What Is The Keto Diet, Exactly?

Here’s literally everything you need to know.


Here’s literally everything you need to know.

What exactly is the keto diet? 

Short for “ketogenic diet,” this eating plan is all about minimizing your carbs and upping your fats to get your body to use fat as a form of energy.

While everyone's body and needs are slightly different, that typically translates to:

60 to 75 percent of your calories from fat 

15 to 30 percent of your calories from protein 

5 to 10 percent of your calories from carbs 

That usually means eating no more than 50 grams of carbs a day (some strict keto dieters even opt for just 20 grams a day).

What is ketosis? 

After about two to seven days of following the keto diet, you go into something called ketosis, or the state your body enters when it doesn't have enough carbs for your cells to use for energy. That's when you start making ketones, or organic compounds that your bod then uses in place of those missing carbs. At this point, your body also starts burning fat for more energy,

How was the keto diet developed?

 Believe it or not, the keto diet was originally designed to help people who suffer from seizure disorders—not to help people lose weight, says New York-based RD Jessica Cording. That's because both ketones and another chemical produced by the diet, called beta hydroxybutyrate, may help minimize seizures.

But people who started following the keto diet noticed weight loss for a few reasons: When you eat carbs, your body retains fluid in order to store carbs for energy (you know, in case it needs it). 

But when you’re not having much in the carb department, you lose this water weight, says Warren. Also, it's easy to go overboard on carbohydrates—but if you're loading up on fat, it may help curb cravings since it keeps you satisfied. That, plus the fact that ketosis encourages your body to burn fat, means you can end up with pretty dramatic weight loss.

Are there different types of ketogenic diets?

While it’s easy to think that the keto diet is one-size fits all, there are actually several different types of keto diets, and they all have different benefits, depending on what your nutritional goals are. “They all have the same gist—super low-carb, high-fat—but they each have their own set of unique guidelines,”

Cyclic keto diet 

“The cyclic keto diet is similar to standard keto, with the exception of one to two days per week,” explains Rissetto. “Five to six days per week, a cyclic keto dieter will eat according to standard keto guidelines. 

Then, for one or two days, they will have a ‘carb cycle’—also commonly known as a ‘carb refeed’ day. On this day, they will eat about 140 to 160 grams of carbohydrates.” This type of keto diet is often followed by athletes, since they require a carb refeed day to replenish glycogen stores in their muscles. 

“High levels of athletic training drains nearly all glycogen from their muscle stores, so it’s necessary to replenish them,”

It’s important to note, though, even if you choose to do this diet, that doesn’t mean your days off should involve tons of processed foods and desserts. Instead, look to whole grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits for your carb intake.

Targeted keto diet 

“On this diet, you follow all the guidelines of the standard keto diet, with one exception—before intense workouts, you eat carbohydrates,” explains Rissetto. “Typically, targeted keto dieters will consume anywhere from 25 to 50 grams of carbohydrates about 30 minutes to an hour prior to working out. 

Dieters often find that this helps them feel stronger and more capable during workouts. While this does take the body out of ketosis temporarily, it will resume within a few hours, depending on how many carbs you consumed.” Essentially, the theory behind this diet is that since the additional carbs are immediately burned off, they won’t get stored as body fat.

Vegan keto diet 

“The vegan keto diet is for individuals who want to follow a high-fat, low-carb diet, but do not consume animal products,” says Rissetto. “This can be difficult to achieve, as many keto dieters rely on animal products for a large portion of their diet. 

Common protein sources for vegan keto dieters include tofu, tempeh, nuts and nut butters, and beans and legumes in moderate amounts.” 

Though challenging, a vegan keto diet isn’t impossible—it just takes a lot of advance planning.

I also keep seeing offshoots of keto, like lazy keto. Thoughts?

 When something is popular, it’s pretty much a guarantee that people are going to come up with new or easier ways of doing it. Enter the lazy keto and dirty keto diets. With lazy keto, people try to limit their carb intake to 20 to 50 grams a day but don’t really track it; with dirty keto, people generally follow the same macronutrient breakdown as "regular" keto, but it doesn't matter where those macronutrients come from.

What foods can you eat on the keto diet?

 Okay, so while there are different versions of keto, let's say you're thinking of following the standard keto diet, for the sake of convenience. Just because you're not eating all your fave carb-y foods, that doesn't mean you're going to go hungry. You'll be loading up on healthy fats (like olive oil and avocado), along with plenty of lean protein like grass-fed beef and chicken, and leafy greens or other non-starchy veggies. 

(Check out this printable keto diet grocery list, plus this additional comprehensive list of keto foods recommended by nutritionists, to get started.) More good news: Snacks are totally allowed (and I'm not just talking about carrot sticks). There are plenty of packaged options out there designed for keto fans. 

FATBAR is one of them. These snack bars have 200 calories, 16 grams of fat, and four grams of net carbs. They're also plant-based and are made with almond or cashew butter, cocoa butter, coconut, pea protein, sunflower seeds, and chia seeds. For coffee drinkers mourning the loss of their vanilla lattes, Bulletproof coffee's an option. 

This is your standard coffee but with grass-fed butter and medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil added to help give you a boost of healthy fats in the A.M. If you're looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, keto fat bombs have a solid following. As the name implies, these are little snacks that are high in fat and low in carbs, so you can be on-point with your diet, even when you indulge. And if you can't survive without your pasta, there are plenty of products out there like Explore Cuisine's organic black bean spaghetti that give you the pasta experience without the carbs. 

There are also tons of keto-friendly restaurants—like Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Texas Roadhouse—that can allow you to treat yourself to a night out without coming out of ketosis.

What foods do I avoid on the keto diet? 

Because you'll be focusing on fat and protein—and going easy on the carbs—big bowls of pasta (or any grain, really) definitely won't be on your menu. It also means that starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots, as well as legumes like chickpeas, lentils, and black beans are off-limits, too.

 Another thing you can't have: sweets—artificial or natural. Candy, cakes, and doughnuts are a no; and even many fruits aren't allowed (apples, bananas, pears—they all have tons of sugar, which is definitely a carb). Alcohol's another grey area on the keto diet—many beers and sugary cocktails are banned on the keto diet, as well as some sweeter wines.

What does a week-long keto meal plan look like? 

Tbh, a lot of keto meals sound pretty decadent and delicious, and it's easy to see how they could be super filling. Below, check out a week’s worth of meal options that all adhere to the standard keto diet guidelines, going low on the carbs, and heavy on fat and protein.


Green omelette 

Keto biscuits with gravy 

Keto banana muffins 

Go green smoothie 

Ham and cheese breakfast boats 

Baked egg avocado boats 

Keto quiche


Avocado chicken salad 

Easy broccoli cheddar soup 

Mason jar Greek salad with chicken 

Shrimp salsa verde salad boats 

Chicken pesto tomato bites 

Garlic herb grilled chicken breast 

Egg roll in a bowl


Keto cauliflower rice with chicken 

Tuscan butter shrimp 

Garlic rosemary pork chops 

Taco stuffed peppers 

Keto spinach artichoke chicken casserole 

Broiled salmon 

Philly cheesesteak stuffed portobello mushrooms

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