The keto diet has gained significant popularity recently and it’s not letting up anytime soon. But like every other diet trend that comes along, there are some important keto effects to know before you jump in full force. This is especially true when it involves consuming a greater volume of high-fat foods, while suddenly reducing your intake of carbohydrates. This shift in macronutrient composition can have a serious impact on your body’s electrolyte balance.
A Brief Overview of the Keto Diet
Put simply, the ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, very low carb diet. The idea is to consume non-starchy vegetables as the primary source of carbohydrates. All added sugars, high-sugar fruits, grains, legumes and starchy vegetables are to be avoided. This transfers the body’s source of fuel to fat versus carbs. Once enough ketone bodies are circulating in the blood, the body is in a state of ketosis. Using fat as fuel not only helps eliminate seizures, but also may promote fat loss, decrease appetite-stimulating hormones and increase calorie expenditure. That said, research has been limited. There are still plenty of unanswered questions regarding the pros and cons of the keto diet.
Keto Electrolytes: Why Balance is Important
As mentioned above, following a strict keto diet puts the body in ketosis. This is a unique metabolic process that comes with a few side effects. One of the side effects of ketosis is an electrolyte imbalance. This occurs, because reduced carb intake causes the body to shed excess water. Excess water is excreted through sweat and urine, where key minerals are carried out with it.
Remember electrolytes 101. Electrolytes are minerals (sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, magnesium and phosphorous) with an electric charge. They greatly influence your blood acidity, nervous system and muscle function. Therefore, an imbalance or deficiency in electrolytes can lead to muscle weakness or spasm, irregular heartbeat, changes in blood pressure or fatigue. Managing your electrolytes while on the keto diet is critically important for your health.
Luckily, there are ways to easily support your electrolytes on the keto diet. Whether you’ve recently reached ketosis or are already a couple months’ deep, it’s not too late to take a proactive approach. By following some easy nutrition tips, you can avoid unnecessary side effects of the keto diet.
5 Ways to Get the Right Balance of Electrolytes on Keto
1. Eat foods with natural sodium.
Consuming added salt is one way keto dieters can support their bodies during the transition to ketosis. However, instead of consuming salt tablets, table salt or even sea salt, consider eating foods that are naturally higher sources of sodium. This can help prevent hypertension, diabetes and bloating, which are all risk factors when you consume too much salt. If you’re salt-sensitive, this tip especially applies to you.
Foods that are naturally higher in sodium include celery, certain cheeses, kale, spinach, and fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut and kimchi. Of course, all these foods contribute other essential nutrients that support electrolyte balance, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. They’re also good sources of fiber to promote healthy digestion. (Disrupted digestions is another possible side effect when following the keto diet.)
2. Eat more seafood.
Since seafood comes from the ocean, it’s naturally higher in minerals like sodium, potassium and calcium. These nutrients make up the body’s electrolyte stores and support adrenal glands. Plus, seafood is a good source of lean protein, which means less of the unhealthy saturated fat and more of the essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA.
Not just any seafood will do, though. Fill up on low-mercury options and wild-caught fish versus farm-raised, whenever possible. There’s a lot of debate between wild-caught and farmed fish, but many experts agree wild-caught is the superior choice, if it’s accessible to you. Wild salmon, halibut, albacore tuna, sardines, trout and shrimp are all good sources of electrolyte minerals.
3. Add lemons to your diet.
Lemons are high in vitamin C and are a good source of folate, potassium and flavonoids. A quarter cup of lemon juice provides 2% of the recommended daily intake for potassium. By just squeezing a little lemon into your water, you can support your potassium levels.
The best part is you can incorporate lemon juice all throughout the day. Use it to make a tahini salad dressing, to steam veggies or to season fish. Lemon is a great addition to almost any dish. In fact, research has shown that lemons can replace added salt in recipes without sacrificing any flavor. Just be sure to choose fresh lemon juice, since it’s a richer source of nutrients than the bottled variety (which may contain preservatives).
4. Drink plenty of water.
The keto diet promotes water loss, which is great for muscle definition; not so great for electrolyte balance. Dehydration is a risky – and very real – side effect when you don’t have enough keto electrolytes. Proper water intake also supports digestion, heart health and the adrenal glands. Thankfully, this is an easy fix.
Monitor your water with a BPA-free water bottle. And try to consume at least eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. This can include plain water, as well as coffee, tea, smoothies and water-rich fruits and vegetables.
5. Focus on whole-food fats.
Fat will be your primary source of fuel on the keto diet, which means you will be consuming a lot of fat-rich foods. It’s easy to choose convenience foods high in fat, like processed meats or packaged treats. However, these often come with additives, unhealthy oils and high concentrations of saturated fat. They’re also low in vitamins and minerals. Your best option is to choose whole-food-based fats.
Foods naturally high in fat include avocados, coconut, almonds, macadamia nuts, fish, full-fat Greek yogurt, seeds, raw cacao and extra-dark chocolate. These all provide the kinds of fats your body craves, as well as the keto electrolytes you need.
With a few keto diet essentials and these healthy nutrition tips, you can easily support your electrolytes on keto. That being said, you should always consult your physician before starting a new diet. While on keto, though, you may need to make regular check-ins with your doctor to monitor your nutrient levels. They will be able to more specifically guide you toward the right nutrient needs.