The Keto Diet for Beginners: Your Complete Guide
By: Alison Moodie
January 23, 2020
- The keto diet is made up of mostly fats, moderate protein and a small amount of carbs.
- Eating a lot of fat and 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. Get the details on the benefits of keto and how to start the keto diet below.
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-carb 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 keto side effects and stay in a state of ketosis.
What is the keto diet?
You may have heard the old low-fat weight-loss mantra, “Fat makes you fat.” It’s actually not that simple. Your brain and body benefit from healthy fats, regardless of what diet you follow. Eating keto means eating more fats and fewer carbs, which changes the way your body turns food into energy.
Think of your body like a hybrid car. You’re built to rely on carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, for fuel. Your metabolism is designed to turn carbs into glucose for energy, and store the leftovers as glycogen in your cells. 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.
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.
The keto diet is one way to get your body to make ketones. Your body can also produce ketones when you’re intermittent fasting or taking keto supplements like Bulletproof Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil, aka the most ketogenic MCT oil.
Keto diet benefits
Ketosis delivers a bunch of health benefits besides just burning fat. Your metabolism works differently on keto, and people report the following changes in their mind and body.
More than 60% of your brain is fat, so it needs a steady supply of fat to keep the engine humming. The quality fats you eat on a ketogenic diet do more than feed your day-to-day activities—they also feed your brain.
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. 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.
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. More energy in your cells means more energy to get stuff done.
Ketones suppress ghrelin, your hunger hormone. They also increase cholecystokinin (CCK), which makes you feel full. 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.
Fat is a satiating macronutrient, which means it helps you feel fuller, longer. On a high-fat diet, you’ll spend less time snacking and more time tackling your to-do list.
Some people use the keto diet to stay at a healthy weight. Unlike glucose, ketones can’t be stored as fat because they aren’t metabolized the same way. This might seem counterintuitive if you associate keto with piles of bacon and cheese. But in reality, the keto diet can support weight management by burning fat and curbing cravings.
The trick is to primarily get your fats from quality sources like nutrient-dense whole foods and pay attention to how you feel.
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. 
Types of keto diets
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 a good idea 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. Some keto followers eat as few as 20 grams of net carbs per day.
- Cyclical keto: You follow a standard keto diet most of the week. One to two days a week, you have a “carb refeed” in which you eat slightly more carbs. For example, you might eat approximately 150 grams 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 is 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 100-150 grams 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 start the keto diet
Don’t ditch the carbs all at once. Keto for beginners is all about a slow, but steady transition. Keep reading to learn if the keto lifestyle is right for you.
Start slowly and mindfully
To get the best idea of which style of keto works for you, try a different style of keto for at least a month.
Make it easy on yourself by tracking your carbs, fat and protein using a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal and My Macros+. This will make it easy to set goals based on fat and carb intake instead of worrying about calories. Eat until you’re full, and listen to your body.
Adding additional tactics, such as meal prep to help you stay on track, can also be helpful. Employ whatever tools or strategies you need to make your life easier while you transition to a new way of eating.
Most importantly, check in with your body as you go. Are you sharpest with a weekly carb refeed, or do you do better on a full ketogenic diet? Do you burn out when you dip below 100 grams of carbs per day?
There’s a lot of variation within lower-carb diets, and some people feel their best with different styles of eating. Find a good balance that works best for your body.
Macros can be helpful
If you’re someone that feels like more data is helpful, calculating your macros using a macro calculator can be helpful when you’re starting out.
Every body 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 hitting your goals.
Eat quality fats and moderate protein
Unlike the Atkins Diet, which is high in protein, a keto diet avoids eating too much protein. In the past, people thought large amounts of protein can turn into glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis, which takes you out of ketosis. More recent findings suggest the possibility of gluconeogenesis isn’t as big a problem as we once believed, but on a keto diet, the majority of your calories should come from quality fats—not protein.
There’s a bit of a learning curve when you’re finding out what to eat on keto. Broadly speaking, it’s best to get your dietary fat from nutrient-dense, whole food sources. That means eating more foods like avocados, coconut oil, olive oil and butter (or Bulletproof Grass-Fed Ghee). Your protein intake should primarily come from fatty cuts of protein like salmon and, yes, bacon.
Learn how to know when you’re in ketosis
How long does it take to get into ketosis? It can take anywhere from 2-3 days to a few weeks to enter ketosis, depending on your body’s ability to adapt to burning fat for fuel and increasing your ketone levels.
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”).
Once you enter ketosis, you’ll notice changes like fewer cravings, clear-headedness and increased energy. Depending on how your body adjusts to this style of eating, you might also notice keto side effects if your electrolytes become imbalanced.
If you’re having trouble sleeping or dealing with low energy, you might feel better with slightly more carbs in your diet. Experiment with carb cycling to find what works for you.
Learn what to avoid
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. (It’s also a good idea to learn the difference between net and total carbs.)
See our keto food list for more information on the kinds of foods you should avoid on keto, and our guide on dirty keto to learn more on the foods that are technically within 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 the consume really does fit in your keto diet, as well as what sweeteners work best with keto.
The keto diet isn’t all bacon and lettuce-wrapped burgers. You can still enjoy delicious, low-carb foods you’ll look forward to eating as part of your keto meal plan. There are even keto-friendly versions of your favorite carb-heavy foods, like pancakes and desserts.
Here are a few of our favorite low-carb recipes. Browse Bulletproof Recipes to find more keto-friendly meal ideas.
Start your day with quality fats that keep you going strong all morning long. To whip up this keto coffee recipe, you’ll blend grass-fed butter or Grass-Fed Ghee with certified clean Bulletproof coffee beans and Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil to create a creamy, frothy latte that’ll keep you energized and satisfied.
Yes, you can still enjoy pancakes on a low-carb diet. This easy keto recipe uses coconut flour, vanilla and Bulletproof Grass-Fed Ghee to deliver delicious pancakes at just 2.2 grams of net carbs per cake.
This easy hamburger salad features avocado, caramelized onions and a delicious aioli. Have all the satisfaction of a hamburger with under 7 grams of net carbs. The only difference is you’re trading the bun for a bowl.
Eating your veggies never tasted this good. Leafy greens are topped with eggs and smoked salmon to create a flavorful, nutrient-dense salad that satisfies your macros and your tastebuds. The dressing is made with Brain Octane C8 MCT Oil, which is a flavorless way to boost ketone production with any meal.
Who doesn’t love a chocolate chip cookie with a tall glass of almond milk? These gluten-free, keto-friendly cookies get a protein boost from Bulletproof Collagen Protein powder and sweetness from stevia and only have 1.6 grams of net carbs per cookie.
Browse Bulletproof Recipes to find more keto-friendly meal ideas, or see some of our keto recipe collections below:
- Keto Breakfast Ideas To Start Your Day Right
- Keto Snacks For On The Go Ketosis
- Keto Instant Pot Recipes for Fast Low Carb Meals
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This is an updated version of an article originally published October 2019.