Most people have heard they should eat a low-carb diet for weight loss and/or better health, but the word “ketosis” might have some tilting their heads in confusion wondering what’s so special about this funny term.
Don’t worry; we’ve got all the details you need to understand the process of ketosis in the body — and more importantly, how you can implement it in your own life!
WHAT IS KETOSIS?
Before you can fully understand ketosis, let’s cover some simple facts about the body and energy. The primary source of energy in the body — which normally fuels every function of the body, from brain cognition to athletic performance — is glucose.
You typically get glucose from your diet by eating carbohydrates like:
- Beans and legumes
- starchy vegetables
These carbs either turn immediately into glucose in the body or are stored as glycogen in the body to be used as glucose later. However, sometimes the body will have a low supply of glucose, also known as blood sugar. This could be because a person is eating a low-carb diet.
When there is no longer enough glucose for the body to use, it turns to an alternative source of energy: your fat stores. It takes the fat stores and the liver breaks them down to make glucose. And when this happens, elements known as ketones are formed as a byproduct of the process.
There are three main types of ketone bodies that form in your body during when this happens:
- Beta-hydroxybutryate (BHB)
Once ketones are formed, your body can use them as alternative fuel.
KETOSIS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Probably the most widely talked about use for ketosis right now is utilizing it for weight loss. In fact, the ketogenic diet is built around creating ketosis in the body.
There are several benefits you can experience when your body enters ketosis:
Breakdown of fat stored in the body.
A low-carb diet, which is used to facilitate ketosis, is often preferred for weight loss because it can encourage the body to start burning its own fat stores directly for energy.
Besides helping you burn fat, going into ketosis can also make you feel less hungry. This makes it easier to stick to a ketogenic diet because it’s not necessarily required to count calories for weight loss. You can better trust and listen to your body’s own hunger signals.
Blood sugar regulation.
The standard diet program has people eating an overabundance of refined carbohydrates and sugars that continue to spike their blood sugar levels, which can keep you feeling hungry and also generate fat storage of the excess sugar intake.
But ketosis can help stabilize blood sugar in someone who is focusing on lots of good fat, protein sources, healthy vegetables without starving themselves.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE IN KETOSIS
In order to go into ketosis, you need to be eating a ketogenic diet that usually involves between 20-50 grams of carbs each day, a number that can vary per person. To do this means eliminate high-carb foods from your day like:
- Sugar-laden soft drinks
- Processed grains
- Any other sources of refined sugar
You’ll also want to cut down on your intake of even carbs that are whole foods-based, such as:
- Whole grains
- Potatoes and other starchy vegetables
A great way to be sure you’re in ketosis is by measuring the ketone levels in your body, and you can do this right from home.
When your body makes ketones, it won’t use all of them up. Excess will spill into different areas of the body. There are three different areas where ketone bodies can be measured: in your urine, blood, or breath. Here’s how you can test for ketone levels in each area:
Measuring ketones in the urine:
Use a urine strip. Package instructions might vary slightly, but generally after around 45-60 seconds you should be able to see the color that indicates the measure of ketones in the urine.
However, this method, while cheap (you can buy the strips at places like CVS or Walgreens), is not always reliable. Your body becomes efficient at using ketones, especially acetoacetate, when it’s adapted to ketosis, so the strips might show a lower level of ketosis than you’re actually in.
Plus, other variables like level of hydration and electrolytes in the body can change the readings. So it’s better to use this method if you’re new to ketosis.
Measuring ketones in the blood:
You can use a blood glucose meter to test for levels of the ketone BHB. Since there are very few factors that alter results found through this method, it’s an accurate way to measure levels. It is more pricy, however, at about $5-$10 for each test.
Measuring ketones on the breath:
Use a breathe meter. This method is best used as a supplement to a blood or urine test to help confirm ketone levels. A Ketonix meter can be used to test the levels of breath acetone, or BrAce, that are present. The advantage of this method is that meter can be purchased once and used as many times as needed.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT KETOSIS
It’s important to note that ketosis has been unfairly lumped into the same category as starving, which makes those who are uninformed assume it’s unhealthy and bad for the body. But there’s a big difference:
During starvation, the body pulls from muscle stores to fuel the body, thus reducing lean muscle mass. Earlier very-low-carb diets, like the original Atkins diet, have been criticized for their extremely low carb intake — less than 20 grams a day — for this reason
During ketosis, carbohydrate intake is still restricted but at higher levels, between 20-50 grams a day, and you’re eating a modest but not high amount of protein. (Protein is gluconeogenic, so eating too much will cause the liver to convert it to glycogen, which happens during starvation.)
This way, someone in ketosis can still receive the necessary nutrition and fiber from lots of vegetables while staying within a low carbohydrate intake level.
Basically, ketosis allows your body to continue functioning properly, both physically and mentally, even when there is an absence of carbohydrates or not enough calories being ingested.
This is a brilliant function of the body that allowed our ancestors, who didn’t have the great access to food we do today, to thrive for prolonged periods of time without glucose. Now, we’re still able to use that advantage for increase fat burning and improving health.
Ketosis Vs. Ketoacidosis
People also often confuse ketosis with diabetic ketoacidosis (or DKA), and it’s important to understand they are very different.
DKA occurs when the amount of ketones in the blood is extremely high and can turn the blood acidic. Diabetics can get DKA if they don’t take enough insulin, become dehydrated from not drinking enough fluids, or become hurt or sick. Other causes may be starvation, alcoholism, or an overactive thyroid.
Symptoms of DKA may include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive urination or thirst
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Gasping or breathlessness
Ketoacidosis is a dangerous state that can be deadly if not treated, and it’s not the same as nutritional ketosis — that we’re talking about here — which is a safe state achieved through a healthy low-carb diet.
Ketosis is a normal part of metabolism in which your body is using ketones efficiently and safely, and only producing a low level of them in the blood.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF KETOSIS
Besides promoting a healthy weight, ketosis can also be beneficial for mental and physical performance.
Ketosis for Brain Health & Energy
Although glucose is the preferred form of energy for the body, a large part of our brains can also ketones as fuel for mental performance on a low-carb ketogenic diet. Plus, the body can also use protein to provide glucose to the brain (through gluconeogenesis) during ketosis.
Ketosis has also been used to help control seizures in children with epilepsy by preventing neurotoxicity from an overabundance of carbs. It’s also been shown to have benefits for people with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and type I and II diabetes.
Ketosis for Athletic Performance
During long periods of exercise, the body uses both what you’ve recently eaten and stored glycogen to power you through. But when those glycogen stores have been used up and you still need fuel, the body must turn to protein or fat for more energy. This is not a very efficient process — unless the body has adapted to being in a ketogenic state.
Athletes and those who have long workouts may see improved output from ketosis because it allows fat to be burned more quickly when the body needs more energy.
Ketosis has many benefits for the body in terms of weight loss, health, and metabolism. If you’re interested in using the ketosis process for your own benefit, use this as a guide to get you started. And keep in mind that getting your body adapted to ketosis can take a few weeks, so don’t get discouraged and give yourself time to see results!