A Beginner’s Guide to the Ketogenic Diet: An Effective Way of Optimizing Your Health

Many Americans suffer from various chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, and the main culprit is usually the food they eat. The standard American diet contains excessive amounts of protein and carbohydrates, neither of which is good for your health because they eventually cause you to develop insulin and leptin resistance. As a result, you gain excess weight, develop inflammation and become prone to cellular damage.

To avoid this problem, significant changes in your diet are necessary, and the best way is inducing your body into a state of nutritional ketosis, a condition where your body burns fat as its primary fuel instead of sugar. In order to reach nutritional ketosis, you must follow a ketogenic diet. But what exactly is a ketogenic diet?

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about a ketogenic diet — how you can apply it to your lifestyle and what positives you can reap from it.

The Various Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic diet is a dietary approach that focuses on minimal carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein and high healthy fat consumption — the three keys to achieving nutritional ketosis. In fact, it's what I recommend for most people who would like to optimize their health.

There are many reasons why you should try a ketogenic diet. It can be very beneficial for people suffering from chronic conditions, or for people who would simply like to be healthier. You'll be excited to know that a ketogenic diet can help with the following:

Weight loss: If you're trying to lose weight, then a ketogenic diet is one of the best ways to do it, because it helps access your body fat so that it can be shed. Obese people in particular can benefit from this method. In one study, obese test subjects were given a low-carb ketogenic diet and a low-fat diet. After 24 weeks, researchers noted that the low-carb group lost more weight (9.4 kilograms; 20.7 pounds) compared to the low-fat group (4.8 kilograms; 10.5 pounds).

Even my own body was able to feel the benefits of following a ketogenic diet. I was able to drop my weight from 180 to 164 pounds, despite eating 2,500 to 3,000 calories per day. Since then, I have increased my consumption to 3,500 to 4,000 calories just to maintain my ideal weight.

Anti-inflammatory: The human body can use sugar and fat as fuel sources. However, the latter is preferred because it is a cleaner, healthier fuel, as it releases far fewer reactive oxygen species (ROS) and secondary free radicals. By eliminating sugar from your daily food consumption, you're decreasing your risk of developing chronic inflammation throughout your body.

Increasing muscle mass: Jeff Volek, Ph.D., is a registered dietitian specializing on how a high-fat, low-carb diet can affect health and athletic performance. In one of his books, he states that ketones have a similar structure to branched-chain amino acids that can be useful for building muscle mass. Ketones spare these amino acids, leaving higher levels of them around, which can help promote muscle mass.

Reducing appetite: Constant hunger can cause you to consume more calories than you can burn, which can eventually lead to weight gain. A ketogenic diet can help you avoid this problem because reducing carbohydrate consumption can reduce hunger symptoms. In one study, participants who were given a low-carbohydrate had reduced appetites, helping them lose weight easier.

Lowering insulin levels: When you consume carbs, they are broken down into sugars in your body. In turn, this causes your blood sugar levels to rise and leads to a spike in your insulin. Over time, you may develop insulin resistance, which can progress to Type 2 diabetes.

By altering your diet to a ketogenic approach, you can reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, researchers noted that diabetics who ate low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets were able to significantly reduce their dependency on diabetes medication, and may even reverse it eventually.

The Ketogenic Diet May Help Lower Your Risk of Cancer

Cancer is a devastating disease and is one of the leading causes of death all over the world. To make things worse, the medical profession has practically ignored evidence that indicates cancer as a metabolic and mitochondrial problem, causing conventional cancer treatment methods to fall short on their promises.

I believe (as well as the numerous experts I have interviewed) that over 90 percent of cancer cases are either preventable or treatable. The key here is to view cancer as a metabolic dysfunction, allowing you to gain control over this dreadful disease. Simply put, the right foods and strategies may help suppress cancer growth while simultaneously pushing it into remission.

What most people don't know is that cancer cells are mainly fueled by glucose. In this regard, the ketogenic diet may be the best answer. By depriving them of their primary source of fuel, as well as protein restriction, cancer cells will literally starve to death.
In addition, research regarding the ketogenic diet in relation to fighting cancer has grown over the years, and the data indicates that aside from being a form of cancer prevention, the ketogenic diet may help complement common cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Different Types of Ketogenic Diets You Can Try

There are several variations of the ketogenic diet based on specific needs:

Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): SKD is the type I typically recommend for most people, because it is very effective. It focuses on high consumption of healthy fats (70 percent of your diet), moderate protein (25 percent) and very little carbohydrates (5 percent).

Keep in mind that there's no set limit to the fat, because energy requirements vary from person to person, depending on their daily physical activities. However, the majority of your calories still need to come from fats, and you still need to limit your consumption of carbohydrates and protein for it to become a standard ketogenic diet.

Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): TKD is generally geared toward fitness enthusiasts. In this approach, you eat the entirety of your allocated carbs for the day before and after exercising. The idea here is to use the energy provided by the carbs effectively before it disrupts ketosis.

If you're following this approach, I recommend that you eat carbs that are easily digestible with a high glycemic index to avoid upsetting your stomach. Then, when you're done exercising, increase your intake of protein to help with muscle recovery, then continue consuming your fats afterward.

Cyclic ketogenic diet (CKD): Whereas TKD is focused on fitness enthusiasts, CKD is focused more on athletes and bodybuilders. In CKD, you cycle between a normal ketogenic diet, followed by a short period of high carb consumption or "re-feeds." The idea here is to take advantage of the carbohydrates to replenish the glycogen lost from your muscles during athletic activity or working out.

If you're a high-level athlete or bodybuilder, CKD may be a viable method for you. It usually consists of five days of SKD, followed by two days of carb-loading. Again, this method isn't recommended for most people who do not have a high rate of physical activity.

High-protein ketogenic diet: This method is a variant of the SKD. In a high-protein diet, you increase the ratio of protein consumption to 10 percent and reduce your healthy fat consumption by 10 percent. In a study involving obese men that tried this method, researchers noted that it helped reduce their hunger and lowered their food intake significantly, resulting in weight loss. If you're overweight or obese, this may help you at first, then you can transition to SKD after you normalize your weight.

Restricted ketogenic diet: As mentioned earlier, a ketogenic diet can be an effective weapon against cancer. To do this, you need to be on a restricted ketogenic diet. By restricting your carbohydrate and calorie intake, your body loses glycogen and starts producing ketones that your healthy cells can use as energy. Because cancer cells cannot use these ketones, they starve to death.

As of the moment, there is no industry standard as to how many calories should be consumed in a restricted ketogenic diet, but there are published studies that provide estimates. In one example, a 65-year-old woman who was suffering from glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), an aggressive type of brain cancer, was put into a restricted ketogenic diet that started with water fasting and then proceeded to consume 600 calories a day only.

After two months, her weight decreased and the ketones in her body elevated. Furthermore, there was no discernable brain tumor tissue detected using magnetic resonance (MRI) or fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography (FDG-PET) imaging scans.

In another study that involved mice with brain tumors, administration of 65 to 75 percent of the recommended daily calories helped reduce tumor growth by 35 and 65 percent among two different test groups. Total carb consumption was restricted to 30 grams only. A different mice study strictly limited carb consumption to 0.2 percent only, which helped reduce the growth of glucose-fermenting tumors.

In a pilot trial published in Nutrition & Metabolism, a 70-gram carbohydrate restriction combined with a ketogenic diet may help improve quality of life among patients affected with late-stage cancer. However, more trials will need to be conducted regarding its effectiveness against cancer progression, according to the researchers.

At any rate, if you wish to undergo a restricted ketogenic diet for specific health reasons, consult with your doctor first. They may be able to help you figure out the optimal number of calories to consume and carbohydrates to restrict for maximum effectiveness.

Popular Low-Carb Diets Versus the Ketogenic Diet: How Do They Compare?

Of course, the ketogenic diet is not the only low-carb diet out there, and you may have heard of other popular eating strategies that may help improve your health. So how do they stack up against the ketogenic diet?

Atkins Diet Versus Ketogenic Diet

The Atkins diet is a low-carb eating program promoted by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who wrote about it back in 1972. In essence, the diet is all about restricting carbohydrate consumption while emphasizing protein and healthy fats as sources of fuel, as well as high-fiber vegetables to help promote weight loss.

Similar to the ketogenic diet, you will have to avoid starchy and sugary sources of carbohydrates like bread, pasta, noodles (including wheat-based noodles like udon) and potatoes, as well as processed meats and junk foods. Instead, you will have to consume more grass fed meats, pasture-raised eggs, cheese and fatty fish.

One key difference that sets the Atkins diet apart from the ketogenic diet is that it allows unlimited consumption of protein, which can cause a significant drawback to your health. Research suggests that excessive protein consumption can stimulate your mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway, accelerating aging and cancer growth.

Paleo Diet Versus Ketogenic Diet

The Paleo diet is another popular eating trend based on the habits of our Paleolithic ancestors. Its foundation focuses on eating lean meat, seafood, fresh fruits and nonstarchy vegetables. You must also remove processed foods, drinks, grains and sugar from your eating habits for the Paleo diet to have a positive effect on you.

While research suggests that the Paleo diet may benefit your health, one foreseeable problem with this eating regimen is that it consumes too much protein, which can negatively affect your health in the long run. Instead, I believe it is far better to moderate your protein intake and increase consumption of healthy fats.

How Many Carbs a Day Should You Get While on a Ketogenic Diet

When determining the ideal max carbs on keto, I believe that the following amounts can be effective for most people:

• 70 percent healthy fats
• 25 percent high-quality protein
• 5 percent carbohydrates

Ideally, your keto carb limit should be kept to under 50 grams a day, or 4 to 10 percent of your daily calories. This will help you transition to burning fat for fuel. However, this number may change depending on various factors. For example, if you have Type 2 diabetes, you will have to restrict your carb intake to as little as 20 grams per day. All in all, you will have to rely on your body's feedback to help you identify the ceiling amount for your carb intake.

How to Get Started on the Ketogenic Diet

Taking your first step into the ketogenic diet is an exciting phase for your health. But before coming up with an actual ketogenic diet food list, it's important to first take a look at what you're eating now and take out anything that's unhealthy. This means that you have to remove sugars, grains, starches and packaged and processed foods from your diet. Basically, anything that won't add to your new eating regimen has to go. This is what I call a "pantry sweep."

Furthermore, avoid drinking milk because it contains the carbohydrate galactose — drinking just one glass can basically eat up your entire carb allotment for the day. In addition, avoiding milk helps lactose-intolerant people to implement the ketogenic diet. The table below provides a good overview of many other foods that are surprising sources of sugar. If you have any of the following in stock, I encourage you to take them out immediately:


• Salsa
• Ketchup
• Packaged salad dressings


• Lattes
• Flavored kefir
• Commercially prepared smoothies


• Fresh or dried fruits
• Flavored yogurt
• Peanut butter with added sugar


• Frozen dinners
• Many Thai and Vietnamese dishes, such as Pad Thai

Hydrogenated fats, such as canola and sunflower oil, must also be avoided, as they're typically high in omega-6 fats, which can easily throw off your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Another thing that you should work on is improving your skill in reading product labels, particularly total carbohydrates. This will be your most important indicator to help you compute your overall carbohydrate consumption, allowing you to create your ketogenic diet.

The Ideal Keto Diet Foods to Eat

When it comes to the core of an actual ketogenic diet, remember that you need to consume only moderate amounts of protein, or about one-half gram per pound of lean body mass, each day. In addition, carbohydrates must be minimized and high-quality fats increased to serve as your new fuel source.

To ease yourself into a ketogenic diet meal plan, I recommend adding C8 medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil into your food. It's typically more expensive than other types of MCT oil, but I prefer it because it converts into ketones more effectively.

You can start with 1 teaspoon per day, and then gradually increase your consumption to 2 to 3 tablespoons. If your stomach does not agree with MCT oil, you can try MCT powder, which is easier on your stomach. From there, you can start adding more healthy fats to your diet using the keto food list below:


As mentioned earlier, the bulk of your daily calorie consumption (around 70 percent) should come from healthy fats. This will help your body switch from burning sugar to fat for energy in the long run because you’re removing the majority of carbohydrates from your system. To get you started on the right path, you can refer to the table below:

• Coconut oil

• Animal-based omega-3 fats from healthy sources such as wild-caught Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies and krill

• Olives and olive oil (make sure they are third-party certified because most olive oils are diluted with vegetable oils)

• Raw, grass fed butter

• Raw nuts, such as macadamia, almonds and pecans

• Various seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, cumin and hemp

• Avocados

• Grass fed meats

• Lard and/or tallow

• Ghee (clarified butter)

• Raw cacao butter

• Organic pastured eggs

For dairy-based healthy fats, make sure that they are made from raw, grass fed milk. This ensures that you’re getting the best nutrition possible because grain-fed sources may potentially harm your health due to pesticide exposure. To help compute your daily fat calorie requirements, you can use an app like MyFitnessPal, which has a large database of foods. Make sure to enter the correct food and track your servings properly.


The ideal protein intake should be one-half gram per pound of lean body mass per day. This will help you maintain enough muscle mass without triggering your mTOR. Excess protein can stimulate this pathway, which may increase your risk of cancer. Common sources of protein include red meat (beef and pork) and poultry (chicken). To find out how much protein you're consuming, follow this handy guide:

• Red meat, pork and poultry contain 6 to 9 grams of protein per ounce

• One egg contains 6 to 8 grams of protein

• Seeds and nuts average 4 to 8 grams of protein per quarter cup

• Cooked beans have 7 to 8 grams of protein per cup

Whatever the source of protein you consume, make sure they are organic grass fed and antibiotic-free, as they are generally healthier and safer for your body. In one study, researchers indicate that grass fed beef (regardless of cuts) contains more omega-3 acid and conjugated linoleic acid compared to grain-fed beef. As for non-meat sources of protein, try to look for organic and pesticide-free varieties.

Whatever the source of protein you consume, make sure they are organic grass fed and antibiotic-free, as they are generally healthier and safer for your body. In one study, researchers indicate that grass fed beef (regardless of cuts) contains more omega-3 acid and conjugated linoleic acid compared to grain-fed beef. As for non-meat sources of protein, try to look for organic and pesticide-free varieties.


Veggies play an important component in the ketogenic diet because they are low in carbohydrates and high in dietary fiber, a nutritional component that can help promote better digestion and overall gut health. Research indicates that fiber can offer various health benefits, depending on what type you consume:

• Soluble fiber: This type of fiber helps you feel full longer, which can prevent you from overeating, as well as hindering the breakdown and digestion of dietary cholesterol, which may help normalize your cholesterol levels. It also helps slow down the rate of carb digestion, which may control blood sugar spikes.

• Insoluble fiber: Commonly found in vegetables, this type of fiber adds bulk to your stool, which can help facilitate regular waste elimination. In addition, it may reduce the risk of bloating, pain and constipation.

• Digestive-resistant starch: This type of fiber ferments in your large intestines, nourishing your gut bacteria to support optimal health.

Leafy vegetables are great sources of fiber (as well as various nutrients and antioxidants), such as:

• Broccoli

• Spinach

• Kale

• Parsley

• Swiss chard

• Collard greens

• Arugula

• Beet greens

• Brussels sprouts

You may also consider adding these other low net carb vegetables to your regular meals:

• Asparagus

• White mushrooms

• Cucumber

• Tomatoes

• Cauliflower

• Eggplant

It’s important that you strictly consume the vegetables recommended above, as they are low in carbohydrates. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and artichokes are high in carbohydrates, making them unfit for the ketogenic diet.


Real nuts, which come from trees, are great for helping you meet your fat requirements. They also make for great keto-friendly snacks if you suddenly feel the need for a quick bite. There are several healthy options to choose, such as:

• Macadamia: Out of all nuts, macadamia nuts have the highest fat and low protein and carb content. They're also rich in other nutrients such as manganese, thiamin and magnesium.

• Pecan: This type of nut comes close to macadamia's fat content, and has high magnesium and manganese content, too.

• Walnut: Consuming this nut can help boost your omega-3 intake, as well as your copper, biotin and manganese levels.

• Brazil nuts: These nuts are known for their selenium content, which possesses effective antioxidant capabilities. They also have a good combination of healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber.


While fruits are generally healthy for you, the majority of them should be avoided in a ketogenic diet because of their high amounts of sugar. This includes healthy (but sweet) ones such as bananas, apples, mangoes and grapes. However, certain citrus fruits and berries are safe to eat in moderate quantities, because they are rich in antioxidants that can support your health.

• Blackberry

• Blueberry

• Cranberry

• Limes and lemons (You can add a few slices to your drinking water)

• Grapefruit (eat a few sections in lieu of vegetables)


As for beverages, there are several you can choose from. The most important is high-quality filtered water, but you may also drink organic black coffee (without any sweeteners or milk), which is rich in antioxidants. Coconut milk can be consumed, as well as herbal teas because they are rich in various antioxidants and nutrients.

Make sure to stay away from sweetened drinks and carbonated sodas, as their sugar content can throw you off ketosis. Not to mention, they are simply unhealthy for your body in general. Avoid alcohol consumption as well.


Spices are an easy way of adding more flavor, vitamins and antioxidants into your food. Furthermore, they are low in carbohydrates. Make sure that you’re using fresh, organic spices for maximum flavor and nutrients. Some spices sold in packets found at the local grocery should not be used, as they often contain fillers that can increase your carbohydrate consumption, thus putting you out of ketosis. For a list of keto-friendly spices you can use, you may refer to the table below:

• Sage

• Black pepper

• Basil

• Cayenne pepper

• Chili powder

• Cilantro

• Cinnamon

• Cumin

• Oregano

• Parsley

• Rosemary

• Thyme

• Turmeric

Beware of Lectins When Eating Vegetables

Lectins are sugar-binding plant proteins that can attach to your cell membranes, which can cause weight gain and ill health even if you eat a nutritious diet. They're found in plenty of plant foods, including eggplants, tomatoes and squash. However, complete avoidance of lectins is neither possible nor ideal because you would be missing out on other nutrients in vegetables. Instead, here are some effective ways you can reduce lectins from your diet:

• Peeling and deseeding your fruits and vegetables: The skin, hull and seeds tend to contain the highest amounts of lectins.

• Sprouting: Seeds, grains and beans will deactivate lectins when sprouted. However, there are exceptions such as alfalfa, where the inverse actually happens.

• Fermenting: Fermented vegetables not only have reduced lectin content, but also an improved nutritional profile.

• Using a pressure cooker: Lectins are effectively neutralized when using this household appliance. Avoid using slow cookers because they can actually raise the lectin content due to the low cooking temperature.

The Side Effects of a Ketogenic Diet

Starting a ketogenic diet can help optimize your health tremendously in many ways. But like any major dietary changes, it can have several undesirable (but not alarming) side effects, such as:

Bad breath: Once you start on a ketogenic diet, you may notice that your breath will have an undesirable odor due to the increased acetone levels in your body. Acetone is a ketone produced during ketosis, which is expelled in your urine and partly your breath.

On a positive note, detecting acetone in your breath is a good indicator that your ketogenic diet is working. You can brush your teeth and/or rinse your mouth with coconut oil to help remove the bad breath.

Short-term fatigue: You may begin to feel fatigue at the start of a ketogenic diet. It's actually one of the main reasons why many people choose not to continue with this approach long before they can enjoy the benefits.

The reason why you get tired at the start is your body is adapting from using carbohydrates for energy to healthy fats. The transition doesn't happen overnight, and it may take you anywhere between seven to 30 days before your body achieves full ketosis.

Frequent urination: During the first few days of implementing a ketogenic diet, you may notice that you're using the bathroom more often. That's because your body is dumping the glycogen in your liver and muscles as urine. Furthermore, as the insulin level in your blood begins to drop, excess sodium is expelled in the form of urine as well.

Digestive problems: A huge shift into any dieting method can increase your risk of digestive problems, and the ketogenic diet is no exception. Constipation is commonly reported among those who are starting out on a ketogenic diet, but it may disappear in a few weeks once your body gets used to the healthier food you're eating.

Sugar cravings: You may develop intense sugar cravings as your body switches from sugar to fat for fuel. However, I encourage you not to give in to temptation. You can practice various relaxation method such as the Emotional Freedom Techniques or yoga to take your mind away from sugary foods.

Hair loss: You may notice more strands of hair getting stuck on your brush during the first few days of your ketogenic diet. Don't worry because this is not a big cause of concern, since hair loss can result from any major dietary changes in general. It will stop once your body achieves ketosis.

Is the Ketogenic Diet Safe?

Based on published research, the benefits of the ketogenic diet are clear and defined. Weight loss, lowered insulin levels and reduced appetite are health improvements that most people will enjoy in the long run. That being said, there are some side effects that you may experience when you first start out, such as those mentioned above.

In addition, you may experience "carb flu," a condition that mimics flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches. This generally occurs during the onset of the ketogenic diet because your body will have to adjust after relying on carbohydrates for fuel for so long. The symptoms typically last less than a week (or two) only. If carb flu does happen to you, here are some things you can do to feel better while you're transitioning into ketosis:

• Increase water intake

• Slightly increase your consumption of healthy fats and proteins

• Avoid sugar-free foods

Once you feel better, you can regulate your intake of water, fats and proteins into a full-fledged ketogenic diet. Aside from carb flu, be warned that staying in long-term, continuous ketosis may have drawbacks that may actually undermine your health and longevity. To stay on the safe side, I recommend undergoing a cyclic ketogenic diet. The "metabolic magic" that ketosis brings to the mitochondria actually occurs during the refeeding phase, not during the starvation phase.

What Are Keto Sticks and Strips?

Keto strips and sticks are useful tools in helping you figure out whether you're in ketosis or not. There are three common ways to achieve this objective:

• Blood ketone meter: The most accurate tool, but is generally expensive

• Urine stick: It will provide a Yes/No answer to whether you're in ketosis or not, but it will not provide a measurement of your current ketones

• Breath ketone meter: More accurate than a urine stick, but the accuracy of results can vary

Blood ketone strips are considered the best testing tool, but they can be financially exhausting in the long run. To help minimize costs, you can check for ketones every few days instead of daily.

The Ketogenic Diet Can Positively Transform Your Health

Going into nutritional ketosis by following a ketogenic diet is one of the most radical but highly beneficial lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health. As with most dietary changes, always remember to listen to your body. If you feel any side effects other than the ones listed above, then necessary adjustments to your food intake may be needed.

Utilizing Fat for Fuel to Achieving a Healthier You

If a person has been experiencing weight problems or dealing with other health issues for a long time and they continue to struggle to become healthier, shifting the body’s ability to utilize fat for fuel may revolutionize their health, combat cancer, boost brain power, and increase overall energy. Other potential positive experiences include:

• Shifting your body from burning sugar to fat for energy

• Controlling your weight by changing what and when to eat

• Eliminating sugar cravings

• Optimizing your mitochondrial health

• Starving cancer cells

These helpful strategies can boost one’s health and encourage positive changes in the body that will last a lifetime.

Stay Strong,

Brett Place

References used for this article include: