If you’re wondering what are ketones, you’re in the right place. Ketone bodies, or ketones, are a byproduct of your body breaking down its central fat reserve into fuel. This process, called ketosis, occurs when carbohydrates are restricted.
For people on a ketogenic diet, the purpose of restricting carbohydrates is to force ketone production to enable your metabolism to switch from carbs to fat for fuel.
This is an interesting observation, as unlike other nutritional diets, which depend on an age-old and tiresome calorie-in-calorie-out method to achieve fat loss, being in a state of ketosis very naturally burns fat.
The act of going into ketosis means changing your metabolism, and with it, the fuel source your body thrives on.
Ketosis means pulling fat from the reserves, to make your body do all of its everyday functions.
So now, instead of eating a high-carb diet and working out at the gym, you can permanently be in a fat-burning state of ketosis.
When this happens, your body sends ketone bodies around the blood system to vital organs and tissue cells, and most importantly, the brain.
Yes, the keto diet might be touted as a weight loss miracle, but for many people, just the brain-boosting abilities - the cognitive response of eating a high-fat diet is life-changing. More on this in a moment.
The Three Types of Ketones
First, let’s take a look at the different types of ketones.
There are three kinds of ketones, of which, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are responsible for taking energy from the liver to the tissues around the body.
Acetone, the third ketone, is the least used and is a spontaneous side-effect of acetoacetate (1).
While you might think that energy emanates from a central location, the process of moving energy to where it needs to go is a fantastic network of events.
First, you must eat foods rich in high-quality, oily fats like salmons, avocado, fatty red meat, and coconut or MCT oils.
During the process of ketogenesis, acetoacetate is the first ketone that’s created. This occurs when the body breaks down fatty acids. Beta-hydroxybutyrate is the next up and is formed from acetoacetate.
Technically, this BHB is not a ketone, but the body treats it like one, so we count it.
Finally, acetone is the least produced and is also the least used ketone body.
Interestingly, acetone can cause an odor on the breath or from the body; this is when you hear people say they are “leaking ketones.”
What they mean is they are in an intense state of ketosis and have produced all three levels of ketones.
If the acetone is not needed for energy (you don’t go to the gym or go for a walk), your body breaks it down and dispels it from the body in other ways, making it a great indication you’re in ketosis.
Ketones and the Brain
The brain is finally becoming better understood, and is the central hub for our wellness, and will tell your body when to eat, sleep, and everything else.
The first thing to understand about the brain is not that the brain works better on ketones (it does), but that our brains are a selfish organ that is only out to please itself.
The brain gets feedback from the organs and is mostly only ever looking for a pat on the back.
So now the grand illusion of a selfless brain is over, it’s time to meet who our brain is and how it functions.
Our brains love fat, and they like to gorge.
They are hungry and devour quantities of rich, fat. They are much happier when they’re fed, and will make you and everyone around you unhappy if they are starved.
And, let me tell you, carbs just do not hit the spot.
Our brains only want fats.
It’s no wonder that your brain is one of the hungriest organs in your body – more than 80 billion neurons are sending and receiving electrical signals 24 hours a day, creating complex thoughts and emotions.
Even when you are asleep, neurons in your brain are busy sending a flurry of electrical signals from one region to the next, consolidating memories and information from the previous day.
To put things in perspective:
Your brain occupies only 2% of your body weight but consumes about 20% of your body’s oxygen and up to 50% of your body’s glucose.
When threatened by low blood glucose, your brain is starved for fuel, resulting in confusion, lightheadedness, a loss of balance, slurred speech, and impaired vision. This state is called hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose.
When you consume a ketogenic diet, the by-product of burning fat is ketones. These can pass over the blood-brain barrier, and enable your body to be flooded with fuel.
So, instead of feeling rotten, the ketogenic diet gives you a heightened sense of euphoria and plenty of energy to boot.
Why Do We Need Ketones?
If you’re wondering what all the hype with the keto diet is, and why everyone wants to be in ketosis, it’s time to take a quick trip into the history books.
Humans haven’t always eaten grain; until recently, most humans ate very little grain at all.
Historically, humans thrived on a high-fat diet, until around the time of the industrial revolution. When people realized how cheap and delicious grain was to produce, along came the grocery market boom of processed foods.
Processing foods, on the surface, is not inherently wrong. It’s how we choose to process foods that are causing all these problems.
When we make grain-based foods, there is a simple rule: if you add carbs, remove fat and if you add fat, remove carbs.
One thing we can all agree on is that eating a high-carb, high-fat diet will kill you.
So, a choice had to be made. As fat is so nutrient dense, and expensive, it was easy to see the winner.
Grains are a staple in the American diet, and kids learn about the food pyramid in pre-school, but this is not the same information other children learn about nutrition and is not how people from one hundred years ago lived.
Throughout history, we have been hunter-gatherers, often going days without food.
Fat is an ideal source of energy as we can easily store fat (hello fat gains!), but when in a state of ketosis, we can also use fat fast.
When we switched to grains, and cereals, bread, and pasta, we took our bodies out of the state of ketosis and stopped producing ketones.
Our brains became foggy, and we blamed it on stress.
Our waistline expanded and we blamed it on lack of exercise.
Our heart conditions and diabetes epidemic overtook the nation, and we blamed it on fat.
The sad truth is we lost our relationship with our ketone bodies.
How to Test Ketone Levels
If you’re following a ketogenic diet, you’re sure to have experienced the rush of knowing if you are in ketosis or not.
For many, this is an exciting time of exploration, and testing your ketones is a surefire way to know if you made it into the fat-burning club or not.
Before we go into the ways you can test ketone levels, let’s first take a look at some of the ways you can tell - or feel - you are in ketosis:
- Weird breath - the short-term keto breath is real and is our friend acetone at play
- Sudden weight loss - usually water weight, but it can be staggering
- Appetite suppression - the desire to eat becomes smaller and smaller
- Increased focus and energy - you feel more alert and attentive
- Short-term fatigue - similarly, you can feel exhausted in spurts
- Insomnia - some people experience short-term insomnia
In most cases, these symptoms are very brief, and may go hand-in-hand with keto flu; this is just a normal, transitional time as your metabolism changes from burning glucose to ketones.
If you recall what it was like learning how to drive, it took you a few times to get your foot on the gas pedal smoothly. But once you got it, oh the places you could go!
Ketosis is very much the same, and the more time you spend there, the more familiar it becomes.
Over time, your body will become fat-adapted. This means it will stop looking for sugar and carbs for energy and instead, look for fat. This process, unlike ketosis, can take a few weeks to refine really.
So you can be in ketosis, but not be fat-adapted.
Many people experience a euphoric surge when they finally transition over. But as these symptoms are hard to put the finger on, many people prefer to use more definite ways to test their ketone levels.
There are three ways to test ketone levels:
Urine Ketone Levels
The first and most affordable option is to use urine strips to check ketone levels. These strips go into the flow of urine and can detect if ketones are present.
The strip will change color and will become darker if more ketones are present. However, this can be an unreliable way to measure ketone levels over the long-term.
In some cases, urine strips can expire (especially when left out in a damp bathroom), and they do not definitively say if you are in ketosis or not.
Also, your body becomes fat-adapted, which means it refines the process of using ketones. Therefore, you have less to pee out.
So if you had ketones, and didn’t change your regimen, and now you have no ketones, you may be adapted (or you may have old urine strips).
Pros: Can buy them at the pharmacy. Cheap. Easy to use.
Cons: Not very reliable. Seem to stop working if fat-adapted. Need a lot.
You can buy strips form:
- Smackfat ketone urine strips
Either way, many people coming into ketosis start with the urine strips, which costs around 10 cents per test, and then eventually move to the breath or blood tests for more accurate results.
Breath Testing Ketone Levels
Next up, we have the breath testing kits to measure ketone levels. These are interesting as they can be reliable, depending on the brand, and appear to be an area where medical application developers are putting the most time and effort into their research.
It’s believed that in a few years, there could be a breathalyzer on the market that can 100% tell you ketone levels in the body.
For now, breath testing meters are about 90% reliable, which makes them a lot more accurate than the humble urine strip.
Breath ketone meters measure the ketone by-product acetone on the breath and is a good indicator of ketone activity.
They range in price from about $60-$100 or more and are an ideal workaround for people who don’t want to prick their finger for blood.
Pros: More definitive results. Pretty accurate.
Cons: Can be expensive.
Some brands include:
- Ketonix breath ketone meter
- Fora 6 blood ketone meter
Blood Testing Ketone Levels
If you want to know for sure precisely what your ketone levels are, look no further than a blood ketone meter.
These kits can cost around $40-$80 and usually double up as a sugar level meter, making them an excellent choice for people who want to track their sugar and ketone levels in one device.
Blood testing is currently the most accurate way to track your ketone levels as it is the only way to diagnose the blood.
Pros: Gives you the most accurate answer.
Cons: Requires a blood sample. Can be expensive to use long-term.
BLOOD KETONE KITS INCLUDE:
- Keto Mojo blood ketone meter
- Fora 6 Bluetooth Blood Ketone Meter and Glucose Monitor
- Precision Xtra blood ketone meter and glucose monitor
Whatever method you choose, make sure you purchase your devices from a reputable store and make sure the seals are intact.
No one way is better than any other way when it comes to keto; it’s whatever works best for you.
Finally, we want to move the conversation on to the last part of the call.
This is when you track the ketone bodies and notice a severe influx.
Optimal Ketone Levels
Where are good ketone levels?
This is a considerable cause for conversation, but many people believe that somewhere in the range of 1.5 or 3 is considered optimal ketosis; anything under 1.5 is not enough to be in ketosis and anything above three is not any more effective at burning fat.
But there is a case in which a reading might go suddenly way off the chart - above 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10… all the way to 20. This is when we hit ketoacidosis. More on this soon.
Levels of ketones in the body can be anywhere from zero to very high, and they are measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
Below are the general ranges, but keep in mind that test results can and do vary person-to-person and even from day-to-day.
The optimal ketone level ranges:
- Negative ketone level: less than 0.6 mmol
- Low to moderate ketone level: between 0.6 to 1.5 mmol
- High ketone level: 1.6 to 3.0 mmol
- Very high ketone level: greater than 3.0 - 5.0 mmol
As you can see, ketone levels do not go very high measurements. To improve your results, moderate exercise and restricted carbohydrates, or a BHB supplement can help.
Ketone Warning Levels
If you talk to a person with diabetes, you might hear them say that the ketogenic diet is completely dangerous as it causes ketoacidosis.
While this word sounds like it is to do with the keto diet because it does start with "keto," it is nothing to be alarmed by for most people.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a condition diabetic suffer from when ketone productions are too high - the normal range is around 1.5-5 ketone bodies for people in ketosis. In DKA, people with diabetes go to more than 20 ketone bodies.
As you may know, if you’ve tried to get into ketosis, it can be staggeringly tricky at times to get into a more profound state of ketosis. Most people can’t ever get up past readings of 3mmol/L, so 20 is always off the charts for most people.
That said, diabetic ketoacidosis is a severe and life-threatening condition. It often happens very quickly, within 24 hours, and is categorized by high ketones and high blood sugar levels in the blood at the same time.
For most people to get into ketosis, they have to all but eliminate sugar so the concept of having ketones and sugar present cannot happen in ketosis; this is a signal of an altogether different condition specific to diabetics.
Many people with diabetes are not looking to the ketogenic diet as a sustainable way to keep their blood sugar levels in check and support insulin resistance, and reduce inflammation; some of the side-effects of diabetes.
The keto diet can help reduce the glucose absorption in the brain, the root of what causes diabetes (2).
So don’t be alarmed because the words sound alike, instead, talk to your doctor and see if this is a lifestyle you wish to adopt.
Fueling Your Life with Ketones
When it comes to deciding if the ketogenic diet is right for you, the best way is to start by asking what ketones are and what can they do for me.
Once you understand these benefits, getting into and staying in ketosis becomes an exciting and fulfilling accomplishment that can lead to weight loss and many improved health qualities.
Ketones are our natural allies, and it’s exciting to see more people going back to how nature intended us to live.
However, we fully realize and respect that the keto diet is not for everyone.
But if you’re still sitting on the fence and unsure if tracking ketones is for you, you should know that they are not necessary for success.
Many people only track out of interest and general excitement. If you consume fewer than 20 net carbs per day then it’s advisable, generally, that you are in ketosis; no further work is needed.
But let’s say that ketosis is an exhilarating ride and you’ll want to do all this and more.
The best way to ensure a supercharged experience is to add Keto Activate to your daily regimen to naturally boost your ketone production.
Each single scoop serving has 12g of BHBs, which are proven to put your body into a state of ketosis within hours.
We can’t wait to hear about your keto success story!