If you use Pinterest you have probably seen a lot of buzz around something called a low carb or ketogenic diet. The term ‘low carb’ is an extremely simplified way to describe a ketogenic (or keto) lifestyle.
You can be low carb without being keto, but a ketogenic diet is always low carb. But aside from limiting carbs, what else is involved? What does ketogenic even mean and why is it good?
I’m going to answer these questions and explain how to start a ketogenic diet.
My explanations will be brief and I will try to be as un-technical as I can. You should consider this sort of an outline or primer for your ketogenic or low carb journey, and then use the resources I refer you to in order to learn more about each key topic.
Before I get started, please note that I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. None of this is to be considered medical advice, always talk to your doctor before embarking on any diet plan.
How to Start a Ketogenic Diet – Simplified
What is ketogenic and how is it different from low carb?
A low carb diet essentially involves removing sugar and grains from your diet. You eat mostly meats and vegetables with some limited fruit and legumes. You don’t necessarily keep track of what you eat as long as you restrict traditionally carb filled foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, processed foods, high-sugar fruits, etc.
A ketogenic diet is far more strict than low carb. It involves macronutrients and the strict tracking of them with the goal of getting your body into a state of “ketosis.” In ketosis, your appetite is suppressed while you burn an increased amount of fat for energy. The macronutrients that you track to achieve ketosis are fat, carbs, and protein.
What are the benefits of a ketogenic diet?
Potential benefits of a keto diet are:
- weight loss
- more energy
- better mental clarity
- lower blood pressure
- better control of diabetes
- reduced joint pain
- an increase in good cholesterol
- a decrease of bad cholesterol
How do I choose ketogenic vs low carb?
Assuming weight loss is your goal, most people will lose more weight on a ketogenic diet than a low-carb diet. But not always. There are so many factors that will play into your success including age, the amount of weight you have to lose, other medical conditions you may have, your personal level of willpower and your own body chemistry.
Some people with hormone issues may find a ketogenic diet does more harm than good. This is why it’s important to work with your doctor.
If you have great willpower and don’t have any medical issues that may cause ketosis to harm your body, a keto diet may be a great option for you. But if you are someone who doesn’t like to track things and wants some freedom to enjoy a wider variety of foods, you might be better off with a low carb diet.
Also, take into account who else you cook for. It’s really hard to stick with a diet if you have to make ‘forbidden’ foods for your family.
So, can you tell me exactly how to start a ketogenic diet?
The first thing you need to do for how to start a ketogenic diet is to know exactly what foods you can and can’t eat. This will take some trial and error to commit to memory, but it’s really not all that complicated.
It gets trickier when you are eating food that you didn’t prepare, however, because you won’t know if there are carbs in sauces and things like that. The list below gives you an idea of some things to do before you get started.
- Identify foods you can and can’t eat (this list may help).
- Take inventory of your cabinets, make it a point to use or donate the food you aren’t going to eat before starting keto.
- Determine your macros (calculator link).
- Select a method for tracking (I like MyFitnessPal).
- Plan ALL of your meals – this is critical for success, especially in the beginning. Unlike processed food, Keto food has an expiration date and you don’t want to buy too much each week or find you don’t have anything to make in a pinch.
- Baby steps are ok – you may choose to eliminate all sugar first, then move on to other categories.
As a general rule, if you aren’t a vegan or vegetarian, you will eat meat, veggies and healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil. Your drinks will consist of coffee (with heavy cream or unsweetened nut milk), unsweetened iced tea, water and carbonated flavored water like La Croix.
Where do I find Ketogenic recipes?
The internet is full of great recipes, but make sure you read the ingredients because sometimes they claim to be low carb but their definition of low carb doesn’t necessarily meet yours. I have some low carb recipes on my site, you can check out our recipe hub or use the list below.
You can also pick up some ketogenic cookbooks. All four of the books below are ones that I have and use and love. Delicious!
What can I expect initially when switching to a ketogenic diet?
Once you go fully ketogenic you may find that you experience what they call the “keto flu.” You may be tired, nauseous, experience brain fog, notice a metallic taste in your mouth or feel tingly.
Some of this is normal but it may also be a sign that your electrolytes are low. You can more information about it here: Keto flu.
Hopefully, this was a good primer for you to learn some information and start finding resources for how to start a ketogenic diet. I personally love keto but I have to stay in the low carb category because I suffer from adrenal fatigue if I limit my carbs to achieve ketosis.
I’m in my 40’s and experiencing perimenopause and so my hormones are already crazy. Trying to add ketosis into the mix stresses my body too much. So I caution you to pay attention to your body.