eating works best when combined with exercise.
Steady aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is the best type of workout for ketoers. Cardio on keto includes activities like walking, hiking, running, swimming, cycling, organized sports, and dancing. These types of exercises can help you burn more fat.
Especially at the beginning, you may have more difficulty with high-intensity training. Give your body time to adapt.
Studies demonstrate that it is possible to increase muscle mass and strength on this diet while losing body fat. However, this is harder to accomplish in the first few weeks.
One thing that will help is to make sure you are eating all the protein your macros allow, even when your appetite decreases.
This style of eating is best for ultra long-distance running. The longer the race, the more your body can benefit from steadily using fat for energy without the need to refuel. For sprinters, who rely on short bursts of intensity, it may not be as effective.
Many professional and recreational athletes follow this way of eating. Those who practice endurance sports could have the most to gain, as it is best for stable, lower to moderate-intensity workouts and competitions. Few scientific studies have been done on keto and athletes, so there is no guarantee that this will improve performance.
Long-distance cyclists who tend to move at a steady pace may find this diet most appealing. Once you are fat-adapted, you generally won’t even need to use snacks for additional fuel during your ride. (But keep an emergency stash just in case!)
Vegans and vegetarians can do keto, but you will find it more challenging to get the protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fats you need. Thus, it is especially important for you to plan and monitor the nutrients you are getting.
Some examples of high-protein plant-based foods are seitan, tofu, hemp seeds, chia seeds, nuts, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, artichokes, and Brussels sprouts.
Want to know more? Read on to find complete information about vegans on keto and a vegetarian low-carb diet.
Pescatarians will have an easier time. If you eat fish, dairy, and eggs, you do not have a greater risk for nutrient deficiencies than a meat eater.
Nothing and nobody is perfect, and this is no exception. As with anything, there are negatives of the ketogenic lifestyle along with the positives.
The good news is that most of the common side effects are temporary.
It is a big, transformational shift for your body to start burning fat instead of carbs. During the transition period, it’s normal to experience some negative reactions as your body adapts.
In this section, we cover some of the typical keto diet downsides so you know what to expect. Many times, there are steps you can take to help prevent or offset the symptoms, so you can use this information for your benefit.
Also known as “the carb flu”, this term is used to describe the flu-like symptoms that some people feel after drastically cutting down their carb intake.
The keto flu commonly starts within the first day or two after changing your diet, though sometimes it may show up 7 days in, or not all. Some people don’t feel any side effects, while others experience one or more symptoms.
It generally lasts for a week or less, peaking around day 3 or 4. In some cases it can last a couple weeks, or even up to a month.
Common mental and physical keto flu symptoms include:
Each person is different. You may not experience any of these, but it’s not unusual to see at least one or two.
It’s not very common, but some people react to a low-carb diet with an itchy skin rash that is light pink or red in color. It usually appears on the neck, shoulders, or upper torso.
The rash will often clear up on its own within a few weeks. Otherwise, a good course of action is to rule out food allergies, try vitamin supplements, or eat slightly more carbs for a couple days to see if that helps.
With any major change in what you eat, it can take time for your gut and digestive system to catch up. Diarrhea on keto can typically last one to two weeks. Luckily, there are several ways you can prevent and treat this common side effect.
On the flip side, another typical gut issue is not going to the bathroom enough. Some simple ways to deal with constipation on the keto diet is by drinking more water, cutting back on sugar substitutes, and eating more fiber. High-fiber, low-carb foods include chia seeds, flaxseed, avocados, and leafy greens.
The top causes of keto muscle cramps, which often occur in the legs, are dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
To treat this symptom, drink more water and make sure you are getting enough electrolytes, including sodium, magnesium, and potassium. You can do this by eating foods rich in these substances, or get additional help with supplements. Light exercise and stretching can also provide relief.
Although your appetite will eventually decrease, it’s perfectly normal to feel hungry at first. Your body is used to carbs, carbs, carbs, and it might call out for them after you’ve cut them out!
Some good ways to alleviate hunger on keto are to:
While it’s not one of the most typical symptoms, some people do find they are losing hair on keto. This can be due to stress, lifestyle changes, or nutrient deficiencies. If you are worried about hair loss, taking a multivitamin can be a good preventative measure.
Many women find that keto affects their menstrual cycle. You may experience more irregular periods, or the disappearance or return of your monthly cycle.
Losing weight has an effect on hormones, which play a large role in menstruation. However, missing periods can indicate other medical issues, so let your doctor know.
Heart palpitations on keto can feel like your pulse is racing or fluttering. This can be due to dehydration and mineral deficiency, so once again you need to drink water and make sure you’re getting sodium, potassium, and magnesium.5
This symptom may be related to other health conditions, so report it to your doctor.
Losing muscle on keto is a concern for many people, but there are steps you can take to maintain and even gain muscle. For starters, make sure to reach the upper limit of your protein macros and add resistance training exercises to your routine.
If you’re not sleeping well on keto, you are not alone. The diet can cause insomnia at first, but you’ll be happy to know that once your body acclimates to the new way of eating, it can help you achieve better and deeper sleep.
To reduce indigestion, you may also want to try reducing your coffee intake, avoiding spicy foods, eating more slowly, and having smaller (but more frequent) meals.
Studies have shown several promising health benefits, but there is no one-size-fits-all diet that works for everyone. Have a conversation with your doctor about your personal situation. They can help you to identify any risk factors and weigh them against the positive benefits.
There are certain people who should avoid this way of eating due to their medical history. For example, it is not recommended for people with kidney damage or health conditions related to the thyroid, liver, pancreas, or gallbladder. People with a history of eating disorders should also avoid strict diets like this one.
People with or at risk of heart disease and those with type 1 diabetes have unique risks that should be discussed thoroughly with a doctor.
In general, doctors do not recommend following keto while pregnant or breastfeeding, mostly because it can put you at a higher risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. There are doctors and women who have had success combining keto with pregnancy and nursing, but most people err on the side of caution during this time.
The keto diet is not recommended for kids. The exception is if it is prescribed by a professional to treat a medical condition, such as epilepsy. In this case, the doctor will provide you and your child with strict instructions and will closely supervise the treatment.
The general advice is that this style of eating should be avoided by people with a medical condition related to the gallbladder or pancreas. That means no keto without a gallbladder, nor with gallstones or a pancreatic condition.
The ketogenic diet is not usually advisable after bariatric surgery such as a gastric bypass. This is because fat is harder for these patients to digest, and they are at an increased risk for nutrient deficiencies. Your doctor or nutritionist will give you very detailed instructions on what to eat after your procedure.
When you read about the health risks of keto on this and other websites, you’ll notice a lot of words like “potential”, “possible”, “may”, “might”.
This is because there is limited research on the topic, so the results are usually far from conclusive, scientifically speaking.
Nevertheless, it’s good to be informed of the possible harmful effects or disadvantages the ketogenic diet may have, even though the research is still ongoing.
A study done in rodents has suggested a possible link between keto and fatty liver disease. However, various trials in humans have shown that the diet can help people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) by reducing liver fat, insulin levels and insulin resistance.
One study with children using this way of eating as a treatment for epilepsy suggested an increased risk of kidney stones with the keto diet. This was helped by taking potassium citrate.
Ketoacidosis is a serious medical complication that can occur in people with type 1 diabetes, or, much less commonly, with type 2. Diabetics should not consider changing their diet without guidance from a doctor.
Vitamin deficiency on the keto diet is a risk because you restrict some of the foods you may usually obtain vitamins and minerals from. Luckily, by mindfully planning your meals and perhaps taking supplements, you can take care to get the nutrients you need.
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Since it has become so popular, it’s easy to get keto myths confused with the facts. Can you separate fact from fiction?
Knowledge is power! Here are some common keto mistakes for beginners to avoid:
How long should you do keto?
If you are feeling good and healthy long term, there is no reason to come off the diet. There are many people who adopt this lifestyle for years and continue to reap the benefits. Keep up with regular doctor visits to ensure you are healthy (this goes for everyone, not just dieters!).
If you don’t think keto is sustainable for you, perhaps because you miss certain foods, you may decide to stop after reaching your weight goal. In this case, a good option is to ease slowly into one of the hybrid or less strict versions of the eating style so you can enjoy more flexibility without putting the weight back on.
Another option is to do cycles, where you are on for some of the year and off at other times.
Transitioning off the ketogenic diet should be a slow and graduate process.
Ideally, you want to keep a lot of the healthy habits you developed. For example, you’re probably used to not eating sugar or highly processed foods. That is a good thing!
What you don’t want to do is go back to the Standard American Diet: high in sugar, saturated fat, and low-quality carbs. That will take you back to weight gain and health issues.
To maintain weight after keto, the foods you reintroduce to your diet should be healthy choices, like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
How does this diet compare to others? Here’s a quick overview.
People who join this lifestyle have developed several acronyms to describe common concepts. It can be slightly confusing at first, but when you know what to look for, it’s easy to get the hang of the lingo and feel like part of the community.
Keto abbreviations for beginners:
Websites and Blogs:
Sometimes things don’t go perfectly the first time around. But with a few slight adjustments, smooth sailing is just ahead. Here are some guidelines to help solve some of the most common issues beginners have. You can also contact us for personalized assistance.
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers! This section covers the most frequently asked questions about the ketogenic diet.
It’s naturally very low in gluten, but it does allow for some. For example, while bread and pasta are usually out of the question, soy sauce is fine to eat. It is low in carbs, but does contain gluten.
The two types of eating are compatible, so you can do both if you are celiac or intolerant.
Yes, but a very limited amount. Sugar is a carb, so it counts toward your net daily limit of 20-50 grams.
You do want to restrict your intake of refined sugar as much as possible. Luckily, there are alternative sweeteners you can use in cooking and baking.
Yes, just choose a sugar-free kind. Chewing gum is a good way to freshen your breath and distract yourself from cravings. Look for a type with xylitol for 0 g net carbs.
It is possible to gain weight if you go over your daily calorie limit. But as long as you stick to your macros plan and don’t eat too many calories, this should not be a problem.
It is not recommended. There are very limited scientific studies on pregnant women due to ethical issues, so science cannot confirm whether it is safe. If you are already on the diet and become pregnant, speak with your doctor.
Yes, you can still lose weight and reap the other benefits of ketosis without working out. However, this increases your risk of losing muscle, and your progress may be slower. It’s best to pair the diet with exercise, especially resistance training.
This temporary symptom usually lasts only 1 or 2 weeks, but it can last as long as a month. Every person is different, depending on how quickly your body adapts. In the meantime, take extra care of your oral hygiene. Brush your teeth more often, and invest in some mouthwash and gum.
No, some people adjust to the new eating habits without experiencing any negative side effects. Other people have one or more symptoms during the transition period.
There are steps you can take to feel your best, such as drinking lots of water, avoiding intense exercise, sleeping enough, and getting adequate amounts of sodium, magnesium and potassium.
Everyone is different, but most people will see results in the first week. The average person will lose 2 to 10 pounds in the first 7 days. However, most of this is water weight.
To switch from weight loss to maintenance, increase the number of calories you eat each day. Use an online keto calculator to determine how many you need to maintain your weight, and slowly work up to that amount.
Eat 100 to 200 calories more each day for a week and monitor how your body reacts. If all is well, increase another 100 to 200 for the next week, and so on until you reach your maintenance amount.
Keto can be good for seniors because it can help with weight loss, inflammation (for example, in the joints), insulin resistance, controlling blood sugar, and improving nutrition.
It’s especially important for older people to eat healthy foods full of nutrients. This diet encourages healthy ingredients instead of highly processed foods, and it restricts many foods that are poor in nutrients and full of empty calories, like soda, white bread, and pasta.
Saturated fats are naturally found in meat, cheese, full fat yogurt, and coconut oil, which are all allowed on the diet and good to eat.
On the other hand, they are also found in fast food, fried food, pastries, and cakes, which should be avoided.
In summary, it matters where the saturated fat comes from.
When you calculate your macros, one thing you include is how much you exercise. So if you work out more, yes, you get to eat more. However, if you’re wondering if you can have a piece of cake and then work out to make it “disappear”, no, that’s not how it works. (Unfortunately!)
First, follow your macros. Later, when you’re completely fat adapted, you can experiment with increasing carbs (from healthy sources!) when you exercise, then measuring your ketones afterwards. However, you risk coming out of ketosis.
It doesn’t have to be! If you cook at home and shop smart at the grocery store, there are lots of ways to bring the costs down. For example, see what’s on sale, buy in bulk, do batch cooking, and freeze extra leftovers.
See more budgeting tips above.
There are a few reasons:
You can increase your salt intake by sprinkling more over your food, drinking bone broth, eating salted nuts, or using supplements.
The best diet is one that works for you. Everyone has different genetics, lifestyles, and eating preferences, so there is no one plan that works for every individual. To see if keto might be right for you, take our 30-second quiz above.
Not exactly. You do eat some carbohydrates, but only in a very limited amount, usually between 20 to 50 net grams per day. However, if by “carbs” you mean food like pasta, bread, and potatoes, then yes, it’s true that you will usually not be eating these foods.
You can enjoy the lifestyle for many years, and there is no reason to stop if you feel good and regular doctor visits confirm that you’re healthy. However, it is more common for people to decide to come off the diet after reaching their weight goal, or to transition to a less strict version.
No, it does not. If you have a fever, sore throat, cough, or runny or stuffy nose, you may have the actual flu. None of these are side effects of the diet.
There are very limited scientific studies on this, so nobody can say for sure. Anecdotally, many people have experienced positive results from going in and out of ketosis on purpose, also called keto cycling. But while some people find it easy to go back and forth, others struggle to get back in once they’re out.
1. Jae-Moon Kim, "Ketogenic diet: Old treatment, new beginning", National Library of Medicine, 24th July 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6123870/ ↑
2. Wajeed Masood; Pavan Annamaraju; Kalyan R. Uppaluri., "Ketogenic Diet: Continuing Education Activity", National Library of Medicine, 26th November 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/ ↑
3. Melanie McGrice and Judi Porter, "The Effect of Low Carbohydrate Diets on Fertility Hormones and Outcomes in Overweight and Obese Women: A Systematic Review", National Library of Medicine, 27th February 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372867/ ↑
4. Anonymous, "Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss", Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 27th March 2018, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/ketogenic-diet/ ↑
5. Nicole Napoli, "Low-Carb Diet Tied to Common Heart Rhythm Disorder", American College of Cardiology, 6th March 2019, https://www.acc.org/about-acc/press-releases/2019/03/06/10/29/low-carb-diet-tied-to-common-heart-rhythm-disorder ↑