When you start out on the ketogenic diet, one of your first questions may be, “What are ketones?” The simple answer is that they are little chemical compounds that your body makes. They are produced when your body breaks down fats and proteins.
The keto diet focuses on transitioning your body from getting its energy from glucose to getting its energy from these ketones when it burns fat. To accomplish this, you need to reduce your carbohydrate intake and eat a diet high in quality fats and protein. In fact, you will need to keep the carb count below 30 grams of carbs a day to get your body into ketosis.
Your goal is to get your body into ketosis and keep it there, which leads to a number of positive results, including weight loss. This article will explain what ketosis is, why you want to achieve it, and its potential impact on your body.
What Are Ketones?
As stated above, ketones are chemical compounds that your body makes when it breaks down fats and proteins. Your body then uses these ketones as an energy source in place of glucose. However, the only way to make this happen is to use up the glucose reserves.
You get glucose from foods that are high in carbohydrates. After you eat food that is high in carbs, your body mixes it with enzymes and acids to create glucose. Your stomach and intestines absorb the glucose and send it out into the bloodstream, where it travels to all of the cells as an energy source.
Insulin allows the body to use glucose for energy, and it is a hormone that is made in the pancreas. When your body senses glucose, the pancreas is signaled to release insulin to tell the body’s cells to let it in and convert it to energy both for immediate use and to store for later. As the glucose is distributed to the cells, the blood sugar levels drop, and the pancreas slows the amount of insulin it releases.
When you lower your carb intake, your liver breaks down its glycogen into glucose and releases it into the bloodstream so that the blood glucose level won’t get too low. This happens because your body has to have the energy for everything it does. In addition, your liver increases its production of ketones, which are made by the breakdown of fatty acids. These fatty acids come from the fat you eat or the fat your body has stored. Ketones are an energy source available to your body when it runs low on glucose.
How to Achieve Ketosis
The way to achieve ketosis is by reducing your carb intake and increasing the healthy fats and protein in your diet. Once your body runs out of glucose, your liver will increase its production of ketones by breaking down fatty acids from protein or stored fats. Once these ketones are in your bloodstream, your body will use them for energy.
The important thing is to start out by reducing your carb intake to 30 grams or less per day. By allowing your body to run low on glucose, your liver will produce the ketones, and your body will begin breaking down fat from your diet and stored body fat through beta-oxidation.
Ketosis has a number of benefits. It is linked to lower blood pressure, reducing cravings, weight loss, and more. Ketones are not dangerous; they are an alternative source of energy.
Measuring Ketones in the Blood
There are three different types of ketones that can be detected in the bloodstream during ketosis.
- Acetoacetate (AcAc): created first
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB): created by AcAc
- Acetone: side product of AcAc
When people transition to a keto diet, the blood ketone levels will rise to above the 1 mMol (millimole per liter) Level. The brain and the muscles use them, and the acetoacetate is used first, but after a few weeks, the muscles begin to convert it into B-hydroxybutyrate. Once the muscle tissues use it, it needs to be converted back to acetoacetate so that it can be metabolized. How much of either ketone is available in the blood will depend on the point in the process where it is measured.
The other ketone, acetone, is produced as a byproduct of acetoacetate and is released in the breath and urine. Over time, your body gets used to using ketones for energy in place of glucose, and the entire process of making and metabolizing ketones becomes more efficient. As long as you keep your carb intake low enough, your body will continue to burn stored fats in ketosis.
You can actually purchase a blood meter to check your ketone blood levels at home. The normal range is between 0.5 mMol and 3 mMol of ketones, and this is called nutritional ketosis. This is where you want to be. Testing your blood ketones is the most accurate way to measure what your body is using.
There is a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough insulin. This is often caused by an illness such as diabetes, and it is an out of control state where ketone levels may rise to between 10 and 25 mM. In this case, there isn’t enough insulin to stop the body from burning fats, and the huge amount of ketones causes the blood pH to become acidic.
Measuring Ketones in the Urine and Breath
You can test your urine for the presence of ketones, but this method is most effective in the beginning when you are first transitioning your body to ketosis. Because your body is not completely adapted to using ketones for energy, a lot of the ketones will be filtered out through your urine. As your body adapts to ketosis, it will use more of the ketones. The way to do it is to let your urine flow onto a strip. These tests are inexpensive and can be found at a pharmacy.
You can also test your breath, but this is the least accurate of the testing methods. You will use a Ketonix breath meter, which will measure how much of the ketone acetone is on your breath. The meter is expensive, but you can reuse it without any additional costs.
What Is the Keto Diet?
The key to the keto diet is to transition your body by reducing carbs and replacing them with healthy fats and proteins. You need to make sure that you have the right balance in your diet so that you achieve nutritional ketosis.
The exact number of carbs will vary for each person from 20 to 50 grams per day. Here are the foods that you should try to avoid when you are on the keto diet:
- Most fruits
- Fruit juices and sugary soft drinks
- Starchy foods such as bread, pasta, and potatoes
- Candies and baked goods
- Whole and processed grains
- Refined sugars
- Beans and legumes
- Processed foods
It is important to know that you can replace most of these foods with delicious substitutes that you will enjoy, and they will actually fill you up and help you increase the fat content so that your body can properly make ketones.
You should eat larger amounts of healthy fats and proteins. Take a look at the following foods that you should eat:
- Seafood: clams, mussels, octopus, squid, oysters
- Salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish
- Meat and poultry
- Cottage cheese and Greek yogurt
- Nuts and seeds
- Butter and cream
- Unsweetened coffee and tea
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
In fact, cauliflower can serve as a substitute for many of the starchy items on the bad list because it has a great texture and a mild flavor, so it can mimic those foods.
What Is the Keto Flu?
When you first restrict your carbs, you may experience some side effects because your body has been accustomed to using glucose for your entire life. This is often called the keto flu because the symptoms are similar to flu symptoms. You may experience the following:
- Increased appetite
- Brain fog
- Difficulty sleeping
Some people do become discouraged and stop the keto diet, but if you are able to push through, it usually goes away in a few days. Be sure to drink a lot of water and replenish your electrolytes. You can also add exogenous ketones to your diet through a supplement, which may help you to mitigate the keto flu altogether.
What Are Exogenous Ketones?
Endogenous ketones are the ones produced by your body when it gets into ketosis. There is another way to consume ketones, and that is by taking exogenous ketones through a supplement. No matter which way you get your ketone levels in the blood to a level that puts you in ketosis, you are in ketosis.
Most exogenous ketones come as AcAc or BHB. The supplement is usually fats that convert quickly to ketones such as coconut oil or medium-chain triglycerides, and they help the body achieve ketosis more quickly.
What Are the Benefits of Exogenous Ketones?
If you are on the keto diet and your goal is to transition your body to ketosis, exogenous ketones can help you get there more quickly. Often blood ketone levels will be elevated within 30 minutes after taking them. Another benefit is that they can help to reduce symptoms of the keto flu. In addition, they can help to decrease appetite, which will make it easier to transition from carbs to high-quality fats and proteins.
If you have been in ketosis, and you fall off the wagon and eat a high-carb meal, exogenous ketones can also help to get you back into ketosis quickly without suffering keto flu symptoms and sugar cravings. These supplements are useful for putting your high-carb meal behind you and getting back to your diet.
How Do Ketones Help You Lose Weight?
The metabolic state of ketosis helps you to lose weight. Endogenous ketones, those produced by your liver, are made when your body runs low on glucose from carbs. When you reduce your carb intake, your liver will burn dietary fat and body fat to produce ketones as an alternate energy source.
As your body spends time in ketosis and adapts to using ketones for energy, it becomes more efficient at burning fat. You won’t feel as hungry because the foods you are eating are more filling and satisfying. In addition, you will reduce sugars and sugary food and drinks, which is a huge boost to losing weight.
Not only are sugars converted into glucose that kicks you out of ketosis, but sugars are known to be addictive and make you crave more. Once you achieve ketosis and your body is efficiently using ketones for energy, you will find that your sugar cravings are reduced.
The Final Verdict
Ketones are compounds that the liver makes when the body runs low on glucose. It is an alternate energy source for the body. Ketones that are made from dietary and stored fats effectively replace glucose that is made from carbohydrate intake.
When your body enters ketosis, it builds up efficiency as it adapts. You can speed up the process by taking exogenous ketones, and when your body is efficiently operating in a state of ketosis, you will experience reduced cravings, increased weight loss, and many other health benefits.
The keto diet is based on the simple idea of reducing your carb intake to between 20 and 50 grams a day and at the same time increasing your intake of healthy high-quality fats and proteins. You can test your ketone levels with a blood test, a urine strip, or a Ketonix machine, and this will help you to know where you stand.
You can avoid symptoms of the keto flu by drinking a lot of water and replenishing your electrolytes, and you might also consider taking exogenous ketones. They can help you get into ketosis more quickly as you adjust to your new diet.