Wondering how to start the keto diet? Here are the basics on keto for beginners, where you’ll learn everything you need to know to start the keto diet successfully.
Whether you’re hoping to jumpstart your New Year’s resolutions with a keto diet or you simply want to eat cleaner and healthier, keto is a great option. Getting started on keto is often a bit challenging, so I’ve put together this guide to keto for beginners, complete with everything you need to know about keto. Once you get used to keto, it’s really quite simple and offers tons of healthy options.
So, if you’re looking to start losing weight and feeling great, here are keto for beginners guidelines. I’ve rounded up the most frequently asked questions about keto to help you navigate the diet. I’ve also included some great, easy keto recipes to get you started. Here’s your keto inspiration for beginners on the plan.
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What is the Keto Diet?
The keto (or ketogenic) diet is a low-carb diet focused on reducing starchy carbs and replacing them with healthy good fats. The reduction in carbohydrates puts the body into an efficient metabolic state called ketosis. You’re changing your body from carb-burning to fat-burning.
The breakdown of the ketogenic diet is about 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs, but you can certainly play with the fat/protein/carb ratios to find a comfortable balance for your body. From a scientific perspective, the diet works because insulin helps your body turn the glucose in sugars and carbohydrates into energy. When there’s a surplus of those sugars in your diet, your body never has to “dip” into the fat storage. When there are fewer carbs and sugar, there’s less glucose and your metabolism shifts into fat burning mode. With better control over sugar levels, some people find the keto diet effective in controlling diabetes. Our bodies work well with a diet free of processed foods, white sugar, flour, grain, and other refined carbs.
Because the keto diet includes more healthy fat, people often feel great when starting the keto diet. A boost in energy and mental clarity is often reported as one of the benefits of keto for beginners. Another benefit is that the keto diet is low in allergen and inflammation triggering foods. Many people find that wheat, gluten, and sugar cause reactions. The keto diet removes these items, helping reduce inflammation and stress on your body.
The keto diet is moderate in protein and includes healthy low carb vegetables like kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and more. There are plenty of foods to enjoy on keto. Imagine eggs for breakfast with a side of all-natural bacon. For lunch, you may enjoy a salad topped with shredded chicken and olive oil vinaigrette, or enjoy one of my favorite lunches—tuna-salad stuffed avocados. Then for dinner, you could enjoy a roasted turkey breast with prosciutto-wrapped asparagus or slow cooker sesame beef over cauliflower rice.
With so many options, finding recipes is an easy task for beginners on the keto diet.
Keto for Beginners: What Do I Need to Know?
Keto for beginners means doing research. Educate yourself on what’s considered a fat, a carb, a protein, and which foods are high in sugar. Once you learn the basics, it becomes easier to get creative with your keto meal planning and recipes.
Check out my full keto diet for beginners food list here. This list will help you get started with stocking your kitchen. Focus on whole foods like leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, organic meats, fish, healthy fats, and low-glycemic foods like berries. The filling protein and healthy fat ensure you’ll never feel hungry!
While some people worry about the high fat in a keto diet, remember all fat isn’t bad for your health. The fats found in coconut, ghee, avocados, and olives are quite healthy and can even protect your heart. Enjoy fish, meat, eggs, veggies, olive oil, coconut oil, and plenty of avocado. It’s important to avoid dairy if you’re concerned about inflammation, as dairy can be a trigger if you're sensitive to it.
RELATED: 18 Easy Dairy Free Keto Recipes
Aim to keep your daily carbohydrate intake under 50 grams. For strict keto, aim for under 20 grams (you can use a carb counting app track how many carbs you're eating at the beginning). As you start to discover what works best for your body, adjust as you go forward.
As a beginner on keto, it’s also important to learn which vegetables contain more starch, sugar, and carbohydrates so you can avoid them. Examples of higher carbohydrate vegetables include potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn. Keto for beginners means looking up the nutrition information on nearly every food. But once you start to get used to the carb/fat/protein content of certain foods, you’ll find plenty of choices.
Because you’re using less-processed whole ingredients, focus on quality whenever possible. Buy fresh produce, organic meats, and in-season foods whenever you can. While frozen broccoli or cauliflower is a timesaver in a pinch, fresh herbs and veggies are worth the splurge. Organic olive oil and fresh garlic make almost any meal taste great.
Keto vs. Paleo: Which should I choose?
The keto vs. paleo question is one that comes up often, especially among those who are new to the keto diet. Personally, I find paleo a little easier to follow long-term and better aligned with my body, but again, it’s about learning which diet works best for you. I tend to cycle between keto and paleo to get the best of both worlds. And on both I maintain a diet that's gluten-free and based on whole foods, lots of veggies and limited dairy; so they are both very helpful for those (like me) who suffer from food sensitivities, allergies, and intolerances.
In the keto diet, you’re eliminating all processed, high-sugar foods, which help your digestive system avoid inflammation and run more efficiently. This is often why people feel great when they begin keto. Similarly, paleo offers a nutritious, whole-food based approach. I find paleo is a great long-term way of eating. Keto can help you jumpstart weight loss, if that’s your goal, or steer you toward low-carb, gluten-free eating and then paleo becomes a healthy longer-term strategy.
The good news is, there are so many foods that cross over and easily fit into both keto and paleo (and even Whole30). All the recipes I list on the Cook Eat Well site are paleo-friendly, but there are so many keto-friendly recipes as well.
Both diets focus on whole, natural, healthy foods. The foods to avoid are high-sugar, high-carb meals like refined foods—candy, donuts, pizza, pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes. But there are also plenty of treats to enjoy. And don’t worry--keto doesn’t mean giving up dessert! There are plenty of delicious keto dessert recipes to keep you satisfied and happy.
Tips to Successfully Start the Keto Diet
To help set yourself up for success as a keto beginner, check in with your doctor. This is always a good rule of thumb whenever you change your diet. It will help you learn if there are any restrictions with your current health. You will also establish a baseline, so you’ll see how a healthier, low-carb, whole food diet improves your health.
If you’re not sure about the keto diet, test out a few keto recipes to learn what all the buzz is about. There are plenty of options to fit even the busiest of lifestyles. The Instant Pot, which has experienced a recent surge of popularity, will really help cut time off your meal preparation, especially on weeknights. The slow cooker is another great tool to make keto simple for beginners.
Cook your meals ahead if you’re starting out on keto. Roast a whole chicken on the weekend and shred it for salads and meals all week long. Make cauliflower rice ahead and store it in the fridge. Many soups and stews are easily made in advance and stored to heat and eat later.
You may want to find a few easy meals to enjoy in a hurry. One of my go-to lunches is a simple avocado drizzled with balsamic vinegar and chopped bacon. It’s so simple and satisfying and it takes almost no time to pull together. Hardboiled eggs are another food you can cook ahead and eat on the go. Set yourself up for success by preparing in advance.
When some people begin on the keto diet, they find it helpful to organize and clean out their kitchen and pantry. You may also wish to evaluate your daily habits by writing down your meals for a few days. This helps you know where you currently are with your diet and focus on the areas you need to change the most.
There are plenty of keto blogs and groups online to help you connect with others who are also beginners on the keto diet. As always, it’s important to listen to your own body and don’t get too weighed down with the opinions of others. Focus on adding whole, healthy, low-carb foods to your diet and eating in a way that gives you more energy.
Simple Recipes to Help You Start on Keto
If you’re ready to get started with the keto diet, here are a few of my favorite recipe posts to make following keto easy for beginners.
Here are 10 simple recipes to help you get started with keto. These recipes are all keto-friendly and easy to make--no complicated ingredients or challenging preparation required!
Breakfast is about more than another hard-boiled egg. Here are the most delicious keto breakfast recipes out there. These low-carb, gluten and dairy-free breakfasts are a delicious way to start the day!
For many people, lunch is the best meal of the day. With soups, salads, and delicious lunch bowls, there are plenty of ways to keep your keto lunch exciting and delicious.
Stumped on what to cook for dinner tonight? These easy keto dinner recipes will give you plenty of inspiration for meals you and your family will love. These meals are all made from simple, fresh, whole foods and are so easy to put together.
This roundup of the best, simple keto snacks will keep you happy and full. Whether you’re looking for a snack to munch on while you watch TV or a little afternoon pick-me-up, these snacks will cover all the bases.
This collection of keto bread recipes will be a lifesaver when you're craving bread or a sandwich. Having these easy keto breads to fall back on will make it easier for you to stick to your keto diet.
If you’re ready to try the keto diet, it’s simple and delicious. Enjoy the shift toward healthier low-carb, gluten and grain-free eating and the many benefits it can bring. The keto diet is a great step toward embracing a healthy lifestyle. You’ll feel full and satisfied as you enjoy these delicious keto meals!
To learn more about the healthy approach to keto, check out this helpful keto resource for women!