The Beginner's Guide to the Ketogenic Diet

With the exploding popularity of the keto diet, you’ll undoubtedly find countless approaches and tips out there focusing only on increasing fat consumption or avoiding carbohydrates at any and all costs. These strategies, in my experience, miss the bigger picture of what keto should be—and what is possible with the keto diet. Learn about my version of the keto diet, called The Keto Reset Diet, and why it's a lifestyle approach you can use to improve health, body composition, longevity and more.

Welcome to the Mark’s Daily Apple Keto Diet Hub!

Keto Hub Beginners Guide

Mounting research suggests that keto could represent one of the greatest nutritional breakthroughs of our time—and that it may be the most effective weight-loss strategy ever. Are you ready to reprogram your metabolism, claim better health, and boost your body’s natural fat-burning abilities? Then you’ve come to the right place.

I built this comprehensive online guide to share the science behind keto success, the secrets to becoming fat-adapted, and helpful resources as well as dozens of delicious recipes for planning your individual keto choices. Within these pages, you’ll find I distill the latest medical research and offer honest analysis of popular (and less common but effective) keto strategies.

My aim at Mark’s Daily Apple has always been to provide cutting-edge information for achieving optimal health and sustained well-being—no matter what your current age, weight, fitness or goals. Cruise around this guide, using the sidebar on the right as your navigation source.

Looking forward to sharing the keto journey,

— Mark Sisson, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Keto Reset Diet

Stay in the keto know! Sign up for the Keto Reset Digest, our keto-themed newsletter.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a diet that, by way of macronutrient balance (high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate in comparison to the Standard American Diet) induces the body to burn ketones and fat in addition to glucose for energy.

Lucky for us, this flexibility is entirely natural, safe, and beneficial. Contemporary eating patterns, much to our detriment, keep us reliant on glucose, but that’s not the way we’re designed to live.

Keto is a state of metabolic efficiency.

This means you move beyond being dependent on regular carbohydrate intake and into the ability to burn stored body fat and natural ketones (hence the name ketosis) for physical energy, stable mood, and mental focus.

Many of us have unfortunately been told over the years that the body relies on glucose for energy. That simply isn’t the case.

Glucose is one fuel, true. But the body can also burn its own fat stores as well as ketones, which the liver produces as a by-product of fat metabolism. Ketones are a natural source of caloric energy just as glucose is. But there’s a key difference here. The body’s sustained use of ketones and fat (which go hand in hand) doesn’t impose the same inflammatory and oxidative burden as we experience when we’re continually carb (glucose) dependent, which is one reason why keto confers so many benefits to overall health.

The technical meaning of ketosis is the metabolic state in which your body accumulates ketones faster than they’re being burned.

When we’re fat-adapted (a.k.a. keto-adapted), we’re able to enjoy the benefits of burning fat and ketones as first-rung fuel sources.

However, when we’re in ketosis without being keto-adapted (e.g. on a crash diet), we’re likely to excrete these ketones in our urine and breath instead of burning them for energy, which means we’re still left carb-dependent.

To set up the body for the benefits of keto-adaptation, we consume a healthy, rather than restrictive, amount of calories within the following macronutrient profile that includes ample vegetable intake, moderate protein amount and quality fats with a focus on carb content at around 50 grams for most people.

The carb-heavy Standard American Diet is an evolutionary aberration. The constant drip of glucose into our blood is a modern luxury (or, more to the point physiologically-speaking, a modern burden). For most of human history, if we wanted carbs, we had to climb a tree and extricate a bee’s nest, spend hours digging tubers, or wait around for the wild fruit to ripen.

We are designed for periods of low food availability, and, especially, low glucose availability. In short, we’re wired to favor fat and ketone burning.

Plus, humans are remarkably good at slipping into ketosis. Whereas for most other animals ketosis is difficult to achieve, a human will be mildly ketotic just waking up from a full night’s sleep. Heck, breastfed babies spend much of their time in ketosis despite drinking nutritionally balanced milk from their mothers. We’re clearly meant to produce and utilize ketones from time to time, and it’s safe to assume that mimicking this ancestral milieu provides adaptive benefits.

Do I have your interest? Trust me…this is just the beginning. Follow the links in the sidebar to learn about the benefits of keto, strategies for keto-based weight loss, shopping lists, recipes, and more!

I also invite you join the private Keto Reset Facebook Group. With over 26,000 members, you’ll find excellent conversation, knowledgable help, and personal support around successful keto living.

Finally, if you’re looking for the most comprehensive, step-by-step guide for your personal keto journey, check out the New York Times Bestseller, The Keto Reset Dietavailable everywhere books are sold.

FAQ about Keto

How many carbs can you have on keto?

As a rule of thumb, most people should stay below 50 grams total (or gross) per day. If you’re insulin resistant, you might need to start lower, around 20 to 30 grams. Hard-charging endurance athletes can often eat 100 grams or more per day and still achieve ketosis.

Everyone approaches keto dieting a bit differently. I recommend tracking total carbs instead of net carbs for ease of tracking, and I don’t worry about the carbs in above-ground green vegetables and avocados. If you’re tracking net carbs, 20 to 30 grams net is usually a good starting point.

For more information about my approach to keto dieting, check out: Why Does the Keto Reset Allow 50 Grams of Carbs?

What is the difference between total carbs and net carbs?

Total carbs is just what it sounds like: all the carbohydrates contained in a given food. Net carbs is the total carbohydrate minus any fiber. Some keto plans count net carbs because fiber is not metabolized into glucose, so it doesn’t affect insulin levels or ketosis.

How to calculate net carbs on keto?

To calculate net carbs, subtract fiber from total carbs. Some keto plans calculate net carbs for above-ground green vegetables and avocados but otherwise track gross carbs. Other plans subtract all fiber no matter the source. To avoid any confusion, the Keto Reset Diet recommends counting gross (total) carbs.

What is keto flu?

“Keto flu” refers to the headaches, lethargy, brain fog, irritability, and gastrointestinal symptoms that some people experience when transitioning to a keto diet. It’s probably caused by electrolyte imbalances and temporary “fuel shortages” as your body shifts to running off fat and ketones.

Read more: Electrolytes and Keto: Why They Matter for the Transition

How long does keto flu last?

Not everyone experiences keto flu, and most people who do report that their symptoms resolve in less than a week. You can ease your transition by making sure you’re getting enough electrolytes (sodium, potassium, and magnesium), eating plenty of keto-friendly foods, and engaging in gentle, not overly strenuous, exercise.

Read more: What Is Low Carb Flu, or Keto Flu? And Ways to Beat It

Is gluten-free the same as keto?

No, keto diets are not necessarily gluten-free, and vice versa. “Keto” tells you how many carbs you should eat but not where they come from. “Gluten-free” dictates what foods you should avoid but not how many carbs to consume in a day.

That said, many keto dieters do also avoid gluten for health reasons. Others choose not to eat any grains as a matter of principle and because they are high in carbohydrates, which means their diets become gluten-free by default.

On the other hand, people who adopt gluten-free eating styles can easily consume hundreds of grams of carbs per day from fruit, sweet potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and gluten-free pasta and baked goods.

Do calories matter on keto?

Calories are simply a way of quantifying energy intake. They mean the same thing on keto as on any other diet. Over time, if you take in more energy (calories) than you need, you’ll gain body fat. If you take in less energy than you need, you’ll lose body fat.

Ketogenic diets do affect metabolism, the levels of certain metabolic hormones (notably, keto is a low-insulin-producing diet), and appetite, but the basic effect of energy intake is still the same.

Can you have cheat days on keto?

“Cheat meals”—which I take to mean eating foods like desserts, bakery items, pizza, and the like—will quickly put you over your carb allotment for the day. Accordingly, your liver will stop producing ketones and you’ll get “kicked out” of ketosis.

You can’t “cheat” and stay in ketosis all the time. On the other hand, you might not care about being in constant ketosis. If you do get kicked out of ketosis, you can get right back in with 24-48 hours of low-carb eating, especially if you pair it with exercise and/or intermittent fasting.

In any case, I’d encourage you to rethink the whole cheating mentality. Eat foods that support your goals most of the time, allowing for some flexibility to enjoy life. If your diet is something you “cheat” on, it’s probably not a sustainable way of eating.

Can you have fruit on keto?

The problem with fruit is that it can be high in carbs, which makes it difficult to include on a typical keto diet. However, by choosing moderately sized servings of lower-carb fruits, it is possible to eat some fruit and stay in ketosis.

See the best options here: Can I Eat Fruit On a Keto Diet?

What is lazy keto?

On a “strict keto” diet, you track protein, fat, and carb intake and aim to hit specific macros. In contrast, someone who says they’re doing “lazy keto” only tracks their carbohydrate intake to make sure it’s low enough to be ketogenic. Otherwise, they eat whatever they want.

What is dirty keto?

Dirty keto diets are very low-carb like any other keto diet, but otherwise, anything goes in terms of food quality. Whereas most keto dieters focus on meat, eggs, vegetables, and healthy fats, dirty keto dieters will eat anything as long as they can keep their carbs down.

Dirty keto is synonymous with IIFYM, or “if it fits your macros.”

Do you count sugar alcohols on keto?

It’s up to you. Erythritol, a common ingredient in keto-friendly baking, has a negligible impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, so it shouldn’t disrupt ketosis. Other sugar alcohols (sweeteners ending in -ol, like sorbitol and xylitol) are similar. In that sense, they don’t count against your carb limit.

The one exception is malitol, which has a slightly higher glycemic index (a measure of a food’s effect on blood sugar), though it’s still well below table sugar.

Many keto dieters choose to disregard the carbs in sugar alcohols. Diabetics are often advised to count half the carbs. Remember, though, even if you decide the carbs don’t count, consuming too many keto-fied desserts can still negatively affect your health and body composition goals. The calories in keto-friendly cookies, cakes, muffins, and the like do still matter. Make sure the bulk of your diet still comprises nutrient-dense whole foods whether or not you choose to include sugar alcohols in your keto diet.

Read more: A Look At Swerve Sweetener

Is coconut sugar keto?

For all intents and purposes, coconut sugar is the same as regular white sugar in the context of a keto diet. They contain similar carbs and calories per serving. The glycemic index of coconut sugar is a bit lower but not enough to really matter.

That said, a small amount of sugar, coconut or otherwise, won’t automatically kick you out of ketosis. One teaspoon of sugar has 4 grams of carbs. I add a teaspoon of sugar to my coffee each morning with no ill effects. Is it the best use of your carb allowance from a nutrition perspective? No, but if it’s the sensible indulgence that allows you to reap maximum enjoyment from your keto diet, don’t sweat it.

Can you build muscle on keto?

Absolutely. Plenty of folks successfully build and maintain muscle mass on a ketogenic diet. The trick is to make sure you’re eating enough calories, and especially enough protein, to facilitate muscle synthesis. And of course, you must stimulate your muscles with resistance exercises.

Related post from MDA: Can Keto Actually Work For Hard-Training Endurance or Power/Strength Athletes?

How much protein should I eat on keto?

I recommend most people start around 0.7 grams per pound of lean body mass, up to 1.0 grams or so for athletes or others with greater protein needs. Don’t worry that “too much” protein will kick you out of ketosis. That fear is unfounded.

You might have heard that excess protein is converted to glucose—aka, too much steak turns into chocolate cake—but that’s not accurate. Your body makes glucose on an as-needed basis, as I explain here. You should feel free to enjoy ample meat, fish, poultry, and eggs on your keto diet.

How fast can you lose weight on keto?

Ketosis is a “fat-burning state,” but you don’t necessarily lose weight faster on keto diets than you would on any other calorie-restricted diet. Losing 0.5-1 pound per week is generally a reasonable, sustainable goal on any diet, but your pace depends on many factors.

Depending on how much energy (calories) you take in, you can lose, maintain, or even gain weight on keto. The usual rules of weight loss apply—namely that you have to be using more energy than you’re consuming, and the size of the caloric deficit correlates (imperfectly) with the rate of weight loss. However, keto diets may be advantageous for weight loss due to their noted appetite-suppressing effects and favorable hormonal impacts, particularly in keeping insulin production low. Keto diets are also protein-sparing, meaning you are less apt to lose lean muscle tissue alongside fat, provided you consume adequate protein.

Can you do keto while pregnant?

Pregnant women need ample calories, nutrients, and protein. While some women do choose to stay keto during pregnancy, others find they feel better when they increase their carb intake. All pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their doctor with questions or before making major dietary changes.

How to get fiber on keto?

Keto dieters get their fiber from the plants they consume. Fiber’s most important role is to provide fermentable “food” for our gut microbiota. Keto-friendly items like nuts, cruciferous vegetables, and avocado all deliver healthy doses of fermentable fiber for the gut.

Individuals who wish to increase their fiber intake can consider adding prebiotic fiber supplements or supplementing with inulin or raw potato starch. If constipation is your concern, check whether you’re dehydrated or lacking magnesium.

Read more: 13 Keto-Friendly Fiber Foods

Does keto cause diarrhea?

Any major dietary shift can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, or constipation. Usually, these effects are short-lived and resolve on their own within a couple weeks of starting a new diet. Keto doesn’t seem to be especially notorious for causing disaster pants. Most people transition with no issues.

Dive Deeper

Before you stock up on ketone strips, make sure you get the basics down first. Learn the ins and outs of the ketogenic diet and, in particular, how the Keto Reset differs from other approaches.

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