Your body naturally loves carbohydrates. They provide it with energy, comfort, and delight, and can, therefore, be very addictive. This “addiction”, like any other addiction, has some health risks. Consuming too many carbs increases the risk of diabetes and heart diseases. But what happens when you suddenly deprive your body of its precious carbs? When you cut carbs abruptly, your body begins to experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced when you cut back on a particular drug, like alcohol. That’s why many people are attracted to the idea of cutting carbs. But things don’t always go very smoothly. In this blog post, we’ll be discussing some of the causes of keto flu, as well as the best ways to follow a ketogenic while avoiding it.
What is keto flu
Keto flu is not really a flu. It’s not dangerous, but it can be a very unpleasant experience. Its symptoms may appear two to seven days after starting a ketogenic diet. The symptoms include fatigue, headache, nausea, difficulty sleeping, muscle cramps, dizziness, brain fog, constipation, and sugar craving. These symptoms are not exclusive to ketogenic diets, however; some patients describe similar symptoms after cutting back on processed foods or after following an anti-inflammatory diet. Luckily, these symptoms are temporary and you’ll start feeling better soon.
What causes the keto flu?
Electrolyte imbalance is the primary cause of keto flu. Electrolytes are defined as minerals that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. They are critical for your bodily functions, as they regulate the amount of water in your body, pH levels, moving nutrients into cells, moving waste out of cells, and making sure your nerves, muscles and brain work properly. When you deprive your body of carbohydrates, a metabolic change happens in the body as it begins to breakdown stored fat as energy. During this process water is released causing your kidneys to flush out excess water and sodium. Your kidneys also release any extra calcium, magnesium, and potassium in order to keep the balance between them and sodium. Without enough sodium, potassium, calcium, or magnesium in your body, you start to experience signs of keto flu.
Sudden change in fuel source
One of the main reasons you get keto flu is that your body is still transitioning from burning sugar to burning fat. The sudden switch from a high-carb diet to a low-carb diet lowers your insulin level. This change in fuel source is very good for your body and is one of the major goals of the ketogenic diet. When insulin levels in your body are low, your liver starts to convert fat into ketones, then your cells use that for fuel instead of glucose, putting your body in a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when your body starts to mainly use fat and ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates and sugar.
Eating carbohydrates provides your body with energy. However, if you eat more carbohydrates than you burn, your body stores the extra carbohydrates as glycogen in the liver and muscles, where they are bound to water molecules. Low carb intake depletes this glycogen and this why you burn fat instead. But this also means that your body is storing less water and risks being dehydrated. Keep in mind that if you drink a lot of water without any replenishment of electrolytes, you may dilute electrolytes in your body and possibly make your flu even worse. That’s why you should address them both at the same time.
Because sugar is highly addictive, a sudden cut in sugar during the switch to a keto diet can shock your body and cause withdrawal symptoms. You may experience depression, cravings, insomnia, anxiety, and more. The effects of this condition can make any other symptoms of keto flu caused by electrolyte imbalance even worse.
Eat different dietary fats
Choosing certain kinds of fats, such as olive oil, can reduce the risk of keto flu symptoms. If you experience abdominal symptoms on the keto diet, it is recommended that you change the types of dietary fats you take in. Eating more sources of long-chain triglycerides such as olive oil, rather than those of medium-chain triglycerides, such as butter and coconut oil, can reduce your risk of experiencing diarrhea, cramps, and vomiting when going on the keto diet.
How to avoid keto flu
Gradually eliminate carbs
Removing carbs from your diet all at once gives your body a hard time adapting from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fats instead. The key is to gradually transition from your regular diet to a keto diet. First, you should slowly eliminate processed carbs, then grains and finally fruits and starchy vegetables. This will make it easier for your body to accept and adjust to the new diet.
Increase Your Electrolyte Intake
When you stop eating processed foods and carbs, which are loaded with salt, your water retention drops. But naturally, your body flushes out electrolytes along with excess water. Try to keep electrolyte levels high by adding salt to your food based on the daily recommended salt intake. Healthy Himalayan Pink salt may be a good option.
Drink more water
If you’re not careful, excess water flushed out of your body can cause dehydration, especially if you have diarrhea, then the risk of dehydration is even higher. The result is that some unpleasant symptoms may appear, like nausea, fatigue, and headaches. If you’re unsure whether you drink enough water, the color of your urine should tell you. The more hydrated you are, the clearer it gets.
Vitamins and minerals
To avoid the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, your body should receive an adequate amount of zinc, vitamin D, selenium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. You can ensure this happens by either taking supplements or eating rich sources of those minerals and vitamins. To maintain a good fluid balance, eat more foods that are high in potassium, like salmon, greens, nuts, and avocado. Taking magnesium supplements should also help, but don’t go overboard with it so you don’t get dehydrated. Eat more bone broth with a little added salt and spices as a soup or drink it out of a mug.
Eat More Fiber
Going on a keto diet might cause constipation or diarrhea, so it is recommended to eat more fiber sources, like vegetables. Fiber supplements should also be fine. You can take carbohydrate-free laxatives in the case of constipation if these changes didn’t work.
Be Aware of Your Blood Sugar
People who have diabetes and take insulin may experience episodes of low blood sugar when following the keto diet. It’s best to be aware of this risk and always seek advice from your doctor first. The doctor may control and modify insulin intake accordingly. You will find a large reduction on the amount of insulin you need on a Keto diet.