29 Mar The Ketosis Diet: What it is and how it works
The ketogenic diet is a popular, effective way to lose weight and improve your health. When followed correctly, this low-carb, high-fat diet will raise blood ketone levels.
On a ketogenic diet, your body undergoes many biological adaptations, including a reduction in insulin levels and increased fat breakdown.
When this happens, your liver starts producing high numbers of ketones to supply energy for your brain.
However, it can often be hard to know whether you’re in ketosis or not.
Here are 10 common signs and symptoms of ketosis, both positive and negative.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The terms “ketogenic” or “keto diets” may be unfamiliar to you, but the diets associated with this won’t be. Paleo, South Beach and Atkins diets are all classified as ketogenic, and if you haven’t heard of those three … well, you probably have.
Keto diets are focused on weight loss. They’re most recognizable from their high protein, low carb meal plans. (Think eating loads of steak but nary a slice of bread.)
The aim is to replace your body’s natural fuel source, carbohydrates, with ketone bodies, with the fuel that the liver produces from stored fat. That is called ketosis.
A “true” keto diet requires fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day—which is akin to about one and a half bananas. Within a few days, the body then reaches ketosis, but this process can be derailed when you eat too much protein.
So keto diets aren’t inherently bad, but like most things, there are pros and cons. Let’s take a look.
CON: Bad breath
Commonly, people often report bad breath once they reach full ketosis. Not, like, toilet breath; more like breath with a tinge of fruitiness.
PRO: Weight loss
Ketogenic diets, along with normal low-carb diets, are highly effective for weight loss.
NEUTRAL: Increased ketones in the blood
One of the hallmarks of a ketogenic diet is a reduction in blood sugar levels and an increase in ketones.
As you progress further into a ketogenic diet, you will start to burn fat and ketones as the main fuel sources.
The most reliable and accurate method of measuring ketosis is to measure your blood ketone levels using a specialized meter. This is the most accurate way of testing and is used in most research studies. The downside is that it requires a small pinprick to draw blood from your finger.
The main downsides
- Requires a small pinprick to draw blood from your finger (which will not be foreign to diabetics)
- Test kits can be expensive.
- However, many retailers sell keto test strips that do not require jabbing your finger and are, on the whole, cheap.
NEUTRAL: Increased ketones in the breath or urine
Another way to measure blood ketone levels is a breath analyzer.
The use of acetone breath analyzers has been shown to be fairly accurate, though less accurate than the blood monitor method.
Another good technique is to measure the presence of ketones in your urine on a daily basis with special indicator strips.
These also measure ketone excretion through the urine and can be a quick and cheap method to assess your ketone levels each day. However, they’re not considered very reliable.
PRO: Appetite suppression
Many people report decreased hunger while following a ketogenic diet. The reasons why this happens are still being investigated.
PRO: Increased focus and energy
People often report brain fog, tiredness and feeling sick when first starting a very low-carb diet. This is termed the “low carb flu” or “keto flu.” However, long-term ketogenic dieters often report increased focus and energy.
When you start a low-carb diet, your body must adapt to burning more fat for fuel, instead of carbs.
When you get into ketosis, a large part of the brain starts burning ketones instead of glucose. It can take a few days or weeks for this to start working properly.
Eliminating carbs can also help control and stabilize blood sugar levels. This may further increase focus and improve brain function.
NEUTRAL: Short-term fatigue
The initial switch to a ketogenic diet can be one of the biggest issues for new dieters. Its well-known side effects can include weakness and fatigue.
These often cause people to quit the diet before they get into full ketosis and reap many of the long-term benefits.
These side effects are natural. After several decades of running on a carb-heavy fuel system, your body is forced to adapt to a different system.
As you might expect, this switch doesn’t happen overnight. It generally requires 7–30 days before you are in full ketosis.
To reduce fatigue during this switch, you may want to take electrolyte supplements.
Electrolytes are often lost because of the rapid reduction in your body’s water content and the elimination of processed foods that may contain added salt.
When adding these supplements, try to get 1,000 mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium per day.
NEUTRAL: Short-term decreases in performance
As discussed above, removing carbs can lead to general tiredness at first. This includes an initial decrease in exercise performance.
It’s primarily caused by the reduction in your muscles’ glycogen stores, which provide the main and most efficient fuel source for all forms of high-intensity exercise.
After several weeks, many ketogenic dieters report that their performance returns to normal. In certain types of ultra-endurance sports and events, a ketogenic diet could even be beneficial.
What’s more, there are further benefits — primarily an increased ability to burn more fat during exercise.
CON: Digestive issues
A ketogenic diet generally involves a major change in the types of foods you eat.
Digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhea are common side effects in the beginning.
Some of these issues should subside after the transition period, but it may be important to be mindful of different foods that may be causing digestive issues.
Also, make sure to eat plenty of healthy low-carb veggies, which are low in carbs but still contain plenty of fiber.
Most importantly, don’t make the mistake of eating a diet that lacks diversity. Doing that may increase your risk of digestive issues and nutrient deficiencies.
One big issue for many ketogenic dieters is sleep. When your diet completely changes and carbs are drastically reduced, many people report insomnia or waking up at night when they first reduce their carbs drastically.
However, this usually improves in a matter of weeks.
For help with sleep disturbance issues, the following PHMP Online Knowledgebase articles may help:
- 10 Ways to Achieve Natural, Sustained Sleep
- 5 Tips on Choosing the Best Mattress for Maximum Comfort
- Protips on How to Sleep Better at Night, Part 1 and Part 2
Many long-term ketogenic dieters claim that they sleep better than before after adapting to the diet.
Summing it up
- Ultimately, if you’re following the guidelines of a ketogenic diet and stay consistent, you should be in some form of ketosis.
- If you want a more accurate assessment, monitor ketone levels in your blood, urine or breath on a weekly basis.
- But … there’s no reason to stress or obsess (strobsess? can we make that a thing?) about your ketone levels.
- If you’re losing weight, enjoying your ketogenic diet, and feeling healthier, go with it.
- Enjoy yourself. Know that if it’s working for you, it’s working for your long-term health goals.