The Keto diet seems to be getting more popular in the mainstream as time progresses, and for good reason. With simple dietary modifications, many are seeing improvements in just about every aspect of their health including: weight loss, stable blood sugar levels, improved mental health, reduced inflammation, better digestion, hormonal regulation … and the list goes on.
A big issue that I notice, however, is that Keto is not always the easiest to explain and understand. My goal is to provide a simplified approach that is not only effective, but also acts as a guide that is livable and can be adopted long-term.
Keto can seem like magic… if you put in the work. This is the plan that I followed to lose and maintain an 80 pound weight loss, improve my mental health, and manage my debilitating IBS symptoms. While I found major success in this method of eating, your mileage may vary.
Overview: My Approach to Keto
In a traditional ketogenic diet, we strive to meet a macro-nutrient breakdown of roughly 70% fat, 25% protein and 5% carbohydrates. These guidelines were developed for those suffering from epilepsy and the act of balancing this nutritional ratio can be extremely frustrating. Personally, I find these calculations to be way too bothersome to track. Because I do not have a severe neurological disorder like epilepsy, I choose not to follow this plan.
Instead, I follow an approach with one simple focus — to enter and maintain a metabolic state of ketosis.
I don’t know about you, but when I first started, I always felt like the rules of the ketogenic diet were way too rigid.
On the other end of the spectrum, I also knew that I couldn’t be trusted around carbs when given free range.
My solution is a combination of the two — a happy medium that is livable and maintains a state of ketosis.
These are the guidelines that I follow for my version of the Keto diet:
Track the essentials with MyFitnessPal
- Calories (try to eat within your suggested calorie range)
- Carbohydrates (stay at or below 20g net per day)
- Protein (hit the minimum daily to prevent muscle loss)
Eat the remainder of your daily calories from fat and protein until satisfied.
Listen to your body
- Eat if you’re hungry and stop when full. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat.
- Eat food you actually enjoy. Don’t force anything you don’t.
- If a food makes you feel negatively (sluggish, increased cravings, tummy issues), consider removing from your plan.
Electrolytes and water are not optional
- You can choose to get your electrolytes from food or supplements. I get my sodium and potassium from food and supplement with magnesium.
- Drink enough water to feel hydrated, especially if you consume coffee. If your urine is clear, you’re drinking too much. If it’s a deep yellow, you’re not drinking enough.
Be kind to yourself
- You’re going to make mistakes along the way and that’s okay. Don’t dwell.
- Aim for consistency over perfection — “Practice makes permanent.”
- If you fall off track, you don’t have to compensate with anything. Take note of how you feel and jump right back into it!
What is Keto anyways?
Keto is a shortened version of the word ketogenic or ketosis. A metabolic state of ketosis triggers the body to burn fat as energy in place of carbohydrates.
Most people that consume carbohydrates rely on sugar for energy. This is because the body converts all carbs (including foods like fruits, potatoes and candy) into glucose. Glucose (and most other things that end with -ose) are just fancy words for sugar. In excess amounts, the body will store these carbohydrates as water weight and for energy to be utilized later.
When we change our energy source to fat, the liver creates a byproduct called ketones or ketone bodies. These can be utilized for energy just as well — if not better — than glucose.
The ketones are created in the liver from the fat in our food and from fat stored on our bodies. Any excess ketones are excreted through the urine and are not stored (unlike glucose).
Benefits of the Keto Diet
The beauty of following the Keto Diet is that you can improve your health and still eat really delicious and satisfying food. Some of the most notable improvements include:
- weight loss
- improved blood sugar
- mental clarity
- improved mental health
- reduced inflammation
- better digestion
- hormonal regulation
- seizures and migraines
Keto can also help improve conditions such as:
- type 2 diabetes & insulin resistance
- obesity & metabolic syndrome
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) & fertility issues
- depression & anxiety
Research shows that a ketogenic diet shows promise in cancer prevention and recovery.
How do I get into ketosis?
Ketosis is triggered when the body has burned through it’s reserve of stored glucose, commonly referred to as glycogen. The easiest way to burn through glycogen is to keep carbohydrate levels low for an extended period of time.
The rate at which you enter ketosis can also be increased by exercising or fasting.
One important thing to keep in mind — ketosis is triggered by the absence of carbohydrates, not the presence of fat.
How do I know if I’m entering ketosis?
There are a few different physical ways to determine whether or not your body is in ketosis.
Some of the most common ways are:
- a metallic or acetone taste in the mouth
- increased energy and mental clarity
- intermittent feelings of euphoria
- increased urination
Another way that you can test for ketosis is with a blood ketone monitor. This is absolutely not a requirement (I don’t even do this regularly), but it is an option if you’re curious. I really like the monitors from Keto Mojo because they also have the capability to read blood glucose levels and the test strips are generally more affordable than most brands.
There are ketone pee test strips that you can buy, but they tend to be inaccurate and only measure excess ketones in the urine (as opposed to where it actually matters — the blood).
Water and electrolytes are not optional
Because we are not storing fat or very much water while in ketosis, it’s imperative that we are properly hydrated and our electrolytes are in check.
You don’t have to go crazy on the water, but you do want to make sure you’re drinking enough to stay hydrated. Drink when you’re thirsty, especially if you are a regular coffee drinker.
Failure to properly replenish electrolytes can result in the dreaded Keto flu. The symptoms include: feeling nauseous, weak, feverish, fatigue, and chills.
If just starting out, you may experience the Keto flu for the first few days to a week. Stay hydrated with water, replenish your electrolytes and try to push through it — you’re likely detoxing from the sugar withdrawal.
Sodium is the main electrolyte that you’ll be managing, and doing so can make all the difference in how you feel. It is recommended that you consume 5,000 to 7,000 mg per day.
This may seem excessive, but we are constantly excreting our electrolytes and excess ketones through our urine.
Some easy ways to consume enough sodium:
- liberally salt your food (sea salt and Himalayan pink salt are best)
- add small amounts of salt to your water (too much has a diuretic effect)
- consuming salty foods
- drink bone broth or chicken stock
- eat pickles (and take a swig of the juice)
If you are ever experiencing headaches or feelings of weakness, consuming sodium is a great first line of attack. If electrolytes are truly the issue, the symptoms should subside quickly.
Potassium is another important electrolyte that you’ll want to make sure you’re replenishing efficiently on the Keto diet. If you’ve ever experienced cramps in yours legs or arms, low potassium is likely the culprit.
While bananas may be well known for their potassium content, half of an avocado has just as much and with much less sugar.
The daily recommendation for potassium on the Keto diet is 1,000 to 3,500 mg per day.
Make sure you’re getting enough potassium by:
- eating potassium rich foods (avocado, spinach, mushrooms)
- using Lite Salt on your foods (it’s a blend of sodium and potassium)
- using an electrolyte replacement
- supplementing with potassium sulfate or chloride
Finally, magnesium is the last electrolyte that we need to ensure we’re getting enough of when following the Keto diet. It is recommended that we get 300 to 500 mg of magnesium per day.
Magnesium is the perfect supplement to take in the evening. It helps regulate blood pressure and I find that it helps me relax before bed. Do be careful with your dosage — too much can cause loose stools.
Ensure you’re getting enough magnesium by:
- eating magnesium-rich foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and leafy greens
- supplementing with magnesium (glycinate is easily absorbed and gentle on the stomach)
- using an electrolyte replacement
Even if you don’t follow the Keto diet, it is recommended that most people supplement with magnesium as deficiency is very common.
Track and keep carbs under 20 grams
Keeping your carbohydrates under 20 grams per day is essentially a way to ensure the body never dips out of ketosis. Some have the metabolic flexibility to go up to 50 grams and still remain in ketosis, but it varies from person to person.
The most efficient way to ensure your carbs do not exceed 20 grams is by using a tracking app, such as MyFitnessPal. There are a variety of apps you can use, but this one seems to be available on most smartphones and can even be used in a computer browser.
How to get started with MyFitnessPal
- Sign up for a FREE account at MyFitnessPal.com or by downloading the app for your smart device.
- After signing up, you will be asked to input stats like your age, weight and gender. This will give you an idea of how many calories you will need daily based on your weight loss goals.
- By default, it’s going to give you nutritional guidelines that are high in carbs — don’t be alarmed. We’re only going to be tracking total calories, 20g carbs and enough protein to ensure we’re preserving the muscle we have. The rest of our food will come from fat and protein.
- Add your food choices into MyFitnessPal, and stick within your calorie and carb limits.
There is a premium version of MyFitnessPal that will allow you to set your goals manually. This is an option but by no means a requirement.
Do I have to track?
Personally, I find tracking to be an essential part of staying on plan. For others, it can bring on a lot of added anxiety and stress.
If you decide to forego tracking, try to focus on low carb foods and avoid the things that are easy to overeat.
I feel as though personality type matters here to some extent as well. Some do better moderating foods while others thrive completely removing them. If you aren’t sure which type you may be, try both methods. It could be the difference between staying on track and falling off the wagon.
Net carbs vs. total carbs
There are two ways to track carbs when following this lifestyle. Some choose to count 20g of total carbohydrates. Others count net carbs.
To determine net carbs, simply take the total carbohydrates and subtract the dietary fiber and sugar alcohols.
Net carbs = total carbs – fiber – sugar alcohols
The body does not process fiber or sugar alcohols like other carbohydrates. They are either broken down by our gut bacteria or are passed undigested through our tummies.
I have counted net carbs since the beginning and have never had any issues.
Build your meals around protein
Every day, we’re going to want to make sure we hit our protein goal. By getting an adequate amount of protein, we are giving our body enough food to perform the functions it needs to without breaking down any muscle.
I find that I am most satiated when I get a decent amount of protein in with my meals. Fat is also very satiating, and when combined with protein, will leave you feeling satisfied.
Some argue that too much protein can inhibit ketosis, but I’ve never found this to be the case, personally.
MyFitnessPal will calculate a protein goal based on your age, height and weight. This number will be just fine.
If you’d rather calculate your protein goal yourself, I find an easy formula to be:
Weight (in pounds) ÷ 2.5 = #g protein/day
i.e.) 250 lb ÷ 2.5 = 100g protein/day
Make it your goal to hit this number every day. The remainder of your calories can come from fat and/or more protein.
Fat is your energy source but calories matter
When the body enters a metabolic state of ketosis, it starts utilizing fat — in the form of ketones — as it’s energy source. Make food choices with healthy fats to fuel your day. Excess body fat is also broken down and used for energy on the Keto diet.
While we can enjoy fat relatively freely, you do not need to drink a gallon of butter with every meal. Use fat as you would normally — to add great flavor to your meals. If your goal is to lose weight, use enough to be satisfied. Calories do still matter.
Fat has the most calories of any other macro-nutrient — it can add up very quickly.
What foods do I eat on the Keto diet?
When following the Keto diet, we’re going to want to make choices that are low carb and high in fat.
Here are some of the most Keto friendly foods you can enjoy:
- Meats & seafood – all types of meat, eggs, bacon, cured meats, organ meats, fish and shellfish
- Fats – butter, coconut oil, animal fat, olive oil, nut and peanut butter, ghee, MCT oil
- Dairy – full-fat cream, heavy whipping cream, cheese and other low lactose dairy products
- Vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, cabbage, mushrooms
- Fruits – blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, avocado
Full List: Ketogenic Diet Food List
Remember, ketosis is a metabolic state — not a specific type of food. Any food can technically be incorporated into your diet as long as it fits within your daily carbohydrate limit. Having this freedom is what allowed me to stick with Keto long-term. Over time, you will realize that some things are worth saving your carbs for (fried chicken in my case, haha) and other times it just isn’t. This will come with experience.
If you are looking to replace some of your high carb favorites, there are plenty of wonderful Keto recipe bloggers across the Internet. A good place to start is in the recipe section!
Conventional vs grass fed
Some may say that you should only consume organic and grass fed foods. This is not a requirement of Keto, however. If you have the financial means to eat really high quality foods, that’s great.
Not everyone has the same luxuries, food budget and resources.
You can be just as successful with conventionally grown and raised foods.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Keto diet safe?
In just my opinion, yes. With the Keto diet, I’ve been able to lose and maintain my loss of 80 pounds, improve my mental health, and completely manage my digestive issues.
I started for the weight loss and stayed for the mental health improvements.
As always, I’m not a doctor. Always consult with yours doctor before making changes to your diet.
Do you know of any published research regarding the Keto diet?
Here are a few to get you started:
- Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients
- Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial
- Beneficial effects of ketogenic diet in obese diabetic subjects
Isn’t Keto the same as the Atkin’s diet?
Somewhat. It’s kind of like staying in the induction phase.
Do I need exogenous ketones (like Pruvit or Keto OS) to be successful?
Absolutely not. These products are often marketed to newbies very aggressively and they totally capitalize on taking advantage of the naive.
I don’t really get the appeal. You make ketones from your own body fat and dietary fat. Adding an outside source only delays your body from breaking down the stores it already has.
I was harassed online because my meal included low carb tortillas. Are these not Keto?
There are purists out there that love to patrol others for their food choices. Don’t let them get to you.
Any food, including low carb tortillas, can be included on a Keto diet. As always, just make sure they fit within your 20g per day carb limit.
What questions do you have about the Keto diet? Comment below or ask in the official Keto Support Group on Facebook.
Dom Geracia is a passionate cat dad and Keto enthusiast from Pittsburgh. When he's not motivating the Keto community on Instagram, you can likely find him in the kitchen cooking up something delicious with his husband, Seth.