There's no denying the keto diet is one of the most popular dieting trends of the last couple years. Popularized by celebrities and nutritionists alike, the ketogenic, or keto, diet is unique among common regimens. Unlike other low-carbohydrate diets, the keto diet puts healthy fats at the center of your meals. This eating plan essentially involves minimizing carbs and increasing your fat intake to get your body accustomed to using fat for energy, therefore training your body to use its existing body fat for fuel.
With any diet, knowledge and preparation can make a significant difference in your success. Check out this guide to going keto for some information and tips to keep in mind.
Keto for Beginners
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, keto is a high fat, moderate protein and low carb diet. In most cases, a keto diet aims for the following macronutrient percentages:
- Fat: 70 to 80 percent
- Protein: 20 to 25 percent protein
- Carbohydrates: About five percent
To keep carb levels within a ketogenic percentage, many people try to consume 50 grams or less each day. Ketogenic macro proportions drive the process known as "ketosis," which is the end goal for people on this diet.
Typically, the human body uses carbs as its main energy source. The exception to this process is when we abstain from eating. When the body runs out of carbs to use for energy, it begins to use muscle mass instead. A keto diet generates similar "fasting" conditions by keeping carb consumption low. The major difference between fasting and a keto diet is that the body begins to turn fat cells — not muscle mass — into ketones. These ketones become an alternative energy source for several organs and the brain.
When your body begins to burn fat to produce ketones, you enter ketosis and may experience weight loss benefits.
Benefits of the Keto Diet
Research has shown that the keto diet can be helpful for individuals with epilepsy and Type 2 diabetes. Various studies have pinpointed additional benefits, including:
- Weight loss in patients with who were obese.
- Improved cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and triacylglycerol levels.
- Slowed tumor growth in cancer patients.
- Improved symptoms for patients with irritable bowel syndrome.
Though there are documented benefits for this diet, the American Academy of Dietetics lists several people for whom the ketogenic diet could be unsafe. This includes individuals with:
- Past or present eating disorders
- Gallbladder disease or no gallbladder
- Thyroid issues
- Pancreatic disease
- Liver conditions
Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting the ketogenic or any other diet.
How to Start the Keto Diet
Understanding how to go keto is about more than figuring out what foods you can and cannot eat. Going keto may be most worthwhile when you take time to prepare and shift into the diet slowly. The following are some steps you can take to make your transition simple and effective:
1. Educate Yourself About the Foods You Can Eat
The foundation of the keto diet is eating foods that fulfill the appropriate macro proportions each day. It is also important to eat healthy, high-quality foods — especially if your goal is to lose weight. Fortunately, there are many delicious food options that fit into a keto diet:
- Meat: Including fish, pork, poultry, beef, shellfish, lamb, goat, eggs and bone broth.
- Nuts and seeds: Including raw almonds, macadamia nuts and nut butters.
- Low-sugar fruits: Including avocados and small portions of berries.
- Low-carb vegetables: Including mushrooms, celery, asparagus, lettuce, fermented vegetables, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, kale, arugula and spinach.
- Select dairy: Including heavy cream, whipping cream, sour cream, hard and soft cheeses, yogurt, kefir, butter and ghee.
- Healthy oils and fats: Including lard, mayonnaise, flaxseed oil, olive oil, coconut oil, walnut oil, sesame seed oil and avocado oil.
The foods you will want to avoid are those with high carbohydrate content:
- Grains: Including barley, corn, wheat, pasta, oats, rice, quinoa and whole grains.
- High-sugar fruits: Including most fruits, especially apples, pineapples and mangoes.
- Beans and legumes: Including black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils.
- Sugar: Including artificial sweeteners, ice cream, smoothies, soda, desserts, some condiments and fruit juices.
- Starchy vegetables: Including squash, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes.
- Alcohol: Unless you choose a low-glycemic option.
2. Stock Your Kitchen With Keto-Friendly Foods
With your list of keto-friendly foods in hand, it is time to prepare your home for the transition. For many people, it is easier to maintain a keto diet if there are little to no tempting foods available. If you think this may be helpful, consider removing any pasta, sugars and more from your pantry and fridge. You can donate the goods to a local food pantry or cook a delicious meal for your friends.
Whatever you choose, be sure to stock your kitchen with plenty of keto-friendly ingredients.
3. Find Exciting Keto Recipes to Try
Low carbs, no problem! Although keto is fairly restrictive, there are so many amazing dishes you can incorporate into your diet. Take time to find new keto recipes and plan the meals you will eat each week. This preparation can help ensure you have the ingredients you need for each recipe and take some of the guesswork out of what you can eat.
4. Begin Slowly and Persist
It may be helpful to allow yourself to adjust to the keto diet gradually, instead of diving in all at once. Take a week or two to begin decreasing your carbohydrate intake and increasing your healthy fat intake.
When you begin the diet, try your best to stick to it. It can take about 72 hours for your body to enter ketosis and begin burning ketones from fat cells. While your body adjusts, you may experience symptoms of the "keto flu." Be sure to stay hydrated and let the symptoms pass so you can reach ketosis and settle into a normal routine with your diet.
Tips for Going Keto
Switching to a ketogenic diet presents a learning curve, and there are a few practical steps you can take to set yourself up for success:
- Tell your friends and family: It can be challenging to stick to your diet when a friend or family member brings you a fresh bagel or a home-baked dessert. You can inform those around you that you are beginning the keto diet to help mitigate these instances. Being open with others can make it easier to make sure you choose a keto-friendly restaurant or have keto options available at a potluck meal.
- Download a macro tracker app: The percentage of carbs, protein and fat you consume is important in the keto diet. You can monitor your macro intake and adjust your goals with a free macro tracker app. There are a variety of free options that may allow you to search for the foods you are eating or scan the bar codes on store-bought products. A free tracker can take some of the guesswork or hassle out of your diet so you can focus on eating delicious foods and getting optimal results.
- Make sure you are getting necessary nutrients: Because the keto diet cuts out some nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, you may not get all of the necessary vitamins from your meals. Important vitamins you may miss in a keto diet include vitamin A, C K and folate. Talk to your doctor or a dietitian to see if you need to take vitamin supplements during your diet.
- Use keto-friendly oils when you cook: It may feel difficult to get the recommended amount of fat each day without eating the same foods on a keto diet. Adding keto-friendly oils to your diet can be a helpful way to keep your meals diverse and meet your macro counts. Whether you use these oils as an ingredient in your recipes or as a finishing oil, there are endless ways to keep your meals fun, delicious and on-target.
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