The foundation of a successful ketogenic or low carb high fat (LCHF) lifestyle is understanding the effects of ketones on the body.
While ketones are always present in the bloodstream, ketone production in the liver increases during strenuous exercise or in the absence of blood sugar, which moves the body toward a state of ketosis.
Typically, the body relies on a combination of glucose and fat as a fuel source. As a simple carbohydrate, the body gets its glucose from eating foods such as bread, dairy products and fruits. The ketogenic diet restricts these foods to help the body enter a healthy, sustained state of ketosis.
The purpose of ketosis is to transport energy from the liver to the rest of the body, but did you know there are different types of ketones? To help you live a successful keto or LCHF lifestyle, we’ll break down the science behind the types of ketones, how they affect the body and how to test for ketones.
What Are Ketones?
After fasting or following a very low-carb diet for a period of time, the body is deprived of glucose and insulin levels are reduced, which forces the body to burn fat from ketones as fuel.
As a result, large amounts of acetyl CoA molecules lead to the formation of three types of ketone bodies – beta-hydroxybutyrate, acetoacetate and acetone – in a process known as ketogenesis.
How Are Ketones Formed in Your Body?
During the hunter-gatherer era, our ancestors relied on ketones as their primary source of energy.
Fortunately, today, we can mimic these metabolic conditions to create ketones.
The Science Behind Ketone Production
The process of converting stored body fat into ketones is called ketogenesis.
Here’s how your body makes ketones:
When your body doesn’t have enough glucose for fuel – for example, during a very low-carb diet, fasting or exercise – your body burns its stored fat.
Fatty acids are released and transported to the liver, where they are converted into Ketones. The main ketone bodies are acetoacetic acid (AcAc) and beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB), while the third and least abundant is acetone (Ace).
When you become effective at making the right amount of ketones to burn fat and use these ketone bodies for energy, it means that you have adapted to fat.
Are Ketones Bad?
The presence of ketones is usually a good thing. In fact, your body is constantly making small amounts of ketones. Ketone bodies are always present, and they usually increase when there is a glucose shortage.
However, in some cases, ketone body levels may exceed levels that are considered safe. This can happen in people with diabetes, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (which is more common in people with type 1 diabetes than type 2 diabetes).
How to Test Your Ketone Levels
Considering a ketogenic or LCHF lifestyle? It is important to know how to test your ketone levels because this will help you determine if your body is reaching a state of ketosis. It can also help you understand how the keto diet, supplements and exercise affect your body.
In order to maintain ketosis, ketone levels need to remain high, especially the level of BHB. While each person may respond differently, in general, BHB levels between 1.4 and 3.0 mM are optimal levels to support weight loss. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
The first three ways to test for different types of ketone bodies are by:
Breath tests are most effective for measuring acetone, which is present in the breath of patients with ketosis.
Blood tests are the best way to measure BHB levels. Given the important role that BHB plays in a successful keto lifestyle, a simple blood test with a blood ketone meter, which uses a test strip like a glucometer, may provide the best results.
Urine tests are less expensive, but not as accurate as blood tests. Ketones are carried primarily in the blood, which is why a blood test is the most effective if you want to get the best results.
When the body’s glucose levels are low, ketones are formed as a source of energy. In healthy individuals without any problems with insulin function, nutritional ketosis is not usually a dangerous condition. However, in people with diabetes, the presence of ketones increases the risk of DKA and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
If you want to achieve nutritional ketosis, you should be aware that the long-term effects of this diet are not well understood and that you may need additional nutritional support.