The ketogenic diet (or keto diet) is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet designed to help you achieve ketosis. It’s a natural metabolic state when you don’t get enough carbohydrates for energy and your body starts burning fat for fuel. While the ketogenic diet and other low-carb diets can help you lose weight faster, “keto breath” is an unwanted side effect of ketosis. Here’s what you need to know about keto breath, including causes and how to get rid of it.
What is Keto Breath?
Keto breath, also known as the ketosis breath, is an unwanted side effect of reducing carbohydrates in the diet. While keto breath is usually associated with ketogenic diets, it also occurs in any diet that involves reduced carbohydrates, such as zero-carb carnivore diet, Atkins diet, and low-carb Paleo diet.
Some people may view keto breath in a bad light similar to regular halitosis, but it is a sign that the keto diet is good for you – more specifically, it means your body is burning fat for energy.
Important note: Please note that for people with poorly managed type 1 or type 2 diabetes, keto breath can be a sign of very high ketone body levels, which increases their risk of developing ketoacidosis. In addition to dangerously high ketone bodies, these individuals also have high blood sugar levels.
What Causes Keto Breath?
Any diet that drastically cuts carbs, like keto, Atkins, and paleo, can cause bad breath.
These four steps help explain why keto breath happens:
- Glucose — your body’s primary energy source — is created when your digestive tract breaks down the carbs you eat.
- Cutting down on carbs forces your body to find alternative fuel sources for energy, usually fat. This is the metabolic state of ketosis.
- As your body breaks down fatty acids, it produces a byproduct called ketones, which are expelled from your body through your urine and your breath.
- One of the ketones produced is acetone, the main ingredient in nail polish remover. That’s why your breath could smell like nail polish.
Eating more protein can also cause bad breath because the breakdown of protein produces ammonia. So all that extra protein you’re eating means more ammonia in your stomach that can waft out through your esophagus and into your mouth.
Not everyone on a low-carb diet will have keto breath, but if you do, remember that it’s only temporary.
How Long does Keto Breath Last?
Some people on a ketogenic diet have never experienced ketogenic breath. For those with this condition, the smell can be troublesome. But ketogenic breath is temporary.
Within a few days or a week of starting a low-carb diet, you may notice a change in your breath. However, as your body adjusts to the lower carbohydrate intake, the odor will fade away. This may take a few weeks, and there are things you can do to freshen your breath during this time.
How to Get Rid of Keto Breath
There’s no need to quit a keto diet and revert to your old carb habits. Thankfully, there are natural remedies that mask keto breath smell. Check out these tips:
1. Follow a good oral hygiene routine.
Daily habits such as brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing between your teeth once a day can help reduce bad breath. You may also consider using a mouthwash, however, be sure to choose a sugar-free mouthwash.
If you are planning a dental exam, this is also a good opportunity to check for other dental causes of bad breath, such as dental caries. While completely unrelated to ketosis, this is part of your overall oral hygiene and should not be overlooked.
2. Chew sugar-free gum.
Sugar-free chewing gum can help mask your breath without adding too many calories to your diet. For example, regular gum contains 10 calories per serving, while the sugar-free version has only 5 calories and less than 2 grams of carbohydrates.
Chewing gum will help reduce hunger as your body tries to adapt to a low-carb diet. In a randomized crossover study, researchers found that subjects who chewed sugar-free gum had lower hunger on an empty stomach.
3. Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day.
Another way to reduce the smell of ketones in your mouth is to drink more water. The extra hydration allows your body to flush out ketone bodies through your urine.
Just remember to avoid over hydration. Drinking water all the time can disrupt your electrolyte levels. This can lead to low sodium levels, which can lead to headaches and loss of energy.
4. Try lowering your protein intake.
Bad breath may occur when you consume large amounts of protein at the beginning of your ketosis journey. Protein is made up of amino acids, and excess amino acids produce ammonia, which is exhaled through the breath.
You can reduce your protein intake slightly and focus on consuming more fat. This should help minimize the production of ammonia (which smells unpleasant) while also supporting your body through fat adaptation.
5. Gargle with lemon essential oil or sip lemon water.
Lemon has antibacterial properties that can remove bad breath. Studies have shown that the production of volatile sulfur compounds (VSC), which cause bad breath, is significantly inhibited by lemon essential oil.
To make lemon mouthwash, add three drops of lemon essential oil to the water and swish the mixture around in your mouth for 30 seconds. Alternatively, you can sip lemon water throughout the day. Place a thinly sliced lemon in a bottle and fill with room-temperature water.
6. Stay committed to your low-carb diet.
The real key to overcoming keto breath is to stick with the keto diet. Keto breath is only temporary and should go away as your body adjusts to this diet, which can happen within a month.
Just like sticking to any diet, you can plan your keto diet ahead by clearing your fridge of carbohydrate- and sugar-rich foods and keeping healthy snacks. It may help to remember the following: ketosis is a lifestyle, not a short-term fix.
A low-carb diet can help you lose weight faster, but keto breath is a side effect you can’t always ignore. If you’re determined to turn your body into a fat-burning machine, don’t give up on the diet. Between mints, gum and drinking more water, you may be able to mask the smell until the keto breath subsides.