Unlike many fad diets that come and go with very limited rates of long-term success, the ketogenic diet (or keto diet) has been practiced for more thannine decades(since the 1920s) and is based upon a solid understanding of physiology and nutrition science.
The keto diet works for such a high percentage of people because it targets several key, underlying causes of weight gain including hormonal imbalances, especially insulin resistance coupled with high blood sugar levels, and the cycle of restricting and binging on empty calories due to hunger that so many dieters struggle with. Yet thats not a problem with whatson the keto diet food list.
What is the keto diet? Rather than relying on counting calories, limiting portion sizes, resorting to extreme exercise or requiring lots of willpower (even in the face of drastically low energy levels), this low-carb diet takes an entirely different approach to weight loss and health improvements. It works because it changes the very fuel source that the body uses to stay energized: namely, from burning glucose (or sugar) to dietary fat, courtesy ofketo diet recipes and the food list items, including high-fat, low-carb foods.
Making that switch will place your body in a state of ketosis, when your body becomes a fat burner rather than a sugar burner. The steps, or keto basics, are surprising simple:
Table of ContentsIntro to the Keto Diet for Beginners |What Is Ketosis? |How Do You Get Into Ketosis? |What Are the Stages of Ketosis?| What Does a Keto Meal Plan Look Like? | 6 Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet |Detailed Food List |How to Get Started | Best Keto Grocery List | Keto Foods to Limit | Foods to Avoid Completely | Ketogenic Meal Plan
The classic ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet plan that was originally designed in the 1920s for patients with epilepsy by researchers working atJohns Hopkins Medical Center. (1) Researchers found that fasting avoiding consumption of all foods for a brief period of time (such as with intermittent fasting), including those that provide carbohydrates helped reduce the amount of seizures patients suffered, in addition to having other positive effects on body fat, blood sugar, cholesterol and hunger levels. (2)
Unfortunately, long-term fasting is not a feasible option for more than a few days, therefore the keto diet was developed to mimic the same beneficial effects of fasting. Essentially it works by tricking the body into thinking it is fasting (while reaping intermittent fasting benefits), through a strict elimination of glucose that is found in carbohydrate foods. Today the standard keto diet goes by several different names, including the low-carbohydrate or very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet(LCKD or VLCKD for short).
At the core of the classic keto diet is severely restricting intake of all or most foods with sugar and starch (carbohydrates). These foods are broken down into sugar (insulin and glucose) in our blood once we eat them, and if these levels become too high, extra calories are much more easily stored as body fat andresults in unwanted weight gain. However, when glucose levels are cut off due to low-carb intake, the body starts to burn fat instead and produces ketones thatcan be measured in the blood (using urine strips, for example).
Keto diets, like most low carb diets, work through the elimination of glucose. Because most folks live on a high carb diet, our bodies normally run on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We cannot make glucose and only have about 24 hours worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. Once glucose is no longer available from food sources, we begin to burn stored fat instead, or fat from our food.
Therefore, when youre following a ketogenic diet,your body is burning fat for energy rather than carbohydrates, so in the process most people lose weight and excess body fat rapidly, even when consuming lots of fat and adequate calories through their daily food intake. Another major benefit of the keto diet is that theres no need to count calories, feel hungry or attempt to burn loads of calories through hours of intense exercise.
In some ways, its similar to the Atkins diet, which similarly booststhe bodys fat-burning abilities through eatingonly low-carb foods, along with getting ridof foods high in carbs and sugar. Removing glucose from carbohydrate foods will causethe body to burn fat for energy instead. The major differences between the classic keto and the Atkins diet is the former emphasizes healthier fats, less overall protein and noprocessed meat(such as bacon) while having more research to back up its efficacy.
In fact, those differences with Atkins outline some of the popularketo diet myths, such as it being another high-protein plan, recommending any type of fat and that barely any science research backs up the benefits. These are nutrition lies, plain and simple.
Ketosis is the result of following the standard ketogenic diet, which is why its also sometimes called the ketosis diet. This takes place when glucose fromcarbohydrate foods(like grains, all sources of sugar or fruit, for example) is drastically reduced, which forces the body to find an alternative fuel source: fat. This state can also be achieved by multiple days of total fasting, but that isnt sustainable beyond a few days. (Its why some keto diet plans combine intermittent fasting or IMF with the keto diet for greater weight loss effects.)
Although dietary fat (especiallysaturated fat) often gets a bad name, provoking fear of weight gain and heart disease, its also your bodys second preferred source of energy when carbohydrates are not easily accessible.
In the absence of glucose, which is normally used by cells as a quick source of energy, the body starts to burn fat and produces ketone bodies instead. Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you enter into a state of ketosis which usually results in quick and consistent weight loss until you reach a healthy, stable body weight. See this keto diet review, a before and after trying keto for 30 days.
To sum up a complex process, you reach this fat burning state when the the liver breaks down fat into fatty acids and glycerol, through a process called beta-oxidation. There are three primary types of ketone bodies that are water-soluble molecules produced in the liver: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone.
The body then further breaks down these fatty acids into an energy-rich substance called ketones thatcirculate through the bloodstream. Fatty acid molecules are broken down through the process called ketogenesis, and a specific ketone body called acetoacetate is formed which supplies energy.
The end result is staying fueled off of circulating high ketones (which are also sometimes called ketone bodies) which is whats responsible foraltering your metabolismin a way that some people like to say turns you into a fat-burning machine.Both in terms of how it feels physically and mentally, along with the impact it has on the body, being in ketosis is very different than a glycolytic state, where blood glucose (sugar) serves as the bodys energy source.
So, is ketosis bad for you? Absolutely not. If anything, its the reverse. Many consider burning ketones to be a much cleaner way to stay energized compared to running on carbs and sugar day in and day out.
And remember, this state is not to be confused withketoacidosis, which isa serious diabetes complication when the body produces excess ketones (or blood acids).
The goal is to keep you in this fat-burning metabolic state, in which you will lose weight until you reach your ideal set point.Some research suggests this may be a novel approach to reverse diabetes naturally.
Heres how the keto diet works:
Wondering how many carb foods you can eat and still be in ketosis? The traditional ketogenic diet,created for those with epilepsy consisted of getting about 75 percent of calories from sources of fat (such as oils or fattier cuts of meat), 5 percent from carbohydrates and 20 percent from protein. For most people a less strict version (what I call a modified keto diet) can still help promote weight loss in a safe, and often very fast, way.
In order to transition and remain in this state, aiming for about 3050 net grams is typically the recommended amount of total carbs to start with. This is considered a more moderate or flexible approach but can be less overwhelming to begin with.Once youre more accustomed to eating keto, you can choose to lower carbs even more if youd like (perhaps only from time to time), down to about 20 grams of net carbs daily. This is considered the standard, strict amount that many keto dieters aim to adhere to for best results, but remember that everyone is a bit different.
Once ketone levels in the blood rise to a certain point, you officially enter into a state of ketosis. This state results in fairly rapidand consistent weight loss until you reach a healthier (and stable)body weight. Overall, people enter into this state at different rates, usually after 34 days of fasting or following a very low-carbohydrate diet (20 grams of net carbs or less) that forces the need for an alternative energy source. (3)
The process occurswhen the liver breaks down fat into fatty acids and glycerol a process called beta-oxidation. In particular, three primary types of ketone bodies that are water-soluble molecules are produced: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone.
Rather than drawing energy from glucose, you stay fueled off of these circulating ketonesor ketone bodies essentially, burning fat for fuel. This is the principalgoal of the ketogenic diet, which can be achieved by adhering toa very low-carbohydrate, high-fat food list withonly moderate amounts of protein.
The optimal state is reached when they body stays in that state for at least a few weeks, when any type of side effects diminish greatly while the benefits are more pronounced with the body becoming a fat burner.
Here are examples of high-fat, low-carb foods on the keto diet food list:
On the other hand, the types of foods youll avoid eating on the keto, low-carb food plan are likely the same ones you are, or previously were, accustomed to getting lots of your daily calories from before starting this way of eating. This includes items like fruit, processed foods or drinks high in sugar, those made with any grains or white/wheat flour, conventional dairy products, desserts, and many other high-carb foods (especially those that are sources of empty calories).
On a keto diet, weight loss can often be substantial and happen quickly (especially for those who start out very overweight or obese). The 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that those following a keto diet achieved better long-term body weight and cardiovascular risk factor management when compared with individuals assigned to a conventional low-fat diet (i.e. a restricted-energy diet with less than 30 percent of energy from fat).(4)
A 2014 keto diet review published in the International Journal of EnvironmentalResearch & Public Healthstates:
One of the most studied strategies in the recent years for weight loss is the ketogenic diet. Many studies have shown that this kind of nutritional approach has a solid physiological and biochemical basis and is able to induce effective weight loss along with improvement in several cardiovascular risk parameters. (5)
In part, keto diet weight loss is a real thing because high-fat, low-carb diets can both help diminish hunger and boost weight loss through their hormonal effects. As described above, when we eat very little foods that supply us with carbohydrates, we release less insulin. With lower insulin levels, the body doesnt store extra energy in the form of fat for later use, and instead is able to reach into existing fat stores for energy.
Keto diets are high in healthy fats and protein also tend to be very filling, which can help reduce overeating of empty calories, sweets and junk foods. (6a) For most people eating a healthy low-carb diet, its easy to consume an appropriate amount of calories, but not too many, since things like sugary drinks, cookies, bread, cereals, ice cream or other desserts and snack bars are off-limits.
Often caused by lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment, lymphedema occurs because theres a blockage in the lymphatic system and results in the swelling in leg or arm. A 2017 study involved patients who suffered from obesity andlymphedema and who embarked on a 18-week ketogenic diet. Weight and limb volume was significantly reduced. (6b)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder, and it affects women of reproductive age. Symptoms include obesity, hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance. A pilot study took 11 women through 24 weeks of a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (20 grams or less per day). Among the five who completed the study, they lost 12 percent of their weight on average and reduced fasting insulin by 54 percent. Additionally, two women who previously experienced infertility problems became pregnant. (6c)
This process of burning fat provides more benefits than simply helping us to shed extra weight it also helps control the release of hormones like insulin, which plays a role in development of diabetes and other health problems. When we eat carbohydrates, insulin is released as a reaction to elevated blood glucose (an increase in sugar circulating in our blood) and insulin levels rise. Insulin is a storage hormone thatsignals cells to store as much available energy as possible, initially as glycogen (aka stored carbohydrates in our muscles) and then as body fat.
The keto diet works by eliminating carbohydrates from the your daily intake and keeping the bodys carbohydrate stores almost empty, therefore preventing too much insulin from being released following food consumption and creating normal blood sugar levels. This can help reverse insulin resistance, which is the underlying problem contributing to diabetes symptoms.In studies, low-carb diets have shown benefits for improvingblood pressure, postprandial glycemia and insulin secretion.(7) Therefore, diabetics on insulin should contact their medical provider prior to starting a ketogenic diet, however, as insulin dosages may need to be adjusted.
The keto diet can reduce the risk of heart disease markers, including high cholesterol and triglycerides. (8) In fact, the keto diet is unlikely to negatively impact your cholesterol levels despite being so high in fat. Moreover, its capable of lowering cardiovascular disease risk factors, especially in those who are obese. (9)
One study, for example, found that adhering to the ketogenic diet and keto diet foods list for 24 weeks resulted in decreased levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and blood glucose in a significant percentage of patients, while at the same time increasing the level of HDL cholesterol. (10)
Certain studies suggest that keto diets may starve cancer cells. A highly processed, pro-inflammatory, low-nutrient foods can feed cancer cells causing them to proliferate. Whats the connection between high-sugar consumption and cancer?The regular cells found in our bodies are able to use fat for energy, but its believed that cancer cells cannot metabolically shift to use fat rather than glucose. (11)
There are several medical studies such as two conducted by the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center for the University of Iowa, and the National Institutes of HealthsNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, for example that show the ketogenic diet is an effective treatment for cancerand other serious health problems. (12)
Therefore, a keto diet that eliminates excess refined sugar and other processed carbohydrates may be effective in reducing or fighting cancer. Its not a coincidence that some of the best cancer-fighting foods are on the keto diet food list.
Over the past century, ketogenic diets have also been used as natural remedies to treat and even help reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairments, including epilepsy, Alzheimers symptoms, manic depression and anxiety. Research shows that cutting off glucose levels with a very low-carb diet makes your body produce ketones for fuel. This change can help to reverse neurological disorders and cognitive impairment, including inducing seizure control. The brain is able to use this alternative source of energy instead of the cellular energy pathways that arent functioning normally in patients with brain disorders.
A related clinical diet fordrug-resistant epilepsy is called the medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet, in which MCT oil is extensively used because its more ketogenic than long-chain triglycerides. (13a) Another dietary therapy for epilepsy called Low Glycemic Index Treatment (LGIT) was developed in 2002 as an alternative to the keto diet. LGIT monitors the total amount of carbohydrates consumed daily, and focuses on carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index.) (13b)
Clinical improvement was observed in Alzheimers patients fed a ketogenic diet, and this was marked by improved mitochondrial function. (14a) In fact, a European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study pointed to emerging data that suggested the therapeutic use of ketogenic diets for multiple neurological disorders beyond epilepsy and Alzheimers, including headaches, neurotrauma, Parkinsons disease, sleep disorders, brain cancer, autism and multiple sclerosis. (14b)
The report goes on to say that while these various diseases are clearly different from each other, the ketogenic diet appears to be so effective for neurological problems because of its neuroprotective effect as the keto appears to correct abnormalities in cellular energy usage, which is a common characteristic in many neurological disorders.
In mouse models, a study showed that a keto diet could slow disease progression for both ALS and Huntingtons diseases.In fact, more than one animal study has discovered a potential benefits of the low carb, high fat diet or intermittent fasting in delaying weight loss, managing glucose and protecting neurons from injury. (14c,14d)
Interestingly, its also been shown to slow disease progression in mouse models of both ALS and Huntingtons diseases.
Researchers believe that the ketogenic diet can also help patients with schizophrenia to normalize the pathophysiological processes that are causing symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, lack of restraint and unpredictable behavior. One study found that the keto diet lead to elevated concentrations of kynurenic acid (KYNA) in the hippocampus and striatum, which promotes neuroactive activity. Some studies even point to the elimination of gluten as a possible reason for improved symptoms, as researchers observed that patients with schizophrenia tended to eat more carbohydrates immediately before a psychotic episode. (15)
Although the exact role of the keto diet in mental and brain disorders is unclear, there has been proof of its efficacy in patients with schizophrenia. And, to boot, it works to reverse many conditions that develop as a side effect of conventional medications for brain disorders, like weight gain, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risks. More research is needed to understand the role of the ketogenic diet in treating or improving schizophrenia, as the current available studies are either animal studies or case studies, but the benefits of a low carbohydrate, high fat diet in neurology is promising.
Now, theres even evidence that a low-carb, high-fat regimen (as the keto diet is) helps you live longer, compared to a low-fat diet. In a study by the medical journal The Lancet that studied more than 135,000 adults from 18 countries, high carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction or cardiovascular disease mortality.
In fact,saturated fatintake had aninverse associationwith the risk for suffering from a stroke, meaning the more saturated fat someone is consuming on a daily basis, the more protection against having a stroke they seemed to have. (16a)
The keto diet also appears to help induce autophagy, which helps clear damaged cells from the body, including senescent cells that serve no functional purpose but still linger inside tissues and organs. In animal studies when rats are put on the ketogenic diet, autophagic pathways are created that reduce brain injury during and after seizures. (16b)
In fact, inducing autophagy is now a popular biohacking technique for helping remove signs of aging poorly and keto is one way to get there.
If youre new or just still learning the ropes, your biggest questions probably revolve around figuring out just what high-fat low-carb foodsyou can eat on such a low-carb, ketogenic diet. Overall, remember that the bulk of calories on the keto diet are from foods thatare high in natural fats along with a moderate amount of foods with protein. Those that are severely restricted are all foods that provide lots of carbs, even kinds that are normally thought of as healthy, like whole grains, for example.
The biggest shifts in your daily habits will be how you food shop and how you cook, and recipes that are ketogenic need to be followed rather than just low-carb. You will require the healthy fats in order to get into ketosis and have enough energy without the carbs. And you will be considerably more energetic and healthier when cooking your own keto-friendly food rather than buying supposedly keto foods off the shelf.
Therefore, make sure you understand the keto diet rules and start stocking up with the keto grocery list.
Were ready to show you how to start the ketogenic diet. Are you ready to lead the ketogenic lifestyle?
Most healthy fats contain zero net carbs, especially the kinds listed below, which also have other health advantages. (17) Fats should be included in high amounts with every meal throughout the day.
Animal proteins (meat, fish, etc.) have very little, if any, carbs. You can consume them in moderate amounts as needed to control hunger. Overall, choose fattier cuts of meat rather than leaner ones. For example, chicken thighs and legs are preferable to chicken breasts because they contain much more fat. Weve got quick keto diet chicken recipes to help.
Dairy products should be limited as well, to only now and then due to containing natural sugars. Higher fat, hard cheeses have the least carbs, while low-fat milk and soft cheeses have much more.
Most condiments below range from 0.52 net carb grams per 12 tablespoon serving. Check ingredient labels to make sure added sugar is not included, which will increase net carbs. (Stevia anderythritol will become your go-to sweeteners because neither raise your blood sugar combine for a more natural sweet taste and, remember, a little goes a long way!)
Consume the unsweetened drinks below only moderately, having just 12 small servings per day. These will typically contain between 17 net carb grams per serving.
One teaspoon of sugar has about 4 net grams of carbs, while every tablespoon has about 12 net grams.
One slice of bread, or small serving of grains, can have anywhere from 1030 net grams of carbs! Cereals and cooked grains typically have 1535 grams per 1/4 cup uncooked, depending on the kind.
Most fruits simply contain too many carbs and can prevent you from reaching your goals if you eat them. So when on keto, stay away from especially the sweet fruits like mangoes, papayas, bananas, oranges and apples.
As you can see above, theres a surprising number of approved keto foods, especially for such a high-fat diet. The keto diet menu centers around healthy fats, grass-fed meats, non-starchy vegetables and fat-based fruit (avocado).
So what are some keto lunch ideas? I suggest you visitmy page on keto diet recipes as well as keto diet snacks(including fat bombs!), in order to get started the right way on a ketogenic meal plan!
As you will see, simple keto meals begins with the healthy fat consideration first, making sure plenty of low-starch veggies surround the fat along with a moderate protein source. Wild-caught salmon, as a high-fat fish, is a perfect keto choice, and easy keto meals can be a fatty cut of healthy protein like salmon or lamb served with plenty of green veggies.
For a keto diet breakfast, the egg is often the perfect main ingredient because of its status of a filling, healthy fat. For a quick keto breakfast, you may choose a keto smoothie using a keto protein powder. Use an approved keto fruit like frozen blueberries and some coconut milk, and then you have a delicious start to your day.
For more keto meal ideas, go to the recipe section on this site and search diet type by ketogenic and youll see hundreds of options.
A common question is: Can the keto diet be followed if youre a vegan or vegetarian? With keto, its actually less challenging than most diets, as there is limited emphasis on animal products and instead more plant-based healthy fats than other eating plans.
The key for a vegetarian or vegan keto diet isswapping your starchy veggies for low-carb vegetarian options and also be sure to get in a hearty dose of healthy fats and protein.
Whats the difference between a vegan and vegetarian keto diet? Unlike vegetarians, vegans are more restricted in their use of animal products. While both options eliminate meat entirely, vegetarians can include non-meat animal foods like eggs, grass-fed butter and ghee to help meet their protein and fat needs while vegans rely solely on plant products such as nuts, seeds and veggies.
Another common question: is it possible to have a vegan pregnancy on a keto diet? Absolutely, but as discussed below, it may be important to follow a keto-alkaline diet to maintain proper pH balance.
When youre out and about, is it possible to stay on your new keto diet? At most restaurants, yes, its usually easy to follow the keto diet rules above when you order.
Forketo fast food options, it gets a little trickier, as in general I dont support eating fast food because of low-quality ingredients, processed foods, cheap oils, etc. However, the fast casual space, in places like Chipotle and Panera, better food (even organic and/or locally sourced) is available.
Keto-friendly fast food means buns, fries, breaded meats and shakes are off the menu. On the menu? Best of all are salads with healthy fats like avocado, nuts and seeds. Lettuce-wrapped burgers, soups and zucchini noodle bowls are also allowed.
Although a standard ketogenic diet is even more restrictive in terms of carb intake, a moderate keto diet (just as some folks have followed a modified Atkins diet with options like a carb cycling diet) is another option that will very likely still be able to provide substantial weight loss results and other improvements in symptoms. Including slightly more carbs can be very useful for maintenance, allow for more flexibility, provide a higher fiber intake, and overall may feel more sustainable long-term socially and psychologically.
Be aware that its not uncommon to experience some negative reactions and side effects when transitioning into this way of eating. Although not everyone, some people will experience flu-like symptoms, often referred to as the keto flu, but which usually subside within a couple of weeks.
According to Anna Cabeca, MD, a double board-certified Ob-Gyn, traditional keto diets usually miss the important factor of restoring alkalinity. For many, especially when undergoing the keto diet plan for women, the key is to reach an alkaline pH first before beginning keto in order to prevent feeling agitated, anxious, uncomfortable or overly hungry.
Therefore, she combines the concept of an alkaline and ketogenic diet, and her clients and patients experience weight loss, improved blood sugar control, better quality sleep and reduced menopause symptoms like hot flashes or night sweats.
To help you overcome these keto flu symptoms, here are several steps to try taking:
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. Hes author of the books Eat Dirt, Essential Oils: Ancient Medicine and the upcoming Keto Diet: Your 30-Day Plan to Lose Weight, Balance Hormones and Reverse Disease (Little Brown & Co., February 2019). Hes also a co-founder of Ancient Nutrition, a health company where the mission is to restore health, strength and vitality by providing historys healthiest whole food nutrients to the modern world.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system,but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma,Im offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut.Click here to learn more about the webinar.
The Complete Keto Diet for Beginners (Detailed Keto Food …