Tom and I started keto back in January and we had a very basic plan which worked well. Being the realist (pessimist?) I am, I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money to test the program out, so we did it entirely by eating regular food you can purchase at any grocery store. Almost. Five months later, we’ve learned some beneficial shortcuts that would have made the process easier in the beginning, so I thought I’d share both routes, so you can choose what’s right for you.
Other than a shopping list, here’s a couple of basics that I recommend to get started successfully:
Method for Tracking Macros
You MUST log every bite that you take. This is absolutely your key to success. Just take a look at the nutrition label on a box of crackers to see how easy it is to blow the carb limit. COUNT EVERY BITE. It’s a total pain, but you will be successful if you do this. Log your cheat bites even though you know that bite was not in your favor. Be honest in your food tracker. I struggled with this for years by thinking I could skip that little bite. Don’t do it. Log everything.
Hidden benefit: I found that if I had to “confess” what I ate in a food tracker, I skipped some those extra little bites. Sometimes because I was embarrassed I ate it and sometimes because it was too much of a pain to add it in!
There are a lot of options out there for tracking food. You could go with traditional pen and paper or an app on your phone. We went with an app and our preference is MyFitnessPal. This free app allows you to scan the UPC labels to enter food, you can build recipes in there to calculate their exact nutrition and group your foods you commonly eat into a meal so you can repeatedly enter them easily.
You can also link MyFitnessPal to your Fitbit if you use one. Fitbit has it’s own food tracker, and I tested it out since I wear a Fitbit, but it just wasn’t as smooth as MyFitnessPal and didn’t seem to have as many brands of food in its library. Maybe it’s better now. I will note it took a bit of effort to get the two apps to sync (repeating the same steps over and over with it failing and then it randomly just works which causes you to have a glass of wine that you then have to log), but, once connected, its been very stable.
Ketone Testing Strips
There are the urine strips for testing levels of ketones in your system. They are the easiest way to validate that you are in ketosis. The strips change color based on the number of ketones that escape the bloodstream through the kidneys. The darker purple the results, the deeper in ketosis you are.
These will help you decide how many carbs you can handle in your diet. Start your diet with a target of no more than 20g of net carbs in a day (net carbs = total carbs – fiber). I recommend keeping this target for at least two weeks so you get an idea of how to eat at that level. If after your two weeks are up, you’re still peeing dark purple, add 5 more grams of carbs into your diet, if you want, and see where you register the next day. If you’re above the small range, great! If you’re still moderate after a week of that, you could try 5 more grams and see where that puts you.
You can buy Ketone Test Strips through Kiss My Keto using my discount code (kellykore) which gets you 10% off or through Amazon. They’re pretty cheap – $10 for 200 strips.
Extra tip: record your level of ketones in your food tracker so you can better correlate what you ate with your ketone levels.
Note on Kiss My Keto: I am a rep for Kiss My Keto. I became a rep for them for two reasons: 1) I personally use their products and think they are high quality and a good value and 2) I knew I would be posting about them since that’s what I use and, therefore, you may as well get a discount and I may as well get commissions. This is NOT an MLM and I won’t be recruiting you to try to sell, just reminding you of the discount code for your use. This is in no way my motivation for writing this blog. My motivation is to simply help people with the keto diet. I promise.
We’ve discovered a few extras that we think make meeting our macros and staying in ketosis a little easier.
I debated whether to put this section in the Essentials section or not. Since we didn’t start with it, I put it here.
There is phenomenal research going on in this space with respect to preserving memory as we age, curing (yes, curing) Alzheimer’s, shrinking cancer tumors, controlling Parkinson’s, and the list goes on. MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil is an extraction from coconut oil that is easily absorbed because it doesn’t require any digestive enzymes to be processed. It actually a highly common ingredient in infant formula because its so easy to digest. It goes straight to the liver where it is broken down and made available as immediate energy. MCTs cannot be stored by the body, unlike the long and short chain versions of fat. Therefore, they are used up quickly.
For the keto diet, ingesting MCT oil is a great way to get your fat intake up. We put it directly in our coffee. It adds no flavor and really no texture change to the coffee (maybe its a touch slipperier, but not really noticeable). We’ve noticed increased focus in the morning along with a bunch of extra energy. I’ve been able to postpone my protein shake at least 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
If you are going to buy MCT Oil, be sure to purchase pure C8. C8 is a form of MCT that contains 8 carbon molecules. This is the version that has been shown to provide the most benefits to the brain. It is the pricier of the two, but it literally helps to maintain your sharp mind as you age. There’s ongoing research that is showing that as we age, our brains lose the ability to efficiently use glucose as fuel, so we start forgetting things, losing our ability to complete simple tasks, etc. because the brain cells are slowly starving to death. The consumption of C8 MCT oil has been shown to reverse this process by fueling the starving cells of the brain. If we can keep the cells alive, we can continue to function at a high-level. It appears to be that simple.
You can purchase C8 MCT oil at Amazon or through Kiss My Keto (promo code: kellykore). It can also be purchased in the health food sections of some grocery stores. Just make sure to read the label so you’re getting pure C8. Frequently, you will see a blend of C8 and C10. Stick to the C8.
The goal of the keto diet is to switch your body over to ketosis and some studies have shown that by simply consuming ketones, rather than waiting for the liver to produce them, has aided in switching the body over to ketosis faster ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5670148/). Ketones provide energy to the brain (more on that when we talk ketones as alternative fuel for people with Alzheimer’s) and the heart, lower glucose levels, and help reduce inflammation (Newport, M.T, The Complete Book of Ketones, 2019).
The companies which sell exogenous ketones tout that the product is helpful for beginners, when one has cheated a bit on their diet and is looking to get back on track, or just as a morning energy boost.
Note that most of these products are ketone salts where they have bound the ketone to a salt (could be sodium, magnesium, potassium, or calcium) which is much easier and cheaper to produce than ketone esters. Ketone esters are a much purer form of ketones, but they are expensive to produce and thus, super expensive to purchase (in my opinion).
Guess what? They’re available on Amazon or at Kiss My Keto. I haven’t really looked for them in grocery stores, so I’m not sure whether they’re readily available there or not.
Hopefully this helps you get started with your journey on keto. Feel free to reach out with questions or comments.
Thanks for reading!