The chances are that you have heard of the ketogenic diet.
It is currently one of the most followed diets for weight loss, and its popularity continues to grow both in the United States and beyond.
Followers of this diet rave about its simplicity and how the keto lifestyle has helped them lose both body weight and body fat.
Additionally, many individuals are adopting the keto diet for a variety of health benefits.
Research has shown that high-fat, low-carb diets, such as keto diets, may improve certain conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy and seizures, and cognitive decline (1-3).
The keto diet has also been linked to better blood sugar control, improvements in insulin levels and insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and a decreased risk of heart disease (4-7).
Are you curious about the ketogenic diet for weight loss but are not sure where to start?
The following article will answer the most common questions about this diet and provide a delicious and easy keto meal plan to help you begin your keto journey.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet, or keto for short, is a high fat, moderate protein, and low carb diet plan.
For this weight loss program, you drastically reduce your carb intake while consuming higher amounts of dietary fat.
The classic ketogenic diet typically limits carbohydrates to 5-10% of daily calories, which equals about 25 to 50 grams of total carbs per day.
This reduction in carbohydrates forces the body into a metabolic state known as a state of ketosis.
When you limit the number of carbs in your diet, your body turns to the fatty acids in fat stores as its primary energy source versus glucose and glycogen from carbohydrates.
Fatty acids are broken down into ketone bodies, also known as ketones, by the liver.
These ketone bodies released into the bloodstream can then be used to maintain energy levels by your brain and body.
Additionally, extra ketone bodies are excreted in urine by the kidneys rather than stored as body fat, which is not the case for carbohydrate metabolism.
Essentially, the keto diet works by switching your metabolism into ketosis. Your body then begins to burn fat and fatty acids, ultimately leading to weight loss.
History of the Classic Ketogenic Diet
Physicians originally introduced the ketogenic diet in the 1920s to treat epilepsy and epileptic seizures (8).
The ketogenic diet was used to help mimic a fasting state, like those seen in intermittent fasting, which has been recognized as a seizure treatment for centuries.
This form of epilepsy and seizure treatment was popular for about two decades until the introduction of modern seizure medications.
After that, the classic ketogenic diet was used mainly to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children (8).
Drug-resistant epilepsy is a form of epilepsy and seizures that can’t be controlled with medications.
In these cases, the classic ketogenic diet helped children who have epilepsy reduce their number of seizures or even become seizure-free (3).
Based on this connection between ketone levels and reduced risk of seizures, there is growing interest in how the ketogenic diet and ketones might affect other brain conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease (9).
Possible Benefits of the Ketogenic Lifestyle
- Reduced appetite – Studies have shown that low carb diets high in protein and fat may improve satiety (10).
- May lower cholesterol levels – A low carb diet may help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol (11).
- Reduced insulin resistance – Studies have shown that reducing carbohydrate intake may help lower both insulin and blood sugar levels, thereby reducing insulin resistance (1, 4, 6).
- May result in more rapid weight loss (but only at first) – Research has consistently shown that low carb diets result in greater weight loss during the first six months of dieting than low-fat diets (5). However, this difference in weight loss is no longer significant after one year, meaning that both diets may be equally effective for weight loss in the long term (12).
- May lower blood pressure – High blood pressure is a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease and stroke. Low carb diets may help lower blood pressure (4), thereby reducing your risk for illness or severe medical conditions.
- May cause greater fat loss from the abdomen – A large percentage of fat loss from low-carb diets tends to be from harmful abdominal or belly fat (13).
- May protect against the growth of certain types of cancer cells – Certain types of cancer cells, particularly those found in tumors, rely on glucose to grow and cannot metabolize ketones(14). A low carb diet may help discourage the growth of these cancers. However, further research is needed.
How Do I Start a Keto Diet?
The basic principle of the keto diet is to reduce carbohydrate intake from your diet while emphasizing high-fat foods.
A standard ratio of macronutrients (or macros) for the ketogenic diet is as follows:
- 60 to 75% of daily calories from dietary fat
- 15 to 30% of calories from protein
- 5 to 10% of calories from carbs
When following a keto plan, roughly 5 to 10% of the total number of calories should come from carbohydrates.
This equates to fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day.
Some individuals may be able to achieve ketosis when consuming 50 grams of carbs, while others may need to limit their carb count to as few as 20g per day.
However, counting macros may become tedious and is not always necessary to achieve weight loss results on the keto diet.
Overall, your goal should be to reduce carbs and eat more dietary fat when following this lifestyle.
Generally, keeping your carb intake low or minimal is an easy way to reach and remain in ketosis.
What Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?
Beginning a keto journey may seem challenging at first since it is a restrictive diet. However, you will find that many healthy whole foods are also low in starch and carbs.
Below is a list of low carbohydrate foods to help take the guesswork out of the keto meal plan.
Meats and Protein
When we consume excess or too much protein, the body can convert some of that protein into glucose in a process known as gluconeogenesis.
This can make it more challenging to remain in ketosis. However, it generally occurs when protein intake is higher than 35% of daily calories.
Since keto diets consist mainly of fats, you can feel free to choose fattier cuts of meat for better results. Some good protein options on the keto diet include:
- Beef, preferably grass-fed when possible
- Seafood, including fish and shellfish
- Poultry and lean meats, including chicken, turkey, and duck
Oils and Healthy Fats
As previously mentioned, dietary fats make up as much as 75% of your daily calories on the ketogenic diet.
However, some types of fats are better for your health than others.
Examples of healthy, high-fat foods include fatty fish, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocados. Below is a list of healthy fats that are a great way to increase your daily fat intake:
- Butter, from grass-fed cows, when possible
- Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, and trout
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- MCT oil- MCT oil is a supplement that consists of medium-chain triglycerides
- Nut and seed oils
- Nut butters, such as almond butter
- Full-fat, plain Greek yogurt (Be sure to double-check the nutrition label for added sugars)
- Full-fat cheeses
- Heavy whipping cream
Low-carb or non-starchy veggies are an important staple of any healthy diet, including the keto diet.
These vegetables are lower in calories and packed with essential nutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium.
Non-starchy vegetables are also a good source of fiber, which is a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest or absorb.
Due to their high fiber content, veggies are low in “digestible” or net carbs.
The grams of net carbs in a food item are calculated by subtracting the grams of fiber (aka the non-digestible materials) from the total grams of carbs.
For example, one cup of eggplant has 5 grams of carbohydrates and roughly 3 grams of fiber, meaning that this vegetable has 2g net carbs per serving.
However, keep in mind that this is not a perfect equation, and simply because a food is lower in net carbs does not mean that it is carb-free.
Therefore, it is still recommended to limit your intake of net carbs as part of the keto lifestyle.
Additionally, it is also important to monitor portion size when choosing foods based on their net carbs.
Non-starchy veggies to include on your keto diet menu are:
- Bell peppers
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, and arugula)
- Green beans
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, dill, basil, etc.)
- Hot peppers
Fruits are a great source of vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants. In particular, antioxidants may help lower inflammation by protecting against free radicals.
However, most fruits have too many carbohydrates to work with the ketogenic diet.
The good news is that certain fruits have fewer carbs and can be enjoyed as part of this diet.
Additionally, low-carb fruits make an excellent addition to the keto diet since they have a natural sweetness.
This may help reduce sweet tooth cravings for desserts and other sweets.
However, you will want to be mindful of portion sizes to remain in ketosis since most of these fruits still have some amount of carbohydrates. Keto-friendly options to include on your meal plan are:
- Star fruit
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds make an excellent food choice on the ketogenic diet and are a good source of dietary fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats.
Nuts and seeds also contain essential nutrients that many people in the United States don’t get enough of, including vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper.
Due to their high percentage of dietary fat and fiber, nuts are also very low in carbohydrates and net carbs.
For example, one ounce (28g) of almonds has just over 2g net carbs.
Nuts and seeds to include on your keto meal plan are:
- Brazil nuts
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Nut butters
Many followers of the keto meal plan love that cheese and butter are encouraged as part of the keto diet.
Usually, cheese has too much fat to be part of a weight-loss diet, but not so on the keto plan.
Dairy products are a good source of fatty acids, protein, calcium, and phosphorus. Additionally, since cheese and dairy are high-fat foods, consuming full-fat dairy on a daily basis can help ensure that you consume enough fat in a day.
Keep in mind that fat is your primary source of energy on this type of diet.
When selecting dairy products for your keto menu, be sure to choose the high percent fat version and avoid a skim or reduced-fat substitute.
You should also double-check the nutrition information labels to make the right choice because some dairy products have added sugars or artificial sweeteners.
- Whole milk
- Cream and heavy whipping cream
- Butter, preferably from grass-fed cows
- Cheese, including cheddar cheese, feta cheese, goat cheese, etc.
- Cream cheese
- Full-fat, plain Greek yogurt
- Unsweetened Kefir
Unfortunately, many popular drinks contain carbs, including juice, soda, and sweetened teas and coffees.
However, there are plenty of delicious beverage options that are perfect for the keto dieter. These include:
- Water: Plain water remains the best option for preventing dehydration and should be consumed throughout the day. Try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to your water for extra flavor.
- Sparkling water: Sparkling water and seltzers make an excellent alternative to both regular and diet soda.
- Unsweetened coffee: Adopting the keto lifestyle does not mean that you need to sacrifice your morning cup of joe. Try enjoying your coffee black or with whole milk or heavy cream. Also, read up on bulletproof coffee!
- Unsweetened tea, including black, herbal, and green teas
- Unsweetened milk alternatives such as almond milk and coconut milk
- Broth: Bone broth has more protein than other fluids and is a keto-friendly beverage.
Many alcoholic beverages are too high in carbs to work with the ketogenic meal plan.
However, some types of alcohol, such as tequila, rum, whiskey, and vodka, are lower in carbs and can be enjoyed in moderation.
For example, tequila topped with sugar-free seltzer and lime juice is a keto-friendly drink that is a good idea for special occasions.
What Can You NOT Eat on a Keto Diet?
As previously mentioned, carbs are heavily restricted on the ketogenic diet to help you remain in ketosis.
The following is a list of foods and kinds of foods that are a source of carbohydrates:
- Bread including white and whole grains, rolls, tortillas, pita, and crackers
- Baked goods and dessert items such as cookies, cakes, ice cream, pancakes, and candy
- Gluten-free foods, which are generally made using rice, corn, or other gluten-free starches
- Sweeteners and sugar such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, and honey
- Grains including pasta, rice, cereal, barley, and oats
- Starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, butternut squash, and spaghetti squash
- Legumes and beans including black beans, chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans
- Certain fruits including pineapple, citrus fruits, bananas, and grapes
- Sugary sauces and condiments: Salad dressings, dipping sauces, and barbecue sauce are often sources of hidden sugars and carbs.
- Processed foods: It is recommended to limit highly processed foods and fats such as vegetable oils, canola oil, corn oil, shortening, and margarine. Additionally, some sources recommend limiting soy products, such as tofu, since soy is processed and contains phytoestrogen (a naturally occurring hormone). However, these food items can be enjoyed in moderation on the keto diet and as part of other healthy lifestyles.
- “Diet” foods or low-fat foods: Foods that contain the word “diet” or “low-fat” frequently have added sugars or sweeteners for flavor and should be avoided on the keto diet plan.
As with any healthy lifestyle, you may also want to limit your intake of highly processed junk foods.
These include fast food, packaged meals, and processed meats, to name a few.
Diets high in processed foods have been linked to weight gain, obesity, and increased risk of certain health issues, such as cardiovascular disease (15).
Instead, try focusing on whole, unprocessed foods.
One Week Sample Keto Diet Menu
Below is a 7-day keto diet meal plan that is perfect for keto beginners.
As with all meal plans, it is recommended that you individualize these delicious recipes based on your daily carb allowance, eating habits, preferences, and any food intolerances or allergies.
Additionally, if you have a busy schedule, you can make extra of your favorite keto meals to freeze or have as leftovers for the next day.
- Breakfast: Scrambled eggs topped with sliced avocado
- Snack: Roasted sunflower seeds sprinkled with sea salt
- Lunch: Grilled chicken breast salad with balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing
- Snack: Turkey or beef jerky
- Dinner: Grilled steak with shrimp scampi served over zucchini noodles
- Breakfast: Mushroom frittata with fresh herbs and parmesan cream sauce
- Snack: Keto “chocolate milk” made with cocoa and unsweetened almond milk
- Lunch: Pork chops with cauliflower mash
- Snack: Handful of mixed nuts and bell pepper sticks
- Dinner: Mediterranean chicken thighs with a balsamic glaze. Served with steamed broccoli.
- Breakfast: Full-fat Greek yogurt topped with fresh raspberries
- Snack: Ham and cheese slices
- Lunch: Tuna salad on top of leafy greens
- Snack: Egg omelet with bell peppers and cheddar cheese
- Dinner: Grilled salmon with asparagus and lemon juice
- Breakfast: Breadless bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich
- Snack: Blueberries topped with coconut cream
- Lunch: Keto crab cakes made with almond flour and served over lettuce
- Snack: Full-fat Greek yogurt with cinnamon and walnuts
- Dinner: Beef stir-fry served over cauliflower rice
- Breakfast: Mixed berry protein powder smoothie with spinach and almond nut butter
- Snack: Egg salad wrapped in butter lettuce
- Lunch: Grilled shrimp topped with a lemon butter sauce and a side of broccoli
- Snack: Peanut butter, coconut oil fat bombs
- Dinner: Chicken curry made with coconut milk and served over cauliflower rice
- Breakfast: Full-fat Greek yogurt “parfait” made with strawberries and toasted walnuts
- Snack: Cheese plate
- Lunch: Blackened catfish with diced tomatoes and jalapeños
- Snack: Chocolate peanut butter smoothie prepared with cocoa, peanut butter, and almond milk
- Dinner: A personal pizza made with cauliflower crust and topped with sausage and mozzarella cheese
- Breakfast: Spinach, mushroom, and feta cheese omelet
- Snack: Bacon-wrapped asparagus
- Lunch: 5-ounce grass-fed ground beef burger in a lettuce “bun” topped with and a side salad.
- Snack: 1-ounce serving of 85% dark chocolate
- Dinner: Chicken pesto served over zucchini noodles
Healthy Keto Snack Options
Adding keto snacks to your diet plan doesn’t have to be hard. Below is a list of some straightforward, keto-friendly food ideas that will fit perfectly with any keto meal plan:
- Hard-boiled eggs with sea salt and black pepper
- A green spinach smoothie
- Mixed nuts with dark chocolate chunks
- Salted peanuts
- Raw almonds and cheddar cheese cubes
- Chocolate keto smoothie made with cocoa, unsweetened almond milk, and avocado
- Spicy guacamole with veggie sticks
- Cucumber slices topped with cheese or cream cheese
- Berries topped with whipped cream
- Bell peppers and celery dipped in cream cheese
- Beef jerky
- Cheese roll-ups
- Onion soup with bacon bits
- Mini “sandwich” rolls made with sliced turkey, cheese, and mayo
- Leftovers from your favorite keto meal
A Simple Ketogenic Diet Grocery List
When planning your keto shopping lists, be sure to include plenty of non-starchy veggies and heart-healthy fats.
Try using the following grocery list to help plan your keto recipes and make meal prep simple and easy.
- Meat and protein: Chicken, beef, pork, and turkey (Try to buy free-range, pasture-raised, and/or organic when possible)
- Fish: Especially fatty fish like sardines, salmon, tuna, herring, and mackerel
- Shellfish: Oysters, scallops, clams, and shrimp
- Dairy: Heavy cream, full-fat yogurt (unsweetened), butter, and sour cream
- Cheese: Brie, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and goat cheese
- Heart-healthy oils: Olive, avocado, and coconut oil
- Low-carb fruits: Berries, avocados, lemons, limes, and olives
- Nut butters: Almond, peanut, and cashew butter
- Seeds: Sunflower, chia, and pumpkin seeds
- Nuts: Almonds, pistachios, pecans, and macadamia nuts
- Low-carb vegetables: Mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, leafy greens, peppers, and onions. Fresh, frozen, and canned (with no added sugars) are all good options.
- Condiments: Herbs, spices and spice blends, vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, sea salt, pepper, garlic, sugar alcohol sweetener, and salsa. However, be sure to double-check the ingredients list for added sugars.
Dizziness, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, bad breath, and headache are possible adverse effects you might experience during the first week on the keto diet.
You may also notice some water weight loss during the start of this diet, as your body begins to burn glycogen molecules for fuel. This is because glycogen stores hold onto water.
Additionally, many people report experiencing keto flu when they first make this lifestyle change.
Adopting a very low carb diet is a big adjustment and can come as a surprise to the body, as it is forced to switch from its preferred energy source of glucose and glycogen stores to fat and ketones.
This drastic change in metabolism can result in keto flu symptoms as your body adjusts to a new normal.
Keto flu symptoms can feel similar to having a case of the flu. It can include nausea, fatigue, cramps, dizziness, irritability, diarrhea, constipation, low energy levels, and food cravings and temptations.
These symptoms usually last for the first week and can be mild to severe, depending on the person.
It is important to stay hydrated during this time, decrease your activity levels, and replace dietary electrolytes, including sodium and potassium. Try salting your foods to taste and increasing your consumption of potassium-rich leafy green veggies.
Finally, the keto diet plan may not be appropriate for everyone. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, children, and individuals with kidney or liver disease may want to avoid this diet.
Additionally, individuals with diabetes should talk to their doctor before trying this diet.
The standard ketogenic diet is a low carb, moderate protein, and high-fat diet that consists of 50 grams of carbs per day or less.
You can accomplish this by restricting your carbohydrate intake and emphasizing a high-fat diet.
The ketogenic diet has come a long way since its origin as a seizure treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy.
Many people are turning to the ketogenic diet to help them lose weight and decrease their risk of chronic illness.
Research studies have shown that high fat, low carb diets, such as the keto diet, may help with weight loss, especially during the first six months of dieting (5).
However, as with any weight loss program, it only works if you can stick with it for the long run.
The bottom line is that the keto diet is one option for a healthy lifestyle. Ultimately the best diet is the one that you can maintain for the long-term.
To set yourself up for success, try to focus on foods naturally high in fat and/ or low in carbs.
These include eggs, meats, cheeses, and non-starchy vegetables. Foods that are moderate in carbs, like berries, dark chocolate, and certain alcoholic beverages, can be enjoyed on keto meal plans in moderation.
While the transition to a low carb diet may seem like a challenge at first and may result in the keto flu, there are steps that you can take to make going keto easy and enjoyable.
Try following the 7-day keto diet menu and using the keto-friendly shopping list as a guide to get started on your ketogenic diet journey.
Additionally, you may want to speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian nutritionist to determine if this keto diet plan is right for you.
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