By now, almost everyone knows someone who’s had great success on a keto diet. And by now, everyone also knows just how hard it can be to follow the low-carb, high-fat plan, especially in the first few weeks. “Many people have fatigue, headaches and irritability when they stop eating carbohydrates and haven’t started making ketones — the energy source the body creates in the absence of sugar,” explains Dominic D’Agostino, PhD, one of the country’s preeminent ketone researchers. “The body doesn’t know what fuel system to use.”
Fortunately, experts have discovered a shortcut to speed the transition from burning sugar to burning fat, bypassing the dreaded keto flu. The secret? Exogenous ketones — or supplements including fats like coconut oil or medium-chain triglycerides (aka MCT oil), ketone salts and ketone esters, which help the body produce ketones until it starts making them on its own. “The start of a keto diet is a great time to take exogenous ketones because they speed up the process,” says Dr. D’Agostino, who explains that supplementing induces rapid ketosis — the biochemical state in which the body burns fat for fuel.
And that’s when the pounds start falling off. In a Brigham Young University study, researchers found that increasing ketone levels in the blood resulted in 128 percent more fat burning. Exogenous ketones are so effective that experts like D’Agostino not only recommend them to patients, they take them themselves too!
What’s more, once you’ve made the transition to fat-burning mode, exogenous ketones can ensure you stay in ketosis — even on cheat days. Mary Newport, MD, author of The Complete Book of Ketones: A Practical Guide to Ketogenic Diets and Ketone Supplements (Buy on Amazon, $17.59), takes exogenous ketones and advises her patients to use them if they’re eating a high-carb meal. “This means you can have that sweet potato or piece of bread and maintain ketosis,” she explains. D’Agostino’s research has found that when people incorporate exogenous ketones into a standard carb-filled diet, weight still goes down.
The supplements also lower blood-sugar levels, which helps reduce cravings and hunger, says Eric Plaisance, PhD, an exogenous ketone researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Indeed, when researchers at England’s University of Oxford asked normal weight folks to drink a ketone supplement or a glucose drink with the same number of calories, the perception of hunger among the ketone group fell by 50 percent for four hours. Just ask Phoenix Gaunt, 41, who dropped 80 pounds with the help of ketone salts. “Once I started drinking ketones, I no longer had any cravings for sweet things.”
“This may sound too good to be true, but there’s nothing magic about it,” says D’Agostino. “The keto diet and exogenous ketones are an effective way to manage your weight because they help you go four or five hours without eating. What you’re going to eat next doesn’t feel like such a crisis.” And they’re safe: “I spent weeks going through the literature, and I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest the supplements were dangerous,” he says. “I kind of wanted to find something. But millions of people have consumed millions of servings and there’s very little to no adverse events reported.”
Weight loss is just the beginning. Women FIRST spoke to rave about improved energy and mood, better brain function and zero keto flu symptoms. When Sabrina Beumont, 52, started a keto diet, the nausea was overwhelming. Then she turned to exogenous ketones. “Within an hour of taking them, I felt heaps better,” she raves. “I’ve lost 45 pounds, feel better than I have in 20 years and I’m still taking the ketones!”
Read on for the simple plan that will help you quickly transition into fat-burning mode and feel great in the process!
So Simple, So Effective
Millions of women — and diet experts! — are supplementing with exogenous ketones to switch into fat-burning mode, jump-start slimming and easily follow a low-carb diet without experiencing the headaches, nausea, and fatigue characteristic of keto flu, says Dominic D’Agostino, PhD. associate professor at the University of South Florida and the world’s leading exogenous ketone researcher. And while they work in the short-term to offset hunger as your body switches from burning glucose to burning fat and stave off keto flu symptoms (which can linger for up to a month!), you can also keep taking these supplements indefinitely, says Eric Plaisance, PhD, an exogenous ketone researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who does so himself.
“The higher your ketone levels, the more impressive your results will be — and there are are so many ways to use these supplements to maximize your level of ketones,” adds Plaisance. You might take them for the first three weeks of a keto diet to help your brain adjust to the switch from burning glucose to burning fats — a transition that can put your brain into hyper-drive and mess with your hunger signals. Exogenous ketone supplements can also help those following a modified keto diet, where you’re consuming somewhere around 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrates a day. “In that range, you probably won’t produce a lot of ketones on your own,” says Dr. Plaisance, “but taking these supplements will enable you to boost your ketones anyway.” They can also be used for long-term weight loss maintenance or as a short-term counter to high-carb “cheat” days, he adds.
To make the most of exogenous ketone supplements, here’s how to incorporate them into your diet so you can find a strategy that works best for you:
Start here: There are three main categories of exogenous ketones: keto fats like coconut oil and medium-chain triglycerides (aka MCT oil), ketone salts (which typically comes in powder form), and ketone esters (liquid). Because esters tend to be bitter-tasting, many experts recommend opting for ketone salts and MCT oil or powder. While the dose of exogenous ketones will depend on the brand, the ultimate goal is a total of about 10 to 15 grams of exogenous ketones per day, says Dr. D’Agostino. “The MCT oil combined with ketone salts work synergistically to raise your ketone levels and keep them elevated for hours,” he explains. “This combination will give you results much more than if you take the ketone salts alone.” Whatever brand you try, be sure to read nutrition labels closely, adds D’Agostino. “The ideal ketone supplement shouldn’t contain more than two grams of carbohydrates per serving, with less than one gram of sugar.”
Take small steps: To avoid GI distress, gradually build up to 10 to 15 grams of exogenous ketones daily. “MCT oil can cause diarrhea, and some people report acid reflux after taking these supplements,” says Dr. Newport, who recommends starting with 1/2 teaspoon of MCT oil per day and increasing by 1/2 teaspoon every few days. Same goes for ketone salts: Start with 1/4 serving size and increase from there as you build tolerance. “This is especially important for diabetics who are on medications that lower blood glucose,” adds Dr. Newport. “Ketone supplements lower blood sugar so dramatically that you can get into trouble, so err on the side of a low dose — at least at first.”
Time it right: “When you take exogenous ketones depends on your goals,” says Dr. Plaisance, who adds that finding your optimal time of day to take these supplements may require some experimentation. “You might notice these supplements prevent you from getting hungry if you take them when fasting in the morning. Or you might try taking them after a higher-carb meal in an effort to blunt your blood sugar response.” When you’re getting started, D’Agostino recommends spreading out the supplements so you get at least three doses per day — and then really clueing in to how you feel after taking them. “Personally, I find supplementing throughout the day very helpful when I am sleep deprived. Staying in ketosis gives me cognitive resilience under periods of sleep deprivation if I’m not eating like I should be. It’s a way to compensate if I’m not following through with other aspects of my life.”
Fill your plate with these foods: To maximize the efficacy of exogenous ketone supplements, you’ll want to stick to a keto or low-carb plan, which will keep your insulin levels low and allow your ketones to rise, says Dr. Plaisance. Aim to fill at least one-third of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and asparagus. Another third of your meal should come from clean protein, such as full-fat dairy, cage-free eggs, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, and pasture-raised poultry. You’ll also want to eat plenty of ketone-promoting fats, such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed butter.
Supplement on “cheat days”: Even if you cycle off using exogenous ketones, keep them on hand for cheat days. “When I travel or eat foods that take me out of ketosis, I’ll take a mix of MCT powder and ketone salts first thing every morning along with a big glass of water,” says D’Agostino. “This keeps me in ketosis.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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