What is the Keto Flu?
When starting keto, it’s common to lose a lot of the electrolytes in your body as you lose water weight. As a result, you can become dehydrated and experience an electrolyte imbalance, or a general electrolyte deficiency. This is called the keto flu, and it has several symptoms such as headache, fatigue, nausea, muscle cramping, irritability, and more.
Luckily, the keto flu symptoms are easily mitigated or removed altogether. The key is to maintain a good electrolyte balance through the proper foods, or supplementation.
Electrolytes are chemicals stored in the body that are essential for life. Among several things, they are responsible for regulating the amount of water in your body, moving nutrients to cells, and removing waste from those cells. Some of the important electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals work independently, but also together, so it’s essential to have the proper balance of electrolytes in your body.
Sodium is vital for the function of nerves and muscles in your body. If you’re experiencing muscle cramps or weakness, there is a possibility that your body is lacking sodium. Most fast food or pre-packaged snacks are stuffed with extra sodium to help with taste or preservation. If you’re starting a keto diet, a majority of those foods will be removed from your diet. As a result, you will most likely be salting your foods to make sure that you’re getting enough sodium. The recommended daily intake for Americans is 2,300mg, however, everyone will thrive on different amounts of the mineral.
Sources of Sodium
Unfortunately, regular table salt usually includes anti-caking ingredients like maltodextrin or dextrose. These have no nutritional value, so it’s best to avoid them. Instead, look for a salt that has no filler ingredients. Himalayan pink salt is a good option because, in addition to sodium, it contains other essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, and iron. The following are other great options for natural salts:
How to get more Sodium
The simplest way to get additional sodium in your diet is to add salt to your food when preparing a meal. However, If you are routinely salting your foods but still experiencing sodium deficiency symptoms, you may have an imbalance in other electrolytes. Alternatively, you could still be lacking in sodium. If so, drinking a salty broth or preparing sole is an excellent way to consume additional sodium.
Sole is water saturated with a natural salt. To make, combine 1-2 cups of Himalayan Salt with filtered water in a glass jar. Mix and cover the jar and allow it to sit overnight. Continue adding salt until there is some salt remaining in the jar. Once the sole has fully absorbed the salt, it is complete! You can add small amounts of the sole mixture to water for a high dose of sodium. Note: Do not use a metal utensil to prepare, touch, or consume the sole. The combination of salt and water can oxidize metals and cause them to rust.
Potassium is an electrolyte that helps with digestion, blood pressure, water regulation in the body, and muscle contractions. The body is not able to produce potassium, and a lack of it can cause fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness and more. Although there is no recommended intake, it is suggested that 1,500-2,000mg of potassium daily is adequate.
Potassium and sodium work in tandem to support the functions of the body. If there is an imbalance in these electrolytes, it can cause adverse side effects. For example, if someone is consuming too much sodium, but not enough potassium, the body will excrete sodium in the urine. However, this will also remove potassium. If potassium levels are too low, the body tries to preserve the mineral by storing it. As a result, it will also store excess sodium since these electrolytes work together. This causes excess water in the body, high blood pressure, and extra work for the heart. It’s crucial to keep in mind the overall balance of electrolytes, not just the amount of an individual mineral.
Sources of Potassium
There are plenty of keto foods that provide a great source of potassium. These include:
In addition to consuming potassium in your diet, several keto friendly supplements are great sources of potassium. The best options come in a powdered form. Although you can buy potassium in a pill, some regulations mandate potassium pill supplements can contain a maximum of 99mg of potassium per tablet. If you are trying to get 2,000mg of potassium per day, that’s 20 pills!
Instead, two of the better options for potassium supplementation are Dr. Berg’s electrolyte powder and Zipfizz. Each contains about 1,000mg of potassium. However, Dr. Berg’s powder uses potassium citrate, which is better absorbed by the body than potassium carbonate, the form of potassium in Zipfizz. Additionally, Zipfizz uses ingredients like sucralose that are not optimal.
Magnesium is found mostly in your bones but exists elsewhere in the body. It is used for hundreds of processes like protein formation, muscle stimulation, and energy creation. Unfortunately, there is evidence to suggest that a significant amount of people are deficient in magnesium, not just those on a ketogenic diet. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps or weakness, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat. The recommended daily intake for magnesium is 400-420mg for men and 310-320mg for women.
Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is in the following foods:
Supplementing with magnesium is also a great option. There are several different forms of magnesium supplementation. The mineral can be bound to organic or inorganic compounds. The types of bindings affect absorption rates and may have additional side effects. For example, some magnesium supplements cause loose bowels and are often used as laxatives.
In general, organic forms are well absorbed in the body and have a lesser effect on the bowels. Inorganic compounds, on the other hand, are absorbed slower by the body. As a result, they draw water to the large intestine, which can cause GI distress. A few common forms of magnesium supplementation are listed below.
Magnesium citrate is an organic form found in most supplements. The body absorbs it well. Magnesium citrate will only have a laxative effect in high dosage. I often supplement with Natural Calm, a powdered form of magnesium citrate.
The body absorbs this organic form of magnesium well. It also does not affect on the bowels.
Magnesium glycinate is an organic form of magnesium that also acts as a calming agent. The combination of magnesium and glycine produce this calming effect on the body. The body absorbs the supplement well. It does not have a laxative effect.
The body absorbs this inorganic form of magnesium well. It is most commonly found in topical products.
The body moderately absorbs the inorganic supplement magnesium carbonate. It can also have a bowel-loosening effect.
Calcium is the electrolyte overshadowed by potassium, sodium and magnesium. That does not mean that it’s not just as important though. It is the most abundant mineral in the body! Calcium has many functions. It helps maintain and strengthen bone health and regulates muscle contraction. The mineral also acts as a co-factor for many enzymes, which allows them to work correctly and efficiently.
To optimally absorb calcium, the body must have sufficient vitamin D levels. Calcium is in many foods, but also available in supplements. Depending on your age and sex, the RDA for calcium will vary. On average, it is between 1,000-2,000mg of calcium per day.
Sources of Calcium
Calcium is in many foods. However, some foods prevent calcium from being absorbed by the body. Oxalic acid and phytates are known to prevent calcium absorption in the body.
Spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb contain high amounts of oxalic acid. These three foods are also high in calcium. Unfortunately, oxalic acid prevents the body from absorbing calcium, so these foods are not beneficial for calcium.
High-fiber foods like whole-grains, beans, soy products and some nuts contain high amounts of phytates. Although these products may not contain calcium, the phytates in them will bind to calcium, which prevents the body from using it.
The body absorbs the mineral from these high-calcium foods:
Calcium supplementation has suggested adverse side effects. It’s best to consult with a doctor before beginning any supplementation.
Depending on the form of calcium supplementation, different amounts of the mineral will be absorbed into the body. Calcium carbonate has the highest amount of elemental calcium and is also the most commonly found form in supplements. Calcium citrate has less elemental calcium but is also a good option. Since calcium needs vitamin D for absorption, it can be beneficial to have a supplement that combines the two.
Electrolyte balance in any diet is essential, but it is especially crucial when following a ketogenic diet. The symptoms of sodium, potassium, or magnesium deficiency are magnified on keto. It is very imperative to be mindful of electrolyte consumption to prevent the keto flu.
Unfortunately, our foods are not as rich in minerals anymore. It may be necessary to supplement electrolytes to ensure the body is receiving adequate amounts. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for keto-friendly supplements in all of the essential electrolytes.
PS: I’m not a doctor, and I’m not pretending to be one. Do your research and consult a professional for medical advice.