Strange Keto Diet Side Effects & How to Fix Them

At Konscious Keto, we know it's impossible to miss the popularity of the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet. It seems like more and more people are adopting the lifestyle and reaping a myriad of health benefits on the plan, including accelerated weight loss.

But despite an abundance of upside to the diet, some experience strange side effects on keto that they'd rather avoid.

From preventing the keto flu to eliminating a bit of pungent breath when transitioning into ketosis, there are ways to reduce the adverse effects of living on increased levels of ketones for fuel.

Increased fatigue, brain fog and feelings of crankiness are symptoms some experience when transitioning the body from burning glucose (sugar) for fuel to running on fat and ketones, known to most as the 'keto flu.'

And some report experiencing a bit of body odor when shifting gears into metabolic ketosis, but we have some tips to prevent several of the strange side effects of running on ketones and we’ll share them below.  

Keto Flu

Synonymous with the low-carb, high-fat lifestyle and likely the most ominous possibility looming over those moving away from glucose-based fuel, the keto flu is a collection of unpleasant physical symptoms, and something we want to avoid if possible.

The symptoms some experience when transitioning to a ketogenic diet are the result of removing the majority of carbs and all refined sugars from the diet to establish metabolic ketosis.

Once we reduce sugar and carbs and deplete our glycogen stores, the body in its infinite wisdom knows to seek alternative fuel to sustain the healthy functioning of the body.

As our body converts from sourcing sugar to relying on premium fat for fuel, it begins to produce increased ketone bodies to support the health and development of the body and brain.

The body then releases increased fluid in the absence of carbs and increased presence of ketones, mostly through urination, breath, and sweat.

Noting the increased fluid release is essential because the body purges electrolytes, vitamins and minerals, along with water weight when glycogen stores are emptied—creating a need for us to focus on staying hydrated and replenishing nutrients as a primary goal, to sustain our well-being.

In addition to drinking plenty of H2O, sipping on some savory bone broth or enjoying a chlorella-rich green smoothie are all excellent food options to help mitigate the symptoms of the keto flu during those initial days on the program.

Good news is that most report 'flu' symptoms subsiding after a week, sometimes slightly longer, if coming away from a Standard American Diet that's filled with refined sugars, trans fats and processed foods.

Kidneys  

Eating a ketogenic diet is about more than loading up on bacon and butter, although we welcome those foods too!

But honestly, paying close attention to getting dense nutrition and replenishing vital minerals like magnesium, sodium and potassium is essential to prevent kidney damage.

The body can become deprived of nutrients when on keto if not mindful of replenishing essential elements, including water.

So, a combination of sipping spring water and concentrating on eating an abundance of dark leafy greens will help support kidney health and function.

Hydration seems like merely a matter of thirst, but it can be indicative of broader issues. Dehydration can be problematic and may result in a variety of health issues from kidney stones and kidney injury, to lightheadedness.

Also, the noted health challenges dehydration and the depletion of electrolytes may cause can increase the risk of cardiac arrhythmia—which can be life-threatening as it may lead to an irregular heartbeat.

Liver

You may know that ketosis improves communication between the liver and pancreas concerning insulin regulation, but emerging research also shows that a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diets are reversing the symptoms of a fatty liver.

Preventing a fatty liver is essential because it reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases like cirrhosis, liver cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Furthermore, research conducted by the University of Gothenburg has shown that two weeks of following a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet is effective at reversing the adverse effects of fatty liver disease—even with minimal amounts of weight loss.

The health benefits possible when eating a ketogenic, whole food-centered diet is a huge draw, particularly as it relates to liver health.

Understanding how the foods you eat impact liver health is essential to comprehend because a lack of best practices here have resulted in approximately 1 out of every 10 adolescents in Europe as well as the US suffering from fatty liver side effects today.

Consider adopting a ketogenic diet, abundant in low-glycemic vegetables and fruits and grass-fed or wild-caught protein sources, to sustain liver health and improve communication between it and other organs in the body.

Increased Cholesterol   

Eating a ketogenic diet may increase cholesterol, but that would be HDL or 'good cholesterol,' and this increase helps to lower triglycerides and blood glucose, unlike LDL or 'bad cholesterol.'

Further, a recent study conducted on 83 participants demonstrated that the significant improvements in healthy cholesterol and glucose health make a ketogenic diet more sustainable long-term than initially thought.

Focus on eating phytonutrients by including mounds of sautéed dark leafy greens to a serving of seared, wild-caught salmon.

Also, make an effort to balance your intake of foods full of omega-3 to those with less desirable omega-6, often found in processed foods and many refined vegetable oils (e.g., canola, soybean oil, etc.), to keep cholesterol levels optimal.

Keto Breath  

Our body makes three ketone compounds as the body metabolizes fat for fuel, known as endogenous ketones. The ketones the body produces are acetone, acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB).

Increased ketones can help torch calories, but some also report a touchy symptom—intense, possibly fruity and nail polish-like smelling, breath.

Once we reduce our consumption of carbs and refined sugars, our bodies begin to produce more ketone bodies and this can lead to the releasing of unneeded ketones through the breath and urine, mostly acetone.

Fortunately, the oral odor is often short-lived and a symptom that tends to fade about a week into living a sugarfree life.

Nutrient Deficiencies  

Just as we can be junk-food 'carbatarians'—eating a lot of carbs but few veggies—in what would appear to be an otherwise healthy dietary protocol with keto—it's possible to eat unhealthy fats, maintain ketosis, but be devoid of nutrition.

Although subsisting on strictly butter and bacon is delicious and technically appropriate in the context of a ketogenic, low-carb, high-fat diet, it's an approach that leaves much to be desired in the way of offering complete or dense nutrition all on their own.

Taking a plant-centered or a plant-based approach, that may or may not include animal products but instead focuses on the importance of eating to acquire adequate vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, is ideal.

Also, many find that reducing carbs drastically eliminates fiber in the diet, which can lead to constipation and other digestive challenges. As with anything, balance is key to success, and this is true when implementing a ketogenic diet.

Thankfully, there are a plethora of animal or plant-based foods that fit well within your macros and help regulate glucose to produce fat loss.

Eat colorful and vibrant, low-glycemic produce like kale and zucchini, or bell peppers, to create a well-crafted menu plan as focused on flavor as it is rich in nutrition.

Here are some excellent keto-friendly food options to ensure a diet complete in its nutritional profile:

Iron

Those eating a Standard American Diet filled with processed foods may find themselves lacking in iron. However, the good news is there's a wide variety of iron-rich food available that are low on sugar and carbs, too.

Consider adding convenient options like pumpkin seeds, spinach, shellfish, liver, other organ meats, and grass-fed (80/20) beef as excellent sources of iron that will not spike glucose.

Potassium

People often think of reaching for a banana to fulfill their daily suggested potassium requirement, but a fatty fruit like avocado is a much better option on keto—especially since it towers in nutritional value over bananas, offering 141 mg to 100 mg respectively, for a one-ounce serving.

In addition to enjoying slices of delicious avocado: Brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms are also fantastic sources of potassium with a minimal impact on glucose.

Magnesium

You may know that the body needs this mineral but are unsure of which sources are best on keto.

Luckily, enjoying a hemp seed and chia pudding or eating a bar of stevia-sweetened dark chocolate are fantastic ways to insert this vital mineral into your keto meal plan.

Manganese

There is some nutritional overlap with the nutrient-dense foods on the list, and many magnesium-rich foods are packed with the vital mineral manganese, as well.

Enjoy keto-friendly foods like avocado, spinach, pumpkin seeds, chard or fatty fish like mackerel, also rich in omega-3s, to ensure a well-rounded supply of manganese to support metabolism, regulate blood sugar and even provide an antioxidative, anti-inflammatory effect—helping to prevent many chronic diseases.

Calcium

A fundamental component in the formation and health of teeth and bones, calcium is essential to proper development and wellness.

Furthermore, this electrolyte and necessary mineral also help with blood clotting, proper cellular communication and regulating blood pressure.

Baking a loaf of hearty bread with almond flour and topping a slice with an ounce of cheddar cheese is a quick way to get in some much-needed calcium. Go ahead and top that tasty tapas with a little mackerel paté, even better still.

Also, adding a broccoli stir-fry or some sautéed spinach to the menu throughout the week is another way to include more calcium-rich foods in your diet—there are many low-sugar options.

B Vitamins

Some dietary plans, by design or default, tend to omit adequate amounts of B vitamins if entire food groups are restricted—a vegan diet comes to mind.

But there are simple ways to eat sufficient amounts of B vitamins on a ketogenic diet because the dietary style relies considerably on eating dark leafy greens and protein for sustenance.

Deficiencies in B vitamins can cause some significant psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, anger, confusion and paranoia.

Furthermore, symptoms like sleep issues, heart palpitations, tingling in the hands and feet, and even difficulty with walking, are linked to low levels of B vitamins.

Eating dark leafy greens and grass-fed beef should do the trick to ensure your B vitamin levels are intact. 

Metallic Taste  

A significant increase in ketone bodies can produce a metallic taste in the mouth and even cause strong and fruity-smelling breath, that may resemble in fragrance to nail polish remover.

Fortunately, the noted metallic taste and fruity breath are generally short-lived.

The smell of your breath and body should return to normal within a week or so after starting keto.

Maybe, tote around some mints and lemon mineral water, to cap the acetone fragrance, as not to offend.    

Body Odor  

Similar to keto breath, increased body odor when on a low-carb, high-fat diet can be an unexpected and unwelcome side effect.  

If your scent is clearing the room or getting you odd looks from colleagues and loved ones alike, it can be a delicate topic to address and quite embarrassing to experience.

While a bit of a bother, experiencing pungent body odor on a ketogenic diet is a good thing as it signals a release of toxins, along with body fat. Here are three common reasons you may experience some bothersome B.O. on keto and how to fix it:

Cause #1. An abundance of ketones

A boost in ketone production is synonymous with ketosis and a good sign that the body has entered the fat-burning metabolic state of ketosis.

However, when we drastically cut the carbs out of our diet, we start to produce increased ketone bodies (r.e., hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate, and acetone).

And the intensity of smell excreted in ones' urine, breath, and sweat can vary from person to person, depending on the number of ketones produced.

Cause #2. Keto detox

Weight loss and releasing toxins found in fat cells called persistent organic pollutants produces a form of detoxification that can create an unpleasant body odor.

As we mentioned, toxins release from fat cells into the bloodstream, breath, urine, and sweat glands, and this means we can get a bit stinky—breath mints and your favorite fragrances will come in handy to keep you smelling fresh as you transition to ketosis.

Cause #3. Pungent effects of protein

By definition, a ketogenic diet advises eating large amounts of fat, moderate protein, and low carbs.

However, if following a high-protein diet, you may find that the breaking down of amino acids produces a smell similar to ammonia which can release an unpleasant odor through the skin if a build-up occurs in the body.

What to do: Aside from getting past the process of fat-adaptation and staying in metabolic ketosis, there's not much we can do to prevent some level of increased body odor when transitioning into a state of nutritional ketosis.

You may need to shower and refresh your deodorant more frequently while you become fat-adapted to avoid an embarrassing smelly situation among friends or family.

Some also find salt baths helpful in tamping out body odor, and taking them every day is worth a try until fully fat-adapted.

Here's a simple Epsom bath recipe you can whip up in minutes to convert your bathroom into a bonafide spa to keep you smelling fresh:

  • 1/4 cup, Epsom salt
  • 1/4 cup, Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 cup, baking soda
  • 1/3 cup, apple cider vinegar
  • 10-15 drops, lavender essential oil (use whichever oil you prefer)

Summary  

Body odor can make you very self-conscious and may inspire a desire to stay home and avoid the public.

But before you resign yourself to become a hermit until you're fat-adapted, consider the tips noted above to keep your body smelling clean and welcoming while you work on achieving ketosis.

Also, it's essential to keep a close eye on consuming an adequate amount of vitamins, minerals, water, and electrolytes on a ketogenic diet to avoid nutrient deficiencies and stay hydrated—also a great game plan to prevent the keto flu.

Create a balanced meal plan void of carbs and refined sugars, and consider getting started over a long weekend to give your body some time to begin detoxing in the privacy of your home—a judgment-free zone.

Once you remove carbs and sugars, you'll find yourself in a state of metabolic ketosis before long.

And trust us, the accelerated shedding of body fat, increased energy, and enhanced mental sharpness are a few compelling benefits of metabolic ketosis that will make the challenges of the transition well worth the effort.

Sources

  1. Fife, B. (2017). Ketone therapy: The ketogenic cleanse and anti-aging diet. Colorado Springs, CO: Piccadilly Books.
  2. Nally, A. S., Moore, J., & Emmerich, M. (2018). The keto cure: A low-carb high-fat dietary solution to heal your body & optimize your health. Las Vegas: Victory Belt Publishing.

  3. Vranceanu, M. (2017). Long term effects of a ketogenic diet with Mav Ketofast pro supplements in obese postmenopausal women. International Journal of Growth and Development, 1(1), 33. doi:10.25081/ijgd.2017.v1i1.34

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