Ketosis Symptoms: What to Look For & How to Test Your Ketone Levels

The ketogenic diet is gaining momentum as a way to help you shed unwanted weight, improve cognitive function, and even gain or maintain muscle mass. So many people report busting cravings and gaining energy when they cut carbs and add more healthy fat to their diet. But how do you know if you’re in ketosis? What symptoms should you be looking for? Do you have to test ketone levels? Read on to find out.

In this article, you will learn:

Ketosis Symptoms You Should Be Looking For

Common symptoms of ketosis (which usually subside within a couple of weeks) include:
  • Bad breath
  • Insomnia
  • Short-term fatigue or keto flu
  • Frequent urination
  • Changes in digestion
Some common side effects after you’ve been in ketosis for a few weeks include:
  • Lasting weight loss
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Better digestion
  • Steady energy throughout the day
  • Better, deeper sleep
  • Sharper cognitive function

While these signs and symptoms can often be a reliable way to determine if you're in ketosis, the most accurate way to know is directly testing ketone levels through blood or urine strips.

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Target Ketone Levels

Ketones are molecules your body produces as an energy source once you cut out most carbs and replace them with healthy fats. The ketogenic diet is different than other “low-carb” diets because there are specific measurements of blood ketones that signify when you’re in fat-burning ketosis.

If and when you’re ready to test, look for ketone levels above 0.3 mmol/L. If you’re at or above this number, you’re technically in ketosis; although many experts consider optimum ketosis to be between 0.5 and 3.0 mmol/L.

When to Test Ketone Levels

The amount of time it takes to get into ketosis varies from person to person. For most people who stay at or under their net limit, it can take anywhere from 2-7 days to get into ketosis. For others, it can take longer.

Knowing this, you can start testing your ketone levels after 2-3 days, or you can wait up to 1-2 weeks after sticking to a strict keto diet. At this point, it’s more likely that you’ll be done with any keto flu symptoms and your glycogen stores will be depleted, so you won’t waste your time or ketone testing strips.

Another option is to track your ketone levels at the same times every day for the first several weeks, along with your energy levels, digestion, bowel movements, and other symptoms.

3 Tools for Testing Ketone Levels

Ketone Monitor

The most accurate way to test your ketone levels is with a blood test. Most blood tests work like blood sugar monitors with a tiny pinprick to the finger, followed by placing a drop of blood on a test strip. The test strip measures the amount of BHB (the main ketone your body produces) in your bloodstream.

The pros are that you’ll get a really accurate, real-time reading of your ketone and blood sugar levels. The cons are that these strips can get a little pricey - about $1.30 per strip. This can add up if you’re testing multiple times per day.

Urine Testing Strips

Urine ketone testing strips are easy, painless, and less expensive than blood strips, but they’re also less accurate than blood.

When you’re first getting into ketosis, your body will excrete excess ketones into your urine. That’s why urine strips are an “ok” testing route to take when you’re first starting out on the keto diet.

Over time, however, your body will adapt, producing and using ketones more resourcefully and excreting way fewer ketones in the urine. That means your blood levels could still be high, but your urine levels won’t reflect that.

Breath Testing Strips

Also less accurate than a blood ketone reader, a breath ketone meter will test your ketone levels via the amount of acetone (another ketone body) in your breath. The pro is that you don’t need to replace the strips, so this can be a more affordable testing option over time.

The cons are accuracy. These seem to test well for lower ketone levels, but there’s not enough formal data to confirm their accuracy when it comes to higher ketone levels. 

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