“Ketosis” is a term you may have heard of or may have even experienced yourself, but never took the time to truly appreciate it.
What does it mean? To put it as simply as possible, it is the metabolic state of the body in which fat is burned for energy instead of carbohydrates. This is a normal and healthy metabolic state.
Ketosis usually occurs in people when they are fasting and have low blood sugar levels because there is not enough glucose to fuel their bodies’ need for energy. The body then goes into survival mode, or “starvation mode” and begins to use fat as energy instead of carbohydrates. This is a normal response to a shortage of glucose.
Ketone bodies are produced when the body burns fat for energy, as opposed to carbohydrates. When you eat a diet high in carbohydrates, your body will naturally burn those instead of fat—especially when you eat refined carbohydrates such as white breads and sugar.
But your body has the ability to burn fat to make energy if it needs to, and as a by-product of doing so, it manufactures ketones. This is called ketosis, and it’s actually a very good thing.
Wondering why getting into the state of ketosis is such a good thing? Let’s investigate what some of the reasons are now.
Benefits Of Ketosis
Helps You To Lose Weight
It’s been demonstrated that ketogenic diets promote weight loss. It may help you lose fat, preserve muscle mass, and improve many markers of health along the way. It may seem ironic how a higher fat diet can help you lose more weight than a low carb one, even when the same number of calories are consumed.
One study showed that people on a ketogenic diet lost 220% more weight than those on a low-calorie, low-fat diet. That’s definitely food for thought!
Triglyceride And HDL Cholesterol Levels Are Improved.
While most studies involving the keto diet have focused on the short term, studies have been done which investigate how it affects the body over several weeks as well.
Of particular interest in this case is the beneficial effects seen on the lipid profile- an increase in levels of the beneficial HDL and decreases in triglycerides and LDL.
Preserves Muscle Mass
Losing weight is typically associated with a loss of muscle. That’s because muscle cells are metabolically active, meaning they burn calories. Consequently, when your body is experiencing a calorie deficit, such as when you’re trying to lose weight, it will burn more calories from fat stores and as well as from muscle if it needs to.
Due to the fact that muscle is one of the largest calorie-burning organs in the body, if you lose muscle, you will lose weight, even if you eat a balanced diet. But, can avoiding the typical muscle loss associated with weight loss be avoided by simply being in ketosis?
One of the great appeals of a ketogenic diet is that it helps to save muscle- if it’s done correctly.
For instance, a person’s body uses fat and ketones as fuel instead of glucose as its primary fuel source, particularly in the brain which is regarded as a carbohydrate-hog.
However, because of the shift in fuel utilization, less protein ends up turned into glucose, thus saving precious muscle mass.
If you find that you are consistently losing muscle instead of preserving what you have while in ketosis, it could be an indicator that your protein intake is too low.
Supports Blood Glucose Management
In a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, scientists discovered that people on the keto diet for 6 weeks had better control of their blood sugar. The diet, which was high in fat and low in carb, forced the body to rely on fat for energy rather than carbs.
Some researchers believe this process of burning fat for energy can even reverse Type 2 Diabetes. The study found that a low glycemic index diet is the most beneficial for people with Type 2 Diabetes (high blood sugar level), in order to prevent spikes in blood sugar levels. In the study, the low-carb group consumed mainly meat, fish, eggs and non-starchy vegetables that are high in fiber.
Keeping in mind that your appetite is by far the most effective factor for weight loss, the best way to control your appetite is to remain in a state of ketosis. In this state, the body has to use its fat reserves to fuel the brain. Ketosis also affects the hypothalamus gland, which is responsible for hunger and satiety.
When in a state of ketosis, the hypothalamus will send signals to the body that it has enough fuel, which in turn will reduce hunger and will also make you eat less.
The only time reduced appetite may not be desirable is when you are actively trying to put on weight.
How To Increase Ketone Bodies
Ketone bodies are what actually does the heavy lifting. If your production of these is stagnant, then you aren’t particularly in a state of ketosis. These are some of the most effective ways to up your ketone production and get into the state of dietary ketosis.
Drastically Lower Carbs
You will have an exceedingly difficult time entering ketosis if you do not restrict carbohydrates. This limit is usually around 30g for the average person, but can be increased to the vicinity of 100g if you follow a cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD) approach.
Remember- the body is unable to shift its energy source to primarily fat if you leave carbs readily available for usage.
Ketone bodies are made when your body burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Acetones, acetoacetates, and beta-hydroxybutyrates are the three types of ketone bodies and their levels can be monitored with a urine or blood test.
If you are serious about boosting the levels of ketone bodies in your blood, here are a few simple things you can start doing.
First of all, we need to take charge of our diet and eliminate processed foods. This means ditching anything in boxes, cans or packets. Even most breakfast cereals are filled with carbohydrates and sugars.
Use Coconut Oil
Eating coconut oil can help you achieve ketosis because it contains fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These fatty acids digest and are absorbed easier by the body than other fats, but they are also converted more efficiently into ketones for energy.
MCTs are abundant in coconut oil. While coconut oil contains four types of MCTs, around 50% come from a type called lauric acid.
Research indicates that a diet containing a high percentage of lauric acid may be more sustainably ketogenic, because it metabolizes more slowly than other MCTs.
It’s a good idea to increase coconut oil slowly so that digestive side effects like stomach cramping or diarrhea can be minimized.
Use Exogenous Ketones
Exogenous ketones are good when a full ketogenic diet isn’t realistic or when you prefer to reap the keto benefits without restricting carbs as closely.
While it’s always better to optimize the utilization of your body’s natural ketones (endogenous ketones), there are times when you will need some extra assistance raising your blood ketones.
Most exogenous ketones occur in the ester or salt form.
Esters are the unbound form (such as pure BHB) that are more easily absorbed, and they’re more efficient at raising blood ketone levels because it doesn’t have to undergo the cleavage process that occurs with other compounds.
Ketone salts, on the other hand, are usually synthetically produced with Beta-hydroxybutyric acid. It is then bonded to sodium, potassium, magnesium and/or calcium to help counteract its acidic properties. There are different types of ketone salts, but they have all been proven to have higher absorption rates than ketone esters. Ketone esters are ineffective when compared to ketone salts.
How To Know You Are In Ketosis
Measuring your ketone levels is an extremely useful way to quickly know if you are there or not. Measuring can be done in a few different ways:
Urine Testing For Ketones
The end point of ketones is via excretion in the urine, which can be detected with ketone urine strips. Ketone rich urine may appear darker in color or also possess the characteristic fruity smell ketones are known to produce.
Urine strips are capable of detecting both acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxybutyric acid.
Measure Breath Acetone
When testing for ketones in breath, you are actually checking for the presence of acetone. Acetone appears in exhaled breath because of its small size- the other ketones do not.
Measure Blood Ketones
blood testing for ketones is the most accurate method for detection, being the gold standard that athletes use. Blood meters check levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate, the most abundant form found in blood.
Increased Urination (And Dehydration)
If you’re on a keto diet you might find you’re constantly thirsty throughout the day. You may also feel tired or lightheaded, and have to go to the bathroom more often than usual. Many people who are strict about sticking to a ketogenic diet don’t drink enough water, and may not feel as thirsty as they should to replenish stores.
As carbohydrates leave the body, they draw water out with them. This further exacerbates dehydration and helps show why it is important to replenish with electrolytes as well.
You Are Hungry (Due To Lower Carb Intake)
Why do you get hungry when you go on a ketogenic diet? This is simple – it’s because your body is using all of your fat stores for fuel. If you eat carbs, your body will be storing fat, and you won’t get hungry. A keto diet is designed to trick your body into burning fat instead of sugar, which is why you’ll be hungry – you’re using up all the fat so you’re looking for food to replenish it.
Even though this usually only occurs while becoming fat adapted, it can still derail your success.
You Are Tired
The most common side effect of ketosis that people experience is fatigue. Many people will feel more tired and weaker during the initial stages of a ketosis diet, and this is usually due to a change in energy production. Glucose is our primary fuel source when we are eating more carbohydrates, and our bodies rely on blood sugar for energy. When glucose is not being broken down for energy, we typically feel tired and lethargic.
This is because the body has begun the adjustment to using fat as its main source of energy, and is no longer used to running on glucose. This adjustment period can last up to two weeks
You Have Bad Breath
When you’re in ketosis, acetone is a byproduct of fat metabolism. Your breath will smell like acetone. If you are the type of person who doesn’t own a mirror, you should know that acetone is the chemical that nail polish remover is made of. If you actually smell nail polish remover on your breath, you have what is known as “keto breath”.
Other words used to describe this smell also include fruity, though from my personal experience I would call it a pungent acidic type of odor.
Can The Brain Use Ketones?
This is a very important point to raise, since it is a recurring one while on the keto diet. The short answer is yes, the brain can use ketones, primarily beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) since it can cross the blood-brain barrier and be used for fuel.
Anyone can follow the keto diet, but achieving ketosis takes discipline. You will not get there by simply reducing carbs, as you need to absolutely annihilate your favorite sources of baked or sugary goodness.
Be careful of pitfalls that can sidetrack your progress, and if in doubt, go for one of the testing apparatus we have outlined. You will thank yourself down the line when your health improves significantly.