The Ultimate Guide to the Ketogenic Diet

ketogenic diet guide

I’m in Ketosis as I sit here writing this Ultimate Guide to the Ketogenic Diet. Getting my body into a state of Ketosis and writing this article are very similar in that they are both easy and natural processes that take some getting used to.

You see, you have probably already experienced Ketosis at some point in your life.  We will get into how you have already experienced Ketosis later.

But now let me share what happened to me during my current state of Ketosis.  In just seven days I have drop 6lbs!

Okay, now that I have your attention let’s get into some more cavity words and definitions.

ketogenic diet recipe bookSo, this is a guide (and an ultimate one at that) to the Ketogenic Diet.

I have found in my three decades of studying and researching Health, Fitness, and Nutrition that the single most important word to define and understand is the word diet.

Yes, diet.


Because your understanding of the word controls the context of any good health and nutrition discussion.

So, diet is simply a person’s habitual or customary way of eating. What does this really mean? It means that we are all on a diet, all the time. Dieting as we were taught to believe does not exist. It’s a misnomer, a red herring if you will…

I cannot overemphasize this point enough, you are already on a diet. Immediately two question should spring to mind.

The first question is: are you getting the results in your health and fitness that you want from your diet?

And the second question is: Are you on the right diet for you? This is in part what we will be exploring in The Ultimate Guide to the Ketogenic Diet.

Now just a few more definitions before we dive in though…

  • Fasting: to abstain from all or some kinds of foods. (Emphasis on some as you will see which foods you will be abstaining from on the Ketogenic Diet
  • Ketones: an organic compound containing a carbonyl group equal sign c equal 0, bonded to two hydrocarbon groups made by oxidizing secondary alcohols. How’s that for a chemistry lesson? A simpler, easier to understand definition is substances that are made when the body breaks down fat for energy.
  • Ketogenesis: the production of Ketone bodies during the metabolism of fats. A biomechanical process where Ketone bodies are produced by the breakdown of fatty acids and Ketogenic amino acids.
  • Ketogenic Diet (Finally!!!): a diet that tends to promote the metabolic formation of Ketone bodies by causing the body to use fat rather than carbohydrate as its principal energy source.
  • Macronutrients: a substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms. And more specifically for our purposes, a type of food EG fat protein carbohydrates required in large amounts in the human diet.

Whew! Now that our trip down memory lane to high school earth science, biology, chemistry and 10th grade vocabulary is over, let’s talk about the origins of the Ketogenic Diet.

Keto what? Keto who?

Despite what you may have already read on the internet, Tim Ferriss did not invent the Ketogenic Diet. Although, I do suppose he is at least partly responsible for its current state of chic (for those in the know, a class of whom you are now joining). Yay! No more waiting in line behind the Velvet ropes; you’re a VIP now baby!

The truth is your Mama was in fact right when she told you there is nothing new under the Sun… The Ketogenic Diet is not new. It has existed and been promoted (for lack of a better word) under various names and forms since the 1920s when it was and still is used to successfully treat certain forms of pediatric epilepsy that are resistant to anti-seizure medications.

Keto Food Pyramid Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan with its low carb, high fat, manner of eating emerged from Johns Hopkins pediatric epilepsy team. Hopkins is the World’s Premier Center for research and clinical practice of the Ketogenic Diet. So, the Ketogenic Diet is at its essence eating high-fat foods (keto diet foods) and consuming very few carbohydrates. On their website, Johns Hopkins warns that “this diet should be carefully calculated and monitored by a knowledgeable doctor. The diet itself is challenging, especially at the beginning.” That being said… All is not lost.

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The Ultimate Guide to The Ketogenic Diet

Dr. Dom D’Agostino has called Ketones the 4th macronutrient because they are an alternative fuel for the body, which are used by the body when glucose is not available or in short supply.

Ketones are produced when you restrict the amount of carbohydrates (which are broken down into glucose) and only moderate amounts of protein (excess protein is converted to glucose) Ketones are produced by the liver, from fat. They are then used as fuel in the body, including by the brain. This is important because the brain is a greedy bugger consuming about 20% of your daily caloric intake.

Here’s the thing though, it can’t run on fat directly. It can only run on glucose, or yep, you guessed it Ketones. On a ketogenic diet your body switches its energy supply to run predominately on fat. (Think Tesla Roadster versus a BMW Z4), Once insulin levels become very low and fat, burning increases radically. It becomes easier to burn your fat stores for energy.

The 5 Keys to Ketosis

  • Keep your carbohydrates to 20 digestible grams per day.
  • Moderate your protein Strive to stay around 1 gram of protein per day, per kg of body weight. So about 70 grams of protein per day if you weigh 70 kilos (154 pounds). If you are overweight, shoot for 1 gram of protein per kg of desired weight. The #1 mistake that people make is eating too much protein.
  • Eat enough fat to feel satisfied. This is the difference between a ketogenic diet and anorexia, and it is the fuel for ketosis. A ketogenic diet is sustainable, (think Eskimos eating whale blubber); starvation is not
  • Ditch the Munchies. Mindlessly snacking reduces ketosis and curtails weight loss.
  • If necessary utilize intermittent fasting. i.e. no food for 16 hours and eat one meal a day. This is will boost your ketone levels.

How do you know if you’re in ketosis?

The most accurate method is to measure the ketone levels by testing your blood, breath, or urine. Luckily, there are a few signs, that requires no sophisticated testing equipment:

  • Keto breath is due to acetone (a ketone body) escaping via our breath.

It can make your breath smell “fruity”, or like nail polish remover.

  • Cotton mouth and increased thirst. Unless you drink enough and get enough electrolytes, like salt, you may feel like someone shoved a handful of cotton balls in your mouth. Make sure you drink as much water as you need. Add pinch or two of Himalayan pink salt for some electrolytes.
  • You have to pee really bad. Acetoacetate (also a ketone body) often ends up in urine. This is where Ketostix come in handy.
  • Decreased appetite– some people experience a marked reduction in hunger. Possibly caused by the body to being fueled by its fat stores.
  • More energy. After a few days of feeling sluggish and tired many people experience a marked increase in energy levels. Others report feeling an increased sense of mental clarity and experience a natural high.

The Keto Diet Isn’t Always Good

I wouldn’t want you to think it’s going to all sunshine and rainbows now… When starting the Ketogenic Diet, adopting the Ketogenic Diet meal plan and getting to ketosis, you will experience some side effects. Here are the most common side effects you can expect during the first week; and It could be one, or a combination of these symptoms: headache, constipation, feeling lethargic, feeling irritable, leg cramps and in some cases, even heart palpitations.

The good news is that the side effects are usually relatively minor and short-lived, and most of them can be avoided by staying hydrated by drinking more filtered water. (Side note: This is true of many ailments. There is a great book on the topic called “You’re not sick. You’re Thirsty!”)

Ketosis by the Numbers

The numbers referenced here apply to blood testing of ketone levels.

  • Less than 0.5 mmol/L is not considered ketosis
  • Anything between 0.5 – 1.5 mmol/L is considered nutritional ketosis. You’ll be losing some weight, but it’s not optimal.
  • Optimal ketosisis 1.5 – 3 mmol/L; it is recommended for maximum mental and physical performance. Here is where fat burning is optimized.
  • Anything over 3 mmol/L is unnecessary. Meaning the 1.5 – 3 level is optimal. You will not see any difference with a higher reading. In fact, higher values can mean that you are not eating enough food.

So now you might be thinking dangit! I thought this would be an easy way to lose some weight? Is this dangerous? Fortunately, if your goal is to lose weight there are some diets very similar in nature to the Ketogenic Diet, in fact I’m willing to bet the farm that at least one of you reading this has heard of this close relative of the Ketogenic Diet.

Allow myself to introduce myself…

Hello, I’m the Atkins diet! I am the loud, brash, well-marketed, and sexy version of the Ketogenic Diet. You may remember me from one of my many TV appearances, press releases, photo-ops etc…

The Atkins diet became Infamous for promoting a high protein and fat low carb diet. So, people were eating bacon and eggs and lots of them for breakfast. Scarfing down just about any kind of protein drenched in butter and cheese. And miraculously they were losing weight like crazy. Why? Because this type of diet (think customary way of eating) forces your body into Ketosis.

The main knock on Atkins was that it had too much fat in it. A claim that research has dispelled with the caveat that as with anything, science will really need more time to truly discover the long-term effects if any, from consuming a diet high in fat and protein. Since its conception, Atkins has gone through many forms and iterations to refine itself. There’s now an Atkins plan that allows for a certain number of carbohydrates each day once you have reached your weight goal.

What does Atkins have to do with the Keto Diet?

Well in a word Ketosis. And why did I insert this information about Atkins? Because in our research it seems that most people who think they are on a Ketogenic Diet are actually on some variation of the MAD Diet Aka Modified Atkins Diet.

The Modified Atkins Diet was developed in the early 00’s to be a less restrictive version of the original meal plan. Studies have shown it to be nearly as effective as the Ketogenic Diet.

You can get with this or you can get with that…

While the foods that are consumed on both diets are similar, here are some of the key differences between the two:

  • The Ketogenic Diet, a true Ketogenic Diet, requires the measuring of food and the measuring of Ketone levels in your body. Now there are piss strips (Ketostix) which purport to do this but as human guinea pig Tim Ferriss points out they are not always accurate enough if you really want to be on the Ketogenic Diet. So, you need your blood monitored. So, you need a doctor’s supervision or you can buy the expensive device that Tim uses to promote to measure your blood Ketone levels at home.
  • Drink up! There are no limits on fluid intake under Modified Atkins. On a pure Ketogenic Diet, there are limits on the amount of fluids of which you can partake. They don’t exist on the MAD diet.
  • No need to measure your portions. You can now safely throw away that kitchen scale.
  • Eat Your Meat!  There are no restrictions on protein consumption. *In a pure Ketogenic Diet, less than 20% of your caloric consumption comes from protein and carbohydrates. Noted Ketogenic Diet researcher Dom D’Agostino (and this is THE guy!) is working on Military applications of the Ketogenic Diet. Dom states that less than 15% of his calories come from protein and carbohydrates; that’s 85% fat boys and girls!!! (Side note: Dom is no joke! He once deadlifted 500lbs after fasting for 7 Days. He’s the real deal kids!)
  • Stay Home! You can easily start this diet at home and it does not require medical supervision (insert medical disclaimer here.)
  • Because of its relaxed standards, some people find that its easier to maintain the MAD diet versus the Ketogenic Diet Plan while eating out and on the road.

The Paleo Diet Vs Keto Diet

Another diet that is often mistaken for the Ketogenic Diet is the Paleo Diet. The Paleo Diet is based on the principle that our ancestors, from the Paleolithic Age, did not eat, (mainly because they didn’t have access to), all these processed and refined foods we have today. In other words, the Paleo Diet is based on the premise that we need to eat the foods that helped us to evolve into the fast-food eating, big gas guzzler car driving, chasing after every shiny object, life-hacking fools we are today. One of the best ways I have ever heard the Paleo Diet described is, “if your food has more than one ingredient it ain’t food…” Another key aspect of the Paleo Diet is the restriction of your carbohydrate intake, (notice a pattern here yet?).

The science on all these diets is clear: when you restrict your carbohydrate intake and ingest high-quality fats and proteins your body will begin to enter Ketosis, where it is now burning fat for energy instead of glucose. If you are overweight or obese the benefit of burning fat is obvious. But, why are so many people talking about the Ketogenic Diet?

The Ketogenic Diet And Your Brain

Well, as I stated earlier Dr. Dom D’Agostino has done work for the Department of Defense with the Navy Seals demonstrating how the Ketogenic Diet can improve not only physical, but mental performance as well.

It’s a basic misconception that the brain needs carbs. This just ain’t true. Yes, your brain burns carbs when you eat them. But if you don’t eat “enough” carbs, your brain is more than happy to burn ketones for energy instead.

Why? Survival! You see, the body can only store carbohydrates for 24 to 48 hours. The brain would quickly shut down after a couple of days without food. Alternatively, it would quickly have to convert muscle protein into glucose, which is very inefficient just to keep the lights on. That would make us wither away to our death rapidly.

The good news is that our bodies evolved to be smarter than that. Generally, we have fat reserves that lasts so that we can survive for weeks, sometimes months without food. Ketosis is how the body insures that the brain can use fat stored for energy, too. Many people feel more energized and focused when their brain is operating on ketones.

One last thing… Drinking greasy coffee whether you call it Bulletproof or you’re adding grass-fed butter, coconut oil, or emulsified MCT oil does not mean you are on the Ketogenic Diet or are in Ketosis. It just means that you’re more likely to crap your pants.

I almost forgot! So how did I lose 6 lbs. and lower my body fat and just seven days? And, how have you most likely been in Ketosis at some point in your life? By fasting; see definitions in the beginning of this article. You see when you fast (it could be on purpose, it could be because you got the flu, it could be cuz you’re a broke ass college student), your body will go into Ketosis. I practiced a technique called intermittent fasting over that 7-day period. I admittedly had some greasy coffee in the morning, (no I did not crap my pants). I drank a fair amount of water each day. All followed up with a high-fat high-protein low-carb dinner.

Given the Ketogenic Diet Meal Plan’s beginnings as a treatment for children with drug-resistant forms of epilepsy, coupled with the weight loss effects, and the new emerging performance applications, it is plain to see that the father of modern medicine Hippocrates was quite right when he said, ” Let thy food be thy medicine and my medicine be thy food.”

Ready to get started on the Ketogenic Diet? 
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