The beginner’s guide to the ketogenic diet


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By now, you’ve probably heard that fat is not a healthy eater’s kryptonite. Sure, we may have spent decades believing low-fat diets—usually filled with lots of grains—were totally healthy. But a growing body of research is showing that our bodies need fat to thrive, which explains why the ketogenic diet is having a serious moment.

Tons of celebs and health pros are now swearing by the keto lifestyle, which focuses on a low-carb/high-fat/moderate-protein diet. When you limit carbohydrate intake and add more healthy fat, a process known as ketosis kicks in, allowing your body to more easily burn fat for fuel. “This enables you to tap into greater energy reserves, improves your moods, and allows you to burn excess body fat,” says Keto Comfort Foods author Maria Emmerich.

While a diet filled with avocados, EVOO, and butter may sound, like, totally perfect, there are a few super-important rules—and icky side-effects—that you need to know about. (Hello, “keto flu”!)

So before you fill your fridge with guacamole, scan through Emmerich’s tips for easing into the keto lifestyle as an absolute beginner. Because, admit it—you’re curious to know what all the fuss is about, right?

Scroll down for your ketogenic diet starter kit.

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Learn the ratios

Let’s start with the basics: your macros. “The most important thing to know before embarking on the ketogenic diet is that you need to keep your carb intake under 30 grams total per day,” says Emmerich. This is because it’s the absence of carbohydrates that helps keep the body in ketosis. By consuming fewer carbs and more fat, your body will stop relying on the former as a form of of energy.

Next, you’ll want to get about 0.8 times your lean mass in protein every day. “A woman who weighs 150 pounds and has 30 percent body fat has about 105 pounds of lean mass, so she would shoot for 84 grams of protein each day,” explains Emmerich. Fat should clock in somewhere around 90 to 100 grams per day.

Luckily, you can easily reach these macros with some insanely delish recipes, like these cinnamon maca bites, avocado fries, or Emmerich’s basil deviled eggs—scroll all the way down for the how-to.

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Expect some side effects

Most newbies experience what’s called the “keto flu” as a result of all the shifts going on internally. Think about it: You’re totally changing up your body’s go-to energy source, which is just as exhausting as it sounds. “This switch may cause a week or two of reduced energy as your body starts burning fat as its primary fuel source,” says Emmerich, adding that this is only temporary.

Headaches are also really common, but can be prevented by upping your water intake and adding electrolytes into your diet. “[The headaches] are primarily due to dehydration, because your body retains water when you’re on a high-carbohydrate diet,” explains Emmerich. “Going into ketosis will release much of this water along with electrolytes.” Make sure to sip on tons of H20 along with coconut water, and you should be able to manage the first few weeks without relying on a steady dose of aspirin.

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Stock your pantry with the keto staples

The basics to have on hand include healthy fats (macadamia nuts, coconut oil, ghee, grass-fed butter, and olive oil), lean protein (grass-fed beef, line-caught fish, organic chicken, and eggs) and non-starchy veggies (lay off the sweet potatoes!). Emmerich also suggests keeping almond flour on hand, a great tool for putting a keto-friendly spin on your favorite desserts. “Your pantry won’t look a whole lot different—just remove all the carb filled junk,” she says.

The full list of keto-approved foods is pretty flexible, but you may notice there’s one major ingredient missing: sugar, which pretty much instantly kicks you out of ketosis. While a few natural sweeteners are fair game on the diet, including stevia, xylitol, and monk fruit, Emmerich recommends avoiding them, too, while you adjust to this new way of eating.

“Abstain from all sweet flavors for a month; this will shift the palate away from sweet tastes,” suggest Emmerich. “At the end of the month, you’ll find that sweet flavors won’t cause so many cravings, even when using healthy natural sweeteners in moderation.”

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Prepare to make life-long changes

Think the keto diet is a “one-and-done” kind of deal? Not necessarily! You may just be testing the waters or taking on a 30-day challenge, but know that many people wind up making the keto diet a permanent lifestyle change. (Although a lifetime of keto eating is not recommended for everyone, so it’s best to listen to your body and talk to your doc.)

“Most of my clients are amazed at how good they feel after starting this diet,” says Emmerich, adding that many experience healthy weight loss. “Once people realize how great they feel on a keto diet, they’ll likely try to stay keto for life.” Bring on the butter coffee.

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Beginner's guide to the ketogenic diet
Photo: Courtesy of Maria Emmerich

Basil deviled egg recipe

Serves 6

Ingredients
12 large eggs
1/2 cup basil mayonnaise (see below)
1 tsp coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
6 cups mixed greens, for serving
12 cherry tomatoes, halved, for garnish
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
3/4 cup easy basil hollandaise (see below)

Basil mayonnaise
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, crushed to a paste
1/4 tsp fine sea salt

Easy basil hollandaise
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup bacon fat, beef tallow, or leaf lard
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1. Make the basil mayonnaise: Place the basil in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the mayo, garlic, and salt and pulse until well combined. Place in a jar, cover, and store in the fridge for up to one week.

2. Hard-boil the eggs: Place the eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, then immediately cover the pan and remove it from the heat. Allow the eggs to cook in the hot water for 11 minutes.

3. After 11 minutes, drain the hot water and rinse the eggs with very cold water for a minute or two to stop the cooking process. Peel the boiled eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks and place them in a bowl (or a food processor). Mash or blend the egg yolks with a fork (or a food processor) until they are the texture of very fine crumbles.

4. Add the basil mayonnaise, vinegar, and salt to the egg yolks and stir to evenly combine. Fill the egg white halves with the yolk mixture.

5. Divide the mixed greens among 12 plates and place 2 deviled eggs on each plate. Garnish with cherry tomato halves and basil leaves and drizzle each deviled egg with 1½ teaspoons of basil hollandaise, if desired.

6. Keep leftover deviled eggs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Basil hollandaise

1. heat the fat in a small saucepan over high heat (or in the microwave) until very hot and melted. Set aside.

2. Combine the basil, egg yolks, and lemon juice in a blender and puree until very smooth. With the blender running on low speed, drizzle in the hot melted fat until a thick, creamy mixture forms. Add the salt and pepper and pulse to combine; adjust the seasoning to taste.

3. Use immediately or keep warm for up to 1 hour in a heat-safe bowl set over warm water. Store in a covered jar in the fridge for up to 5 days. Reheat the sauce in a double boiler or a heat-safe bowl set over a pot of simmering water, whisking often, until the sauce is warm and thick.

Recipe excerpted with permission from The 30-Day Ketogenic Cleanse by Maria Emmerich. For more support and keto information go to keto-adapted.com.

You may also want to shift your workout routine while eating keto—here’s why. (Throw one of these grain-free bars in your gym bag to fuel up before you sweat.) 

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