Am I in ketosis and does it matter?

Hello everybody and happy 2017 to all of you. May this be the year for achieving your goals and realising all your dreams for health and wellness. I hope you find this article of value since there is  much confusion out there with regards to what ketosis is, why you might want to try ketosis, how to get into ketosis as well as how to test for it.

What is ketosis?

When you go very low carb, your insulin levels drop.  This allows your body to start burning your stored fat for fuel, and very effectively melts those extra kilos away.  As long as insulin stays high due to a high carb intake, weight loss is going to elude you.  Your body has an amazing ability to convert its engine from petrol (carbs) to diesel (fat).  It is a totally natural process, and has enabled humans to endure times of famine all through the ages.  Today, researchers are discovering that keto-adaptation has other therapeutic benefits that go beyond mere survival.

Is ketosis for you?

homer-thinkingIf you are obese, epileptic, a type 2 diabetic, insulin resistant, suffering from cancer, or an endurance athlete, give serious consideration to adopting a ketogenic diet. Want to maintain your youthful look?  Ketosis is a cost effective and non- invasive anti-aging option compared with  Botox or cosmetic surgery later in life.  Women with PCOS, and those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease can also benefit from the therapeutic effects of ketosis. A ketogenic diet also seems to facilitate superior cognitive function.  If patience is not your virtue, then you will be pleased to know that ketosis will assist you to lose weight more rapidly, due to the enhanced fat burning effect.  It also reduces your appetite and cravings significantly, so you find it easier to eat less and to say “no thank you” to temptation.

People who struggle to lose weight on a regular low carb eating plan should definitely experiment with ketosis (considered a VERY low carb eating plan).  It could be the key that unlocks the door to their weight loss. It is important however to do it properly. Many of us are metabolically damaged and doing ketosis the wrong way can make things worse. Don’t try to intermittent fast until you have been in ketosis for around 3 months. Otherwise you will just stress your adrenals and thyroid.  Be sure to include enough healthy fats as a fuel source and eat only real food – no processed Atkins bars or low carb shakes. You might even need to gradually reduce your carb intake to avoid hormonal stress to your body.

If you are effectively losing weight, and feeling great on a regular LCHF eating plan, then ketosis is probably not necessary.  Why get extreme if you don’t need to? Restricting carbs to a very low level, to maintain a ketogenic state, requires a real commitment.  We are all different.  Some feel their best in a ketogenic state, others do not.  Some prefer to cycle in and out of ketosis.  So give some thought to what your goals are, and consider if it is something you want to try.

How do I know if I am in ketosis?

Eating LCHF doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in a state of ketosis.  This isn’t a problem if you are achieving the results you want, but can be very frustrating if you aren’t.  If you would like to know for certain, then there are a few measuring tools available that will measure the ketones in your body.  Ketones are substances that are produced when the body breaks down fat for energy, and their presence can be very reassuring. The lack of ketones could also highlight a need for changes to your eating plan, especially if your aren’t managing to lose weight or are aiming for the other therapeutic benefits of ketogenesis mentioned above.

What is available for testing ketosis?

Ketosis can be measured using urine, blood, or breath.  Each method measures a different type of ketone.  The urine method looks for acetoacetate, the blood option measures betahydroxybutyrate, and the third one determines the level of acetone in your breath.  Each measuring device comes with a different cost, and points for consideration.  You can decide which one best suits your needs and budget.

Urine testing strips

How it works: Urinate on the test strip and wait for a few seconds.  A beige colour indicates “no ketosis,” and shades of pink to purple indicate varying levels of ketone production.  These strips measure the excess ketones excreted in the urine.

Points to consider: The strip measures acetoacetate, which is excreted into the urine when you first go into a state of ketosis.  After being in ketosis for some time, your body starts producing another type of ketone called betahydroxybutyrate.  This is the point at which the urine test strips might stop measuring ketosis effectively.  They are therefore a fairly cheap and easy option initially for determining if your diet is truly ketogenic, but isn’t going to be accurate if you would like to monitor yourself on an on-going basis.  Also, some people use their ketones more efficiently, leaving very little “spill-over” into their urine to measure.  So just because the stick doesn’t turn purple doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t in ketosis.

Breath analyzer device

How it works: This is a relatively new device on the market that measures acetone in your breath.  Connect the device (e.g. Ketonix) to a USB port, computer, or charger.  Breathe out into the device, and wait a few seconds.  The device flashes an LED light in various colours, indicating your level of ketone production.  Blue (zero to low), green (low), orange (moderate), and red (high). If connected to a PC with the downloaded software it will also give you a numerical value between 0 and 100.

Points to consider: It is a once off cost and the device can be used as many times as you want.   The mouthpiece can be removed and washed, and additional mouthpieces can be purchased.  More than one person can therefore hygienically use the same device.  It certainly appears to be an easy way to measure, however I am not convinced about the accuracy. When I try to compare my Ketonix readings to my dual glucometer (readings taken at the same time), they don’t always align. For example, the breath meter tells me I am in ketosis by flashing red, but the blood meter might give me a reading of 0.2 (which technically isn’t ketosis).

Dual glucometer (blood testing device and strips)

How it works: You put a ketone test strip into the monitor, and prick your finger with the lancet provided to draw a drop of blood.  Put the test strip into the blood, and wait for your result to appear on the monitor’s display.  A reading of between 0.5 and 3 mmols indicates ketosis.

Points to consider: The monitor itself is relatively affordable, but the ketone test strips are pricey.  I have the Freestyle Optium brand which I bought at Dischem. Regular testing could therefore get expensive due to the high price of the ketone strips.  Although after a while testing just once a week is enough. This device measures both glucose and ketones, which is useful for those who want to keep tabs on their blood sugar too. Different strips are required for the glucose testing though and these are quite affordable.  Monitoring glucose is also a very important part of ketogenesis. Your reading should be in the region of 4.4 mmol. Anything higher would indicate that your body still has access to some glucose for fuel and it will always preferentially burn glucose for energy instead of fat. This could compromise your keto-adaption. Some people find pricking their finger to draw blood fairly painless, while others find it difficult to do. This is by far the most accurate way for testing for ketosis and is considered the gold standard by many experts.  It will be money well spent.

Other signs you are in ketosis

There are other ways to tell that you are more than likely in fat-burning mode (especially if gadgets aren’t your thing):

  • You can go 5 or more hours without getting hungry and irritable
  • Your energy levels are stable throughout the day (no afternoon crashes)
  • You sleep more soundly
  • Your moods improve
  • Your cognitive function gets sharper
  • You lose fat and not muscle mass
  • No low blood sugar episodes
  • You can exercise in a fasted state

What to do if you aren’t in ketosis?

If you have used one of the above testing methods, and find your results a little lacking, here is what you can try:

  • Drop your carbs even lower, and track them more accurately to ensure that you are staying under 25 grams per day.
  • Eat less protein, as an excess will raise insulin and compromise ketosis.
  • Increase fat to feel more satiated, so you eat less protein and carbs.
  • Stop snacking, as this keeps insulin levels raised.
  • Manage stress and get enough good quality sleep, to reduce cortisol and blood sugar.
  • Incorporate MCT oil into your diet, to assist your body to produce ketones.
  • Avoid all alcohol, fruit, nuts, dairy, caffeine and sweeteners (both natural and artificial). Stevia is fine.
  • Incorporate high intensity interval and strength training into your exercise routine to improve insulin sensitivity.

The key thing to remember in the “pursuit of the ketogenic state” is to not become too obsessed.   If you feel great being ketogenic and it is a manageable lifestyle for you – brilliant!  If you don’t, then it is not the end of the world.  Always focus on what you are achieving, not on what you aren’t. Healthy bodies don’t carry excess weight, so very often there needs to be a long healing process before the weight comes off.  Be patient and stick with it. Consistency is key.

About Nicky Perks

Passionately sharing information about the paleo/primal, high fat/low carb lifestyle that will rock your world! I am on my own journey to good health and a slim body. My goal? To enjoy the ride as life on this beautiful planet is just too short to do it any other way.

Posted on January 10, 2017, in Primal 101 and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Katherine Bodmer

    Thanks for this Nicky. It helped me understand more about Ketosis.

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