Why a Ketogenic Diet Doesn't Exactly Smell Like Success

Pills, powders, shakes — many people are willing to do whatever it takes to lose weight, even risk unpleasant odors wafting 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.

Ketogenic Diet & Body Odor (Image: Azurita/iStock/GettyImages)

About the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet was first introduced in the 1920s by Dr. Russell Wilder of the Mayo Clinic as a method of controlling epileptic seizures in children and continues to be used to treat epilepsy, according to a study published in 2018 by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Starvation had been used as a way of treating seizures since ancient times, and the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet mimics the effects of starvation. This 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, according to the Nutrition Information Centre. Modified ketogenic diets, such as the Atkins diet, are less restrictive but produce similar results.

Chemistry of Ketosis

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.

The Keto Smell

Chemically, ketones are a type of acetone. You may know acetone best as the substance found in nail polish remover or paint remover. Ketones, like nail polish remover, have a distinct fruity smell. When you're 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 ketosis body odor, you can easily cure it by adding carbs back into your diet. The August 2015 issue of the Harvard Health Letter states that you should get at least 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, adopt a diet that helps you balance calorie intake and includes a variety of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods from all the food groups.

Keto Diet Considerations

The keto diet is associated with a variety of side effects, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Early on, you might experience ketosis symptoms, including nausea, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, decreased energy levels and constipation. These symptoms typically resolve in a few days to the first few weeks after starting a keto diet. Long term, a ketogenic diet can lead to kidney stones and nutrient deficiencies. Consult your doctor before beginning a ketogenic diet.

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