There is so much information on keto out there. I truly think that it can be very intimidating if you don't know what you are doing so that's why I wanted to write this keto diet for beginners post and give you a free keto meal plan to get you started on the right foot.
I discovered the low carb way of eating about 10 years ago so for me, low carb has always been and most likely always will be how I will eat. Fast forward to now, and I have successfully lost over a total of 70 pounds with low carb/keto.
Like I said, there is a lot of information on keto for beginners that can be very confusing. So I think it is important to find what works for you and what is sustainable for you so you can stick to the keto diet long term.
I will give you some guidelines below and also a free keto meal plan that is actually how I eat every week so you do not want to miss that!
Disclaimer - I am not a doctor so please take all of this information and consult your doctor before proceeding.
What is the difference between low carb and keto?
This is a very common question and you see above I have thrown around both terms. The definitions of these terms vary by source, but both mean restricting carbohydrate containing foods. Keto is usually defined as eating 20 grams of net carbohydrates per day and low carb would be 20 - 100 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
A lot of diehard keto people, or keto police, as they are often called, would tell you that you have to eliminate all foods that have sugar (and it's many forms), soy, milk, and gluten in the ingredients list. This can be very overwhelming for people because all of a sudden, your list of approved foods has shrunk substantially.
Take bacon, for example. Almost all bacon has sugar in the ingredients but it is very keto and low carb friendly as it has almost no carbs. Another example would be plain Greek Yogurt as it is made from milk, and keto friendly breads as they contain gluten.
A lot of people would tell you that things like low carb tortillas (because they contain gluten), soy sauce (because it has soy), tomatoes, and onions (vegetables with higher carb counts) are not keto.
These are personal decisions and you can choose to fit them into your daily keto or low carb targets if you want.
Keto does not mean gluten free, soy free, or sugar free. It strictly means that you eat under 20 net carbs per day.
What foods are keto or low carb friendly?
For a keto diet for beginners, I always suggest focusing more on your net carbs for the day than focusing on each individual ingredient on the food label. Once you get really comfortable eating keto or low carb, then you can decide for yourself if you want to eliminate every food that has a form of sugar, gluten, milk, or soy in the ingredient list.
This isn't a comprehensive list, but here is a good start for keto and low carb friendly foods:
Good vegetables for keto: salad greens, zucchini, small amounts of acorn, pumpkin, and butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, green beans, cabbage, celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, eggplant, artichoke, garlic, olives, small amounts of onion and tomato
Good fruits for keto: small amounts of berries, avocado
Nuts, seeds, almond flour, coconut flour, sugar free sweeteners (you can see my recommended brands here: https://www.amazon.com/shop/influencer-49853997
Good fats for keto: any fat is good for keto as it is zero net carbs.
Any meat or eggs
Any cheese, cream, half and half, sour cream, plain greek yogurt.
And if you ever wonder if something is low carb or keto, just look at the food label.
What are net carbs?
Net carbs are the total carbohydrates of a food with the fiber and sugar alcohols subtracted out. So for example, 1 medium banana has 24 net carbs (27g carbs - 3g fiber):
- 105 calories
- 27 grams total carbohydrates
- 3 grams fiber
- 14 grams sugar
This would not be very low carb / keto friendly as it would consume most of your days carbs.
How do I use keto or low carb to actually lose weight?
A lot of people just starting keto or low carb think that just choosing to stay within their daily carb goals means they are going to lose weight. This may be true for some because keto friendly foods are very satisfying and you typically eat less.
Eating fewer carbs regulates your hormones and blood sugar. Blood sugar highs and lows signal hunger. When we eliminate the blood sugar swings, we typically eat less. You can see this result was found in this study conducted on 10 obese individuals with type 2 diabetes.
But if you find yourself eating keto or low carb and still not losing weight, you may want to pay attention to how much you are eating. I do this by tracking my intake on the My Fitness Pal or Carb Manager app.
Should you choose a keto or low carb diet plan?
The easy way to answer this question is to think about what foods you really love. Whatever you choose, it needs to be something you can do longterm. Don't pick keto if you love to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and cannot imagine eliminating most of them from your diet. If this is you, I would stick to low carb.
Are you the type who doesn't really care for many vegetables (because let's be honest, are you eating a lot now?). Then maybe keto is for you.
Either way, you are going to be eating much better than you did before keto or low carb and I hope we can all agree...flour and sugar should be greatly restricted from everyones diet.
So don't think if you're not doing keto you are not getting all of the benefits from a low carbohydrate diet. You are doing what is sustainable for you and that is so incredibly important. What good is a diet if you can't stick to it?
And always remember, keto or not, you have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. If after a month of eating keto or low carb you still didn't lose weight, you were not in a calorie deficit.
What's a calorie deficit?
"A caloric deficit is any shortage in the amount of calories consumed relative to the amount of calories required for maintenance of current body weight." - Wikipedia
Free keto meal plan
Now I have for you a handy dandy 1 week free keto meal plan that you can print out and follow. You can follow it below or you can download it here. When you choose to download, you get a printable menu and shopping list!
Why this meal plan works - it's simple. We think we want a lot of variety each week until we have to cook it all!
This meal plan is around 1200 calories per day. This is probably not enough for most people but it leaves enough room for coffee and snacks.
I recommend having on hand the following items for easy prepping:
- kitchen scale - weighing your food is imperative for accuracy
- equal sized containers for easily dividing out food.
Before the start of the week, carve out about an hour to make your cinnamon donut muffins and prep your chicken thighs for the salads. I put all of the boneless skinless chicken thighs on a sheet tray, season them however sounds good, and bake them at 375F for about 20 minutes or an internal meat thermometer reads 165F. I let them cool and then dice them up. When I'm ready to make a salad, I weigh out 4 ounces of chicken. Most boneless skinless chicken thighs are around 2.5 ounces after being cooked.
You can choose to prep everything in one day or you can wait to prep the dinners during dinner time.
If one of the recipes is something you think your family would eat as well, I would double it.
I hope you liked this keto diet for beginners and free keto meal plan! Let me know in the comments below if you followed it for a week and what worked for you to lose weight with keto!