What is ketosis

What is ketosis?

Have you heard of ketosis? Better still, do you know what it is?

Ketosis has a complex-sounding name and some explanations of it can make it complicated to fathom out, so here’s an article aimed at giving you all the facts, plain and simple.

So, what is ketosis?

Ketosis is the name that’s used to describe when our metabolism is functioning in a certain way.

It’s the moment when our bodies are mainly fuelled by fat, AKA ‘ketones’, and occurs when access to glucose (blood sugar) limited.1 As a result, the body burns fat instead of its usual energy source, carbohydrates.2 In terms of how you reach ketosis, people generally need to eat less than 50g of carbs a day. This can sometimes drop to 20 grams per day.3

How can you tell if you’re in ketosis?

You can’t just click your fingers and you’re suddenly in ketosis. Getting your body into this state takes dedication and isn’t necessarily straightforward to do. People follow a special keto diet in order to achieve ketosis.

There are certain ketosis symptoms to look out for. You can usually tell if you’ve achieved ketosis if you’re experiencing any of these four tell-tale signs of ketosis:

  1. You’re smelly – more specifically, your urine, your sweat, and your breath smells. The fruity (but not good fruity) smell is caused by your body creating by-products as it breaks down fat into energy. One of these by-products includes acetone, which is the same acetone that happens to be found in nail varnish remover. Your body gets rid of it through your urine, sweat, and breath, and it’s this that can smell a bit whiffy.

  2. You’re tired – it’ll take your body some time to get used to functioning on less carbs. During this time, it’s not unusual to suffer from fatigue as it readjusts. You should hopefully perk back up as your body gets more used to burning fat to keep itself going.

  3. You’re cramping – low carbs can lead to electrolyte and mineral imbalances. Being deficient in potassium, sodium, and magnesium can cause cramps anywhere on your body.

  4. You’re constipated – because you may not be taking on those carbs that happen to also contain fibre that keeps you regular. What’s more, if you aren’t eating carbs, they won’t be being converted by your body into glycogen, which has a high water content and helps keep your system lubricated.4

How long does it take to get into ketosis?

Ketosis is a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight. It can take up to 12 weeks for the transition to fully take place. Generally speaking within:

  • The first few days – the process starts within your body

  • A week to 10 days – some people start to feel the positive effects, e.g. improved concentration and more energy

  • Two to three weeks - the body has usually accomplished the majority of its work in adapting to using fat for energy. By this point, hunger and food cravings fade and stamina and vitality increase

  • The coming weeks and months – the body continues to make more subtle changes, such as craving less protein5

What are the side effects?

Ketosis is a journey that inevitably comes with some side effects. The degree to which these side effects are felt can vary from person-to-person. Typical side effects include:

  • Low libido – due to the withdrawal from carbohydrates and the onset of the Keto Flu (more on this below)

  • The Keto Flu – caused by the body initially entering a low-carb state, which can bring about symptoms, such as headaches, weakness, irritability, nausea and vomiting

  • Kidney and heart damage - low electrolytes and fluid combined with increased urination can lead to a lower sodium, magnesium, and potassium levels. And this can potentially make the body susceptible to acute kidney injury

  • On-off dieting – because some people can find it difficult to stay with the diet, so are stop/start, stop/start with it

Other interesting facts about ketosis

  • Studies have found that ketogenic diets lead to much greater weight loss than low-fat diets. According to one study, people who were on a ketogenic diet reported 2.2 times more weight loss than those who were following a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet6
  • Vegans and vegetarians can follow a keto diet too!
  • It can help reduce blood triglycerides, total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol
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Last updated: 8 October 2020

Sources
  1. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-ketosis
  2. https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a21989884/signs-and-symptoms-of-ketosis/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-ketosis#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2
  4. https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a21989884/signs-and-symptoms-of-ketosis/
  5. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-keto-adaptation-2241629
  6. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-ketosis#TOC_TITLE_HDR_5
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