How to ease into a Ketogenic Diet – Start Primal – Go Keto
When starting a keto diet do you go Cold Turkey or Ease in?
You won’t see the results as fast, but you will have a smoother transition. Also, taking it slow and making incremental changes to your life and way of eating is more sustainable for some people.
Let’s talk about how we can help you ease into Keto.
The Goals of an “Ease In” approach.
- Take a slower, more measured approach to lowering carbs and increasing fats.
- Become fat adapted before trying to get into ketosis and trying to become ketone adapted.
- Avoid burnout or setbacks.
- Clean up your diet and learn about better food quality and choices.
SAD (Standard American Diet)
We’re going to assume for the moment that you are coming from a SAD way of eating. This usually includes a high amount of refined, processed carbohydrate in the form of sugary drinks, refined grains, and processed foods. The SAD is also high in industrially processed seed oils.
We at Advantage Meals truly believe that the combination of high carb and processed oils is at the root of the majority of our nation’s health problems.
Conventional “Healthy” Wisdom
You may already have removed sugary drinks and processed junk food from your life. If you follow conventional wisdom, you may eat a low-fat diet that is high in “heart healthy whole grains”, lean meats, lots of fruit and vegetables.
But that “wisdom” is failing you. It’s hard to lose or even maintain your weight without lots of calorie counting. You may have any number of health issues that are related to your diet and you don’t even realize it.
How we used a Primal Approach to ease into keto
We are highly influenced by Mark Sisson. The first big step we took to take back control of our health was to switch to a Primal eating style. We eliminated all grains, refined sugar, and industrially processed oils.
To learn more about why these foods are harmful to our health, and Mark’s Primal Blueprint approach to health, read his post Primal Blueprint 101. We also highly recommend the updated version of his book, The New Primal Blueprint.
By not eating grains and sugar, our diet became lower carb by default. And while we cut out processed oils, we added in real butter, bacon, full-fat mayonnaise, coconut oil and avocado, among other great, healthy sources of fat.
As we started to become fat-adapted, we noticed a lot of changes. They sound small but they add up. Smoother skin. Less bloating. Less joint pain. More even temperament. More energy. Higher sex drive. No more “hangry” feeling. Missing a meal was not a problem. Lower blood pressure. Weight loss. Lighter periods.
We’re going to help you ease into a Keto Diet, and it starts by going Primal. What I mean by that is that in the ease in approach to a keto diet, the first step is moving to a primal diet.
What Do You Eat on a Primal Diet?
- By volume, vegetables make up the majority of your plate
- Add a serving of animal protein (any meat, fish or fowl)
- Finally, add some unprocessed fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil)
When you are eating clean, unprocessed Primal food, there is no need to count calories or carbs. As you are easing in, focus on making good food choices and enjoying how much better you feel.
The beauty of a primal diet is that there dosn’t need to be any macro tracking and no calorie counting. Just enjoying real food on the road to good health.
What would eat you on a primal diet?
Think ‘steak, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, baked sweet potato and lots of real butter’.
Or maybe, chicken roasted with the skin, broccoli doused in olive oil, and carrots with a drizzle of honey butter.
Salmon with the skin topped with avocado salsa and a side of Parmesan zucchini.
Oh yeah…Bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Are you hungry yet? I know I am!
Snack on full-fat cheese, olives, dry roasted nuts, beef jerky, dark chocolate (80% cacao or more.)
For a more complete description of possible food choices, read our article What Can I Eat on a Keto Diet? A Primal diet and a ketogenic diet have a lot in common which is why going primal first is a great way to ease into a ketogenic diet.
The biggest difference between primal and keto lies in the focus of the diets.
A Primal diet is focused on food quality and removing harmful foods, while enjoying wonderful, whole foods that help you thrive.
A ketogenic diet is focused on particular amounts of macronutrients, with a specific limit on carbohydrates and a generally high intake of fat.
We at Advantage Meals believe that a whole foods, Primal approach to move towards a ketogenic diet is great approach.
So as you’re focusing on a Primal way of eating, In addition to everything on that list, add in starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, pumpkin, and occasional legumes (beans like black beans, pinto beans, etc.) White potatoes get mixed support in the Primal world, and their high glycemic index makes them problematic, especially if your goal is to lose weight. We avoid them.
Be careful with the sweeteners and treats. They should still be considered just that – treats. But if having Primal-approved treats around helps you not fall off the wagon and eat an entire bag of Oreos, then you are way ahead of the curve. Just know that you’re working towards eating them less and less.
Since your ultimate goal is to get ready for a ketogenic diet, you could also consider using natural, calorie-free, sugar alternatives that don’t set off your insulin response and raise your blood sugar. Stevia, erythritol, and monk fruit extract all get Primal approval. And even Swerve gets a hesitant nod.
Step by Step Approach To Ease Into a Keto Diet
Follow these steps in your own order and at each step you’ll be a little closer to easing into a keto diet. Do one at a time or several, as makes the most sense to you. Make at least one change a week, if not more. This step by step approach will help you gain momentum and see results and get you closer to a keto diet each day. As you start to feel better, you’ll want to do more! Good choices lead feeling better and that leads to more good choices.
- Add fat.
- Remove sugar.
- Remove grains.
- Remove processed foods.
- Drink water.
- Add vegetables.
- Cut back on high sugar fruit.
- Switch to unprocessed fats.
- Upgrade to organic dairy, grass fed meat and wild-caught fish
This was the first step I took that led me down the path to Primal eating and eventually a ketogenic lifestyle.
I started one evening by adding a pat of butter to my vegetables and a pat of butter to my brown rice at dinner. I remember it clearly. I was shocked at how quickly I was full and didn’t want to finish my dinner, even though my portions were the same as I usually made them.
Make sure to listen to your body when you are full. If you increase your fat intake but it’s not balanced by less total calories and/or less carbs, you’ll gain weight.
You may want to remove all refined sugar at once or take it a little bit at a time.
In the next section of this ease into keto article, we have suggestions for Primal substitutions and alternatives for common sugary foods and drinks. Sugar comes by many names, and it is commonly added to processed foods, so watch labels.
- Sugar (table, white, brown, beet, cane, turbinado)
- High fructose corn syrup
- Anything that ends in “ose” (glucose, fructose, sucrose, galactose, lactose and maltose)
- Any kind of syrup (corn, cane, sorghum, brown rice, carob, date)
- Evaporated cane juice, cane juice
- Agave nectar or syrup
- Fruit juice
Like sugar, you may want to tackle these all at once or a little at a time. This includes whole grains, refined flours, and any products made with grains or flours. Below we have suggestions for Primal substitutions and alternatives for common grain based foods.
- White rice and brown rice
- Lesser known grains including millet, amaranth, sorghum, spelt, teff, and buckwheat
Remove industrially processed seed oils
In short, the process required to extract the oil and then refine and clean it takes immense heat and pressure, along with a lot of chemicals. This oxidizes the fat in these oils before they even get to your table, which is one of the major reasons they are so inflammatory.
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Vegetable oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Cottonseed oil
- Peanut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
Remove processed foods
Depending on the order you follow, you may effectively remove most processed foods when you began to avoid refined sugar and grains.
Some processed foods are obvious – if the ingredient label has a bunch of ingredients you can’t pronounce, it’s probably made in a laboratory. But there is some degree of processing in anything that isn’t straight from the farm, ranch or sea.
A good rule of thumb is if you buy anything that has an ingredient list, make sure it has less than five ingredients and you recognize all of them as real food.
Use good judgment – potato chips may only have three ingredients, but that doesn’t make them unprocessed. On the other hand, if sweet potato chips made with coconut oil keeps you from falling off the wagon with a bag of Lay’s, I say do it.
Just know the decision you are making.
As you cut out soda, juice, energy drinks and beer, replace them with water.
Water will help flush out all the accumulated junk that has built up from years of grain, sugar and processed oil consumption. You may find that it also satisfies you when you think you’re hungry.
Instead of reaching for a snack from the vending machine, have a glass of water. Wait about 20 minutes. If you’re still hungry, grab a Primal approved snack. See below!
Can’t seem to enjoy plain water? Lots of people swear by sparkling water. While they are not sweet, they do have a hint of flavor and the carbonation goes a long way to satisfying the soda urge. We’ve got other suggestions and alternatives below.
“Replace your grains with greens.” I wish I could remember where I saw this first because it has stuck with me ever since.
You can take it literally, and when there is a grain food or product that you would normally include with a meal, replace it with dark, leafy greens, either cooked or as a salad.
And there are lots of ways to replace grains with other vegetables, like lettuce wraps for tortillas or zucchini noodles for spaghetti.
There’s no need to get caught up in the replacements, though. It’s ok to use a fork to eat a hamburger patty with bacon, melted cheese, and mushrooms and onions sauteed in butter. You don’t have to replace the bun!
Have some steamed vegetables with butter, side salad with Primal approved salad dressing, or sweet potato fries. You’ll be full and satisfied, no bun or lettuce wrap required.
Cut back on High Sugar Fruit
Many of the cultivated fruits we eat today look nothing like they do in the wild, and their sugar content is a lot of the reason. The amount of vitamins and minerals is lower, too.
Bananas, apples, grapes, pineapple, mango, and any dried fruit are highest in sugar. Use them sparingly, and consider having berries, citrus, peaches, plums or apricots instead.
Upgrade your food quality
Organic vegetables have more nutrients than conventionally grown, and pesticides and herbicides build up over time in your body.
Grass-fed beef is higher in beneficial fats like omega-3 and CLA.
Pastured pork and chicken have better nutrient values and better texture and flavor.
Eggs from pastured chickens have bright orange yolks and strong whites; much different than their pale conventional counterparts.
Quality matters, in nutrition and flavor. And all that nutrition is more satisfying. The last time I ate at a MacDonald’s, I ate an entire Big Mac without the bun and french fries and was still starving. When I realized that there wasn’t enough nutrition in that amount of calories for my body to realize that I’d eaten, I knew I’d never eat there again except in a true emergency situation.
I know that budget is always a concern, and the highest quality might be out of your budget. I’ve been there. There were years in our life that we were broke, and there was no way we could afford organic vegetables (except for the ones we could grow in the backyard) or grass-fed beef. Buy the least processed, best quality you can afford.
One step at a time is better than no steps at all.
Primal Food Swaps to help you ease into Keto
One great way to start easing into a ketogenic lifestyle is to pick one (or two or three!) things that you eat or drink on a regular basis and swap them out for lower carb, higher fat Primal alternatives. Here are a few ideas.
Primal Breakfast Food Swaps
If you usually start your day with a carb-heavy breakfast like cereal, oatmeal, toast and jam, pancakes or similar, make the switch to bacon and eggs. Or sausage and eggs. Or steak and eggs. If you can’t have eggs or don’t like them, any protein will do. Starting your day with protein and fat instead of carbs will have a huge impact on the rest of your day. You’ll be surprised how not hungry you are a few hours later!
Sugar in Coffee Food Swaps
Leave the sugar out of your coffee, and enjoy putting heavy whipping cream in! You can also use a bit of stevia to sweeten, if desired.
Many people make Bulletproof Coffee as popularized by Dave Asprey on his blog. It is a combination of coffee, MCT oil, and grass-fed butter, made frothy in a blender. MCT oil and I don’t get along, and I find the need to blend a little tedious for my taste. But there are tons of people in the Primal and Keto communities who love it. See if it works for you!
I drink my coffee black most days now, as I am in intermittent faster. However, I used to mix 2 tablespoons of Collagen Hydrolysate and 3 tablespoons of heavy whipping cream in a very large mug of coffee to make my own version of fatty coffee.
Primal Food Swaps for Soda, Energy Drinks, and Fruit Juice
Lose the sugar. Keep the carbonation if you want. Avoid diet soda, as the artificial sweeteners will mess with your head, your appetite and your gut health. Try instead:
- Sparkling Water – there are lots of brands. La Croix is very popular, with lots of flavors and available at most grocery stores. Make sure whatever you choose does not have any sugar added.
- Kombucha – This fermented tea drink has numerous health benefits. We make it at home but you can buy it as well, in lots of different flavors.
- Coconut water – High in electrolytes and tasty. Natural sugar content adds up, so don’t overdo these. We like VitaCoco brand, and it is widely available.. Watch for added sugars.
- Hot tea or iced tea.
- Lemon, lime or cucumber slice in water.
- Naturally sweetened sodas. These can be just as habit forming as regular sodas, so be careful. If you need them to get you through the transition, there are some options that at least are sweetened with stevia and have zero sugar. Zevia has a full line of sodas.
Primal Alternatives to Beer
All beer is made from grain, even gluten-free beer, so it’s off the Primal menu. But red wine is encouraged! (In moderation, of course.) It not only has less carbs but it has phytonutrients, antioxidants, and light intake may reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Cheers!
Alternatives to Cocktail Mixers
Do you see the pattern here? So many of the sugary carbs we consume are in beverages! Distilled liquors have 0 carbs, so they are Keto approved, and most in the Primal community are good with them, too. Whiskey, scotch, tequila, gin, vodka, brandy and rum are fine adult beverages on Primal. It’s the mixers that will get you. If you can’t quite stomach your alcohol straight or with water, you can try soda water for a little carbonation. A squeeze of lemon or lime is good, too!
For a sweeter mixer, we love the Zevia brand mixers. They have nice flavor and are sweetened with stevia, which is both Keto and Primal. They come in Lemon Lime, Tonic Water and Ginger Beer. There is also an entire line of sodas, so you can mix up a rum and Zevia cola!
For a full list of Keto and Primal Snacks, read Our 13 Favorite Keto Snacks. Your best bet for replacing high carb, salty snacks like chips and popcorn is to find a high fat, salty replacement! Great options include dry roasted nuts, olives, cheese, and pork rinds dipped in Primal Kitchen Avocado Oil Mayo. If you really need some chips, Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips are great.
Replacing Sweet Treats with Primal Desserts
For many of us, the sweet tooth is the hardest to deal with, so do yourself a favor and be prepared. When we first went Primal, I made a number of honey-sweetened, grain-free baked goods for our family. We keep our treats in the freezer because they keep better that way and it’s harder to eat too many at once when they are frozen! The Sweet Potato Brownies by PaleOMG are great. We also love Paleo No Bake Cookies.
A mix of dry roasted nuts and dried fruit can really hit the spot for a sweet craving. And dark chocolate (80% cacao or more) is health food! With benefits for everything from your heart to your skin to your brain, a serving of dark chocolate is a winner.
If ice cream is your thing, there are some easy at-home recipes that will help satisfy. The easiest is to pour heavy whipping cream over frozen berries. Yum! I let the berries sit out for about 15 minutes before I add the cream. They soften up just enough to enjoy but are still cold, so you get that frozen treat sensation.
Our Avocado Mousse Recipe is a staple at our house. It’s smooth and creamy, so it satisfies that sensation. It’s not frozen, but it’s cold out of the fridge. It’s chocolate, so it’s awesome. You can make it with the Keto-approved sweetener as written in the recipe or use honey.
You could also try Banana Ice Cream. Definitely not something to eat often. It may not have any refined sugar, but bananas are very high in natural sugars, so tread lightly.
Food Swaps for Breads and Pasta
You’ve heard it before. You’ve heard it again and again.
“Grains are essential! They make up the base of the food pyramid! They are “heart-healthy!” If you don’t eat grains, how will you survive?!?+
OK, so that’s a little dramatic, but too many years of Conventional Wisdom can leave you with impressions like these. The truth is, you don’t need grains. They cause damage to your digestive system and therefore wreak havoc throughout your body. They are high in carbohydrate and spike insulin and blood sugar. There are no nutrients in grains that you can’t get from eating animals and vegetables.
So step one is to realize that you don’t NEED bread. You don’t have to replace it. You don’t have to eat something that is trying to be bread and taste like bread even though it is definitely NOT bread.
Step two. Make sure your plate is full of tasty, truly healthy vegetables topped with yummy, satiating fat. Leave the bun off your hamburger and add bacon and avocado. Leave the tortilla and scoop or wrap with lettuce and add cheese. Skip the spaghetti and make zucchini noodles.
If you are struggling and want to try Primal baked goods, there are lots of recipes around the internet. Most will use almond or coconut flour, which have different properties than wheat.
Similar to bread and pasta, when you remove common grains like rice, corn and quinoa, you may feel like your plate is missing something. Replace it with vegetables and fat.
When you be ready for Keto?
Once you’ve been eating Primal for 3-6 weeks, you should be ready to go Keto.
By going Primal, you have eased into a much more ketogenic diet. You spent that time transitioning to a real food, lower carb, higher fat way of eating has prepared you in numerous ways to take the last big step to start a keto diet. You’ll have beat a sugar addiction that almost every person battles daily. You will have become fat adapted, which makes the transition into ketosis much easier. You will have learned how powerful changes in your food choices can be. And, you will feel better than you have in years.
Signs you are fat adapted, eased into keto, and ready for the final step:
- Increased energy
- Less food cravings
- You can skip a meal without trouble (because you are fat adopted)
You can also stay Primal and never go strict Keto. It’s not right for everyone. If you feel great and are happy on your primal diet, stick with it. If you have extra weight you want to lose faster, turn up the keto dial and soon you will be burning more of that stored fat and losing weight effortless. There is no one right way, you do you.
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Founder Advantage Meals
Angela earned her Master's Degree in Holistic Nutrition 14 years ago and began her lifelong journey of nutrition and wellness learning. She began keto meal planning and cooking over a decade ago when she began working with local clients who were under the direct supervision of a medical doctor. Angela is the author of No Cook Keto, the easiest keto meal plan available.
Disclaimer: I am neither a licensed nutritionist nor medical professional. I never prescribe diets. I only share my personal experiences and those of my clients for informational purposes only. Nutrition details are provided for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical nutritional data. You should consult your medical professional before making any major changes in the way you eat.