You may have encountered the word “ketosis” before, sometimes in connection with weight loss, other times with diabetes. Put simply, ketosis is the technical term for the process in which your body burns stored fat for energy rather than carbohydrates.
Ketosis Is Your Body Burning Fat For Fuel
Ketosis occurs when the amount of glucose in the blood falls. The body produces glucose by breaking down carbohydrates, so when you cut back on carbs, your body looks for alternative sources of energy. At this point it begins to break down fat, producing molecules that your body’s cells can use for energy.
Your body converts fat into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule that can produce a great deal of energy in living cells. In fact, ATP is the primary source of energy within cells.
The process of breaking down fat also produces a class of molecules called ketones, or ketone bodies. These molecules are not as efficient as ATP in energy conversion, but they are still valuable – with one exception: acetone. Your body’s cells cannot use acetone, so this passes out of your body in urine, perspiration, and breath. Acetone has an odor like fruit, so someone whose body is in ketosis will have breath with a fruity smell.
There is no clear dividing line between being in ketosis and not being in in a ketogenic state. Ketones can be found in your body at any time. Ketosis means ketones have elevated to the point where they are easy to detect — especially through the presence of acetone.
Is Ketogenic Fat Burning Harmful?
Ketosis is not harmful for healthy individuals. It is simply a state where your body is burning fat for fuel rather than glucose or other sugars, which is really the point of any diet. To lose weight, you need to lose fat.
Ketosis can indicate trouble for diabetics, because it is a sign of insulin deficiency. Also, high levels of ketones in the blood can cause the blood to become acidic, leading to a serious condition called ketoacidosis. While an insulin shortage in diabetics can cause this, in non-diabetics ketoacidosis can result from alcoholism, thyroid conditions, or starvation.
Since your body typically burns carbohydrates for fuel, diets focusing on low carbohydrates can drive your body into ketosis. This has several benefits beyond simply losing weight:
Appetite Control. Research shows that ketosis coupled with high levels of protein can lead to reduced appetite.
Insulin Reduction. High levels of insulin can block the uptake of fatty acids in cells. One result of ketosis is a reduction in insulin production. This is not harmful in healthy individuals, and reducing insulin helps your body burn more fat. The result is that once your body is in this state, it may develop a preference for ketones over glucose, driving your body to prefer fat-burning to carbohydrates and glucose.
Mental Health. Ketosis has been linked with mood stabilization and with improvements in patients suffering from neurological conditions including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Ketogenic diets are diets specifically designed to drive your body into ketosis. Note that a diet which is not ketogenic will still cause you to lose weight; a ketogenic diet is one that is simply designed to push your body into this state quickly. Typically they are extremely low in carbohydrates but not as high in protein as other low-carb diets. Some are very high in fat. They may drive your body into ketosis within three or four days.
Some people use Ketone Test Strips, such as Ketostix, to test whether their body is in a state of ketosis. They can be purchased on Amazon or at many drug and health food stores.
Remember, weight loss isn’t something you should treat as a short-term problem. Keeping the weight off over the long-term requires changes to habits and lifestyle, to ensure the weight stays off. So look for a diet that can become part of your lifestyle.