Confession: I've been on the keto diet for a whole year now. I'm basically an expert. But I don't do CrossFit every single day and I like to eat fast food sometimes when I'm stressed or just because I want a delicious cheeseburger. It's a myth that you can't be a normal person in the world and still get the benefits of ketosis, but the myth is widespread and keeps a lot of people from going after their goal body. Now that I'm on keto, I really would never want to go back. I've dropped a ton of weight in fat and when I work out, I gain lean muscle really quickly. I basically walk around feeling at my best every single day. I have more energy and better ideas at work, I look great, and I can't imagine going back to the lethargic mess I used to be.
This is literally everything you need to know about going keto. It's real, practical beginner's guide with the info you actually need to know, like what fast food restaurants are keto friendly, what to order at the bar, and whether you need supplements to stay healthy.
How Does Keto Work And How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
Ok, going keto is literally just where you eat a low-carb and high-fat diet so that your body burns fat for energy (usually first it burns sugar and carbs and then if you're really really out of those it will burn fat). That goal state is called ketosis (that's why they call it the keto diet, get it?). For energy, you eat high-fat foods like olive oil and avocados and cheese and meat. The side effects of being in ketosis include losing weight, because of, you know, the fat burning. Plus it can help keep you at normal blood sugar levels since you're ditching the sugar rollercoaster. They also include feeling like a human God: having more energy than usual, getting more shiz done, being happier, and looking better.
So how many carbs do you eat to reach and stay in ketosis? There are different ways of counting, but I personally do the easiest method (because the easier something is, the more likely you are to stick with it!) which is 50 grams of total carbs or less a day. I stay away from bread and pasta and sugar (ESPECIALLY SUGAR! that's the most important one) and when I do have questions, I look at nutrition lists or on the internet for carb counts on food and...just….count. That's it! I don't know why people make such a big deal out of keto, because if you can count to 50, you can totally get into ketosis.
Ok, here's what real experts say about keto. According to an article by doctors associated with the Harvard Medical School, there is substantial evidence showing that a ketogenic diet reduces seizures in children, occasionally as effectively as medication. Due to the neuroprotective effects, questions have been raised about the possible benefits for disorders including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and brain cancer. Marcelo Campos, M.D. says, "Weight loss is the primary reason my patients use the ketogenic diet. Previous research shows good evidence of a faster weight loss when patients go on a ketogenic or very low carbohydrate diet compared to participants on a more traditional low-fat diet, or even a Mediterranean diet. A ketogenic diet also has been shown to improve blood sugar control for patients with type 2 diabetes, at least in the short term."
Ok, can we be done with the science-y talk and get back to brass tacks now, please?
Is Keto Healthy?
Not all keto foods are healthy and not all healthy foods are keto. You should probably take vitamins while you're eating keto just to make sure you're getting balanced nutrition. But you can eat more than just meat and avocados! You can eat leafy greens in abundance, so kale, broccoli, and lettuces are all keto-friendly. But root vegetables are starchier, so you have to be careful (a sweet potato will knock you out of ketosis). Here are the top foods people ask me if I can eat, and their carb counts.
Bad for Keto Food List:
- Carrots: 8 baby carrots have almost 7 grams of carbs, so they're ok as part of a salad, sure, but you can't snack on carrots without paying a ton of attention to how many you're eating if you want to stay in ketosis.
- Beans: One cup of black beans has over 40 grams of carbs, meaning you shouldn't eat beans on keto. They're so small and so high carb that it's best to leave them off of salads and avoid bean-based soups if you can.
- Apples: Apples are not keto friendly: one medium apple has about 25 grams of carbs.
*In Between List*:
4. Diet Soda: Ok, Diet Coke is totally keto acceptable because it has zero carbs. Win! But the artificial sweeteners will likely increase your cravings for sweets, which is a huge problem on the keto diet! So diet soda is a keto problem child you should think about before you drink.
5. Milk: Milk is OK on keto in small quantities, like a splash in your coffee is totally fine. But you don't want to drink a latte or a tall glass of milk in the morning unless you want to use all your carbs up! Try almond milk instead.
Good for Keto Food List:
6. Cheese: Ok, all cheese is different, but it's a good rule of thumb that cheese is always OK on the keto diet. To put it in perspective: one slice of cheddar cheese has less than half a gram of carbs!
7. Berries: If you want fruit, you can eat Raspberries and Blackberries as a sweet treat on keto, they only have 1.5 grams of carbs per quarter cup.
8. Olives: Olives are a great keto diet option because they have high salt and fat, but only about a gram and a half of carbs per 10.
9. Cucumber: Cucumbers are a great Keto replacement for the carrot, with under 2 grams of carbs each.
What Fast Food Can I Eat On Keto?
The reason it took me so long to actually start the keto diet is that I didn't want my whole life to surround cooking and meal prep. I have, for lack of a better word, a life. If you're like me and wondering if you'll still be able to grab lunch in the drive-through lane, here's the fast food options you can eat on keto. The key? Avoid sugar like the plague, but a cheeseburger won't kill you.
Panera actually has a ton of keto friendly options. Their salads are almost all good options to stay on track (with exception of the Southwest Chile Lime Ranch with Chicken which has 56 grams of carbs). The lowest carb options are the Greek, Caesar, and Green Goddess Cob, even adding protein. You can even have a few breakfast sandwiches if you're really craving one, as long as you can manage to keep your carbs extra low for the rest of the day. My favorite keto breakfast at Panera is the Ham, Scrambled Egg & Cheese on Farmstyle, with 21 grams of carbs.
Remember to avoid sugar most of all, a small Wendy's frosty has 58 grams of carbs and will knock you off the keto diet. Salads again are mostly fine, the best is The Southwest Avocado salad which has a ton of the good fats you need for energy with only 21 grams of carbs. The really good news? You can totally have a Wendy's cheeseburger on keto. Bun and all. A double stack cheeseburger will only cost you 21 carbs, and even a Son of Baconator will only set you back 36, so as long as you're careful with the rest of the day, feel free to indulge in the meat and cheese! McDonald's, Burger King, and Chick fil a follow the same guidelines. Have a sandwich, but skip the fries and soda.
Chipotle is a godsend for anybody on keto because they hacked their own menu. You can order a "Keto Bowl" and they'll give you a burrito bowl with the following ingredients and only 7 grams of carbs: Romaine lettuce, carnitas pulled pork, hot salsa, cheese, and guacamole. Literally delicious.
Starbucks can be filled with sugar, making it a difficult place for keto lovers. So what Starbucks drinks can you have on keto? The pastries are mostly all out of play, but if you've got a sweet tooth opt for the Petite Vanilla Bean scone with only 18 grams of carbs. Starbucks lattes can be keto friendly, as long as you make them with almond milk! Almond milk can knock the carb count down by almost 10 compared to Soy and 2 percent milk.
Can You Drink Alcohol On Keto?
Good news: yes, you can drink on keto! Stick to wine or pure liquors and party it up. Definitely no beer or mixing with sugary soda or juice, but I'll have a handful of vodka sodas on a Saturday night and stay in ketosis.
How Easy Is It To Get Into Ketosis And What Is The Keto Flu?
If you're trying to get into ketosis by yourself, I'm not gonna lie, it can be really hard. First of all, you have to be absolutely pitch perfect. And it takes about a week of eating a perfect keto diet to actually get into ketosis. During that week you'll feel tired, foggy, sick, and have sore muscles. People call these side effects the keto flu. And if a stray carrot pushes you over the keto line once you're in ketosis, you get thrown back into the Keto Flu all over again. That's why I always recommend people use ketone supplements to skip the Keto Flu and start feeling the benefits of ketosis right away. My supplement of choice is MyKeto exogenous ketones salts (exogenous just means ketones your body doesn't make itself), which you just mix with water and drink whenever you want to little push into ketosis. I've tried a lot of supplements over the years, and MyKeto is the only one I've consistently felt benefits from.
Seriously, in this day and age, there's no reason to try to go into ketosis by yourself without supplements. Plus, the quicker you get into ketosis, the sooner you'll start seeing the benefits like weight loss, increased energy, and sharp mental clarity. And the more benefits you see, the more likely you are to stick with it! Again, I recommend MyKeto brand. I personally used it when I first started keto the and lost 5 lbs in the first week, so spending $50 or so for those kinds of results is worth it. But there are a ton of other options out there, too, if you feel like doing the research for yourself.
So fad diets come and fad diets go, but keto is clearly going to be around for a while for a reason: it works. In fact, it's been around for decades in the form of other low carb diets like Atkins. People who still consider it a fad clearly haven't tried it. Put down the sugary sodas, pick up a cheeseburger, take your supplements, and let the weight loss and energy roll in!
Let me know in the comments if this was helpful for you! Or drop questions if you have them, your fellow keto readers may be able to answer. :)