Keto expert and cookbook author Brian Stanton offers an easy-to-follow guide to keto for beginners.
If you’re thinking about going keto—for weight loss, brain health, or any other reason—you may be a little overwhelmed with information.
There’s so much advice on the keto diet. How do you sift through it all? And how do you start from the beginning and learn the basics of keto dieting?
Stick around for five minutes or so. This article has you covered.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The keto diet (short for ketogenic diet) is a high-fat, low-carb regimen in which you eat about 60 percent of your daily calories from fat, 30 percent from protein, and 10 percent from carbohydrates. Keeping your macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) in these ratios helps your body enter a fat-burning state called ketosis.
Carb restriction is the key to ketosis. That’s because restricting carbs keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low, which in turn signals your liver to start burning fat and producing ketones.
Think of ketones as a backup superfuel for your body and brain. They supply cells—especially brain cells—with clean, efficient energy. Compared to glucose, for instance, ketones create less ROS (a form of oxidative stress) when metabolized.
All this may seem rather complex, but don’t worry: Your cells know what to do on a low-carb diet. Instead of running on sugar, they start running on fat. And when you run on fat, it’s much easier to lose fat. Let’s go a little deeper on that topic now.
Keto Diet Health Benefits
The keto diet is popular for a reason: It works! Here’s what the science says about four health benefits of going keto:
1. Weight loss
The keto diet is best known as a weight loss diet.
This is no accident. The keto diet not only increases fat burning, it also reduces cravings. That’s a potent formula for weight loss.
In a 2003 study, healthy women on a keto diet lost more weight than women on a calorie-restricted low-fat diet. Yes, the keto women didn’t limit calories, and still lost more weight than calorie cutters.
2. More stable energy
When you eat a high-carb diet, your blood sugar goes up and down like a rollercoaster. The highs are high, but the lows are low. And low blood sugar means low energy.
The keto diet gets you off that rollercoaster. With no carbs to spike your blood sugar, you won’t crash every few hours. Instead, you’ll run on a more stable energy source: fat. Bye bye, afternoon slumps.
3. Reduced cravings
When you go keto, it triggers a series of hunger-reducing hormonal changes. These include:
- Reduced ghrelin (your hunger hormone)
- Reduced neuropeptide Y (an appetite-stimulating brain factor)
- Increased CCK (a hormone that makes you feel full)
Less cravings means less snacking, and less snacking means less overeating. Good deal.
4. Brain health
Your brain normally runs entirely on sugar. But in ketosis, your brain also uses ketones as fuel. Mental enhancements often follow.
Ketones seem especially useful for offsetting cognitive decline. One study found that stimulating ketosis in older adults led to better mental performance on a variety of tests.
What To Eat On Keto
As a general principle, your meals on keto should be high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. A salad with protein and olive oil is a good standby. Beef and broccoli works great too.
With that in mind, here are the foods allowed on keto:
- Healthy fats: includes olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, lard, ghee, MCT oil, and red palm oil
- Nuts: includes macadamia nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds
- Proteins: includes meat, fish, eggs, organ meats, shellfish, collagen protein, and whey protein
- Non-starchy vegetables: includes kale, spinach, watercress, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, and cauliflower
- Flavorings: includes stevia, monk fruit, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, and erythritol
- Beverages: includes coffee, green tea, black tea, herbal tea, broth, lemon juice, and almond milk
Quick note: There are several “in-between” foods to be enjoyed in moderation (not in excess) on keto. These foods include berries, dark chocolate, tomatoes, avocados, and alcohol. Have them as an occasional treat and you’ll be fine.
What To Avoid On Keto
The most important rule of the keto diet is to ruthlessly cut carbs. Get this right and you’re most of the way there.
With this priority in mind, your keto diet shouldn’t include:
- Anything with sugar
- Packaged or refined foods
- Starchy vegetables
- Industrial seed oils (also called vegetable oils)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed meats
Yes, it seems restrictive. But once you adapt to the keto diet, your cravings should dissipate.
How To Know You’re In Ketosis
One way to confirm you’re in ketosis? Measure your ketone levels.
You can measure ketones using a blood, urine, or breath test. But here’s the thing: Even a positive result doesn’t prove success on keto. You might, for instance, have elevated ketones but not be using them efficiently.
That’s why it’s critical to track more subjective metrics like weight loss, energy, hunger, and mental acuity. If these are improving, you’re on the right track.
Tips For Starting The Keto Diet
Now that you know the basics, here are some tips to get you rolling with keto:
- Give keto two to four weeks. This allows your body time to “fat-adapt,” i.e., unlocking the health benefits listed above.
- Track macros. Use an app to record daily fat, protein, and carb intake, along with total calories. Doing so will help you catch hidden carbs so you can stay in ketosis.
- Don’t skimp on fat. Despite what conventional wisdom says, fat is healthy. Don’t be shy with healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, animal fat, and butter.
- Prioritize non-starchy veggies. Vegetables not only fill the hole left by carbs; they also prevent nutrient deficiencies.
- Drink fluids. Water, tea, coffee, and broth help you stay hydrated, which is extra important on a keto diet.
- Take electrolytes. When you eat a low-carb diet, you lose extra sodium and potassium through your urine. Increase your intake of these electrolytes to feel and perform your best.
Finally, this last tip is also the most important: Track your personal progress. Have you lost weight? Are you feeling better? Are you thinking more clearly?
Your answers should guide your future with the keto diet. Good luck getting started!
To go beyond keto for beginners, check out Brian’s book, Keto Intermittent Fasting: 100 High-Fat Low-Carb Recipes and Fasting Guidelines to Supercharge Your Health.