While various forms of low-carb dieting have been used for many decades to treat a range of diseases, this article does not recommend that anyone undertake self-treatment or avoidance of prescribed drugs without consulting a physician or qualified healthcare practitioner first.
It’s the New Year and if you’re like millions of Americans, you likely want to change your eating habits after the holidays. For many people, that means trying out the keto diet or low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle.
Why cut the carbs? Carbohydrates are a primary form of fuel (glucose) for your body and can be found in many popular snack foods, fruits, candy, breads, and other starchy foods, like legumes and grains.
While carbs can be a valuable fuel source, an overabundance of carbs (especially simple carbs like refined sugars) can contribute to weight gain. Carb overload can also have adverse effects on blood-glucose levels, especially in people with diabetes.
If you’ve been wondering how to start the keto diet, keep reading. We’re demystifying keto and detailing seven simple steps you can take to kickstart your keto lifestyle.
1. Know What Foods You Can Eat and Which to Avoid
Knowing what foods you can eat and which foods you should avoid is the most important factor when starting the keto diet. Here’s a breakdown of the different meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, fats, and oils you can enjoy.
Meat and Seafood
The following list contains good sources of protein and fat from meat and seafood sources. Remember, choosing organic, grass-finished beef, heritage pork, and free-range chicken are always optimal choices, in addition to fattier cuts.
- Chicken (dark meat is ideal)
- Lamb chops
- Pork belly
- Ribeye steak
- Tuna (canned tuna is OK and oil packed is best, for the fats!)
Vegetables are an important source of nutrients on a keto diet, but like other foods, some contain a higher percentage of carbs and should be avoided or limited to maintain a keto lifestyle. Root vegetables like beets, carrots, and potatoes, are higher in carbs and starches and can take your body out of ketosis. Instead, try these vegetables:
- Green beans
- Lettuce (the darker the better)
- Spinach and other leafy greens
Keep in mind that cooking vegetables can increase the carb count. Before preparing your meals, consider the difference in carbs for raw versus cooked. Some vegetables, like potatoes, have a dramatic increase in calories and carbs when cooked. If that’s the case, choose vegetables you can eat raw, or opt to minimally cook veggies.
Fruits are often seen as the enemy of a keto diet, but before you get rid of all your fruits, remember that there are a handful of fruits that can be eaten in moderation. To start your keto diet off right, consider the following fruits:
- Avocado (yes, it’s a fruit!)
Serving size is an important consideration when it comes to fruit. It’s easy to eat a whole bowl of raspberries, but that will equate to a day’s worth of carbs in one sitting. It may be helpful to measure fruits to accurately account for net carbs throughout the day.
If you’re wondering how to start a keto diet, and if dairy can be included, then know that yes, it can! Of course, some dairy is more favorable than others, but overall, dairy products are high-fat, low-carb protein sources that are perfect for a keto lifestyle. Evaporated and dry milk products have higher carb counts, so avoid those. Additionally, drink milk in moderation as it contains lactose.
The following dairy products are great options but always reach for full fat:
- Cottage cheese
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Heavy cream
- Plain yogurt
Fats and Oil Sources
Fat is at the center of a truly ketogenic diet. Generally, keto diet percentages are as follows:
- Fat: 70 to 80 percent of daily calories
- Protein: 10 to 20 percent of daily calories
- Carbohydrates: 5 to 10 percent of daily calories
Like protein, it’s important to consume high-quality fats, avoiding deep-fried, empty calories. Here are some good sources of fats:
- Oils: avocado oil, coconut, extra virgin olive oil, MCT
- Nuts: Brazil, pecans, macadamia
- Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, sunflower (also believed to bring good fortune)
Nuts and seeds are easy to overdo, so it’s wise to measure your serving size to make sure you’re in a healthy range of carbs. While nuts and seeds are lower in carbs, they still do contain enough carbs to take you out of ketosis in large amounts.
2. Be Prepared to Eat Lots of Fat
The keto diet replaces carbohydrates with various source of high-quality fats. In fact, fat should make up around 70 to 80 percent of your daily calories on the keto diet. This can be difficult for those who aren’t used to eating this much fat throughout the day–or those who remember the low-fat diet craze of the ‘70s.
This is why being prepared to eat fat (and lots of it) is one of the best tips for how to start the keto diet. Luckily, there are many delicious, keto-friendly ways to get the fats you need. You may be wondering at this point: is a keto diet healthy with all the fat? It absolutely can be, especially if you’re mindfully choosing high-quality, nutrient-dense foods like the ones above!
3. Know How Much Protein to Eat (it’s Probably Less Than You Think!)
One of the ongoing questions many keto enthusiasts have is how much protein is appropriate on the keto diet? Many people mistakenly believe keto to be a high-protein diet. In fact, protein should only make up between 10 to 20 percent of your daily calories.
Of course, the amount of protein you consume will depend on the person and their goals. For individuals who are a healthy weight and don’t have high blood sugar, you can likely handle more protein intake. If you’re overweight and trying to reduce your blood sugar, you may want to eat less protein. Additionally, your age, gender, height, and activity level contribute to appropriate keto diet percentages. As a rule, 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight is a good starting point to begin your keto diet.
4. Get Familiar with Reading Nutrition Labels
Reading nutrition labels is important when starting the keto diet so you can ensure you’re consuming enough fat and not unknowingly eating too many carbs. As a rule, avoid foods that have sugars within the first few ingredients on the list, but watch out for sneaky carbs that hide out under other names.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciphering nutrition labels:
Serving Size Matters
Just because a food has lower carbs doesn’t mean you can eat the entire package. Always check the serving size to see how many are in a package to make sure you aren’t exceeding your daily carb limit. For people working to maintain a constant state of ketosis, you will likely need to keep carbs under 20 grams per day.
Watch Out for Hidden Sugars
Sugars are sneaky and often hide out in the form of non-sugary sounding names. Typically, any ingredient that ends with -ose is a form of sugar (dextrose, lactose, sucrose). Other sweeteners to avoid are:
- Agave syrup
- Maple syrup
While these sweeteners are derived from more natural sources, your body responds to them in the same way as other carbs.
Sauces and dressings often contain different carbohydrates, such as the above sweeteners, or thickeners like corn starch, that increase the total grams of carbs.
Carb Counting for Weight Loss
Keto diet percentages are a hot topic when it comes to starting and continuing a keto diet, especially the percentage of carbs. If you’re focusing on a LCHF diet versus a ketogenic diet, you can consume more carbs and still maintain a healthy lifestyle. Daily carb intakes are:
- Ketogenic: Under 20 grams of carbs per day
- LCHF: 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day
- Moderate low carb diet: 50 to 100 grams of carbs per day
The important thing to keep in mind are your individual goals. If you want to shed pounds and reduce blood-glucose levels, you may want to work towards a fully ketogenic lifestyle. If you want to maintain lower blood-glucose levels, but aren’t as focused on dramatic weight loss, a LCHF or moderate low carb diet can help to achieve those goals.
Whichever you choose, stay mindful of what you’re eating by reading labels and choosing fresh, whole fruits and vegetables that won’t spike sugar levels.
5. Stay Hydrated
Water is, of course, an important part of staying hydrated regardless of your diet. But if you’re on a keto diet and trying to lose weight, hydration becomes extra important because it helps to metabolize fat in a process known as lipolysis.
Can you drink other beverages than water on a healthy keto diet? Yes, but it’s important to read nutrition labels (covered in the next section) for grams of carbohydrates and ingredients. Some acceptable beverages you can include are:
- Black coffee
- Coffee with heavy cream
- Kombucha, in moderation
- Nut milks, like almond or cashew, unsweetened
- Sparkling water
- Tea, unsweetened
Generally, you want to stay away from alcohol and diet sodas, as they can contribute to sugar cravings. If you do choose to have an occasional alcoholic beverage, choose a spirit like gin or vodka mixed with sparkling water or a squeeze of citrus, or a dry wine. Also, make sure that you’re still within your daily carb limit if you have an alcoholic beverage.
6. Know That You May Experience the “Keto Flu”
When some people start the keto diet, the experience what’s known as the “keto flu”. The keto flu can occur when you first reduce the amount of carbohydrates you consume. As your body adjusts to these lifestyle changes, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as fatigue or mental fogginess.
To stave off the keto flu, it’s important to stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and ensure you’re eating enough fat to power you through the day. You can also incorporate products like KetoLiving BHB Berry Lemonade Drink Mix, which can improve comfort in ketosis. Some people experience the keto flu for up to two weeks. Stay strong and know it will pass!
7. Meal Plan Like a Pro
You want to get started on your keto diet but may not be sure where to start. Let us help with this simple, daily meal plan as inspiration. Cooking in batches is a great way to have your macronutrients ready to go every day, saving you time when you’re headed out the door.
Daily Meal Plan Sample:
- Breakfast: Frittata with bacon and cheese, and/or shake with keto protein powder
- Lunch: Spinach salad with salmon, dressed with olive oil and lemon
- Snack: Nuts or fruit (measured or weighed for optimal amount)
- Dinner: Zucchini pasta with creamy alfredo sauce (optional: grilled chicken)
Not only are you getting nutritious meals, but something delicious too. You don’t have to sacrifice flavor to maintain a healthy keto or LCHF lifestyle! Check out our keto recipe ideas for more creative meals to add into your daily diet.
When planning your meals, you can add protein where you like and substitute with the vegetables, proteins, fats, and fruits you enjoy, as long as you’re within optimal keto diet percentages.
When you’re on-the-go, healthy snacks are a great way to stay on track and avoid the temptation to grab whatever is available. Thankfully, KetoLiving has a number of delicious keto products to help you stay healthy, vibrant, and on-track with your keto diet. Learn more about our supplements and shakes to help control sugar cravings while you’re living your best keto lifestyle.
All statements described here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any products mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.