The Keto Diet for Beginners: Pros, Cons, & Tips to Get Started

This high-fat, low-carb diet can lead to various health benefits, including weight loss, but it also comes tied to several side effects and risks.

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The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, has been gaining a lot of popularity for its claimed health benefits.

But getting started on a keto diet isn’t a walk in the park. It’s a pretty significant deviation from the standard Australian diet that’s high in carbs. Plus, it is unique compared to other weight loss diets because it focuses on fats. Yet, getting started on this diet isn’t as simple as just increasing your intake of fats—because not all sources of fats are equally healthy.

If you’re keen on starting a keto diet, there’s quite a bit to consider. In this article, we’ll explore the pros, cons, and possible risks of going on this dietary plan. We’ll also look at some of the best beginner tips for kickstarting a keto diet.

Here’s everything you need to know about the keto diet!

What is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet with a moderate protein intake.

There is no universally-adopted ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins defining the keto diet. But, in general, the macronutrient ratio for a keto diet is as follows: [1]

  • 55% to 60% of total daily calories from fat
  • 30% to 35% from protein
  • 5% to 10% from carbohydrates

Of course, this can vary widely depending on the results and your body’s needs. Some people find that they only achieve ketosis when 80% of their daily calorie intake is derived from fats and 5% from carbs.

The carbs you eat, in general, should not surpass 50 grams per day. Because of this, the keto diet can be considered quite a restrictive diet and might be challenging to sustain in the long run.

How Does the Keto Diet Work?

The keto diet revolves around a process known as ketosis. Your body primarily uses carbs as its source of fuel and energy. But when you go on a keto diet, you significantly reduce your intake of carbs, depriving your body of its primary fuel source. In order to compensate for this, your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel.

Essentially, the keto diet leads to two main metabolic processes in your body; gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis (two big words, but we’ll break down each one) [1].

Gluconeogenesis is the process of producing glucose within the body, and this occurs mainly in the liver. However, the body’s ability to produce glucose internally often can’t meet your daily energy needs when you’re on a very low-carb diet [1].

This, combined with a reduced carb intake, drives your body to find an alternative energy source. At this stage, the process of ketogenesis kicks in. During ketogenesis, fatty acids are broken down to form ketones, which are chemical compounds that serve as an alternative source of fuel when your body runs low on glucose [2].

These ketone bodies will accumulate as you continue your keto diet, bringing your body into the state of ketosis. As your body burns fats for fuel, you may experience various health benefits, such as weight loss.

What are the Science-Backed Benefits of a Keto Diet?

Let’s explore what research says about the possible benefits of a keto diet.

Weight loss

There’s currently a lot of strong supporting evidence for the benefits of the keto diet for weight loss, though scientists still aren’t completely sure of the exact mechanism that drives this [3].

Researchers have suggested several possible explanations for this. Firstly, a keto diet is normally associated with an increased protein intake to compensate for the reduction in carbs, and this might help with satiety and appetite control [3]. Another possible explanation is the appetite-suppressant effects of ketosis. The keto diet may also help to improve your body’s efficacy in metabolizing fats [3].

Nonetheless, there still is some debate on whether the keto diet is more effective than other types of diets for weight loss [4].

Some studies have found that low-fat, plant-based diets are more effective at supporting body fat loss. Other research has demonstrated that keto is only marginally more effective than reduced-fat diets. Controlled trials also suggest that the ketogenic diet is not more effective than any other calorie-restrictive diet [4].

This means that the restrictions and risks of this low-carb, high-fat diet might not necessarily outweigh the benefits.

Better blood sugar management

Scientific research has demonstrated the benefits of the keto diet for blood glucose management in Type 2 diabetes.

In various studies, researchers found that the keto diet lead to a decrease in blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, in addition to weight loss and an improved cholesterol profile [5].

On top of that, this dietary pattern might also help to combat inflammation and positively alter the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes [5].

Reduced risk of heart disease

Some research suggests that the keto diet can help to improve blood cholesterol levels by raising the levels of good cholesterol known as HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. It could also help improve blood pressure [6].

That said, many of these studies were conducted short-term, and more long-term research is required to confirm the benefits of this dietary pattern for the heart.

Epilepsy

Research studies have found that the keto diet can significantly contribute to a positive outcome in those with refractory epilepsy—which is epilepsy that has not been sufficiently relieved with the trial of two types of anti-seizure medication [7].

Though the exact mechanism behind this isn’t defined well, scientists suggest that the increase in ketone bodies and a decrease in glucose might affect the body systems linked to seizure reduction [7].

If you have a medication condition, it’s always best to consult your doctor and dietitian before making significant changes to your diet.

What are the Potential Downsides and Risks of a Keto Diet?

Like any other dietary trend, the keto diet may come tied to some side effects and downsides.

The possible cons of this diet include the following:

Risk of experiencing constipation

Because the keto diet is restrictive on how much carbs you consume, this might lead to a lower fibre intake. Thus, constipation is one of the most commonly reported side effects of the keto diet.

Hard to sustain in the long run

Because the keto diet can be highly restrictive, it is also harder to adhere to, especially if you’re meal planning and prepping everything on your own.

Also note that many of the benefits of the keto diet are studied short-term, and there is a lack of concrete research that proves its benefits in the long run.

Increased risk of nutrient deficiencies

In general, going on a restrictive diet puts you at risk of missing out on important nutrients. Some research has found that the keto diet is typically deficient in certain essential minerals and vitamins, including calcium, vitamin D, phosphorus, and magnesium [8].

That said, the nutritional adequacy of your keto diet depends on the quality and types of food you eat. Including a range of nutritious low-carb foods, such as avocados, cheese, non-starchy vegetables, and foods high in healthy fats, can help you meet your body’s nutritional needs.

Increased stress on your kidneys

Research has found that the keto diet might increase your risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD) as well as kidney stones. If you have CKD, a keto diet could worsen renal function [4].

Risk of experiencing the keto flu

You might experience side effects that mimic the flu as your body enters ketosis. This is nicknamed the “keto flu.” Essentially, the keto flu refers to a cluster of symptoms that may present two to seven days after you start a keto diet.

These symptoms include the following: [4]

  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Feeling weak
  • Low energy levels
  • Changes in heartbeat

The keto flu is thought to happen due to the drastic change in the carbs you consume.

Not everyone who goes on a keto diet will experience these symptoms, and their severity can vary from one person to another.

The Different Variations of the Ketogenic Diet

There’s no single method of carrying out the ketogenic diet. Here are some different variations of this dietary trend:

  • The standard keto diet: This is the most common type of keto diet. In general, your fat intake would fall within 55-75% of your total caloric intake. Proteins and carbs would make up 15-35% and 5-10% of your daily energy intake, respectively.
  • The strict keto diet: This traditional form of the keto diet calls for a very high ratio of fats, amounting to 80-90% of a person’s daily caloric intake. Thus, it’s very restrictive and is best reserved for therapeutic purposes.
  • The cyclical keto diet: Also known as keto cycling, the cyclical keto diet typically involves 5-6 low-carb days per week, followed by 1-2 high-carb days. During these high-carb days, you’re allowed to increase your intake of carbs. This is compensated via a reduction in fat intake. The cyclical keto diet is suitable for athletes and those who find it challenging to stick to a standard keto diet.
  • The high-protein keto diet: Also called the modified Atkins diet, this variation involves a greater intake of proteins, usually in the 30-35% range. Carbs should remain under 10% of your caloric intake, and fats make up the rest. This type of keto diet is catered to those who wish to protect or build muscle mass.

What Foods Can You Eat on a Keto Diet?

There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule on what you can and can’t eat on a keto diet. However, it’s best to focus on low-carbohydrate foods that deliver a decent amount of proteins and healthy fats.

Here’s a keto-friendly food list to get you started:

  • Seafood, eggs, poultry, and meat
  • Greek yoghurt and lower-carb cheeses like cottage cheese
  • Non-starchy veggies, including leafy greens, bell peppers, and zucchini
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Berries, including strawberries and raspberries
  • Fats and oils, such as olive oil, avocado oil, and butter

How to Carry Out a Keto Diet: A Beginner’s Guide

Getting started on the keto diet, or any new diet for that matter, can feel overwhelming. In this section, we’ll discuss how you can kickstart your keto journey as a beginner.

Calculating Carbs on Keto

Many keto diet guides recommend not more than 15-30 grams of net carbs (or 50 grams of total carbs) per day. Some people calculate total carbs when on a keto diet, but many prefer to keep track of their net carb intake. Net carbs are the total amount of carbs you consume minus fibre since your body doesn’t digest or utilize the fibre you eat.

There isn’t a set method of entering ketosis. Some people can achieve ketosis by consuming 20-30 net carbs per day, while others need to consume less than 20 net carbs per day to attain this state.

If you’re a complete beginner, you may start by getting your total daily carbs under 100 grams while you’re in the preparation phase. This could make the transition smoother later on. Once you’re ready to begin your keto diet, reduce your net carb consumption to under 20-30 grams per day.

How Much Protein and Fats to Consume

A keto diet typically calls for moderate consumption of proteins. Generally, you can go for 1.0-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. You shouldn’t restrict your proteins excessively to push your body into ketosis, nor should you consume an excessive amount of proteins to the point your body can’t achieve ketosis.

In general, a keto diet should also provide a greater amount of healthy fats to help boost ketone levels. Many people on a keto diet aim to have fats make up 70-80% of their daily calorie intake. Since fats comprise a huge proportion of your diet, choosing high-quality sources of healthy fats is important.

Beginner Tips for Starting on a Keto Diet

Here are some of the best tips and steps to get you started!

  1. Start by building a keto meal plan. For each meal, pick a protein, then choose a low-carb veggie to go with your meal. Then, add sources of fats to go with the meal, such as avocados, olive oil, butter, or coconut oil.
  2. Know what foods to limit on a keto diet plan. Cut back on your intake of sugary foods and limit high-sugar fruits. It’s also best to restrict the amount of grains (bread, pasta, rice, etc.) and starchy vegetables you consume.
  3. If you have a sweet tooth, keto-friendly sweeteners can help you reduce the consumption of sugary foods while satisfying your sugar cravings. Examples of keto-friendly sweeteners include stevia, xylitol, and erythritol.
  4. You can track your progress along the way by testing the level of ketones in your body. There are various methods of doing this, and different devices and tests can help you estimate the level of ketones in your urine, breath, or blood.
  5. You may wish to keep tabs on your macros, calories, and types of foods you consume. This helps you track the changes and adjustments made to your diet and allows you to link those to your ketone levels and progress.
  6. You might experience symptoms of the keto flu in your first week of commencing this diet. If you get them, stay well-hydrated with water and increase your intake of foods high in electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. There are also electrolyte supplements for those who are very physically active or for those who find it difficult to add more electrolyte-rich foods to their diet.
  7. Some people note that the keto diet affects how well they sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene to get enough quality sleep at night. Create a comfortable, dark, and quiet environment for sleep, try to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, and avoid having long afternoon naps that can throw off your sleep cycle.
  8. If you do not have the time or energy to meal prep keto-friendly meals daily, consider getting them from a meal service provider. Various keto-friendly meal service providers in Australia offer nutritious and delicious options without any lock-in contracts.
  9. Before making drastic changes to your diet, it’s always best to first consult a healthcare provider. This is especially important if you’re on any medications, have any medical conditions, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Final Verdict

A keto diet isn’t suitable for everyone. It’s generally restrictive and challenging to maintain in the long haul. That said, it can be an effective means of achieving weight loss in the short run.

Your diet plays a massive role in determining whether your body enters and remains in ketosis. If planning and prepping keto-friendly meals takes too much time or energy, meal service providers are a great solution. They’ll deliver keto-friendly meals to your doorstep, so you can reap the benefits of a keto diet without bending over backwards planning for one!

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References

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Dhillon KK, Gupta S. Biochemistry, Ketogenesis. [Updated 2023 Feb 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493179/
Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition, 67(8), 789–796. https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2013.116
Crosby, L., Davis, B., Joshi, S., Jardine, M., Paul, J., Neola, M., & Barnard, N. D. (2021). Ketogenic Diets and Chronic Disease: Weighing the Benefits Against the Risks. Frontiers in Nutrition, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2021.702802
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Cicero, A. F., Benelli, M., Brancaleoni, M., Dainelli, G., Merlini, D., & Negri, R. (2015). Middle and Long-Term Impact of a Very Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet on Cardiometabolic Factors: A Multi-Center, Cross-Sectional, Clinical Study. High blood pressure & cardiovascular prevention : the official journal of the Italian Society of Hypertension, 22(4), 389–394. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40292-015-0096-1
D'Andrea Meira, I., Romão, T. T., Pires do Prado, H. J., Krüger, L. T., Pires, M. E. P., & da Conceição, P. O. (2019). Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: What We Know So Far. Frontiers in neuroscience, 13, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2019.00005
Zupec-Kania, B., & Zupanc, M. L. (2008). Long-term management of the ketogenic diet: seizure monitoring, nutrition, and supplementation. Epilepsia, 49 Suppl 8, 23–26. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01827.x