Dr. Axe’s Guide To Starting The Keto Diet Right

The keto diet has never been more popular—but given how drastically different than the typical Western diet it is, it’s no wonder many people feel intimated and unsure about giving it a try.

You’ve probably heard that keto can boost weight loss, improve your energy, and maybe even protect you against common chronic diseases—but how are you supposed to eat a whopping 75 percent of your calories from fat and virtually zero carbs?

To answer your questions and get you started, here’s my guide to going keto.

Keto Basics

The goal of a keto diet is to shift your body into the metabolic state of ketosis, in which you use fat (in the form of ketones) for fuel instead of sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates.

To get there, you need to deprive your body of carbs, limiting your ‘net carbs’ (total grams of carbs minus grams of fiber) to just 25 to 30 grams a day. Thought there are some differing opinions out there about the exact amount of carbs that you can consume and still remain in ketosis, most agree that below 30 net grams is ideal. As you whittle away your carb intake, you’ll seriously up your fats.

Overall, you’ll eat about 75 percent of your daily calories from fat, about 20 percent from protein, and just about five percent from carbs.

Kicking Off Keto

It takes most people three to four days to officially enter nutritional ketosis, and another week or two to fully adjust. As you get started on keto, track your food and macronutrients to make sure you’re truly following the diet correctly.

Stick to the following five principles to get into ketosis quickly and start experiencing the benefits:

1. Remove And Replace Most Carbs And Sugar

If you want your body to start burning fat for fuel, you have to cut off the supply of glucose to your cells. To keep your total net carbs below the recommended 30 grams, you’ll need to cut out:

  • grains
  • anything made with wheat flour
  • legumes and beans
  • added sugar of any kind
  • sweetened dairy products
  • soda, juice, and other sweetened drinks
  • most starchy vegetables
  • most fruit
  • pretty much any dessert on a restaurant menu

If going cold turkey on all of these foods at once feels overwhelming, give yourself several weeks before going full-on keto to start making adjustments. First, cut out processed and sugary foods. Once that feels normal, decrease your intake of starchy veggies.

As you cut carbs, don’t leave a gaping hole on your plate where they once were! Try cauliflower rice instead of rice or quinoa, replace noodles with spiralized zucchini, and trade wheat flour for almond or coconut flour.

Related: 9 Low-Carb Food Swaps That Won’t Make Your Taste Buds Cry

If you’re wondering about fruit, yes, you can have some fruit on keto. Your best options: berries, avocado, citrus fruits, and tomatoes, which are all low in sugar. Just stick with one cup (or less) per day and track your macro intake carefully.

2. Up Your Healthy Fats And Oils—A Lot

On keto, your diet revolves around eating a plethora of healthy fats and oils, ideally from whole and nutrient-dense foods.

Some of the best sources include:

  • MCT oil
  • coconut oil
  • olive oil
  • grass-fed butter
  • ghee
  • avocado
  • fats found naturally in meat, eggs, and fish (these should be organic, wild-caught, pasture-raised, and/or grass-fed)
  • nuts and seeds (stick about a quarter cup daily)

Eating 75 percent of your calories from fat can be harder than you’d think. My recommendation: Include one or more servings with every single meal and snack.

You might start your day with Bulletproof coffee (which blends coffee with MCT oil and butter or ghee) or eggs fried in butter with avocado and veggies. Then, have a burger with melted cheddar and buttered veggies for lunch, blend up a keto smoothie with coconut milk and MCT oil as a snack, and have a piece of fish with veggies sautéed in a bunch of butter for dinner.

If you find yourself feeling hungry on the keto diet, chances are you need to eat more fat! Stock your fridge with grab-and-go foods like avocado deviled eggs, fat bombs, and breading-free meatballs.

3. Think Moderate Amounts Of Quality Protein

Unlike many low-carb diets (such as Atkin’s), keto is not high-protein. In fact, eat too much protein and your body may convert some of it into glucose and throw you out of ketosis. This is another reason tracking your macros is so important.

Though fat should be the primary source of your calories, it’s still important to eat smaller amounts of healthy, clean proteins throughout the day to maintain muscle mass and energy.

Some of my go-to keto-friendly protein sources are:

  • pastured eggs and poultry
  • grass-fed meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • full-fat cheese

Not only do these foods provide protein, but they also provide fat—a win-win. Just make sure to limit protein to 20 percent of your calories.

4. Focus On Whole, Alkaline Foods

Though fats are king on the keto diet, not all fat is created equal. All too often, keto dieters rely too heavily on processed meats like bacon or salami, refined vegetables oils, and fried or packaged foods like pork rinds.

Not only are these foods processed, but they’re also acidic. When you eat too many acidic foods and not enough alkalizing foods, your urine and saliva become more acidic, which can lead to ‘chronic low-grade acidosis,’ a state that depletes essential minerals like magnesium, calcium and potassium from the body, negatively impacting bone health and increasing inflammation. To improve your overall health, support digestion, and reduce inflammation on a keto diet, avoid these foods as much as possible.

Instead, fill your diet with alkalizing foods like green leafy veggies, celery, asparagus, cruciferous veggies like broccoli or cauliflower, fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro, avocado, and sea veggies. Drink lots of water and limit alcohol and coffee.

It’s also crucial that other non-starchy vegetables—like mushrooms, artichokes, and bell peppers—make regular appearances in your diet. These vegetables provide important nutrients like fiber, electrolytes, antioxidants, and vitamins, and help the body detox.

Eat several types of non-starchy vegetables every single day!

5. Play Around With Meal Timing

To amplify the benefits of the keto diet, consider adding intermittent fasting to the mix once you’ve gotten the swing of things.

With intermittent fasting, you’ll eat only within a finite window of time each day—usually about four to nine hours—so that your body has a better chance to fully utilize the nutrients you eat,  cleanse, recharge, and restore.

Most people fast by skipping breakfast and starting their ‘eating window’ around noon. From there, they’ll have two meals and maybe a snack, and stop eating around six to eight o’clock at night. By avoiding late-night snacking, you also give your body the chance to fully digest and detoxify overnight.

Troubleshooting Common Keto Challenges

Starting the keto diet isn’t always a smooth, straight road. In fact, it’s common to run into some obstacles when making major changes to your diet—and even to feel worse before you feel better.  Some early common challenges include:

Fatigue, Weakness, Constipation, Irritability

These less-than-desirable symptoms have been nicknamed the ‘keto flu,’ and often strike within the first week or so of starting the keto diet as your body transitions through some major metabolic changes. The keto diet also increases urine output and decreases water retention, which causes your body to flush out some of its electrolyte stores.

Consuming more veggies (which contain electrolytes), adding extra sea salt to your food, taking a magnesium supplement before bed, and drinking more water can help replenish your electrolyte stores and proper hydration. You also want to limit the stress you put on your body. Stick to light-to-moderate exercise and prioritize sleep. Now’s not the time to push yourself too hard!

Carb And Sugar Cravings

A sweet tooth doesn’t just disappear overnight. Luckily, there are plenty of keto-friendly ways to take the edge off. Try making a smoothie with vanilla or chocolate keto powder, coconut or almond milk, and stevia extract. The Vitamin Shoppe sells plenty of products specific to keto dieters, like Ancient Nutrition’s Chocolate Keto Protein, in their new Keto HQ.

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Ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, and chilled coffee or espresso can also help recipes seem sweeter without adding any actual sugar. I even find that drinking a refreshing low-sugar green juice or herbal tea nips cravings in the bud.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Even a well-rounded keto diet can be lacking in certain nutrients—especially if you’re already prone to a deficiency or feeling very stressed.

Supplementing your diet with a quality multivitamin, electrolytes, and omega-3 fatty acids can help fill any gaps.

Other supplements, such as adaptogenic herbs or exogenous ketones, can also help you feel your best on keto. Adaptogenic herbs, like ashwagandha, help build your body’s defenses against stress by balancing cortisol levels and supporting thyroid and adrenal health. Meanwhile, exogenous ketones can make it easier to transition into ketosis and stay there by providing an outside source of the fuel your body makes from fat.

NoWhere To Eat On The Go 

You don’t want to get stuck in a situation when you’re away from home, hungry, and can’t find anything keto-approved to eat. If your schedule is busy and you’re on the go on a lot (and really, who isn’t?), keep some high-fat, low-carb snacks with you at all times. An avocado, nuts, olives, or a single-serving packet of a keto supplement are all good options.

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