Essential Ketogenic Diet Quickstart: How to Get into Ketosis & What to Eat
So, you’re ready to try a ketogenic diet plan and become an energetic, fat-burning beast? You’re in the right place with this Essential Keto Diet Quickstart Guide!
We’re going to lay out a super simple low-carb meal plan to help get you into ketosis, no matter your goals.
Trying to lose weight? The ketogenic diet has been shown in multiple studies and testimonials to help balance blood sugar, boost metabolism, burn fat and support weight loss, without going hungry, getting hangry or feeling deprived.
Trying to maintain weight and get healthier? Keto is great for you too! Keto has also been shown to improve mental performance, balance hormones, decrease bloating and gas, prevent future disease (like Alzheimer’s and diabetes) and enhance energy, even if you don’t have weight to lose.
So…how to get into ketosis? Let’s hop to it…
For more information on the whys behind Keto, and what it is exactly, check out our Introduction to the Ketogenic Diet.
1. Start with the Base: Ketogenic-Diet Food List
You can’t supplement your way into ketosis. The magic of getting into ketosis happens from eating high-fat, nutrient-dense foods, and eliminating sugars (even natural ones) from your diet. The primary list of keto diet foods is extremely simple…and tasty!
Healthy fats ( topical fats, cooking oils, eggs, some grass-fed dairy if tolerated and fatty cuts of meat) make up approximately 50 to 80-percent of calories on a classic ketogenic diet. As a general rule of thumb, add at least two to three servings of fat with meals, such as cooking your veggies in ghee, and topping your burger patty with avocado. Or scrambled pastured eggs, uncured bacon and veggies cooked in coconut oil
Best Choices: Avocado (whole and oil), Coconut (butter, flakes and oil), Olives (whole and oil), 100% Grass-fed Ghee, 100% Grass-fed Butter, MCT Oil, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Sustainable, Organic Proteins
Especially fatty cuts of organic, pastured and grass-fed meats and eggs
Best Choices: Grass-fed Beef, Wild-Caught Seafood, Pastured Eggs, Pastured Poultry
and Pork, Organic Organ Meats and Game Meats (when available)
FAQ: How much protein should I eat? Classic ketogenic diets call for a very moderate protein intake (0.7g per pound of lean body mass), while more recent protocols argue that more protein is better (between 0.8-1.2g per pound of lean bodyweight). We think darn near anywhere in that range is fine. The classic “fitness” recommendation of 1g per pound of lean bodyweight will get the job done: not too high, certainly not too low. For more information on a high protein Ketogenic diet, check out KetoGains.com.
Non-starchy vegetables will provide micronutrients, bulk, and fiber to your diet (essential for digestion). Classic keto prescribes keeping net carbohydrates below 20g/day
Best Choices: Dark leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard), cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, fungi like mushrooms
As for what foods to “avoid”…
What to Avoid on a Ketogenic Diet?
Starchy Carbs, Fruits & Sugar.
The primary “no-no” food on a ketogenic diet is starchy carbs and sugars. While there is ALSO some debate on the role of proteins and fats in a ketogenic diet (ie. some people argue you need more protein and less fat, and others argue for higher fat and low protein), one thing is for sure: carb reduction is crucial.
Beyond Hershey’s chocolate bars and bowls of pasta, carbohydrate sugar is found in “healthy” and “complex” carbs too, including: grains, potatoes, winter squashes, starchy tubers and root veggies (carrots, plantains, beets) and legumes. Since complex carbohydrates are composed of “complex” strings of sugar, they take slightly longer to break down. Once they are broken down, they’re converted to glucose, and have the same effect as any “simple” sugar on your blood sugar and insulin.
Consuming sugar will elevate insulin, likely get your carbs over 20g/day, and kick you out of ketosis. Carbohydrates reinforce your body’s sugar cravings and reliance, which is why it must be avoided at all costs.
- Table Sugar
- Most Dairy (Note: cheese, ghee and butter are exceptions due to their low lactose levels)
- Starchy Tubers & Root Veggies (ex. potatoes, yams, tarrow, jicama, beets, carrots)
- Grains (ex. oats, wheat, corn, rice, bread, pasta, etc.)
- Legumes (beans, lentils)
How to Get into Ketosis: Step by Step
Get it? Got it? Good! Now with the baseline diet knowledge squared away, you’re ready to jump into Ketosis hacking. Here’s how to get into Ketosis!
Step 1: Limit “net” carb intake to under 20 to 30 grams/day by elminating most sugar and starches.
Keto is a low-carb diet at the core. Reducing carbohydrates is therefore your first step for “getting into ketosis.”
Your carbohydrate intake should come mostly from leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables, like cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, artichoke, cabbage, cucumber, mushrooms, sprouts, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, chayote, turnips, and herbs. (ie. No fruit, grains, potatoes, etc). It’s even good to avoid certain vegetables like tomatoes, beets, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, peas, carrots, jicama and onions, which tend to be higher in carbohydrates as well.
Note: Your recommended 20 to 30 grams of carbs every day is for your net carbohydrate load (not total). Your net carbohydrates are your total carbohydrates minus fiber. So, if something you’re eating has 10 grams of carbohydrate per serving, if 6 grams of that is fiber, then the net carbohydrate load is 4 grams.
Step 2: Eat enough protein to maintain lean mass.
Don’t eat so little protein that you go catabolic (ie. your body eats itself). But don’t eat so much protein that you displace other nutrients or your body turns to protein (instead of fat) first for energy or “glucose.”
Aim for approximately one-gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight as a starting point. This is simple to accomplish by having one or two palm-sized servings of protein at each meal.
Step 3: Fill in the Rest with Fat.
The rest of your intake will come from added healthy fats (ie. cooking oils and topical fats like avocado, coconut butter, butter and grass-fed hard cheese).
The goal with your added healthy fat intake is to eat enough fat for healthy energy levels, satisfaction and adequate calories, but not so much that you’re overly stuffed or eating in excess (just like you can do with any other food group). You want the “Goldilock’s” approach for body balance. That said, many people come to Keto from a fairly low fat (or fat-fearing) background, risking not eating enough fat to support the carbohydrate deficient. Typically, 60 to 75 percent of your total daily calories will come from fat, 10-percent or less from carbs and anywhere from 15 to 30-percent from protein.
No need necessarily to count, either.
How to know how much fat is right for you?
Generally, two to three servings of fat at each meal, between both added fats and natural fats (such as fatty cuts of meats, eggs and cheese), is appropriate.
For example: Cooking with coconut oil or ghee and eating some grass-fed steak or organic chicken thighs; Or, making a chicken salad with a couple tablespoons of avocado oil mayo, and tossing in some walnuts for crunch.
As you begin experimenting with macronutrient balance (proteins, fats and carbs) and stick to your Keto Nutrition Template below, you’ll find the just-right balance for you.
Keto Hack: A higher intake of fat in the first week or two of your ketogenic plan will help your body learn to metabolize fat. After that intro period, you can taper down your fat intake so that you’re only getting what you need to maintain health.
Consistency with these dietary guidelines will help your body “jump start” into ketosis, or in layman’s terms, “fat burning” and turning fat into “glucose-like fuel,” (rather than carbohydrate sugar).
How do I know when I am officially in Ketosis?
There’s an app for that! Or actually…there’s a urine strip test, blood test or breath test. In short: Being in ketosis generates elevated levels of ketones, which are detectable in the breath, urine, and blood.
What are ketones? Ketones, or “ketone bodies,” are fatty acid byproducts that occur when carbohydrate intake is low from the body breaking down fat for energy.
Testing and assessing can be highly effective for ensuring you’re moving in the “right direction” for ketosis to happen, particularly when first starting out.
As you get into your groove with your keto diet, you’ll probably discover that regular testing is not as necessary, however during the first several weeks, use it as a barometer to fit your needs and find the right foods that work for you.
Which test to use?
Each assessment measures different types of ketones (fatty acids) in your body:
- And Beta-hydroxybutryate.
Similar to different types of carbs (starchy root veggies, cruciferous fiber-rich veggies, leafy greens and fruits), each of these compounds are ALL ketones, but they do different things in the metabolism of ketosis.
They can be tested individually as follows:
This measures acetoacetate.
- Cheap (approximately $20)
- Good for Newbies to Keto (if your body is new to ketosis, it will produce and excrete more of this fatty acid in the urine, especially in the beginning as it “jumps” into ketosis)
- Hydration and electrolyte status can dilute reading
- Not accurate once you become more regular with ketogenic eating. Why? Since your body adapts to using fatty acids or ketones as fuel, it learns how to use acetoacetate, so less is excreted in the urine to measure on this test. (ie. even though you are producing lots of ketones, your body is now using them up).
Urine ketone test strip recommendations:
Measures Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
- Convenient (can be done at home)
- Highly accurate and reliable mode of testing (since blood is not diluted like urine)
- Test strips are fairly expensive ($5-$10 per test read)
- You have to prick your finger (similar to a blood glucose test at home)
Blood ketone test recommendations:
- Convenient (can be done at home)
- Do not have to keep buying strips (like urine and blood testing)
- Good for “double confirmation” of a urine or blood test
- Not “messy”
- Not directly responsible for ketone metabolism itself, but a precursor to Beta-hydroxybutyrate production
- Not always 100-percent accurate
Breath ketone analyzer recommendations:
Which Ketosis Test is the BEST?
Call us biased, but we think first and foremost the “best measure” of any ketogenic diet is the answer to one question:
How do you feel?
- How is your energy?
- Your brain and mental clarity?
- Your digestion?
- Your anxiety or stress levels?
- Your hunger, satisfaction or fullness?
Numbers, tests and measures are all great for paper confirmation, but the number one method for the effectiveness of how keto (or any other nutritional approach) is working for you is a free test only you–and you alone– can interpret.
Quick Start Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan
Ready to get to the nitty gritty details of what a “day in the life” of a ketogenic diet looks like? Here’s as basic template for meal times to get you started.
At each meal include:
- 1-2 Palm-sized servings of Protein (organic and grass-fed is preferable)
- At least 1-2 Servings of Added Fat & Oils from: Coconut (Coconut Butter, Oil, Flakes); Avocado or Avocado Oil; Olives or Olive Oil; Raw Nuts/Seeds; Grass-fed Cheese, Grass-fed Creamer Butter or Ghee (Note: You may also choose to eat a fatty piece of organic meat or pastured eggs, which is great! You still can benefit added fat to your plate or used to prepare your food as well).
- Fill the rest of the plate with Non-Starchy Vegetables
Get Started Keto Diet Plan Meal Ideas
Some of our favorite easy-peasy meal ideas:
- Leftover Protein (dinner), Avocado, Greens (sauteed in ghee or coconut oil)
- Bacon and Pastured Eggs
- Fasting or Butter Coffee/Chai Tea
- Chicken Salad (chicken + paleo mayo + celery + almonds) Collard Wrap
- Bean-less Chili
- Big Ass Salad (Greens, Sardines or Tuna, Oil & Vinegar, Handful Olives, Roasted Yellow Squash & Zucchini, ⅓ Avocado)
- Grass-fed Steak, Mushrooms in Grass-fed Butter, Sauteed Spinach
- Wild-Caught Herb Salmon and Bacon Wrapped Asparagus
- Coconut Crusted Chicken Tenders, Cauliflower Mash, Sauteed Rainbow Chard
The Common Sense Disclaimer
Remember that the “sweet spot” for thriving health is rarely found in the extremes, and this is especially true with diet (even a ketogenic diet plan).
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet.
If you try the ketogenic diet on for size, just remember that your body is the ultimate guide and barometer of whether this works for you or not. Monitor and journal your progress, noting not just what you eat, but how you look, feel and perform. Above all, keep in mind that any diet’s efficacy is highly dependent upon a myriad of epigenetic input (ie. your sleep patterns, activity levels, stress, etc)–not just food alone.
Context and situational milieu matters.
To 360 health, 360 lifestyle and beyond–full circle.
About the Author:
Dr. Lauryn Lax is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Functional Medicine Practitioner, author and speaker, with over 20 years of clinical and personal experience specializing in digestive health, intuitive eating, disordered eating, hormone balance and women’s health. She is a published journalist and speaker, and her work has been featured in Oxygen Magazine, Women’s Health, Paleo Magazine, Breaking Muscle, CrossFit Inc, USA Today, ABC and CBS News. She operates a virtual Functional Medicine practice, Thrive Wellness & Recovery, LLC, working with clients and patients around the world to get unstuck from their health, food, mindset and fitness ruts.