|October 1, 2021

The Keto Diet for Beginners

By Alison Moodie
Reviewed by Emily Gonzalez, ND for Scientific Accuracy

The Keto Diet for Beginners

  • The keto diet is made up of mostly fats, moderate protein and a small amount of carbs.
  • Eating very few carbs puts you in ketosis, a metabolic state where your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel.
  • There are different types of keto diets, including the standard diet, cyclical keto and dirty keto. Before starting your keto diet journey, consider which path is right for you.

Eat fat to burn fat? It sounds counterintuitive, but that’s what makes the ketogenic diet so unique. Also called the keto diet, this high-fat, low-carbohydrate style of eating can help you feel energized and laser-sharp. It can even help you stay at a healthy weight—all while enjoying delicious, satisfying foods.

Read on to learn everything you want to know about this style of eating with our keto diet for beginners guide. We’ll cover the science behind how it works, detail the amazing benefits of the keto diet and offer tweaks that can help you manage minor keto side effects and stay in a state of ketosis.

What is the keto diet?

Image of keto diet foods such as avocados and nuts

You may have heard the old low-fat weight-loss mantra, “Fat makes you fat.” It’s actually not that simple. In fact, your brain and body benefit from healthy fats, regardless of what diet you follow. Eating keto means consuming more fats and fewer carbs, which changes the way your body turns food into energy.

Think of your body like a hybrid car. With the standard American diet, you generally rely on carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, for fuel. Your metabolism turns carbs into glucose for energy and stores the leftovers as glycogens in your muscles and liver. But just like a hybrid can run on gas or electricity, your body has another way to make energy: fat!

If you eat very few carbs, more fat and moderate protein, your body enters ketosis: a metabolic state where you burn fat instead of carbs for fuel.[1]

In ketosis, your body produces ketones, an alternative source of fuel. Ketones are responsible for a lot of the keto benefits you might have heard about, like fewer cravings, more brain power and lasting energy.

Did You Know? The keto diet is just one way to get your body to make ketones. Your body can also produce ketones when you’re intermittent fasting or taking keto supplements.

Keto diet benefits

Ketosis delivers a slew of health benefits, in addition to just burning body fat. Because your metabolism works differently on keto, keto dieters commonly report the following changes in their mind and body.

1. Increased energy

woman doing pull-ups outdoors

When your body uses ketones for fuel, you won’t experience the same energy crashes or brain fog as you do when you’re eating a lot of carbs. Let’s paint a picture: You know the feeling you get after having a big bowl of pasta for lunch? Your blood sugar levels crash after processing all those carbs, and the rest of the day becomes naptime.

More than 60% of your brain is fat, so it needs a steady supply of fat to function optimally.[2] The quality fats you eat on a ketogenic diet do more than feed your day-to-day activities—they also feed your brain.

However, that’s not the case on the keto diet. In metabolic fat-burning mode, your body can tap into fat stores for energy. Ketosis also helps the brain create more mitochondria, the power generators in your cells.[3] More energy in your cells means more energy to get stuff done.

2. Fewer cravings

Fork and spoon on wooden plate

Ketones suppress ghrelin, your hunger hormone. They also increase cholecystokinin (CCK), which makes you feel full.[4] Reduced appetite means it’s easier to go for longer periods without eating, which encourages your body to dip into its fat stores for energy.

Plus, fat is a satiating macronutrient, which means it helps you feel fuller, longer.[5] On a high-fat diet, you’ll spend less time snacking and more time tackling your to-do list.

Related: What is MCT Oil? The Ultimate Guide to MCT Oil Supplements

3. Weight management

Woman adjusting scale

The keto diet is a popular weight loss tactic. Why, exactly? Because unlike glucose, ketones can’t be stored as fat; they aren’t metabolized the same way. This might seem counterintuitive if you associate keto with piles of salami and blocks of cream cheese. But in reality, the keto diet can support weight management by both burning fat and curbing problematic food cravings.

The trick is to primarily eat nutrient-dense whole foods that are very low in carbs and also contain quality fats. Plus, pay attention to how you feel!

4. Reduced inflammation

Keto foods on table

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to an invader it deems harmful. Too much inflammation is bad news because it increases your risk of health problems. A keto diet can reduce inflammation in the body by switching off inflammatory pathways and producing fewer free radicals compared to glucose.[6] [7] [8]

Related: 6 Inflammatory Foods to Avoid and What to Eat Instead

Types of keto diets

Sliced steak and asparagus are examples of foods on keto diet for beginners

The keto diet for beginners seems like all fat, no carbs and lots of bacon and cheese—but that’s not the case. There are different approaches to this style of eating, and it’s in your favor to find what works for you.

Some people do well with slightly more carbs in their diets, and that’s perfectly okay. Here are a few different approaches to a high-fat, low-carb diet:

  • Standard keto: This is typically 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% net carbs a day, every day. Most traditional keto followers eat as few as 20g of net carbs per day.
  • Cyclical keto: Here, you follow a standard keto diet most of the week. One to two days a week, however, you indulge in a “carb refeed,” in which you eat slightly more nutrient-dense carbs, like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. You might eat approximately 150g of net carbs during carb refeed days.
  • Targeted keto: You follow the standard keto diet, but eat more carbs 30 minutes to an hour around workouts. The glucose is meant to boost performance, and you return to ketosis after the workout. If your energy levels are suffering in the gym during keto, this style of eating might work for you.
  • Dirty keto: Dirty keto follows the same ratio of dietary fats, proteins and carbs as the regular keto diet, but with a twist: It doesn’t matter where those macronutrients come from. Dinner could be a bunless Big Mac with a Diet Pepsi.
  • Moderate keto: Eat high fat with approximately 100-150g of net carbs daily. People who experience problems with other forms of keto sometimes do better with this diet, because restricting carbs can sometimes mess with hormonal function and energy levels.

How-to keto for beginners: getting started

If you’ve been following a high-carb, low-fat diet for a while, don’t get overwhelmed by the thought of cutting way back on your daily net carb count. Keto for beginners is all about a slow, but steady transition.

So what’s the best way to get started? If you take care of these tasks in the short term, you will be well on your way to achieving long-term success on the keto diet.

Do your macronutrient homework

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

If you’re someone that feels like more data is helpful, calculating your macros by using a macro calculator can be helpful when you’re starting out on a keto eating plan.

Every person is different, and calculating the exact nutrition you need in your keto diet plan can help you get started on the right track without wondering why your keto journey isn’t working optimally.

While you have your phone open, think about downloading a few apps to support your goals. Make it easy on yourself by tracking your carbs, fat and protein using food tracking apps like MyFitnessPalCarb Manager or My Macros+.

Remember to also focus on the quality of the foods you put in your body. Ditch those processed foods and take a trip to your local farmers market, local co-op or high-quality supermarket to shop for proteins and produce. And since the keto diet focuses on fueling your brain and body with quality fats, you’ll want to do your research on how to consume this critical macronutrient.

Related: Is Fat Good For You? Everything You Need to Know About Dietary Fats

Quality Fats to Consider

A tub of Bulletproof Grass-Fed Ghee in a kitchen

Wondering which sources of high-quality fats to add to your keto shopping list? We have several recommendations to get you started:

  • Bulletproof Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil: The most ketogenic MCT oil available—it’s converted into the most ketones of any MCT oil to become a superfuel for your body—our custom formula contains C8 MCTs derived from 100% pure coconut.
  • Bulletproof Grass-Fed Ghee: While we are also advocates of grass-fed butter, this clarified alternative is great for high-heat cooking and, of course, Bulletproof Coffee.
  • Avocado oil: Rich in heart-healthy oleic acid and lutein (which is great for the eyes), avocado oil is flavorless, which makes it a great contender for both savory cooking and sweet, keto-friendly baked goods.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: In addition to adding a distinct flavor to everything from salad dressing to sauteed veggies, olive oil promotes a healthy inflammation response and contains plenty of antioxidants.
  • Pastured lard: Surprisingly high in monounsaturated fats (the good kinds found in avocado and olive oil) as well as stable saturated fats, lard provides a tasty fat for cooking that also helps support healthy cell membranes.

Stock your keto kitchen with ingredients and tools

Fish and greens on plate

Set yourself up for success by stocking up on products and ingredients that will support your keto lifestyle.

Not sure where to begin? Our keto food list provides a full breakdown of what belongs in your pantry and fridge—from fresh leafy greens and low-glycemic berries to the power of almond flour. To help shape your shopping list for your next trip to the grocery store, we recommend organizing your list into these nine categories:

  1. Fats and oils, like MCT oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil
  2. Proteins, like pasture-raised meats and eggs, grass-fed whey and collagen
  3. Vegetables, like dark, leafy greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower
  4. Fruits, like berries, avocados, lemons and limes
  5. Nuts and seeds, like coconuts, macadamia nuts, pecans and walnuts
  6. Dairy, like grass-fed butter and ghee and colostrum from grass-fed cows
  7. Beverages, like bone broth, coffee, coconut milk and mineral water
  8. Spices, seasonings and condiments, like coconut aminos, quality herbs and cacao powder
  9. Sweeteners, like monk fruit, stevia, allulose and erythritol.

Additionally, you’ll also need the tools to make magic happen in the kitchen. Here are a few that can make keto flavorful, easier and more enjoyable:

  • Cast iron skillet
  • Air fryer
  • Instant Pot
  • CrockPot
  • Blender

Bulletproof tip: Worried you won’t have time to make a home-cooked, keto-friendly meal? Consider meal prepping on a specific day of the week. And if you make use of your Instant Pot or slow cooker, you can let them do all the work—while you’re at the office.

Get ahead of the keto flu

As your body adjusts, it’s common to go through the keto flu during the first week or so. You might experience symptoms like brain fog, muscle aches, constipation, a metallic taste in your mouth or even an acetone odor in your breath (aka “keto breath”).

However, there are ways to get ahead of the dreaded keto flu:

  • Hydrate
  • Take your electrolytes
  • Eat more quality fats
  • Get your rest
  • Adopt a destressing routine

Bulletproof tip: Since hydration and upping your electrolytes are critical to beating the keto flu, a supplement like Bulletproof Forbose can be a helpful add-on to an electrolyte mix. While Forbose contains magnesium and d-ribose, sodium is key to hydration.

How to maintain the keto diet

Keto dieting doesn’t mean cutting back on your carb intake for a day or two. It takes commitment to reap the rewards of fueling your body and brain with quality fats.

Incorporating more high-fat, low-carb recipes into your weekly meal plan is a great start. These strategies can help you stay on track with your keto diet for the long haul.

Test when you are in ketosis

Woman stretching, implying fitness and health

You don’t need to set up an appointment with a healthcare professional to check your ketone levels. Do so right at home with urine sticks or a blood meter. You can even use a breathalyzer to test for acetone levels in your breath.

Whichever method you prefer, take advantage of the convenient ability to test whether you are in ketosis. That way, you can make any necessary changes to your diet to get back on track. The solution may be as simple as reducing your carb intake, cutting back on protein and BCAAs or adding an extra tablespoon of coconut oil to your morning cup of Bulletproof Coffee.

Learn which foods to avoid

Counting macros is one of the hottest diet trends -- but what are macros, anyway? Get the breakdown on why macros matter, and whether you should track them.

When you’re starting keto, the list of rules on what you can and can’t eat may seem daunting. It’s important to educate yourself about what high-carb foods can sneak up on you, such as legumes or starchy root vegetables.

This in-depth keto food list contains more information on the kinds of foods you should not only consume, but also avoid on keto. Plus, our guide on dirty keto will help you learn more on the foods that may technically meet your macros on the ketogenic diet, but could be affecting other parts of your lifestyle.

You’ll also want to learn about calculating net carbs to make sure the “keto-friendly” product you’re about to consume really does fit in your keto diet, as well as whether sweeteners like stevia work well with keto. And, you should gain a better understanding of the difference between net and total carbs.

Try other types of keto to find what’s right for you

Keto is not a one-size-fits-all solution, so take advantage of your options. Don’t be afraid to switch things up. Starting with strict keto might work initially, but you may need to adjust your diet based on your lifestyle.

For example, if you train at high-intensity levels, consider a cyclical or targeted keto diet to strategically incorporate more carbs, which can help fuel a gym session or long run.

Feeling too restricted by the macro ratios of standard keto? Give yourself some flexibility by taking a moderate approach that allows for more carbs than your typical keto meal plan.

Easy keto-for-beginners recipe ideas

Hamburger salad with avocado

Ready to get your hands dirty in the kitchen, but don’t have a clue how to cook keto? We’ve got you covered with everything from Bulletproof Coffee to brunch, and dinner to keto snacks so you can kick your ketosis into high gear—no excuses necessary:

  • Keto Coffee: It’s no secret that Bulletproof Coffee is a popular fuel source for keto dieters. Check out these keto coffee recipes to keep you laser focused throughout the day, including classic Bulletproof Coffee, along with mocha, iced and spiced recipes.
  • Keto Brunch: From a low-carb version of eggs Benedict to pillow-soft, gluten-free cinnamon rolls, you’ll find everything you need to cook up (and devour) the perfect keto-friendly brunch eats.
  • Keto Lunch: Easy and packable so you can head out the door, if you’re a lunch eater, these keto lunch ideas will help you power through each afternoon.
  • Keto Dinner: Whether you want to make steak, chicken or seafood (get those omega-3 fatty acids up!) the star of the show, these delicious keto recipes will take weeknight dinner to another level.
  • Keto Desserts: You can still satisfy your sweet tooth without the high amounts of sugar found in standard desserts. Low-carb brownie, cake and cookie recipes can taste just as great while providing better nutritional value.
  • Keto Comfort Food: Craving time-tested classics like pancakes or pasta? You can create keto-friendly versions of comfort food recipes by using both low-carb flour substitutes and low-glycemic sweeteners.
  • Keto Snacks: Snacking doesn’t seem to align with dieting. But these high-fat, low-carb snacks—which range from sweet to savory—fit perfectly into a keto meal plan.

Additional ketogenic diet resources

Still have questions about the keto diet? We have an arsenal of helpful guides to help you navigate all aspects of this fat-fueled way of eating.

1. Is Keto Safe Long-Term?

Wondering if it’s OK to stay keto for the long haul? Learn how to achieve long-term success with tips on how to push through a plateau, what you should have in your kitchen and recipes to round out your weekly meal plan.

2. Keto on the Go: How to Fuel Up With Bulletproof Coffee & Snacks—No Matter Where You Are

Don’t let time dictate your ability to stick to your diet. Stay energized throughout the day by fueling up with Bulletproof Coffee and keto-friendly snacks. Just because you’re on the go doesn’t mean you have to let your nutrition go out the window!

3. 7 Reasons You’re Not Seeing Results on Keto

Struggling to make progress on the keto diet? You’re not alone. This blog explores some of the common reasons for not seeing results. More importantly, it offers useful tips to help push past a plateau.

4. Vegetarian Keto: Can Vegetarians Go Keto Safely?

Although many keto recipes include animal-based protein sources, not all of them have to make meat the main attraction. In fact, it’s entirely possible for vegetarians to enjoy the benefits of swapping out carbs for quality fats. Everything you need to know about vegetarian keto is one click away.

5. Longer Fasting on Keto for Self-Growth

Keto and intermittent fasting (IF) go hand-in-hand, but you can also experience even more benefits when you graduate to longer fasting on keto. Find out if longer fasting may be complementary to your keto diet journey.

If you’re considering keto for weight loss, make sure to get the skinny on IF, too. Our comprehensive beginner’s guide on intermittent fasting will teach you everything there is to know about this progressive, Bulletproof-approved dieting practice.

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This is an updated version of an article originally published October 2019.