The ketogenic lifestyle is rapidly becoming one of the most popular dietary systems for those looking to lose weight, control blood sugar, combat diabetes, and improve mental and physical performance. While the keto diet is widely recognized as safe and beneficial for most people, some individuals experience certain mild side effects, especially when first starting the diet. The most common side effect is probably the combination of fatigue, irritability, headaches, and brain fog often called the “keto flu.”
Many people never experience the keto flu, and for those that do, it typically goes away on its own in a few days, or a week or two. However, for some people it can persist, and make sticking with the ketogenic lifestyle difficult. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases the keto flu is quite easy to fix, as it is usually caused by a combination of dehydration and improper electrolyte balance. Solving dehydration is simple, just increase your intake of water. But if you’ve noticed any of the symptoms of keto flu persisting after increasing your water intake, you may be suffering from reduced electrolyte levels. This guide will explain how to ensure your electrolyte levels are appropriate.
When the body enters ketosis, switching from relying on glucose for energy to relying on ketones, it begins to process electrolytes differently. In ketosis, insulin levels in the body decrease, due to the greatly reduced intake of carbohydrates and the corresponding reduced need for insulin to process glucose in the blood. Lower insulin levels cause the kidneys to excrete more sodium, and because the body maintains a delicate balance between sodium and other electrolytes, the increased excretion of sodium can cause other electrolyte levels to dip as well.
The ketogenic diet typically affects the levels of sodium, potassium, and magnesium the most, and generally has little or no impact on other electrolytes such as calcium and phosphorus. Typically it’s easy to manage sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels by making small adjustments to your daily dietary choices.
Sodium is something of a contentious topic in dietary science and medicine. You have probably heard the common recommendation that most people should cut back on sodium intake, due to its role in increasing blood pressure. While this may be true on typical diets high in carbohydrates, ketogenic eating can increase your need for sodium intake, due to the aforementioned increase in sodium excretion by the kidneys. While it’s common for people on the ketogenic diet to need additional salt intake, if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart failure, it’s essential to consult with your doctor before increasing sodium intake.
On the ketogenic diet, most people need between 3 and 7 grams of sodium.
The most commonly available source of sodium in food is sodium chloride, i.e. table salt. Salt is in fact only roughly 40% sodium, with the other 60% being the mineral chloride. So it’s important to remember that a gram of salt only provides .4 g of sodium. Typically people get around 2 grams of sodium from food in a day, so to get up into the 3-7 gram range it can be necessary to add consciously add salt to your diet. If you prefer to not simply add salt as a seasoning to foods, you can try drinking a cup or two of broth or bullion per day, which will usually contain around 1 gram of sodium per cup.
Vigorous exercise can increase your body’s need for sodium (and other electrolytes), so it can be a good idea to consume a few grams of salt before starting your workout. Avoid electrolyte sports drinks, because while they may contain helpful electrolytes, they are typically full of sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Your body tries to maintain a balance of sodium and potassium, so when you are excreting more sodium in ketosis, your kidneys will also excrete more potassium. Insufficient potassium levels can lead to muscle cramps, muscle twitching, and heart palpitations. Most people need between 3 and 5 grams of potassium per day. Supplements can be an easy way to increase potassium intake, but there are plenty of keto friendly foods that are high in potassium too.
– Salmon contains around 500 mg per 4 ounces
– Brussels sprouts contain around 500 mg per cup
– Cooked mushrooms contain around 450 – 550 mg per 100 grams, depending on the type
– Cooked spinach contains around 800 mg per cup
– Cooked Swiss chard contains around 900-1,000 mg per cup
– Avocado is king of keto friendly high potassium foods, providing around 1,000 mg in a whole medium avocado, along with healthy fats and fiber.
Other good dietary sources of potassium include grass-fed beef, hemp seeds, flounder, almonds, broccoli, and artichoke.
Generally magnesium needs aren’t typically affected as much as potassium and sodium needs on the keto diet, but insufficient magnesium intake is very common, so it’s often a good idea to consider increasing magnesium intake. Insufficient magnesium levels can manifest similarly to sodium or potassium deficiencies, causing muscular cramping or twitching, especially at night or after working out. Most people need around 400 mg of magnesium per day.
Many of the same keto friendly foods that contain high levels of potassium also contain high levels of magnesium, making it easy to address both electrolytes with the same dietary choices.
– Avocados contain around 60 mg
– Cooked spinach contains around 75 mg per cup
– Almonds contain around 75 mg per ounce.
– Cooked Swiss chard contains around 150 mg per cup
– Hemp seeds are the easiest way to get magnesium, containing around 200 mg per ounce
Other good sources of magnesium are artichoke, pine nuts, and mackerel.