A keto or ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate diet with research-backed health benefits from fat loss and better body composition to brain health and mental clarity.
This guide contains everything you need to get started on a ketogenic diet, from basic terminology to the exact steps you need to take to get started.
You’ll also learn all the benefits of the keto diet and the science behind them, so you know exactly what to say when someone asks you, “why keto?”
The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet that includes plenty of healthy fats and high-quality protein.
A typical macronutrient ratio on a keto diet looks something like:
- Fat: 70-80% of calories
- Protein: 20-25% protein
- Carbohydrate: 5-10% carbs
However, your exact calorie intake and macronutrient ratios will depend on several factors, including:
- Your goals on the ketogenic diet
- How much fat you have to lose
- Your health history
- Your activity level
The goal of the ketogenic diet is to put you in nutritional ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body stops burning glucose as its main source of energy, and uses fat instead.
Below is a breakdown of the terminology associated with the keto diet.
What is Ketosis?
Ketosis, pronounced key-tow-sis, is simply the metabolic process of switching your body’s primary source of energy from carbohydrates — or glucose — to ketones from fat.
Here’s how it works:
- You restrict carbohydrates (glucose)
- Over the span of days to weeks, your body depletes its glucose stores, called glycogen
- Once you deplete your body of glycogen, it starts to look for other sources of energy
- Your body begins to break down accumulated body fat and dietary fat and turns those fat molecules into ketones for fuel
What Are Ketones?
Ketones, also known as ketone bodies, are molecules your body creates when carb intake is low, and you’re running on fat for fuel instead of glucose from carbs.
Your body can use ketones efficiently for fuel.
This means you’ll experience more physical and mental energy on a ketogenic diet, with none of the blood sugar crashes you get when you rely on carbs for an energy boost.
You’ll experience the energy and mental clarity perks of the keto diet when your body is able to reach and maintain a ketogenic state, also known as keto-adaptation.
Below are some common misconceptions about the ketogenic diet:
Is the Keto Diet Healthy?
Keto can be extremely healthy when you eat real, nutritious food, and can be unhealthy if you eat processed foods, even if they keep you in ketosis. Watch the video below to learn why:
Is the Keto Diet the Same as Atkins?
No. Even though the keto diet is very low-carb, it differs from an Atkins diet in these key ways:
- The ketogenic diet was first formulated in the 1920s to help manage epilepsy in children[*].
- The keto diet keeps you in a ketogenic, very low-carb state with no carb reintroduction unless you decide you don’t want to be in ketosis anymore.
- The Atkins Diet was created in the 1970s to battle stubborn fat loss.
- Atkins has four distinct phases, from very low-carb to the “maintenance” phase where you can add in as many carbs as you want as long as you don’t gain the weight back.
Are Macros The Only Thing That Matters On Keto?
Macros are just one part of the keto diet.
The ketogenic diet is an excellent tool for improving your health only when you eat real, nutrient-dense foods.
Doing keto diet while eating processed low-carb foods without paying attention to the quality of your food sources will be detrimental to your health.
Do You Have To Limit Protein On Keto?
You may have heard that eating too much protein on keto can put you right back on glucose-burning mode, but the truth is this isn’t something you should worry about.
Protein won’t raise your blood sugar enough to kick you out of ketosis, so you can enjoy plenty of meat.
Watch this video to learn why protein isn’t a problem on keto:
The keto diet is great if you need to lose weight in a healthy way, but that isn’t the only benefit.
Some of the health benefits associated with following a healthy ketogenic diet include:
- Weight loss: A meta analysis found people consistently lost more weight on the ketogenic than on a low-fat diet.[*]
- Increased fat oxidation and decreased body fat: Entering ketosis means your body is able to burn fat for fuel, so you naturally lower your body fat.
- Hormone regulation: Research shows following a keto diet can help regulate important hormones including insulin and cortisol. It may also help women going through menopause and those who suffer PCOS.[*][*]
- Appetite regulation: Research finds that people who become keto-adapted experience lower levels of appetite while they stay on the keto diet.[*]
- Improved blood sugar and insulin levels: Running on ketones instead of glucose can help keep blood sugar and insulin levels low.[*]
- Protection against type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance: The beneficial effect of ketones on blood sugar means keto can help reverse type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.[*]
- Decreased brain fog and increased mental clarity: Ketones may help you get rid of brain fog and improve alertness by keeping blood sugar low and helping balance important neurotransmitters.[*]
- Protection against Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions: The anti inflammatory and antioxidant benefits of the keto diet can help protect your brain from disease.[*]
- Protection against heart disease and high blood pressure: Keto can protect your heart by reducing blood pressure, triglycerides, and balancing cholesterol levels.[*]
If you’re ready to begin your ketogenic journey, follow these 5 simple steps to get started.
Step 1: Know Which Foods You Can Eat
A healthy keto diet is based on real whole foods.
Most people assume that you have to eat straight fat all day to get into ketosis, but that’s just not true.
You should incorporate:
- Plenty of low-carb vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens. As a rule of thumb, the healthiest low-carb vegetables are those you could eat raw.
- High-quality protein including grass-fed beef, organ meats, and wild-caught salmon.
- High-quality fats like coconut oil, avocado oil, avocados, MCT oil, and fatty meats.
- Some high-quality full-fat dairy free of antibiotics.
- Low-sugar fruits, such as blueberries.
It’s also essential to understand the foods that you should avoid in order to stay in ketosis.
This includes many packaged, processed foods, starchy vegetables, and grains.
The best (and easiest) way to get into ketosis is to stick to the approved foods list and drastically reduce carbohydrates.
Step 2: Figure Out Your Individual Macros
Now your goal is to figure out your unique macronutrient breakdown.
Everyone has different goals, body types, and activity levels so it’s important to determine what works for your specific body type and lifestyle.
Some people will benefit from 20g of net carbs per day, while others should not go over this limit.
Use the macronutrient calculator below to figure out your personal carb, protein, and fat intake, plus recommended daily caloric intake according to your goals.
What unit of measurement do you prefer?
How active are you?
What is your weight goal?
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Enter 1 to 50%
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- 5 to 10% is a small gain/loss
- 10 to 20% is a moderate gain/loss
- 20%+ is a large gain/loss
What is your body fat %
How much do you want to consume?
We’ve prefilled these consumption amounts for beginners to intermediate keto-ers for the best results. If you’re more advanced, adjust as needed.
Grams of protein per pound of lean body mass
Adequate protein should be eaten on a ketogenic diet. For most people, it is undesirable to lose muscle mass. Set this ratio at a minimum of .8g/lb of lean body mass. Increase the ratio based on your strength goals and exercise demands.
Net Carb Intake
It is highly recommended that on a ketogenic diet, you keep your carb intake to 5% or less of total calories. This works out to be an average of 30g net carbs a day.
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Worried that this is too much protein? Most keto macro calculators will tell you that your protein needs to be only 10-15% of your total calories. We don’t agree. Check out the video below by our founder Dr. Anthony Gustin to understand why he made this macro calculator with higher than most protein recommendations:
For the first three weeks or so, don’t worry too much about tracking your macros exactly or restricting your calories if your goal isn’t weight loss.
You can dial them down once you get comfortable with eating keto.
Step 3: Get Into Ketosis Quickly
To start experiencing the benefits of the keto diet, you need to enter ketosis.
Once you’ve cut down carbs according to your macros, you can speed up your transition into ketosis by:
- Fasting: Doing a 16/8 intermittent fasting approach — fasting for 16 hours/day and eating only in a 8-hour window — can help you raise your ketone levels.
- Taking exogenous ketones: Exogenous ketones are supplemental ketones that can raise your blood ketone levels within an hour.
- Exercising more often: Exercising helps burn off glycogen and speed up your keto-adaptation.
Before you reach a state of ketosis, you may experience what’s known as the keto flu.
The keto flu is a temporary condition some keto-ers may experience as they first transition into ketosis.
To avoid the keto flu — or limit your symptoms — keep these tips in mind:
- Eat real food and stay hydrated
- Take electrolytes to replenish those you lose as your body transitions into ketosis.
- Continue taking exogenous ketones
Step 4: Test Your Ketones and Make Adjustments
Ketosis is an actual, measurable metabolic state — not a guessing game.
The only way to know for sure if you’re in ketosis is to test your ketone levels.
You can do this using test strips or a blood meter, which is more reliable and accurate than the former.
After taking this reading, you’ll know whether you’re hard work has paid off or if there if you need to make any adjustments to your macros or caloric intake.
Oftentimes hidden carbs, alcohol, and cheat meals can derail your hard work.
Keeping a food journal can help you identify what may be keeping you out of ketosis.
Step 5: Reach and Maintain Ketosis
Once you’re keto-adapted (aka in ketosis), you’ll really start to feel the benefits of a ketogenic diet.
While the journey may not have been easy at first, it will be well worth it once you’re feeling energetic, have long-lasting mental clarity, and are losing and keeping weight off.
From there, you can simply maintain ketosis indefinitely to continue reaping the many positive health benefits that come with this metabolic state.
More Resources To Kickstart Your Keto Diet
Want even more ideas, tips, and tricks on how to get into ketosis and stay there?
Check out our complete guide to ketosis, the Keto Kickstart. It includes everything you need, from comprehensive food list print-outs to grocery guides.
You’ll also learn how to eat out, stay in ketosis while traveling, and how to maintain ketosis for the long-term. And it’s completely free.