When you set out to lose weight, you expect to give up a few of your favorite foods. Donuts? So long. Ice cream? Goodbye. Forgoing grains, fruits, and any sugars, real and artificial, is a whole new level of self-restraint, though.
But it’s par for the course for the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carb eating plan attracting a lot of attention these days. “The keto diet is a calorie-reduced diet plan that focuses on eating most of your calories from fat, a moderate amount of protein, and only 20 or so grams of carbs per day—that’s about the amount in one apple,” says Julie Upton, R.D., a registered dietitian and co-founder of Appetite for Health.
Translation: You’ll basically avoid any food that’s high in carbs. Besides the obvious ones like pasta and dessert, this means you should also skip all fruits (except berries), low-fat dairy, snack/protein bars, alcohol, and sugary condiments and sauces.
As a result, the keto diet can cause some serious changes in your body, both positive and negative. From fatigue to muscle cramps, we talked to R.D.s to figure out what to expect.
RAPID WEIGHT LOSS
Basically, the keto diet works by changing your body’s primary fuel source. “When you eat foods containing carbs, your body stores the excess carbs in your muscles as glycogen to use as energy, along with some extra fluid,” explains Victoria Lindsay, R.D., a registered dietitian in Washington, DC.
Then, when you greatly restrict your carb intake, your body dips into your muscles’ glycogen stores for energy. When those are used up, you lose the fluid that was stored along with the glycogen as well. That leads to pretty rapid fat loss at first—even though it’s mostly “water weight,” Lindsay says.
Find out what happened when one woman tried the keto diet:
… AND MUSCLE LOSS
As you continue to eat this way, your body will enter into ketosis, when you start burning stored fats as fuel, leading to further weight loss. But while you’re losing fat tissue, you will usually lose some muscle tissue as well. “This is because carbohydrate plays a major role in muscle synthesis,” Lindsay says. “While protein gets all the credit for building and repairing muscles, numerous studies have shown that adding in carbohydrate along with protein after a workout results in more muscle growth and better recovery.”
What’s more: If you aren’t eating enough calories, your body will respond by breaking down muscle tissue—not good! “Muscle tissue helps keep our metabolisms revved and our bodies strong and healthy,” Lindsay explains.
RELATED: 5 SIGNS YOU’RE LOSING MUSCLE INSTEAD OF FAT
LOW ENERGY LEVELS
Feeling lethargic? It’s not all in your head. “As your body adjusts to this switch in fuel sources, it won’t be as efficient at tapping into its energy sources, causing fatigue,” explains Mike Roussell, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of The MetaShred Diet.
Another source of initial fatigue is calorie restriction, so when you’re starting a very low-carb diet, make sure you’re eating enough calories at first, he recommends. “It just takes some time for your body to adapt to this new physiological ‘normal.’”
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Another unfortunate cost of rapid weight loss: The dreaded “keto flu,” which often crops up in the first few weeks. You may experience headaches, have trouble focusing, feel nauseous, have trouble sleeping, and more.
Pro tip: Eat a relatively low-carb diet for a couple weeks before fully committing to keto, Upton suggests, which can help your body prepare for ketosis. Either way, the “keto flu” should only last a few days.
Another side effect of a keto diet is digestive distress—think bloating, gas, and constipation. The culprit: You may not get enough fiber in your diet when you’re avoiding foods like fruits, (starchy) veggies, whole grains, and legumes, Lindsay says.
To combat these issues, try to stay active (do low-intensity workouts if your energy is flagging) and make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids. Roussell also recommends taking a fiber supplement and eating more high-fiber veggies.
RELATED: WHY DO HIGH-PROTEIN DIETS MAKE YOU SO CONSTIPATED?
“Some people might experience some initial carbohydrate cravings due to a blood sugar response from a lack of carbs,” Lindsay says. “Others may find themselves wanting to eat something they aren’t allowed to have simply because it’s so-called ‘forbidden.’”
The good news: These cravings tend to go away or improve after a few weeks, although it does depend on the person, Lindsay adds. Even better news: Some people may not experience hunger pangs or cravings at all, since large amounts of proteins and fats tend to be very satiating.
When your body creates ketones, it excretes them in a variety of ways, Roussell says. One way is through the lungs. The most readily excreted ketone is acetone, which has a “fruity” taste and is the main culprit of bad breath on a very low-carb diet.
Sugar-free breath mints and flavored water (and of course, your toothbrush!) are your BFFs in this case.
RELATED: 5 BODY ODORS YOU SHOULD NEVER IGNORE
The hormone insulin stimulates your kidneys to retain sodium, so when you go on a very low-carb diet your insulin levels will be very low, Roussell explains. Insulin is thus no longer stimulating your kidneys to retain sodium, which can lead to leg cramps. You’re also not eating much fruit (if any), which contains potassium and other nutrients which can help to mitigate cramps.
Your body should eventually adjust to the lower sodium levels, but you can also ask your doctor about taking supplements to help mitigate these issues, he says.
Do you want to get the complete benefits of the keto diet? Then, it is important to do one thing. Yes, you should know whether your body has moved to the ketosis state. Of course, the ketone diet suggests a certain percentage of carb, protein, and fat per day. However, some people get to keto state by reducing the carb consumption only to a certain limit. But, for some, they will have to reduce more carb and take more fat. You can know whether your body has moved to ketosis in many ways. Let us consider that the result shows that your body has not moved to this state. What should you do? You will have to make changes to your diet pattern. For instance, you might be consuming too less protein. Even, you might eat too much protein. Only your ketone levels will help you identify it.
How to test ketone levels in your body?
You can do the test in the following ways:
There are three different testing methods. The reason is that there are three varied forms of ketones in your body. The forms are beta-hydroxybutyate, acetoacetate and acetate. Each one of them does different things. They function in different forms as well. They are also present in your body in three different places. Yes, they are blood, urine, and breath. The good thing here is that you can do all these tests right at your home. Also, you need not have any fancy high-tech gadget to test.
At least when your body is getting used to ketogenic diet testing is important. It will help you know how your body reacts to different variables. The variables include the amount of food you take, the type of food, and the exercise. Further, a specific level cannot be called as the ideal ketone level. The reason is that it differs from one person to another. It also differs based on the specific goals of individuals. You can know your ideal level when you start getting the intended benefits from the diet.
Pros and cons of different testing methods:
|Method||Type of ketone body Measured||Pros||Cons|
|Urine Strips||Acetoacetate||Quick and easy
Strips are affordable
|You can get messy with urine
It will give accurate result only sometimes
You cannot get precise measurement
|Breathe Meter||Acetone||Reusable device
It does not use bodily fluids.
Takes longer time to get the reading as compared to other two
|Blood Meter||Beta-Hydroxybutyrate||Highly accurate and precise measurement
Most dependable and effective to know ketone levels
|Strips are expensive
Drawing blood can be a little painful
Types of ketone bodies:
The different testing methods test shows the different ketone bodies. Now, you know that there are three such bodies. Here is an image to show the difference:
How to interpret ketone results?
If you use any of the three methods, you should know how to interpret the results. All three methods are pretty easy to use. They come with instructions on what your results indicate.
How accurate is the ketone meter or stick?
As compared to urine testing, your blood ketone meter will give you accurate results. The reason is that your urine test will show pink color even if you are in deep ketosis. So, for more accurate results, it is better to rely on testing your blood. Yes, you are true, it will cost you more as compared to the other two. Even, it will be painful as you will have to draw blood every time.
With these things known, you might be interested in understanding other testing methods. The good news is that you can use your symptoms as well to guess. Some symptoms you experience will tell whether your body is in ketosis:
Do You feel mentally clear? Do you know that your brain uses a considerable amount of energy? Yes, when you eat carbs, you will experience energy swings. It means that there will be swings in the mental performance as well. But, when you are in ketosis, your brain will rapidly use the ketones for fuel. So, you will experience a mental clarity than ever before.
Do you have a better Hunger control? Let us consider that your body begins to use ketones. The body will have a constant supply of energy. It means that it will not crave for food. Do you feel that there is a sharp drop in the hunger pangs? It is a good sign that you are in ketosis. Do you realize that 14 hours have passed after you last ate, but still you are energetic? It is a sure sign that you are in ketosis.
Are you experiencing sustained energy levels? Nearly 90-120 minutes after your carb consumption, you will feel a drop in the energy levels. But, when you are in ketosis it will never happen. The reason is that your body has started relying on the unlimited fat source.
Is there an increased thirst and dry tissues? When you are in ketosis, there will be an increase in urination. The reason is that your body has started using the excess glycogen. If you do not add any electrolyte or salt, you will feel thirsty. Even, you might experience dry tissues for a short period. If these things happen, they are signs of ketosis.
Do you have a fruity smell in your breath? It can be an indication that you are in ketosis. However, it is not accurate. The reason is that it is a closer reflection of ketoacidosis. However, most days when you wake up, you will experience a unique mouthfeel. It is an indication that you are in ketosis.
Testing your ketone levels is important. But, you should not feel obsessed with the levels. You can rely on the symptoms mentioned above. If you experience any of these symptoms you can just get your blood tested once. It is not essential to test frequently by spending hugely on meters. Follow the diet chart and you are sure to get there.