Keto Flu Symptoms + 7 Remedies (Low Carb Diet Beginners Guide)

Common high fat foods for the ketogenic diet

Keto Flu: The Side-Effect When Starting a Low Carb High Fat Diet

I thought going low carb was meant to be good for me, but I feel like Sh#&t!

Don’t worry I’ll try help you feel better ASAP with the tips below.

First off though – Congrats, you did it!

You finally took the leap & started a low carb, ketogenic, LCHF or Atkins diet. However, are you feeling sick and horrible only a couple of days into your new way of healthy eating & you think that you might have caught some kind of cold?

The truth is, you have caught something- it’s called keto flu (a.k.a induction flu, ketosis flu, Atkins flu)

Now you’re probably wondering:

  • “What is it?”
  • “Is it contagious?”
  • “Is it fatal?”, and of course,
  • “How do I get rid of it?”

Not to worry; it’s neither contagious nor life-threatening.

I’m going to explain exactly what is keto flu, what are the common symptoms, and my top recommended fixes to get you feeling normal again ASAP.

What is Keto Flu?

Keto flu is also commonly known as the ketogenic flu, carb flu or induction flu. In simple terms, it is a carb withdrawal response. That means, it is your body’s way of changing from using carbohydrates as a primary fuel source (glucose) & converting across to using fat for fuel (ketones).

What Causes Low Carb Flu?

There are probably two primary reasons for most people.

#1 Electrolyte Imbalance
The first is that the sudden change in your diet has caused an electrolyte imbalance. When you switch to a ketogenic diet, you are cutting out processed fortified foods in exchange for more organic, wholesome, real foods. This can lead to an electrolyte deficiency. (see which ones commonly below)
#2 Keto-Adaptation Period
The second issue is that your body is trying to become keto-adapted. The easiest way to look at it is that you are trading one source of fuel (carbohydrates) for another (fat). During this adjustment period your body is learning how to use ketones vs glucose better. You can measure when your are in nutritional ketosis to help know when you are burning excess fat away & making more endogenous ketones. (N.B. very different to exogenous ketones as Dr Brianna Stubbs mentioned)

How Long Does Keto Flu Last?

Most people start showing some type of symptoms within the first couple days (1-7 days) after starting to cut carbs out of their diet. This is process is called keto-adaptation & normally takes at least 2 weeks (1), but for amateur or elite athletes this can take several weeks to months for exercise performance according to research. (2)

List of Keto Flu Symptoms

  • Headache or migraine
  • Nausea (upset stomach)
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Muscle cramping, twitching or weakness
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Brain fog or a lack of mental clarity
  • Drowsiness, fatigue or lethargy
  • Craving sugar feeling

Like with any sudden change of power, there are consequences, and these consequences come in the form of flu-like symptoms. The symptoms you may feel can range from mild discomfort all the way to full-blown influenza like symptoms.

In a nutshell, you will feel like you have the mild to bad case of the flu, but you don’t; it’s just your body trying to adjust.

Men, women and children all get this unwanted effect initially. Nutritionist, Emily Maguire, explained it well on her keto diet tips for women interview.

Your body has a lot to adjust to when you decide to completely change what you eat because you are also completely changing the way your body has gotten used to functioning. Billions of species of bacteria reside in your gut, and they all want full control. What you eat determines which bacteria are in charge.

If your diet is high in carbs (especially processed foods with refined sugars) you can have an imbalance in your gut bacteria & yeasts like candida. This situation can cause inflammatory reactions in your body & be harmful to your immune system.

However, if you are on a healthy ketogenic diet, you will be consuming more natural fat than refined carbs and those bad bacteria, fungus & yeasts will start to die off (Herxheimer reaction) and other good bacteria (that feed on good fats) will take control of your gut flora. So a keto diet can help change your gut biome for the better. (3)

7 Keto Flu Remedies

Now that you know what the definition of ketogenic flu is & why it starts, it’s time fix the common reasons why you feel crap.

There are several things you can do to help manage your symptoms.

We will go over some of them below.

1. Get All Your Essential Minerals

There are two types of minerals that your body needs to keep itself healthy and functioning properly.

Trace minerals are the first type. These are minerals that the body only needs a small amount of. Macro-minerals are the second type. Macro-minerals are those that your body needs a larger amount of.

There are six essential minerals:

  1. Calcium
  2. Chloride
  3. Magnesium (300mg/day) – try Magnesium L-Threonate & Glycinate supplementother Magnesium supplements for this.
  4. Phosphorus
  5. Potassium (1g/day) – try Potassium Chloride supplement other Potassium supplements for this.
  6. Sodium (5g/day) – try Redmond Real Salt for this.

When you switch from a high-carb diet to a low-carb diet, you could be lowering the amounts of each of these essential minerals you are getting, resulting in a possible deficiency.

You can combat these deficiencies by eating specific foods, taking the best ketogenic supplements, or good multivitamins that have these minerals in them.

Heads up, do your research first since not all types of food that are rich in these nutrients are keto-friendly diet food.

2. Add Salt to Your Food

One of the biggest myths in dieting is that you don’t need to add more salt (sodium). Restricting salt on your food to lower the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) is also a common myth that, thankfully, Dr DiNicolantonio busted big time in his The Salt Fix book on Amazon (Listen to Dr DiNicolantonio’s interview here).

One thing that tends to happen when you go “low-carb” is that your insulin levels will drop. This drop in your insulin levels means that your body doesn’t hold onto as much sodium as it did before, because the kidneys are excreting it at a faster rate than it used to before. What this means is that you need to get more good salt in your diet since your body is processing it so fast.

When your sodium is low, your body releases potassium from the muscles to make up for the low levels of sodium. This release of potassium isn’t good for your muscles and can make your potassium levels drop. Adding a little salt to your food can help keep your sodium and potassium levels up, which will help combat common symptoms.

Most people recommend drinking one to two cups of bouillon or broth a day. I love adding my favourite natural sea salt Redmond Real Salt to water and sprinkling it over my food.

3. Stay Hydrated

Women drinking water

When you have any kind of flu or sickness, it is important to stay hydrated and make sure you have plenty of fluids. It is no different with keto flu. When you are on a ketogenic diet, your body is also excreting water faster than it was before you started dieting. Therefore, you must drink plenty of water to replenish your fluid levels and prevent dehydration, which can make the flu worse.

Keeping yourself hydrated will help alleviate the headaches that commonly accompany induction flu and boost your energy levels. Drinking water will also contribute to keeping your sodium and potassium levels in balance. Sports drinks that have electrolytes in them are also acceptable.

A simple way to tell if you are getting enough fluids is to check the color of your urine. If it is a pale yellow, like the color of lemonade, or a clear color, you are likely well-hydrated. But if it is a darker color, like the color of apple juice, then you may need to drink some water.

4. Eat More Fat (More Calories)

Because being on a ketogenic diet means that your body is no longer using sugars and carbohydrates as fuel sources, it needs to use the fats you ingest to give it energy. Increasing your fat consumption will also speed up your body’s transition process of changing its fuel source from carbs to fat. Here is a list of healthy fats you can eat:

  • Coconut oil
  • Lard
  • Olive oil
  • Ghee
  • Tallow

One of the problems that people on ketogenic diets come across is that they cut carbohydrates out of their diet but then don’t make up for that loss in caloric intake with the other foods they are eating. If you are feeling sluggish and hungry, simply increase the amount of food you consume so you can make up for the caloric loss that comes from cutting carbohydrates.

5. Eat More “Clean” Carbs

You’re probably thinking, “hold on, isn’t ketogenic dieting about giving up carbs?” The answer is yes, but the carbs you should be giving up are the ones that are unhealthy for you—usually those found in processed foods. There are, however, “clean” carbs that are good for you, such as the carbs that come from fruits and vegetables.

These carbs are good for relieving your symptoms during the transition period. You can slowly reduce the amount of “clean” carbs that you consume with each meal until they make up only about five percent of your diet each day—this is when you can enter ketosis.

6. Try Exercise

When you’re sick, exercising is the last thing you want to think about. One research study such suggested that regular physical activity improves your metabolic flexibility, which is your body’s ability to switch back and forth between using carbs and fats as its energy source. (4)

For a more in-depth explanation of metabolic flexibility causing low carb flu I’d recommend Gnoll’s blog on it.

Getting into the habit of exercising every day will make the transition period easier and not last as long because your body will be able to quickly switch from burning carbs to burning fat when carbs become unavailable or the intake of carbohydrates stops.

7. Just Be Patient

In most cases, keto flu only lasts for a few days to a week max, but in rare occasions, it can stick around for more than two weeks. Don’t become discouraged by this, and don’t stop your diet. A lot of people fall prey to the thought, “if giving carbs up is making me sick, I must need them to stay healthy.”

In fact, carb flu is one of the main reasons people abandon their diets. But this is a trick by your body; the number one thing you need to remember is that during carb flu, your body is going through carb withdrawal. The best way to get through it is just to stay strong and wait it out.

Last updated: July 5, 2017

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