While it seems like the Ketogenic or Keto diet is a modern take on a calorie restriction diet. The truth is the diet has been around in one way or another for hundreds if not thousands of years. In fact, before the harnessing of agriculture, our ancestors survived primarily on a subsistence form of life in which they hunted and forged for their food.
Because of this, their diet contained mostly protein, fat, and whatever edible vegetable matter they could gather. It was after agriculture became established and high caloric cereals like wheat became staple crops, that complex carbohydrate was added to our diet.
More recently, in the 1970s, the popular Atkins diet employed the use of a strict Keto diet in its first two weeks (2). In this article we take an overall look at the Keto diet, how it works, and what you should and shouldn’t eat. Finally we outline a two week Keto diet meal plan and menu for beginners.
What is the Keto Diet?
Chances are if you’re reading this article you know what the keto diet is about. If not, here’s a simple summary. These days our foods tend to be high in sugars and complex carbs.
The Keto diet substantially cuts out these carbs in favor of high-fat, moderate protein, and low carbs. It is the difference in how our bodies process carbs and fats that are the basis of the Ketogenic diet.
When you eat a meal with a high carb content, your body releases glucose and insulin. As glucose is the simplest molecule to break down into energy, your body always targets this first.
Insulin helps your cells use the available glucose. The higher the blood insulin level, the less your body needs to break down other sources of energy such as fat and is more likely to store it. By reducing the carb intake, the body can be pushed into an alternative energy source by a mechanism known as ketosis.
Ketosis is the process that is triggered in the body when the intake of food is low. In the absence of glucose (derived from carbs), our body breaks down fat in the liver producing ketones.
The end goal of this process is to enter this metabolic state by maintaining a proper keto diet, not by reducing calories, but by cutting carbs. By lowering the carb intake, the body is forced to use ketones as the primary energy source and thus fat.
In simple terms, the Keto diet advocates the consumption of high-fat, moderate protein, and low carbs.
The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
While the most apparent benefit of a ketogenic diet is weight loss, there are numerous other benefits. While some of these benefits are definite, others are tentative but have a lot of research to back them up.
Some benefits healthy people experience
- Increased brain function
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased energy
- Reduction in acne
The ketogenic diet can also help with
- Type 1 and 2 Diabetes
- High Blood Pressure
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic Inflammation
- High Blood Sugar Levels
- Heart Disease
- Fatty Liver Disease
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
These are only some of the benefits of the Keto diet, and more research is finding that there are even more benefits to be found.
What is Your Ketogenic Diet Carb Limit?
As the Ketogenic diet is based on reducing your daily carb intake, you may be asking what the daily allowance for carbs is. The easy answer is below 35g of carbs a day. The long answer is…well…long.
There is no definite carb limit that applies to everyone. Since everyone’s body functions differently, the carb restrictions necessary to achieve ketosis are different. While some sources cite the absolute limit as 50 grams of carbs per day, others cite 35 grams of total carbs per day as an average. This lower amount ensures that the majority of people will achieve ketosis under normal conditions. To achieve ketosis more quickly, the carb count can be reduced to 20 grams or less per day. By staying at this level for an extended period and consuming the appropriate amount of protein, you will reach a state of semi-permanent ketosis.
To find your personal ketogenic carb limit requires a bit of work. You will need to buy a blood ketone meter. After establishing ketosis by limiting your carb limit to 35 grams of carbs per day, you will increase your carb limit by 5 grams per day. Watch your ketone levels, and once you see them drop, reduce your carb count by 5 grams and check to see if you have reestablished ketosis. If so, you have reached your personal ketogenic carb limit. While this is a useful piece of information, it is only a small piece. To take an in-depth look, check out this website.
The Easiest Way to Track your Carb Intake
The best ways to ensure that you successfully transition to ketosis is to track your daily carb intake. While this can be done manually, there are many apps available that make planning and executing the keto diet simple. Two examples of these apps are MyFitnessPal and Cronometer.
The Keto “Flu”
Transitioning from a diet in which the primary energy source is derived from carbs to a diet where the primary energy is derived from fat, can take a toll on the body. Many times this transition period is accompanied by symptoms that together are called the ‘keto flu’.
Some of the reported symptoms include mood swings, nausea, irritability, fatigue, and dizziness. Recent findings have found that the effect of carbohydrates (such as sugar) are similar to the effects of addictive drugs such as cocaine. Further symptoms include headaches, cramps, and sore muscles, stomach pain, constipation, bad breath, and insomnia. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
“Forewarned is forearmed” is an expression that is particularly apt here. While the symptoms of the keto flu may dissuade some before starting, with a few precautions, these symptoms can be avoided. By simply making sure that you take enough water and electrolytes every day, many of these symptoms can be avoided.
It is, in fact, the bodies electrolyte imbalance stemming from the transition that is the source of many of these symptoms. An additional precaution that can be taken is the use of nutritional supplements such as MCT to alleviate the symptoms (14). These supplements help induce ketosis and ease the bodies transition.
What You Should and What You Shouldn't Eat
When it comes to what you should and shouldn’t eat, it’s quite simple. Avoid foods that contain a lot of sugar, such as processed foods, as well as most fruit, and those high in carbs. It’s important not to try and stick to these guidelines as anything high in carbohydrates can knock you out of ketosis.
Here is a summary of what should and shouldn't be included in your diet:
1. What You Should Eat
- Meats – High in protein and fats
- Fish, beef, pork, poultry, etc
- High-Fat Dairy – High in fat
- Hard cheeses, soft cheeses, cream, butter, etc
- Fats – Any source of good fat
- Coconut oil, olive oil, nut butter, etc
- Some Fruit and Berries – Fruit high in fat and/or low in sugar
- Avocado, blueberries, raspberries, etc
- Leafy Greens – Low in carbs and sugars but high in necessary nutrients
- Spinach, kale, chard, etc
- Above Ground Vegetables – Generally lower in carbs than below ground
- Broccoli, cauliflower, etc
- Nuts and Seeds – High fat to carb ratio
- Peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc
- Sugar Substitutes – Sweeteners that do not contain glucose
- Stevia, monk fruit, etc
- Meats – High in protein and fats
2. What You Shouldn't Eat
- Grains – These are high in carbohydrates
- wheat, corn, rice cereal, etc
- Sugar – Used as a primary fuel source
- Honey, agave, maple syrup, etc.
- Fruit – Naturally high in fructose and other sugars
- Apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
- Tubers – These are high in starches
- Potatoes, yams, yucca, etc.
- Grains – These are high in carbohydrates
3. What is a ‘Fat Bomb’ and why it Should Blow You Away!
While the name might not sound appealing to all, a fat bomb is, in fact, a useful tool when on the ketogenic diet. It is, in essence, what it sounds like — a meal or item of food that is high in fat. The idea behind a fat bomb and what makes it useful is the high-fat content pushes you into ketogenesis. A fat bomb can be a whole meal. Here, however, we focus on small food items that can be eaten as easy meal replacements or as a snack to help fight those cravings.
Fat bombs are typically made of four components:
- Healthy Fat: one or more healthy fats such as coconut oil, soft cheese, nuts, and seeds, etc.
- Binder: in place of regular flour use coconut flour, nut flour, coconut flakes, etc.
- Sugar-free Sweetener: While not necessary, an option for those with a sweet tooth. Use Stevia, monk fruit, etc
- Flavoring: Also optional, use low-sugar flavorings such as vanilla extract, cocoa powder, or a small amount of fruit.
Silicone molds make for easy portion control or roll them out and cut into squares.
The beauty of these fat bombs is how easy they are to make and store, and how filling they are. If you make a small quantity can be stored in the fridge or freezer and used as a meal replacement (for breakfast for those who are busy) or as a snack throughout the day. For those with a sweet-tooth, these little treats will help quench your cravings. For recipes for delicious fat bombs look here (15).
4. Plan Ahead
For those that like variety in their meals, we have provided a different menu every day. However, for those who want to simplify their meals, items can be eaten on any day. If you wish to have eggs every morning, that works.
Don’t forget that a fat bomb can be used as a meal replacement and can make for an easy breakfast with a cup of coffee.
Preparing extra food and setting it aside for the next day will cut down on meal prep. Use dinner from the night before for lunch the next day.
Week 1 of Your Keto Diet
|Monday||Omelette With Mushrooms and Cheese||Tuna Salad with Mixed Greens, Plenty of Olive oil, Blueberries||Baked Salmon with Pesto and Brussels Sprouts
|Tuesday||Bacon, Egg, and Kale Frittata||Smoked Salmon and Avocado Plate||Pan-fried Pork Chop with Sauteed Zucchini|
|Wednesday||Two-egg Omelet with Spinach and Mushrooms, Cooked in Coconut Oil.||Roast Beef, Brie, Arugula, Pesto, and Olive Plate||Chicken Meatballs with Zoodles and Parmesan Cheese|
Bacon and Eggs Cooked in Bacon fat
|Shrimp, Artichokes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Baby Spinach, and Mayo Plate||Chicken Stir-Fry in Vegetable oil with Bok Choy and Cabbage|
|Friday||Eggplant Hash (Eggplant Seared in Olive Oil) Topped with Fried Eggs.||Keto Chicken Caesar Salad||Zucchini Lasagna (Ground Beef, Mozzarella, Parmesan, Zucchini Noodles)|
|Saturday||Eggplant Shakshuka||Keto Italian Plate (Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Tomatoes, and Olives)||Hamburger Patties with Tomato Sauce and Sautéed Cabbage|
|Sunday||Huevos Rancheros (Fried Egg with Tomato Salsa and Avocado and Sour Cream on the side)||Keto Bacon Cheeseburger, Small Salad||Baked Salmon with Cheesy Broccoli|
Week 2 of your Keto Diet
Bulletproof Coffee (Black Coffee with Coconut oil and Butter
Keto Cobb Salad with Vinaigrette
Portobello Steaks with Avocado Salsa
|Tuesday||Green smoothie (Avocado, MCT oil, Cucumber, Spinach, Parsley, Hemp Seed, Turmeric, Lemon)||Keto BLT Salad||Keto Meatloaf with Mashed Cauliflower|
|Wednesday||Two Fried Eggs in Olive Oil, 1/2 Avocado with Tomato and Cilantro Salsa||Avocado Bowl (Avocado, Bacon, Tomato, Walnuts, Balsamic Vinegar)||Baked Eggplant Parmesan|
|Thursday||Low-Carb Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes (Eggs, Ricotta, Butter, Almond flour, Golden Flax-Seed Flour, Lemon Zest, Baking Powder, Blueberries)||Keto Bacon and Eggs Benedict Salad||Bacon-Wrapped Chicken Stuffed with Cheese, Steamed Broccoli|
|Friday||Hard-Boiled Eggs with Bacon and Tomatoes||Cheesy Cauliflower and Bacon Soup||Sesame Almond Zoodle Bowl with Peanut Sauce|
|Saturday||Keto Coconut Porridge (Coconut Flour, Butter or Coconut Oil, Coconut Cream) topped with Blueberries and Nuts.||Keto Pesto Chicken Pasta (Zucchini Noodles)||Miso Marinated Salmon With Quick Pickled Cabbage|
|Sunday||Keto Egg Muffins (Scallions, Chorizo Salami or Bacon, Pesto, Eggs, Shredded cheese)||Loaded Zucchini Skins|
(Mushrooms, Cheese, Sour Cream, Chives)
|Zoodles with Avocado Walnut Pesto|
5. What to Eat if You’re Vegetarian
Vegetarian or cooking for vegetarians? With this vegetarian keto diet meal plan, you can skip the meat and reach your goal with delicious meals.
6. What to Eat If You’re Dairy Free
Dairy-free? With this dairy-free keto diet meal plan, you can skip the dairy but still fill up on the much-needed fat.
More Questions About the Ketogenic Diet
Now that you have our suggested keto diet menu for beginners, you may have some questions about meal replacement and other related queries. We answer the most frequently asked questions here.
1. Can I Eat Out on the Keto Diet?
If you’re too busy to cook every meal and like to eat out, don’t fret. There are plenty of places you can eat. Just let them know that you are on the ketogenic diet, and they will be able to modify their menu to accommodate you. This includes fast food!
2. Should I Count Calories?
While the keto diet is not about counting calories, it is still important to keep portions within moderation. While the keto diet, high in protein and fat should be filling, eating from boredom or when not hungry will still lead to weight gain. Fat bombs can help satiate those urges and can even replace meals.
3. Is it Okay to Skip Meals?
If you are the type of person who skips breakfast or has a cup of coffee, there is no need to add a meal to your daily routine. Intermittent fasting can accentuate the keto diet and can indeed be used as a tool.
By using intermittent fasting appropriately, we can boost our ketogenic state as well as helping us break through weight-loss plateaus. Even beyond dieting and weight loss, intermittent fasting has many proven benefits.
4. Can I Drink Alcohol?
The short answer is yes. While beer is generally high in carbs and should be avoided, wines are much lower in sugar, especially dry wines. Drinking a glass or two a day should not be a problem.
Many spirits are virtually sugar-free and only need to be avoided when mixed with mixers with high-sugar content. Be prepared to have a lower tolerance than usual, as the lack of carbs will affect your alcohol limits.
Final Thoughts on the Ketogenic Diet
While it may seem intimidating to start on a new diet, with our two weeks keto diet meal plan and menu for beginners, you will have no problems navigating the beginnings of your keto journey. With tour tips and suggestions, you can modify and personalize your meals to your liking.
By starting on this new lifestyle, be it for weight loss, or other health concerns, you will find that the lack of carbs is not tedious. Instead, there is a cornucopia of options, and the benefits will outweigh any lasting feelings for sugar and carbs.