Signs That You Are in Low-Carb Ketosis

Looking for signs that you are in low-carb ketosis is one of the most effective ways to tell if that low-carb ketogenic diet is working. As with most sudden changes in your eating, some of the signs will be positive and pleasant; others not so much. Knowing what to expect can help get you through the initial adjustment period, though it might not be easy.

The keto diet replaces carbs with fats.
Credit: ThitareeSarmkasat/iStock/GettyImages

The sense of satisfaction you feel at seeing those numbers on the scale go down might be enough to make up for the bad breath, body odor, cravings and digestive issues often experienced in the early stages of a keto diet. At the very least, making progress toward your goal might help keep you on track during the tough days.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is a difference between the normal signs and symptoms of ketosis and the more serious symptoms of ketoacidosis. Pay attention to what your body is telling you so that you can ditch the extra pounds both effectively and safely.

Facts About Carbohydrates

Broken down to its simplest explanation, there are two main types of carbohydrates, explains the International Sports Sciences Association. The first is simple carbohydrates, which are found in dairy, fruits, processed foods, refined grains such as white rice, sodas and sugar. The second is complex carbohydrates such as beans, brown rice, corn, leafy green vegetables, lentils, oatmeal, peas, potatoes and whole grain breads and pasta.

The main difference between these two types of carbs, ISSA goes on to say, is the fact that complex carbohydrates contain fiber which slows down the rate at which your body absorbs them. This is important to understand because when you take in too many calories that are mostly sugar, the amount of simple carbohydrates can be too much for your body to process. When this happens, your body has no choice but to store some the excess carbs for later use.

Taking in too many simple carbohydrates can also provoke an insulin response in order to mop up the extra sugar from your bloodstream. This can result in a sudden drop in energy and possibly cause your brain to send out hunger signals which can lead to overeating. The keto diet forbids simple carbohydrates to break this cycle and to rob your body of glucose so that it will be forced to burn fat for energy instead.

Read more: What Are the Three Types of Carbohydrates?

Ketogenic Diet Basics

The ketogenic diet basically removes all simple carbohydrates in your diet and replaces them with fats, according to the University of California - San Francisco (UCSF). The reason for this, UCSF explains, is that there are only two types of fuel that your brain can use. One is the glucose in carbohydrates and the other is ketone bodies found in fats. In order to force your body to use the ketones, your carb intake must be less than 5 percent of your caloric intake.

This means you cannot have fruits, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn, grains, beans, any processed foods or beverages containing sugar or alcohol except in very limited quantities. This can be a difficult diet to stick to because it is so limited and especially since ferreting out the hidden sugars in foods can start to seem like a full-time job. Reading labels is a good idea, but making as many of your meals from scratch puts you in complete control of your diet.

The ketogenic diet is not a good choice for someone wanting instant results, cautions the experts at the National University of Natural Medicine, because it can take as long as two to four weeks for you to see signs that you are in low-carb ketosis. Once you reach that state, you can expect fairly rapid weight loss, but any deviation from the diet means you have to start all over again, which can get really frustrating really fast.

Facts About Ketosis

The ketogenic diet has been in use to help treat patients who are resistant to epilepsy medications for years, according to University of Utah Health. The purpose of the diet is to get your body to stop burning the glucose from carbohydrates and start burning fat instead. This process of fat burning releases ketones as a byproduct of metabolizing fat.

When your diet consists of 75 percent fats, 20 percent protein and 5 percent complex carbohydrates by calorie, the University experts explain, you deplete the levels of glucose in your body and enter a state of ketosis, which means that you are burning stored fats. This raises the levels of ketones and lowers your need for insulin because there are no excess sugars to absorb.

When you are in this state of ketosis, says the UoU, your body burns fat more efficiently without also turning to lean muscle mass for energy, which is a good thing. Because carbohydrates bind with water at about a 1-4 ratio, your initial weight loss on the keto diet will be water. After that, your weight loss may not continue unless you pay attention to portion size or keep a careful count of your calories.

Read more: The Benefits of Ketosis

Common Ketosis Symptoms

There are several signs that you are in low-carb ketosis, according to the nutrition experts at Colorado State University. Not all keto dieters will experience all of the symptoms, but these are the ones most commonly reported:

  • Bad breath
  • Body odor
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Increased urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

Bad breath as a result of this diet, called ketosis breath is caused by the presence of acetone. This can also be found in your sweat, causing ketosis body odor. Drink more water, use breath fresheners or up your carb limit just a bit if your breath is unbearable. Treat body odor with frequent bathing and a clinical-strength deodorant/antiperspirant. Gut issues such as constipation, diarrhea and nausea are usually temporary, as are headaches and increased urination. The key to fighting these is to stay well hydrated.

Test Strips for Ketosis

Another way to make sure that you are in ketosis is to use a test strip, explains the experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Test strips are widely available both in stores and online. They work very much the same way that a home pregnancy test works, by analyzing your urine. Generally, the more ketones in your urine, the darker purple the test strip will turn.

Make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly before and after using the test strip and then dispose of the test strip properly. Strips made out of paper can be flushed down the toilet while plastic ones should be rinsed and placed in the trash.

If the test strip turns a dark purple, and your urine is also very dark it can mean that you are dehydrated. You should immediately increase your intake of water. Drink a full glass and then keep a glass or bottle with you and sip it throughout the day, especially if you develop a headache, become irritable or start to feel dizzy.

Managing Keto Flu

Some people's bodies react very negatively to the removal of simple carbohydrates and the drastic reduction of complex ones, caution the experts at Harvard Medical School. During the first week or two, you may face a whole raft of unpleasant symptoms, which collectively are known as the keto flu. This is not a medically recognized disease or condition; its existence is purely anecdotal, and not everyone on a ketogenic diet experiences it.

Some symptoms of the keto flu, explains Harvard, include brain fog, dizziness, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, nausea and stomach pains. No one currently understands exactly what causes keto flu, Harvard muses. It could be an immunological response, a change in the balance of the microbes in your gut or a reaction to carbohydrate withdrawal.

The keto flu is not like the real flu, Harvard reassures. You should not develop a fever, and the symptoms should be mild enough that you can still function. Make sure you stay hydrated and try eating smaller meals more often, the medical school advises. you can also go back to eating simple carbohydrates and then eliminate them more slowly from your diet instead of cutting them out all of a sudden. The symptoms usually ease after the first week or two if you can tough it out for that long.

Symptoms to Take Seriously

There is a definite difference between the mild symptoms of ketosis and the more serious signs of ketoacidosis which, if left untreated, can be fatal, warn the health experts at the American Diabetes Association. Ketoacidosis is of particular concern to those with diabetes, but it can also develop in someone on a very low carbohydrate diet.

When your body cannot process glucose for energy, the ADA explains, it must burn fat. Doing so creates ketones, which are a byproduct of the fat burning process. When you have too many ketones in your blood, your body will try to excrete them through your urine which can lead to dehydration. If you cannot flush them out, the ketones will build up in your blood, which is called ketoacidosis.

Symptoms to take very seriously, cautions the ADA, are extremely dry mouth, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms have someone take you to the emergency room or to your regular health practitioner immediately. If left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to coma or even death, so do not try to just ride it out.

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