Wondering what is ketosis? The ketogenic diet causes your body to move into fat-burning mode by eating very high fat, very low carbohydrate, and moderate protein. Strict keto diets suggest limiting carb consumption to 20 grams or so a day; however, this dramatic restriction may not be required for everyone to reach ketosis.
Ketosis is the nirvana state in which your body is actually burning stored fat for energy instead of recently consumed carbohydrates. This chemical reaction can cause dramatic and rapid weight loss. The keto diet is generally considered safe, as is ketosis.
In addition to burning stored fat, following a ketogenic diet and reaching ketosis can provide sought-after health benefits. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, ketosis may have brain-protecting effects, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health points out that the ketogenic diet has been studied quite extensively in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, PCOS, and Alzheimer’s disease.
What Is Ketosis?
Simply put, ketosis is a metabolic state by which the body burns fat instead of glucose for energy. This chemical reaction is reached when ketone bodies are elevated due to minimal glucose in the body.
Ketosis is most often associated with a ketogenic or low-carbohydrate diet, but ketosis can also occur during prolonged fasting, pregnancy, or when your body is in starvation mode.
Generally speaking, to reach ketosis you need to consume fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day. A strict ketogenic diet will have you consume as little as 20 grams a day of carbohydrates. It should be noted that 20 grams may not be appropriate for everyone. Use a keto macro calculator to find out just how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat you should be consuming each day.
What Happens When Your Body Is in Ketosis
When you restrict carbohydrates, your body produces less insulin. This causes fatty acids to be released from the stored fat in your body. These fatty acids move to the liver where they are oxidized and turned into ketones.
The ketones are then used by the body for energy. Optimal ketosis occurs when your insulin levels are low and you are burning stored fat rather than recently consumed sugars. The most accurate way to determine if you are in ketosis is through blood or urine tests. These can be done at home with urine test strips or a blood glucose meter.
A blood glucose meter is a medical device used by type 1 and type 2 diabetics to check blood glucose levels. There are a number of reasonably priced devices available on the market. However, test strips can be very costly. To answer the question “what should my blood sugar be in ketosis” sometimes the middle of the road is best.
Ketosis can begin when the ketones in your blood hit 0.5 to 9.8/mmol/L, with the optimal ketone zone falling between 1.0 and 2.5mmol/L. Higher than 3.0mmol/L and you are starting to reach starvation mode, and ketoacidosis isn’t too far away. Ketoacidosis is not something to strive for, as it is a potentially life-threatening elevated level of ketones in the blood that can cause swelling in the brain, low potassium levels, and dangerously low blood sugar levels.
If you prefer not to poke your finger and test your blood to determine if you’ve reached ketosis, then urine strips are an option, such as “Ketostix” made by Bayer and Bayer. Simply dip the test strip into fresh urine and in a few seconds, the strip will change colors. If you are wondering what color should ketostix be when in ketosis, the answer is, “it depends.”
When you first start a keto diet, the color of the test strip will likely be at the darker end of the scale, and as your body adapts it will likely move more towards the center of the scale. You don’t always want to be at the darkest end of the scale, as that can be a sign you aren’t drinking enough water.
While these tests can be quite helpful and give you a definitive answer as to whether or not you are in ketosis, there are physical signs and symptoms you will come to recognize after you’ve been on a ketogenic diet for a few months.
- Fruity breath: When you are burning stored fat instead of glucose, your breath can smell fruity, almost like Juicy-Fruit gum. This is also called keto breath, and it typically lasts for the first couple of months you are on a carbohydrate-restricted diet.
- Dry mouth: You may find yourself more thirsty than usual and even experience cottonmouth sensations, particularly at night or after a workout. This is easily combated by drinking more water and balancing your electrolytes.
- Increased urination: As you start to drink more water, your body will naturally create more urine.
- Hyperfocus: In the first few weeks, you should begin to notice brain fog lifting and improved concentration.
- Fatigue: While your body is adjusting to a new eating paradigm, it is quite common to experience fatigue due to the lack of glucose in your body. This should pass in a couple of weeks.
What Is the Absolute Fastest Way to Get into Ketosis?
Our culture has become accustomed to instant gratification—and we expect immediate results—especially when we change our diets, so it is natural to wonder how to get into ketosis fast. There isn’t a single answer to this question. Reaching ketosis requires a delicate balance of diet, supplements, and exercise.
- Limit carbohydrates. A strict keto diet limits carbs to a max of 20 grams a day.
- Don’t exceed your recommended protein macro count. Too much protein can throw you out of ketosis.
- Eat more healthy fats. Coconut oil, ghee, and omega-3 rich foods are healthy fat options that can spur results.
- Take MCT oil supplements. High-quality MCT oil supplements boost energy and reduce appetite.
- Take a BHB ketone supplement. BHB oil capsules improve energy and boost mental performance while pushing the body into ketosis.
- Exercise daily. Create an exercise routine that includes weight training, walking, and HIIT training or interval training to increase metabolism and boost weight loss.
What Does Ketosis Feel Like?
This is a common question, and frankly, the answer is also “it depends.” If you are just starting a carb-restricted diet, you may experience unpleasant signs of ketosis, including aches, pains, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, and fatigue. These symptoms are often referred to as keto flu.
Keto flu is temporary, and within just a week or two, you’ll start to experience the pleasant signs you’ve reached ketosis. As your body adapts to the changes, you’ll begin to notice your appetite diminishing, an increase in physical energy and in brain power, and of course—weight loss.
In the first week or so, many people drop several pounds, and in the second week, the weight loss tapers off. Don’t let that dissuade you from continuing! In the following weeks, as your body morphs into a fat-burning machine, the scale will start to tip in your favor.
The Difference Between Ketosis and Ketoacidosis
Yes, there is a difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis—and it is a big one. Ketosis is an optimal and healthy state of fat burning whereby your body harvests energy from ketones produced by the liver. Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is not healthy, and it can even be fatal.
Ketoacidosis occurs when the bloodstream is flooded with high levels of ketone bodies that produce a toxic and dangerous level of acid in the bloodstream. This, in turn, causes the kidneys to excrete ketones through the urine. While ketoacidosis most often occurs in type 1 or type 2 diabetics, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, it has been reported in non-diabetic individuals following a very low-carbohydrate diet for an extended period of time.
Certain underlying health conditions, in addition to type 1 and type 2 diabetes, can put you at a greater risk of ketoacidosis. If you have a thyroid disorder, drink alcohol excessively, use illegal drugs, or your body is in starvation mode, it is important to check both your blood glucose levels and urine ketone levels regularly when following a keto diet.
If you experience the following symptoms, seek medical attention promptly:
- Elevated blood glucose levels
- Elevated urine ketone levels
- Frequent urination
- Flushed skin
- Trouble breathing
- Abdominal pain
- Fruity-smelling breath
- Persistent fatigue and exhaustion
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