Some links in this article are affiliate links, which means I earn from qualifying purchases.
* Note that I am not a medical practitioner, nor should the information on this page be interpreted as medical advice. This is simply information that has helped me to find success with the keto diet. Be sure to check with your doctor before starting any diet.
Starting the ketogenic diet can be confusing for many people in the beginning. The internet is flooded with info on the keto diet, but putting it all together can become overwhelming. That is why I wanted to create a simple, straightforward guide to the keto diet for beginners.
My goal is to save you the time and energy of reading through countless articles and to compile all of the basics in one place. I want to answer every question you might have before beginning your keto journey while providing resources useful for ensuring your success. So let’s start with the most basic question.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a diet that is high in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carbs. Though there are different types of keto diets, I will be referring to the standard ketogenic diet (SKD) in this post. Followers of SKD receive 70-75% percent of daily calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 5% from carbs. (To find out your personal ideal macros, or breakdown of fat, protein, and carbs, take this quiz!)
This diet might sound like it doesn’t contain enough vegetables, however, you will only be counting net carbs on this diet. Net carbs are found by subtracting fiber from the total carbs found in a given serving of food. For example, one 10 oz package of spinach with 10g of carbs and 6g of fiber would contain 4 net carbs. Since your body cannot digest fiber it does not spike your blood sugar or trigger an insulin response. That said, many experts still recommend consuming fewer than 50 total carbs daily.
After eating this way for a while your body will use up all of its stored glucose (sugar) and begin to use ketones for fuel. A ketone is simply a by-product of your body breaking down fat for fuel when carbohydrate levels are low. This is when your body gets into a state called ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state where a certain amount of your body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies. Being in ketosis is the result of your body metabolizing fat into energy. It’s this fat burning state we are trying to achieve on the keto diet. For a more in-depth explanation of ketosis click here.
How To Get Into Ketosis
The most common way of getting into ketosis is by limiting your carb intake to very low levels (under 30g per day). In other words, by simply following a ketogenic diet you should enter into ketosis after a few days. Just be sure to you keep your protein intake moderate, as consuming too much protein could knock you out of ketosis.
Doing a 24-48 hour fast might help you to enter into ketosis faster as well. Since you are only consuming water, your glycogen stores should deplete quite quickly. Just be sure to get the “ok” from your doctor first!
Consuming MCT oil has also shown to help people get into ketosis faster. The fats found in MCT oil are quickly absorbed and can be used immediately for energy or turned into ketones. Be aware, however, that consuming too much too fast could result in stomach problems and diarrhea. Start with one teaspoon a day and add gradually. Taking an exogenous ketone supplement might help you reach ketosis faster as well, though both of these are only optional. You should be able to achieve ketosis through diet alone.
Exercise is another trick that can help you enter ketosis faster as well. Physical activity, especially resistance training and high-intensity cardio deplete muscle glycogen. Using these methods, it’s likely that you will achieve ketosis more quickly.
Keto Diet Food Guide
Best sources of fat
- Grass-fed butter or ghee
- Grass-fed animal fats (including bone marrow and beef tallow)
- Virgin coconut oil
- MCT oil
- Fatty wild-caught fish such a sockeye salmon
- Fish and krill oil
- Olive oil
- Avacado oil
- Cocoa Butter (make sure its edible form)
- Macadamia nut oil
- Pastured egg yolks
Acceptable sources of fat
- Heavy whipping cream (of course avoid these dairy items if you are sensitive to dairy)
- Full-fat sour cream
- Nuts and seeds (macadamia, pecans, and pumpkin seeds are best)
- Nut butter
- Full-fat cottage cheese and other cheeses
- Pastured nitrate free bacon
Fats to highly limit or completely avoid
(These fats might not knock you out of ketosis but they might lead to health issues and inflammation)
- Safflower/Sunflower oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Canola oil
- Soy oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
- Commercial lard
Best sources of protein
- Fatty cuts of grass-fed beef and lamb
- Fatty wild-caught fish such as sockeye salmon
- Pastured Eggs
- Grass-fed collagen protein
- Grass-fed organ meats such as beef liver cooked in butter
Acceptable sources of protein
- Natural chicken and turkey (leaner cuts should be consumed with high-fat foods)
- Nitrate free natural bacon and pork
- Commercial eggs
- Natural beef
- pumpkin seeds
- Full-fat cottage cheese and other cheeses
Protein to highly limit or completely avoid
- Wheat proteins
- Heavily processed canned meats
- Other processed protein sources
*Note: If you find that your protein intake is too high, you might be eating too many lean meats. If you do decide to eat a lean meat, make sure you pair it with fats (i.e. a chicken breast cooked in butter and topped with avocado.)
Best sources of carbs
- Green leafy vegetables like spinach, mustard, and collard greens
- Brussel sprouts
- Bok choy
- Yellow squash
Acceptable sources of carbs
- Green beans
*Note even though some of the carbs might be good and acceptable you still need to be careful not to go over your daily limit of 20-30 net carbs. For example, though you can have berries in moderation, 60z of raspberries still contain 8 net carbs.
Carbs to completely avoid
- Fruit (except the ones listed above)
- Potatoes and other starchy vegetables
Keto Diet Packaged Food and Drink
Though it’s better to eat mostly whole foods, there are a lot of keto friendly packaged foods out on the market these days. Having a list of keto friendly snacks can come when traveling or when life gets busy. Just don’t overdo it with packaged foods and watch out for hidden sugars and low-quality ingredients. I’ve tried to make this list as natural as possible, but it isn’t 100% clean.
Keto-Friendly Prepackaged Snacks
- Lily’s chocolate bars
- Moon cheese
- Epic pork rinds
- 4505 pork rinds
- Dukes smoked sausages
- Cello Whisps
- Epic bars and bites ( select varieties )
- Lakanato monk fruit chocolate bars
- Royal Hawaiian orchards macadamia nuts
- Smart Cakes
- Gimme organic seaweed snacks
- Vermont meat sticks
- Justin’s almond butter packs
- Wild planet sardines
- Eden pumpkin seeds
- Raw rev glo protein bars
- Just the Cheese Bars
Keto-Friendly Condiments And Dressings
- Westbrau natural organic unsweetened ketchup
- Organicville mustard
- Primal kitchen mayo
- Primal kitchen salad dressings
- Sky valley sriracha sauce
- Cholula sauce
- Simple girl bbq sauce
- Nuco coconut vegan mayo
- Tessemaes salad dressing
- No Dairy Gourmet Buffalo Sauce
- J. Lee’s Gourmet BBQ Sauce (Original)
Best Keto Diet Sweeteners
15 keto-friendly drinks
- Topo Chico
- La Croix
- Zevia zero calorie soda
- Zevia zero calorie energy drinks
- Hiball sparkling energy waters ( not their energy drinks )
- Honest tea unsweetened lemon
- Pure leaf unsweetened tea
- Ito En Oi Ocha Green Tea unsweetened
- Virgils diet sodas
- Hint waters
- Steaz unsweetened teas
* You can purchase many of these items at most natural grocery stores as well as online at Amazon.com
Guide to Alcohol On The Keto Diet
Though it would probably be best to completely avoid alcohol, for many of us that’s just not going to happen. However, it’s best to limit alcoholic to special occasions and to drink in moderation. It is also worth mentioning that most people become intoxicated more easily when low-carb dieting. That being said, not all adult beverages are created equally keto-friendly, so let’s jump in by starting with the drinks that top my list:
Best Choice Of Alcohol On The Keto Diet
- Most other spirits
Spirits are the best choice of alcohol for the keto diet because they contain almost zero carbs. However, for ultimate health and weight loss, it’s best to stay away from alcohol as much as possible. Drinking will likely slow down your weight loss progress and might have potential health risks. If you are going to partake of mixed drinks, be sure that you’re choosing a low-carb mixer. Personally, I like to mix gin with lemon juice and a splash of club soda. Keep in mind that some spirits might be sweetened as well.
Keto-Friendly Beverages To Enjoy In Moderation
- Merlot est 3.7 carbs per 5oz serving
- Pinot Noir est 3.5 carbs per 5oz serving
- Cabernet Sauvignon est 3.82 carbs per 5oz serving
- Shiraz est 3.8 carbs per 5oz serving
- Chardonnay est 3.2 carbs per 5oz serving
- Sauvignon Blanc est 3.01 carbs per 5oz serving
- Champagne est 1.5 carbs per 5oz serving
Though not as keto-friendly as spirits might be, some wines contain fewer carbs than others. This information is just a guide to the average amount of carbs in each type of wine. That said, It may vary from brand to brand. So if you’re going to drink wine, pick a lower carb wine and limit yourself to only 1-2 drinks on occasion.
Alcohol To Avoid On The Keto Diet
- Sweet wines
- Most Beer ( I know…it’s my favorite, too.)
- Sugary mixed drinks
- Hard ciders
Though there might be a few low-carb beers that you can enjoy occasionally, it’s best to avoid beer and most other forms of alcohol.
Great Keto Diet Resources
Recommended Keto Books And Programs
3 Great Keto Diet Podcasts
Great Keto Diet Food Tracking Apps
- Keto Diet App
- My Fitness Pal
Great Keto Diet Youtube Channels
- Jason Wittrock
- Healthful Pursuit
- Keto Connect
- Primal Edge Health
Recommended Keto Diet Websites
- Keto Dessert Recipes
- Diet Doctor
- Mark’s Daily Apple
- Ben Greenfield Fitness
- Rob Wolf
- Keto Diet App
- Low Carb Yum
Keto Diet FAQ
How to avoid the keto flu?
Whats called the “keto flu” is a very common issue when first go on a ketogenic diet. It is so named because it shares many of the same symptoms as the regular flu. You may experience fatigue, headaches, cough, and many other flu-like symptoms shortly after beginning a keto diet. This is mostly due to your body losing electrolytes due to lower levels of insulin.
Thankfully, however, there are many things you can do to limit or avoid the keto flu. For starters, if you are currently eating a very high-carb diet, you may consider slowly dropping your carb intake. Begin by cutting out added sugars and grains. After that, slowly cut down on other carb sources until you are under 30 net carbs per day.
Next, you are going to want to make sure that you get plenty of electrolytes when you start the keto diet. Focus on eating foods that are high in sodium, potassium, and magnesium. An easy way to get sodium is by consuming high-quality salts and drinking beef or chicken broth. Do this especially when feeling fatigued.
Keto friendly sources of potassium include avocado, wild caught salmon, spinach, and swiss chard, kale, and nuts. In addition, I also supplement with about 200-400mg of magnesium daily.
How do I know if I’m in ketosis?
The most common ways to check if you have entered into ketosis are by using keto urine strips or with a blood monitor. Keto urine sticks are less expensive, but they are not infallible when measuring your blood ketone levels. Using a blood ketone meter is the most accurate way to test your ketone levels.
Should I count calories on a keto diet?
When first starting the keto diet I wouldn’t recommend counting calories. Just make sure that you are getting enough fat and limiting your carbs to 2o net carbs or fewer per day. Eventually, you will likely want to start counting your calories in order to get to your desired weight. Calories are not everything, but they still play a major role in weight loss. To find out how many calories you should personally consume per day, click here.
Are there side effects of the keto diet?
Not everyone is the same so there could be side effects to the keto diet. Absolutely be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a new diet program. Click here to check out an article on some of the more common side effects to the keto diet.
Can I gain muscle on a keto diet?
Yes, you can still gain muscle on the keto diet. However, the keto diet might not be the best diet if gaining muscle is your primary concern. That said, there are many bodybuilders and strength athletes who follow the keto diet with great success.
Though fat is protein-sparing, you might consider getting more protein if you perform a lot of resistance training. Your macros might look more like 65% fat, 30% protein, and 5% carbs. If you still are not getting the results you want, consider looking into the targeted keto diet and the cyclical keto diet.