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Ketogenic Diet & Body Odor

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Ketogenic Diet & Body Odor
Tilapia on top of asparagus. Photo Credit: Ju-Lee/iStock/Getty Images

Pills, powders, shakes -- Americans are willing to do whatever it takes to lose weight, even risk unpleasant odors emitting from their bodies. High-fat, low-carb diets such as the Atkins diet, also referred to as ketogenic diets, induce ketosis, which causes you to lose your appetite. But ketosis has a number of unpleasant side effects, including body odor and bad breath. Consult your doctor before starting a ketogenic diet.

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About the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s by Dr. Russell Wilder as a method of controlling epileptic seizures, according to Dr. Liu Lin Thio, assistant professor of neurology at Washington University School of Medicine. Starvation had been used as a way of treating seizures since ancient times, says Thio, and a high-fat, low-carb diet mimicked starvation. The diet, however, is not meant to be followed for a long period of time and is deficient in a number of essential nutrients including B vitamins, vitamins C and D, magnesium, calcium and iron. Modified ketogenic diets, such as the Atkins diet, are less restrictive but produce similar results.

The Chemistry Behind the Diet

Normally, your brain uses glucose as a source of energy. Glucose comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates found in foods such as bread, fruit and milk. But during times of starvation, your body uses your stored fat for energy instead. The fat is broken down in the liver and made into ketones, then transported to the brain to be used as energy. The goal of the ketogenic diet is to get you into ketosis, which is characterized by high levels of ketones in your blood. For weight loss, ketosis prevents you from feeling the hunger pangs associated with most low-calorie diets, says Dr. John McDougall.

What's That Smell?

Chemically, ketones are a type of acetone. You may know acetone best as the substance found in your bottle of nail polish remover or paint remover. Ketones, like your nail polish remover, have a distinct fruity smell. When in ketosis from your ketogenic diet, this smell most often emanates from your breath, and a search of the Internet will turn up hits referring to it as "keto breath."

How to Manage Odors

If you're concerned that the low-carb diet you're following is giving you bad breath and body odor, you can easily cure it by adding carbs back to your diet. The Institute of Medicine recommends you get 130 grams of carbohydrates a day for good health. On a ketogenic diet, you may limit your carb intake to as little as 8 grams a day. If you're trying to lose weight, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests a diet that helps you balance calorie intake and includes a variety of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups.

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