Experts estimate that by the year 2027, the ketogenic (or keto) diet market will be valued at $15.64 billion. It hasn’t been a mainstream diet for very long, but keto is definitely more than a passing fad and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Have you been interested in giving the keto diet a try? Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the information out there about ketosis and fat burning and wondering where to begin?
If you’re not sure how to get started with this way of eating, here are nine simple steps for beginners that you ought to keep in mind:
- Learn the basics of ketosis
- Set clear goals
- Ease into a low-carb lifestyle
- Be aware of hidden carbs
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
- Meal prep
- Find your favorite keto-friendly swaps
- Track calories AND macronutrients
- Eat mainly whole foods
If you follow these nine steps, each of which is explained in more detail below, you’ll have a much easier time starting and sticking to a keto diet.
1. Learn the Basics of Ketosis
Before we dive into some of the more specific keto diet tips for beginners, it’s important to make sure you have a clear understanding of what the diet entails and what ketosis is. Knowing the basics will help you understand why you’re making certain choices while on this diet and can make it easier for you to stick with it.
What Is the Keto Diet?
In simplest terms, when you’re following a keto diet, you’re eating the majority of your calories from fat, with a moderate amount of protein and a very low amount of carbohydrates. The classic ketogenic diet, which was prescribed for children with epilepsy, required participants to consume 90 percent of their calories from fat, 7 percent from protein, and a mere 3 percent from carbohydrates.
For those who are not following the diet for medical reasons, there is more leeway and room for experimentation with regards to macronutrient ratios. For example, you might consume 70 percent of your calories from fat, 20 percent from protein, and 10 percent from carbohydrates.
What Is Ketosis?
When you follow a keto diet correctly, your body will shift into a state of ketosis. When you’re in ketosis, your body uses fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
If a person is in ketosis, their bodies will also derive energy from ketone bodies. Ketone bodies (also known as ketones) are produced by the liver from both dietary fat and stored body fat.
2. Set Clear Goals
If you’re thinking about giving the keto diet a try, it’s a good idea to take a step back and think about why you want to follow this diet. A ketogenic diet can be very effective for a lot of people, but it’s also a dramatic change from the way most folks eat. By making sure you have a clear reason for eating this way, it’ll be easier for you to stay motivated and stick with it long-term.
Reasons to Try Keto
The following are some of the most common reasons why people choose to follow the ketogenic diet:
- Lose weight in a faster and more sustained way
- Improve metabolic health
- Improve energy and focus
- Manage symptoms of chronic illnesses (such as epilepsy or type 2 diabetes)
If you know what you want to get out of the keto diet, it’ll also be easier for you to tailor your way of eating to ensure you meet those goals. For example, if you’re following a keto diet because you want to lose weight, you’ll know that you need to monitor your calorie intake (more on that later) in addition to your macronutrients.
3. Ease into a Low-Carb Lifestyle
A big mistake a lot of beginners make when they first embark on their keto journey is diving straight into the deep end. They immediately slash their carbs and end up experiencing symptoms of the “keto flu” like nausea, headaches, and fatigue.
If you want to minimize these symptoms and feel better as your body shifts from burning carbs to burning fat, it’s a better idea to ease into a low-carb way of eating.
Figure Out Your Current Carb and Fat Intake
Start by monitoring your food intake for a few days. You can use an app or simply write down what you eat in a day on a notepad. Then, calculate approximately how many grams of carbohydrates and grams of fat you take in per day.
Slowly Reduce Carbs and Increase Fat Over Time
Once you know roughly how many grams of carbs and fat you’re taking in, slowly decrease the number of carbs you eat and increase the amount of fat.
For example, if you’re currently eating 250 grams of carbohydrates per day, try decreasing that to 225 or 200 grams of carbs per day. Then, replace the carbs you’re cutting out with additional fat (remember that fat contains more than twice as many calories as carbohydrates, with 9 calories per gram instead of 4).
4. Be Aware of Hidden Carbs
Anyone who’s been on the keto diet for a while will tell you that this way of eating helps you to get really good at reading nutrition labels and ingredients lists.
Remember, a key tenet of this diet is to reduce the number of carbohydrates you’re taking in each day. This can be tricky because there are lots of foods that contain hidden carbs. For example, many salad dressings and condiments are loaded with sugar.
To ensure you’re not exactly going over your daily carbohydrate allotment and preventing your body from getting into ketosis, always check labels when you’re purchasing packaged foods. This might seem cumbersome at first, but with a bit of practice, you’ll soon get used to it.
Learn to Calculate Net Carbs
When you’re calculating the total number of carbohydrates you’re eating per day, be sure to adjust for your fiber intake. Fiber isn’t used in the body the same way other carbohydrates are, and it doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin. Because of this, you can subtract fiber from your total carbohydrates for the day.
For example, let’s say a food contained 10 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fiber. When you subtract 3 from 10, you have 7 grams of net carbs left over. Only those 7 grams of net carbs count toward your daily carb intake.
5. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
One of the most important things you can do to ensure you feel your best on a ketogenic diet is to stay hydrated.
Carbohydrates cause your body to retain water. When you cut carbohydrates from your diet, you lose that water (this is why so many people experience a dramatic drop in weight when they first start the keto diet) and can end up dehydrated if you’re not careful.
When it comes to hydration, it’s not enough to just drink lots of water. If you don’t have sufficient electrolyte levels, no matter how much water you’re chugging, you’re not going to feel as well as you could.
Your body needs the following electrolytes to stay properly hydrated and to avoid symptoms of the keto flu, such as nausea, headaches, and muscle cramps:
An easy way to address electrolyte imbalance is to add a bit of sea salt to your water and make sure you’re salting your food consistently. You can also add an electrolyte supplement to your water. There are lots of powdered products that add flavor and boost electrolytes without a ton of sugar.
6. Meal Prep
When you’re on a keto diet, you’ll likely find that a lot of your favorite convenience foods are suddenly off the table. To make it easier to resist the temptation to swing the drive-through or pick up a pizza on a busy day, take the time to plan your meals and prep food ahead of time. That way, you’ll always know that there is something nutritious and keto-friendly ready to go as soon as hunger hits.
How to Make Meal Planning Easy
Sit down on a Saturday or Sunday and think about what you want to eat for the week. Consider the ingredients you might need to buy at the store and how long certain recipes take to prepare.
Some people prefer just to plan their dinners, while others like to make a plan for every meal plus snacks. Try out both options and see what works better for you and your family.
Simple Keto Meal Prep Ideas
If you’re interested in meal prepping but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen cooking, there are lots of simple keto-friendly foods you can prepare ahead of time.
For example, you can cook ground beef or make chicken thighs in the crockpot with your favorite low-carb sauce to use as a protein source for the week. You can also roast low-carb vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, etc.) so that you have side dishes readily available.
Consider cooking a big batch of hardboiled eggs for snacks or simple meals, too. You can also portion out low-carb staples like nuts and seeds for quick snacking.
7. Find Your Favorite Keto-Friendly Swaps
It’s a lot easier to stick to this diet (or any diet for that matter) if you’re able to replicate your favorite foods and make them more keto-friendly. Instead of saying you’re never allowed to have cookies again, for example, why not find a low-carb cookie (pre-made or home-baked) that you enjoy?
The Best Keto Swaps
There are lots of keto-friendly swaps you can make to stick to your diet and achieve your goals without sacrificing flavor. Here are some of the most popular swaps you might want to try:
- Zucchini noodles instead of pasta
- Cauliflower rice instead of regular rice
- Almond flour and coconut flour for baking instead of all-purpose flour
- Chia seed pudding instead of oatmeal
- Veggies and salsa instead of chips and salsa
As the keto diet gains popularity, it’s also becoming easier to find low-carb snacks like crackers, chips, and cookies in stores, too. Consider stashing these in the pantry instead of traditional options so you have something to grab when a craving hits.
8. Track Calories AND Macronutrients
If you’re following a ketogenic diet to lose weight, this tip is especially important. It’s not enough just to stick to a specific macronutrient ratio. You also need to make sure you’re not taking in more calories than your body burns.
Remember, even if your body is running off of fat instead of carbohydrates, if you’re eating above your calorie needs, you’ll still gain weight. It’s also easy to overeat on a keto diet if you’re not careful since fat contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates.
Make Tracking Easy
The easiest way to incorporate tracking into your routine is to use an app. There are tons of nutrition and calorie-counting apps that you can download on your smartphone for free. Find one that is easy to use and has a barcode scanning feature that will allow you to scan packaged foods and add them to your log without having to type in individual numbers.
9. Eat Mainly Whole Foods
When you start researching the keto diet, you’ll likely come across people talking about “clean keto” versus “dirty keto”. When people say “clean keto,” they typically mean eating a diet that is made up mainly of whole foods. “Dirty keto,” on the other hand, involves eating a diet that contains mostly processed foods and fast food.
The Case for Clean Keto
If you follow a clean keto diet and eat mainly whole foods, you’ll likely feel more energized and experience more benefits from this way of eating. You’ll also have an easier time sticking to your calorie goal if you’re trying to lose weight.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever have a treat or a bunless burger. Just make sure that most of your calories come from high-quality protein sources (meat, eggs, poultry, fish, etc.) low-carb fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fats like olive oil, butter, coconut oil, and avocados.
Try the Keto Diet Today
At first, the idea of following a low-carb, high-fat diet might have seemed impossible. Now that you know more about what the keto diet entails and how you can make it work for you, are you ready to give it a go?
Keep the tips outlined above in mind, and don’t forget to check out the keto section of our site today. We have lots of other resources available, from recipes to troubleshooting articles, to help you feel your best on the keto diet.