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The keto diet is all about ketosis (hence the name). So how the heck does ketosis actually help you shift pounds? And how can you track your progress?
If lockdown has put a dent in your healthy eating habits, you might be looking for a way to lose a few pounds. Maybe you’ve heard about the keto diet on TikTok but don’t really know all the deets.
Enter ketosis. This metabolic process begins when you start following a very low carb, high fat diet. Research suggests it can turn you into a bona fide fat-burning machine.
The keto diet is controversial and far from ideal for long-term use. But it can help you lose weight quickly, since it reduces your body’s stores of glycogen and water. It can also suppress your appetite, helping you avoid post-lunch snack attacks.
As your body starts to use fat instead of carbs as its main source of fuel, it starts producing ketones. Your liver makes these chemicals when your body breaks down fat to use for energy.
There’s an optimal ketone level, and you’ll need to ditch most carbs (*sob*) to stay within the range.
So, what should my ideal ketone level be for weight loss?
If measuring with a blood ketone meter, optimal ketone range is 0.5 to 3.0 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
If you’re using a breath testing device, 2 to 40 parts per million (ppm) is ideal.
Once you start a keto diet, it’ll take a few days for ketones to start circulating in your body. This is nothing to worry about. It’s just your body getting rid of all those excess carbs before getting to work on the fat.
After a few days you should be able to detect ketones using a test. The optimal blood ketone range is 0.5 to 3.0 mg/dL.
Maintaining this ketone level will help your body use stored fat in the most effective way possible without causing harm. It will help you become a lean, mean fat-reducing machine.
Watch out for diabetic ketoacidosis
If you have diabetes or suspect you may have developed it, you’ll need to watch those ketone levels closely.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs when ketone levels in your body get too high, causing your blood to become more acidic. It generally occurs due to a lack of insulin or an infection/inflammation in peeps with diabetes.
(This is mega-different than nutritional ketosis. Ketone levels in DKA are typically much higher than those resulting from a keto diet, so there’s probably no need to worry if you’re sitting comfortably in the 0.5 to 3.0 mg/dL range.)
DKA is no joke. It can lead to coma or even death. It’s always best to speak with a healthcare professional before starting on a keto diet, especially if you have an underlying health condition. They can offer support, advice, and peace of mind ahead of your weight loss journey.
We go into more detail on the different between ketosis and DKA here.
Why do you even need to know ketone levels when you can track weight?
It’s important to track body weight in line with your health goals when trying a new eating or fitness plan for weight management. But weight gives you only part of the picture.
For example, muscle gains can add to your body weight but can be an indicator of improved overall health. So what gives?
Measuring your ketone level can let you know how effective your diet is and whether you need to make any changes to your meal plan. It shows you how well you’re burning fat.
It also actively demonstrates fat burning. So if you’re an aspiring beefcake, you can more accurately measure those gainz at the gym.
To hit the ideal ketosis level, you’re going to have to make some big changes to your daily eating habits.
Fear ye not! There are tons of delicious keto recipes out there, so you really won’t miss the carbs (at least not too much).
You’ll need to reduce your total carb intake to 20 to 50 grams per day to get the full benefit, depending on your overall calorie intake. The exact amount will vary from person to person, so you may need a little readjustment period to get it spot-on.
You can also buy exogenous ketones. (Erm… what now?) Although they sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, they’re really just ketone supplements that help raise your ketone levels.
Some research has found that these supplements can help top-level athletes improve their performance. But the jury’s still out on whether they can help Joe Public with general weight loss.
You’re probably better off sticking with just the keto diet. If a magic bullet solution in pill form seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Blood ketone meters
The most accurate way to check your ketone level is by using a blood ketone meter. If needles make you nervous or you’re prone to fainting at the sight of blood, this one probably isn’t for you.
These devices require using a lancet to take a pinprick of blood from your finger. The meter measures ketone levels in the teensy-weensy blood sample.
There are different types of ketones. But for weight loss, you’ll be focusing on the most common type, beta-hydroxybutyrate (which you will hopefully never have to say out loud).
You won’t need a fancy medical degree to work out how to use this meter. But it might not be the most practical option for use at home. You’ll also have to keep stocking up on lancets.
This video walks you through how to measure your ketone levels at home.
Urine and breath testing
Urine tests are less accurate than a blood ketone monitor. But they’re a great option if you’re scared of needles. They’re also a lot easier to use than all these newfangled electronic devices *waves fist in the air*.
And they’re super cost-effective: A pack of 100+ will cost you less than $10 (and they’re available online). You’ll have to buy more when you run out, though, so make sure you’re stocked up.
All you need for this to work is a full bladder and a test strip. The darker the strip, the more ketones present in your body. You don’t get an exact number to work with, but it gives you a sense of whether your low carb eating plan is having the desired effects.
If you’d rather not pee on a strip, a breath testing device could be a solid investment. This device measures the levels of acetones — components of ketones that remain after your body breaks them down — in your breath.
These devices are relatively new, and they’ll need some TLC and R&D before they’re 100 percent reliable on a mainstream level. But, again, they paint a picture of how your fat-burning plan is going.
Although you’ll have to fork over a chunk of change for a good one, they’re painless and don’t require any annoying attachments.
They’re still not as accurate as blood ketone meters. But they’ll definitely be good enough if you’re just keeping an eye on your rough ketone levels while losing a few pounds.
You’ll be looking for breath acetone levels between 2 and 40 ppm to indicate ketosis.
The time of day you take your test actually matters. For consistent results, it’s a good idea to pick a time and stick to it.
Choose a time when you’re not typically busy or out of the house. Set a reminder on your phone or calendar so you don’t lose track.
Don’t measure too soon after eating, either — this can really mess up your readings. A small 2016 study found that urine results were most accurate in the morning or several hours after dinner.
However, the most important factor is consistency.
You can test yourself every day, if that’s your vibe. But you shouldn’t be obsessing over it. Low carb dieting should support all-around healthy eating — it shouldn’t become your entire focus.
It might be a good idea to test more often during your first week of keto to make sure your body is in ketosis.
But some people don’t even test at all. It all depends on your health goals.
If you’re starting a keto diet to improve a medical condition, you might want to test before each meal. That way, you can make adjustments as the day goes on.
Once you’re in the swing of the diet, you probably won’t need to test so often. But those positive results may just give you the encouragement you need to keep going.
Keto isn’t for everyone, but loads of people are reaping the benefits of this low carb, high fat diet.
Checking your ketone levels can help you track your progress when starting your weight loss journey. It’s proof that your body is actively using fat for fuel instead of carbs.
And it doesn’t have to be a chore. Think of checking your levels as another useful tool for monitoring your health, not as something to fixate on.
A new diet is hard enough on its own, so relax. Enjoy the process and celebrate your progress. 👏