what is keto? a beginner's guide

Have you heard the words "keto," "ketogenic," and "ketones" in the news, on social media, or even from your gym buddies and want to know more? These terms refer to the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet is based in science, but the science doesn't mean it has to be complicated (1).

Here, I'll break down the science and explain the basics of how the ketogenic diet was developed and its hallmark features.

Ketogenic Diet Origins

Although you might be thinking this keto craze just popped up, the ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s. Doctors at The Johns Hopkins University developed this diet

originally for children with seizures that weren't being controlled by Western medicine. When they ran out of options for these children, they tried tweaking their diet and created the ketogenic diet we know today (2).

The doctors created a few types of ketogenic diets based on how carbs, fats, and proteins are distributed. The most common is called the 4:1 ketogenic diet, which means that for every 4 grams of fat, there is 1 gram of carb in the diet. This diet is provides the highest amount of fat with the lowest amount of carb. These tweaks actually stopped seizures in children who weren't responding to medications (3).

The ketogenic diet is still used today for therapeutic reasons, but it has been adapted to provide benefits to the general public too!

How this diet made the jump from research to daily life is up for debate. The ketogenic diet is supported by physicians for its ability to reduce inflammation and pain (4), which is a key component in losing stubborn weight.

By changing our diet, we can change what our body uses for fuel. Instead of our body using glucose from carbs in fruits, breads, candy, and pasta, the ketogenic diet allows us to use fat as fuel.

So, What's The Scoop?

The ketogenic diet is pretty simple:

  • Get most of your calories from fat (about 70%)

  • Eat enough protein to maintain muscle (15–20%)

  • Fill the rest with good sources of carbs (5-10%)

Changing your diet to mostly fat allows your body to adapt to use fat as energy (5). The fat in the ketogenic diet should come from good sources, so fast food will likely not have a place in your ketogenic diet.

Avocado, full-fat cheeses and dairy, eggs, fatty fish, meats, nuts and seeds, oils, and nut butters will be the bulk of your diet, along with lower carbohydrate vegetables (think non-starchy vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower) and small amounts of fruit.

Eating this way will allow your body to start using fat as fuel and enter what is called "ketosis" or a "ketotic state."

How do you know if you're in ketosis? You can buy tests to check how many ketones are in your urine, and you can regularly retest to track your ketones.

The Benefits

Why would you want to change your diet?

Ketogenic dieters claim that changing their diet has given them more energy, more clarity and focus (6), better blood sugar control (7), and weight loss (among countless other benefits!).

Scientific researchers aren't completely sure why the diet provides these benefits, but they suspect it may change the way our bodies respond to stress. Stress is a huge factor in inflammation, weight gain, and fatigue (8). With stress from work and our environment multiplying daily, this diet change may give you back the energy and focus that you need!

Check out other posts from niKETO to give you more information on how to jumpstart your ketogenic diet! niKETO is a resource for all things keto and low carb. On the website, you can find tips, tricks, and even meal plans to get started!


(1) Hussein M Dashti, MD PhD FICS FACS, Thazhumpal C Mathew, MSc PhD FRCPath, Talib Hussein, MB ChB, et al. Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol. 9(3): 200–205. Fall, 2004.

(2) Wheless JW. History of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 49 Suppl 8:3-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1167.2008.01821. Nov. 2008.

(3) Lindsey Thompson MS RD CSP LD and Zahava Turner RD CSP LDN. The Classic Ketogenic Diet: Evidence, Diet Calculation and Case Reports. Webinar Nutricia Keto University, July 29, 2015. Accessed Sep. 23rd. 2018.

(4) Susan A. Masino, Ph.D.* and David N. Ruskin, Ph.D. Ketogenic Diets and Pain. J Child Neurol. 28(8): 993–1001. Aug 2013. Published online May 16th, 2013.

(5) Christian Weyer Richard E. Pratley Arline D. Salbe, et al. Energy Expenditure, Fat Oxidation, and Body Weight Regulation: A Study of Metabolic Adaptation to Long- Term Weight Change. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 85, Issue 3, 1 March 2000, Pages 1087–1094, https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem.85.3.6447. March 1st, 2000.

(6) Shelly Fan PhD Candidate in Neuroscience. The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous? scientificamerican.com. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/. Published October 1, 2013. Acessed Sep. 23rd, 2018.

(7) William S Yancy, Jr,1,2 Marjorie Foy,1 Allison M Chalecki, et al. A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005; 2: 34.Published online Dec. 1st, 2005.

(8) A Paoli, A Rubini, J S Volek, and K A Grimaldi. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug; 67(8): 789–796.Published onlineJun 26th, 2013.

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