Featured in: Fitness & Weight Management  |  June 30, 2020

WHAT ARE KETONES?

Living a successful ketogenic or low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) lifestyle is based on understanding the way ketones affect the body. While ketones are always present in the blood, ketone production in the liver increases during periods of intense exercise or in the absence of blood sugar, which moves the body towards a state of ketosis.  

Typically, the body relies on a combination of glucose and fat for fuel sources. As a simple carbohydrate, glucose in the body results from eating foods like bread, dairy, and fruit. A ketogenic diet limits these foods to aid the body in entering a healthy, sustained state of ketosis.

The purpose of ketones is to transport energy from the liver to the rest of the body, but did you know that there are different types of ketones? To help you live a successful keto or LCHF lifestyle, we’re breaking down the science behind types of ketones, how they affect the body, how to test ketone levels, and potential side effects here.

THE 3 TYPES OF KETONES

The types of ketones are:

  • Acetoacetate (AcAc)
  • 3-beta-hydroxybutyrate (3HB or BHB)
  • Acetone

As the body enters ketosis, the two primary types of ketones formed in the body are AcAc and 3HB/BHB. The third, acetone, is present in lower levels and often excreted through urine or breath.

While each type of ketone has a role to play in ketosis, the most abundant is BHB. Due to its stability and presence in the blood, it may be a viable energy source when practicing a ketogenic lifestyle.

HOW KETONES WORK IN THE BODY

Ketones naturally created in the body (as opposed to those created with the help of keto products) are the result of fat burning.

Here is a step-by-step fat oxidation process:

  • The body burns fat as a primary fuel source through exercise, fasting, diet or a combination of those three.
  • As the body burns fat, it breaks it down into fatty acids.
  • Fatty acids are converted into ketone bodies that then provide a continued energy source.
  • The cycle continues as the body uses the ketones created for fuel in place of glucose.

Living a healthy ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle starts with this process of producing ketones naturally. By setting this foundation, the body is better prepared to receive keto supplements that may further support the body as it moves into ketosis.

HOW TO TEST YOUR KETONE LEVELS

Considering a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle? It’s important to know how to test your ketone levels, as this will help you determine if your body is achieving a state of ketosis. It may also help you understand how a keto diet, supplements and exercise are affecting your body.

To maintain ketosis, ketone levels need to remain high, particularly levels of BHB. While each body may respond differently, generally, BHB levels between 1.4 to 3.0 mM is optimal for weight loss.

The top three ways to test for different types of ketones are through:

  • Blood
  • Breath
  • Urine

Blood tests are the best for measuring BHB levels. Considering the important role that BHB plays in a successful keto lifestyle, a simple blood test with a blood ketone meter is likely to provide the best results. A blood ketone meter is battery operated and uses a test strip.

Breath tests are most effective for measuring acetone, which is present in the breath of an individual in ketosis.

Urine tests are less expensive but aren’t as accurate as blood tests. Ketone bodies are mainly carried in the blood, which is why blood tests are the most effective if you want to get the best results.

POTENTIAL SIDE EFFECTS OF KETONES AND KETOSIS

If you’re considering a new diet or lifestyle change, it’s important to consult a medical professional to ensure that you’re making choices that align with your body. While a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle may offer several benefits, there are some potential side effects to be aware of.

For some people, the early stages of a keto diet may lead to headaches, fatigue, brain fog, cravings, or a number of other issues. While none are life-threatening, it’s important to be aware that your body will take time to transition into this new lifestyle and you may experience some temporary symptoms.

Beyond temporary side effects, it’s extremely rare for people to experience adverse responses to a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle. It’s important, though, to continue monitoring ketone levels and to be aware if you’re taking medications for blood sugar. While rare and different than ketosis, ketoacidosis can be triggered in certain individuals engaging in a keto diet. It’s always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before going on a keto diet, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

Depending on the type of keto diet you choose, it may be low in fiber. Adding more low-carb vegetables, like zucchini, broccoli, and cauliflower can help boost fiber levels without compromising ketosis.

HOW TO INCREASE KETONES WITH FOOD

Ketones are produced naturally in the body, even if you’re not practicing a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle. But to properly enter ketosis and maintain a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle, it’s important to follow a few key dietary guidelines. Here’s how:

1. EAT A HIGH-FAT DIET

It’s important to note that not all fats are healthy fats, so focus on the following types of foods:

  • Olive, avocado, and coconut oils
  • Grass-fed butter or ghee
  • Organic eggs, yolks and whites
  • Fatty fish like salmon and sardines
  • Nuts like macadamias and walnuts

Not only do fats help to create different types of ketones in the body, but they help to suppress appetite and create a feeling of fullness for longer periods of time too.

2. BE MINDFUL OF CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE

While it’s commonly known that carbohydrate intake needs to be limited in a keto or LCHF lifestyle, what foods contain higher carb levels may be less familiar. Of course, fruits, bread, pasta, and refined sugars contain high amounts of carbs­–but there are vegetables that also need to be avoided to maintain optimal ketone levels.

Here are some common vegetables to limit or avoid:

  • Root vegetables like beets, potatoes, and parsnips
  • Some squash like butternut and acorn
  • Caramelized onions

It’s also a good idea to watch your intake of grains like corn as well as beans and legumes. Regardless of what foods you choose to eat, you want to watch the total grams of carbs you’re consuming on a daily basis. Each person may have a different carb threshold, but generally, it’s good to stay between 20 to 40 grams of carbs per day to sustain a healthy keto lifestyle.

3. EAT PROTEIN, BUT NOT TOO MUCH

A common misconception for those not familiar with a keto diet is that you can eat endless protein. While protein is an important part of any diet, including keto, protein is limited to maximize ketone production and sustain ketone levels.

Protein is important for maintaining muscle mass and supplying the body with amino acids. The amount of protein, just like carbs, will vary depending on the person and how much physical activity you’re getting. Regularly testing ketone levels may help with tailoring your diet to remain in the ideal ketosis range and achieve proper protein-to-fat-to-carbohydrate ratios.

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