What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a word that has been heavily linked to the diet and weight loss movement in recent years. But what does the word "ketosis" really mean? How can it help you lose weight, be healthier and feel better?

That is what we will cover in this comprehensive article. You will learn what ketosis is and why it really works to help you lose weight and keep it off. We will explain how to get into ketosis and how you will know when you are there.

You will learn about all the benefits of ketosis and also the possible side effects to watch for. Throughout, we will also offer you helpful resources to maximize your ketosis results. So without further delay, let's dive in!

The Science Behind Ketosis

So what is really going on inside your body when you put it into a state of ketosis? Well, let's start with a definition for the word "ketosis."

Ketosis is what occurs naturally within your body when carbohydrate intake is restricted, whether because food is scarce or because you are simply eating less of it. The process of ketosis helps your body access other types of stored energy reserves that it ordinarily might not need to use for fuel.

In a normal (non-ketosis) state, your body will naturally gravitate towards using stored carbohydrates in the form of glucose for its energy. This is because glucose is easier for your body to access, convert and burn for fuel than any other type of energy. To access and convert glucose into energy, all your body needs to do is produce insulin to complete the conversion process.

After your body has accessed, converted and used all of its stored glucose, it will start looking around for other stored energy reserves it can call on for fuel. This will lead it to your body's stored fat reserves.

As the fat your body has stored is used for fuel, the liver produces water-soluble molecules called ketones. The presence of ketones is what signals that your body has entered ketosis.

Your goal in supporting your body to enter the state of ketosis is to help it burn away excess stored fat reserves instead of simply continuing to burn carbohydrates in the form of glucose. Not surprisingly, this requires some shifts in your daily diet, which is what we will explore in the next section.

How to get into Ketosis

How to Get into Ketosis

When you have set a goal to support your body to enter ketosis by adopting a low carb or ketogenic diet, the first thing to know is that it is easier to enter ketosis than you might assume.

Here are the seven basic steps to take to help your body enter a state of ketosis:

Step 1: Limit your daily carbohydrate intake to 35 grams (20 net grams) of carbohydrates total.

Step 2: Limit your daily protein intake to no more than 0.8 grams of protein per pound of your own body weight.

Step 3: Aim to take in the majority of the daily calories you need via fats (your personal daily caloric needs should mirror what you would be eating if you were at your ideal goal body weight).

Step 4: Drink LOTS of water so your body can readily flush out toxins as well as control food cravings.

Step 5: Cut out snack breaks and instead aim to take in all of your daily caloric needs through your meals.

Step 6: Add in some daily cardiovascular exercise (20 to 30 minutes per day is a great goal to set).

Step 7: Supplement your low carb diet with healthful nutritional supplements as needed or desired.

Here is a partial list of some of the best nutritional supplements that can support your new diet program and assist your body to enter into ketosis:

  • Omega 3s (fish oil). A key component of staying healthy while in ketosis is keeping your triglycerides from climbing too high. Omega 3 fatty acids can help with this and also offer other benefits, including heart health and elevated mood.
  • Spirulina. Spirulina is an excellent source of greens in supplement form. Whether you are not a fan of green vegetables and need to take in your greens another way or you simply can't eat enough to get the fiber your body needs to aid in elimination and carbohydrate elimination, spirulina can give it to you.
  • Magnesium. A magnesium deficiency often occurs at the beginning of ketosis. This is due to the diuretic impact of drinking more water, which causes more magnesium to be excreted. You can eat more low-protein/low-carb foods (avocados, low-carb nuts and seeds, high-fat yogurts) or supplement with magnesium or both.
  • Vitamin D. Vitamin D can help your body absorb magnesium and other essential minerals that may get flushed out when you increase your water intake. Today it is no longer safe to get all your Vitamin D from sun exposure, so the safest way is to take a supplement of Vitamin D instead.
  • Electrolytes (sodium, potassium). Electrolytes are minerals your body needs to absorb hydration, balance blood pressure and keep your energy levels up. This is especially important as you increase your water intake to help your body flush toxins and fight hunger cravings.
  • Coconut oil. Coconut oil is one of the best natural sources of medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, which your body can quickly access and use for energy. Even better, it doesn't have protein or carbohydrates that could limit your results while in ketosis.
What is Ketosis?

How to know if you are in Ketosis

So how will you know when your body has entered the state of ketosis at last? What signs can you be on the lookout for, or are there tests you can do to know for sure?

Here are some of the most common ways your body may tell you it is in ketosis:

  • Breath odor changes. If you notice that your breath suddenly starts to smell like over-ripe fruit or nail polish, this can be a sign your body is in ketosis.
  • Dry mouth. If you do not hydrate sufficiently with water and also replenish your lost electrolytes in supplement form, you may develop dry mouth. So if you start to experience dry mouth, this can mean you are in ketosis at last and it is time to start hydrating more and supplementing!
  • Urinating more frequently. Early stage ketosis has a diuretic effect (as does drinking more water). When you notice you are starting to head for the restroom more often, this is a sign you may be entering ketosis.
  • Reduction in hunger and cravings. Entering into ketosis can feel like a reward after battling initial cravings as you transition your diet. Suddenly your hunger is reduced and you are not struggling with the cravings any more.
  • Increase in energy. At the same time that your hunger pangs are reducing, you may feel an energy boost. This is your body burning fat through ketosis.

There are some simple tests you can also do to test whether your body has successfully entered into the state of ketosis:

  • Urine test strips. Urine test strips are the simplest, most economical way to test to see if your body has entered ketosis. You just hold the strip under your urine stream and wait about 10 seconds to see what color it turns. Darker colors indicate ketosis.
  • Breathing meters. You can also purchase a breathing meter, although for many this is a longer-term option since these tend to be pricier. All you do is attach the meter to your computer and breathe into the tip and it will measure whether you are in a state of ketosis.
  • Blood test strips. Blood test strips work with blood meters to measure whether and at what level you are in ketosis. Of course, you will need to be (or get) comfortable with drawing your own blood in order to use this method to measure your state of ketosis. Here, often a meter will be dispensed for free when you order the blood test strips, so this is a mid-range level investment overall.
measuring ketosis with ketone strips

You may be wondering which method is best for measuring your body's level of ketosis most accurately. Opinions vary here, but in general the blood test strips tend to give the most accurate results, with urine strips being least accurate and breathing meters being mid-level accurate.

As far as what your measurements indicate, this is a good general-purpose range guideline you can use:
- 0.5 to 0.8 is early ketosis.
- 0.9 to 1.4 is medium ketosis.
- 1.5 to 3.0 is deep ketosis. 

Benefits of Ketosis

So what are the benefits of choosing to support your body to enter a state of ketosis?

We have already discussed the weight loss and weight maintenance benefits, which can be significant enough as benefits on their own to make your work worth the effort!

But there are other longer term benefits as well that deserve a mention:

  • Cancer fighting and prevention. A ketogenic diet has been shown to have potential cancer prevention properties and may also be able to kill cancer cells.
  • Reduce risk for cardiovascular disease. Ketosis can reduce many risk factors implicated in heart attack, stroke, heart arrhythmias, heart failure and valve issues.
  • Reduce risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Ketosis can reduce known risk factors for both diseases, most notably through reducing triglycerides, supporting mid-body weight loss and balancing blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
  • Reduce or reverse the symptoms of cognitive (Alzheimers) and neurodegenerative (Parkinsons) diseases. Early research indicates that ketosis has promise for limiting or even reversing the decline in mental and motor function caused by these types of serious illnesses.
keto flu

Side Effects of Ketosis

While ketosis brings with it so many powerful potential benefits that it is hard to ignore, it is important to be aware of the possible side effects as well.

Most importantly, it is important not to go overboard with ketosis levels in the body. This can transform a potentially healthful and beneficial state into a dangerous condition called ketoacidosis, which as the name suggests can increase the acidity in your blood to dangerous levels.

Here are some other possible ketosis side effects to be aware of:

  • "Keto Flu." This temporary condition is common in the very early stages of ketosis. You may feel a headache, nausea, fatigue, lethargy, mental fogginess, hunger cravings, decreased energy and inability to sleep deeply. This usually passes quickly.
  • Muscle cramps. Cramping is almost always related to dehydration. You can quickly fix this by rehydrating with water and electrolyte supplements.
  • Digestion and elimination issues. Diarrhea and constipation can arise as a result of the change in your diet. Be sure you are hydrated and are taking in sufficient fiber to fix this.
  • Racing heart rate. If you get dehydrated, you may experience your heart beating faster. As with muscle cramps (the heart is also a muscle) taking in water and electrolytes usually remedies this.
  • Feeling dizzy. Low electrolytes can cause dizziness. Supplement with potassium and magnesium to feel better.
  • Inability to sleep restfully. This temporary side effect is common in the beginning stages of bodily ketosis. Save any carbs you want to eat for an end-of-the-day snack and your sleep should be better.