What makes the Ketogenic diet so different from many other diets is the emphasis on getting the body to enter a state known as ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body begins to burn ketones as an alternative fuel source when the body is low on carbohydrates. For those who begin a Ketogenic, getting the body into a state of ketosis is the goal. But not everyone on this diet is fully aware of what a ketone is, what ketones do, and what it all means for the human body.
Understanding of this information can help you be aware of how your new diet will work with your body’s systems to promote overall wellness.
Where do Ketones Come From?
Otherwise known as “ketone bodies,” ketones are created and burned as an alternative energy source within the human body. On a typical diet, the body burns carbohydrates to create the energy that it needs to function at optimal levels. On a low-carbohydrate Ketogenic diet, however, the body needs something else to give itself this energy. The goal is to get your body burning excess fat for this purpose. Ketones are the byproducts of this fat-burning process.
Ketones are produced when carbohydrates aren’t present enough to act as an adequate source of energy. While this can occur after prolonged exercise or due to fasting, the purpose of the Ketogenic diet is specifically to run on ketones within the body.
What Kinds of Ketones are Produced with the Ketogenic Diet?
There are three different kinds of ketones that are produced within the human body as a response to low carbohydrate levels:
- Acetone – Created spontaneously from acetoacetate, and is the least-used ketone in the human body.
- Beta-hydroxybutyric acid (or BHB) – Formed from acetoacetate.
- Acetoacetate (or AcAc) – The first ketone created when the body begins to burn fatty reserves for energy.
BHB and AcAc are primarily responsible for transporting energy to other areas of body from the liver. Acetone is frequently purged from the body via urine or breath, particularly when the body is not desperate for a ketone to burn for energy. If you have ever experienced fruity or sweet-smelling breath while on the Ketogenic diet, acetone is the reason why.
How Can You Test Your Body for Ketone Levels?
Anyone on a Ketogenic diet should understand that there is a degree of monitoring necessary to ensure proper health on their dietary journey. Many rely on testing these levels to notify themselves of when their bodies have entered ketosis. There are numerous ways to go about testing one’s ketone levels, including lab-based tests that are the most accurate. However, you can test your own ketone levels with more inexpensive and convenient methods.
Understanding Ketone Levels
The amount of ketones present in the body can vary wildly, starting at zero, and are measured by millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
- Negative ketone levels are between 0 and 0.6 mmol/L
- Low to moderate ketone levels reside between 0.6 to 1.5 mmol/L
- High ketone levels are between 1.5 and 3.0 mmol/L
- Very high ketone levels are more than 3.0 mmol/L
Ketone Level Testing Methods
There are several ways that you can check your blood, urine or breath for ketone levels. Below we will rank the most common methods, from most accurate to least. If you are ever uncertain of your readings, or don’t trust any methods performed outside of a lab, you can have your ketone levels tested in a professional, medical environment.
Blood testing with a blood glucose meter is the most effective way that you can check your ketone levels on your own. A lancet pen draws a small amount of blood, which is then placed upon a testing strip. The ketone BHB, which we discussed above, is most present in a person’s blood.
Urine testing via urine strips is not the most accurate way to check your ketone levels, however, they are the most inexpensive option. Because of the low cost associated with this method of testing, this could be ideal for dieters who want to test themselves often. All you have to do is urinate on a strip and then check the corresponding color that it turns.
The final, and quite possibly least effective way of checking one’s own ketone levels, is via a breath meter. It is best to pair this method with either blood or urine testing for the sake of accuracy and peace of mind.
When discussing low-carbohydrate diets like the Ketogenic diet, the word “ketones” gets thrown around a lot with little definition or information. For you to safely and effectively utilize this diet to your benefit, you will want to test your ketone levels and know what levels are effective and healthy.