Originally designed to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children, the ketogenic diet has become popular in recent years due to evidence that it can help with weight loss. Whatever your reason for considering a keto diet for beginners, we strongly recommend consulting a healthcare professional before embarking on any large-scale dietary changes.
There are a few things to consider when determining if the keto diet is good for you. You may want to look at specific types of keto since the percentage of carbs you are allowed to eat versus other macronutrients may differ. You can try vegan keto if you’re not a fan of animal foods. Another thing to consider is whether you will be able to follow a keto diet for several weeks or several months. And since the goal of the diet is to trigger ketosis, you may need to try different variations and stick with them until your body has entered this metabolic state. Sustainability and motivation are therefore important factors that should also be considered.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about getting started on the keto diet, including meal ideas and expert advice on how to tackle it safely.
Basics of the keto diet
The keto diet is very low in carbs, which encourages the body to enter an alternate metabolic state called ketosis. By removing most of the body’s preferred source of energy (carbohydrates), it is forced to use up the body’s fat stores. This creates something called ketones which can be used as an alternative energy source.
As mentioned, the keto diet was designed to treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children, but a review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (opens in a new tab) indicated that it may also be beneficial in the treatment of obesity. However, any extreme dietary changes should be made under the supervision of a doctor or nutrition specialist, who will be able to monitor progress and any side effects you may experience.
Laura Clark, a registered dietitian and dietary therapist, also claims that the keto diet can be used for weight loss, but over 12 months, other dietary approaches can lead to similar results. “Keto diets are associated with faster initial weight loss, primarily due to water loss as carbohydrate stores in the body are depleted,” she says. “Some people find the satiety achieved with higher protein and fat intakes to be useful as a weight management tool. However, 12 months later, weight loss results between the low-carb and low fat are similar.
Types of keto diets
Depending on the percentage of carbs, fats, and protein you eat, the keto diet can be very different. Clark tells Live Science that a true keto diet falls within some pretty specific parameters. “For a diet to be officially ‘keto’, only 5-10% of daily energy should come from carbohydrates,” she explains. “That means less than 50g of carbs per day. This shifts the focus to the other macronutrients in the diet, namely protein and fat.
According Harvard School of Public Health (opens in a new tab). This gives you some leeway to experiment with what works for you. According to a study by British Journal of Nutrition (opens in a new tab)so it can help you lean on a slightly higher protein intake to give you some variety.
Keto diet for beginners: how to start
Dr. Nurisa Kumaran, Medical Director and Founder of Elementary Health Clinic (opens in a new tab), recommends taking the keto diet slowly. “To start a keto diet, you need to gradually reduce carbs,” she says. “Start by avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates to stabilize blood sugar balance, then gradually eliminate unrefined carbohydrates from the diet.
“Beware of potential keto flu symptoms which are symptoms of irritability, fatigue, headache, brain fog, muscle cramps and dizziness. This is caused by changes in fluid and salt metabolism. Increasing water and salt in the diet can help overcome this. These symptoms are temporary as your body adjusts.
To make keto easier, Kumaran encourages building your meals around high protein foods. “Center your meals around lean meat, oily fish, eggs, and high-protein foods,” she says. “Incorporate lots of vegetables, especially low carb vegetables and salads. Add sources of healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil and nuts.
See our guide to “what fruits can you eat on keto” for a list of low carb, keto-friendly fruits.
Keto Diet for Beginners: Breakfast Ideas
- Keto pancakes
- Bacon and avocado frittata
Keto Diet for Beginners: Meal Ideas
- Quich free pasta
- Chili beef in a lettuce wrap
- Grilled salmon salad
- Flank steak with green salsa
Keto Diet for Beginners: Dinner Ideas
- Grilled beef steaks with tomato salad
- Lemon grilled chicken and goat cheese salad
- Lamb skewers with tzatziki sauce
- Low Carb Cauliflower Steaks
Keto Diet for Beginners: Considerations and Tips
For those considering embarking on a keto diet, Kumaran lists some of the most important considerations:
- Make sure you get enough protein in your diet
- Make sure you get adequate nutrients from plant sources – aim for colorful, low carb vegetables to meet your antioxidant needs
- Do not eat excessive fats, especially saturated fats in dairy products and red meat
- Focus on healthy fats, especially extra virgin olive oil, nuts, fatty fish, and avocado
- Drink plenty of water and stock up on salts if needed
- Consider mealtimes and combine them with intermittent fasting
- Track your ketosis with a keto monitor
She also advises caution when embarking on the keto diet. “While many health benefits have been found for a keto diet, especially for weight loss, Type 2 diabeteschronic fatigue, brain health and more, it is best to seek advice from a medical professional as there can also be negative health consequences including the development of kidney and gallstones, increased LDL cholesterol markers, nutritional deficiencies.
Ketogenic diet for obesity: friend or foe? (opens in a new tab)International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2014)
Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss (opens in a new tab) Harvard School of Public Health.
Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energy, weight loss and health (opens in a new tab) British Journal of Nutrition (2012)