What are Electrolytes and keto flu?
This is one of the things people often neglect when they start on a keto or LCHF (low carb high fat) diet, electrolytes and the threat of keto flu. Sometimes they just don’t know about them, sometimes they think they are not all that important.
It’s easy to under estimate just how important sufficient electrolytes are, so what are they and why do we need them so much?
You really should be aware of them and get started on topping up your electrolytes from day one. Doing so, helps prevent “keto-flu” (see symptoms below).
Why are Electrolytes and Keto Flu important?
Is it a bad thing? Is it harmful? Bottom line, no. And you can avoid it! So why does it happen? On a typical western diet filled with processed carbs (think cereals and bread), your electrolytes are added in to your food.
So, because we eat so much processed food these days, and that our lands are over farmed so a lot of the naturally occurring nutrients are lost in our vegetables, they started adding electrolytes etc into our processed foods. So we rarely feel adverse effects. All those things that are “fortified with vitamins and minerals” include our essential electrolytes.
Electrolytes and Keto Flu Explained
Because we cut out a lot of processed foods and refined carbohydrates, and start eating more natural, healthy, whole foods, we can feel some effects when the artificial sources of our electrolytes are taken away. Unless we know which healthy keto foods to focus on and what to include more of in our keto diets, you might feel the effects of keto flu. You can avoid it. And it really isn’t something to fear! I see people give up on keto after a month or less and they never get to experience the true health benefits of eating this way. Which is a real shame!
Water and Electrolytes
You will also be drinking plenty water to stay hydrated throughout the day, which is just good practice. It is common to increase your water intake on keto and low carb diets and it is encouraged. This is another reason to ensure you are getting sufficient levels of electrolytes. They are necessary to enable healthy biological functions of your heart, your muscles and your central nervous system. They also play a big part in aiding proper sleep patterns.
What are your electrolytes?
Sodium, Potassium, and Magnesium.
You can get all of these from various food sources (most people choose to supplement with over-the-counter magnesium, see the info at the end of this blog for the different types).
Electrolytes should be consumed daily and a big part will come from the food that you eat:
5000 – 7000 mg of sodium
1000 – 3,500 mg of potassium
300 – 500 mg of magnesium
What about keto flu?
Cutting out sugar and all those refined carbohydrates can take its toll on your system, as we said earlier, but not everyone gets keto flu. And you don’t need to get it either, you can avoid keto flu. But, if you do have mild adverse effects when you start on keto, rest assured it is short lived and within a week or two, it will pass.
Here are some of the most common effects people complain of when starting on a keto or LCHF diet. And how to prevent and cure them. Please, be mindful of your body and any symptoms. If you are unsure about anything you should always seek proper medical advice from a qualified medical professional.
Symptoms of keto flu: What helps?
Fatigue: Potassium rich foods, B1, B5 vitamins, increase sodium
Dizziness: Avocados, increase sodium
Headaches: Increase meal frequency, drink adequate water
Nausea: Bone broth/stock, bouillon
Numbness or tingling: Spinach and other nutrient dense leafy greens
Feeling cold: Increase iodine, sea kelp & seafoods
Heart palpitations: Broccoli, boost potassium
Muscle cramps: Leafy greens, boost potassium
Feeling hungry: Add more fats, incorporate Apple Cider vinegar
Vivid dreams: Increase B1 vitamin (B vitamins from Nutritional Yeast)
Bloating: Reduce fat, add Apple Cider vinegar
Keto Rash: Increase B vitamins, Nutritional Yeast, increase vegetables
Constipation: Reduce cheese, increase veg, reduce broccoli & cauliflower
Do I “need” over the counter supplements to get my electrolytes and prevent keto flu?
Not necessarily. If you eat a wide variety of meat (beef, chicken, pork), fish & seafood, nuts, and nutrient rich low carb veg. Especially focus on lots of leafy greens, and add salts to your food, then you should be just fine and manage to eat enough electrolytes and avoid keto flu.
Processed foods, like we mentioned earlier including breads and cereals, are fortified in western diets with vitamins and minerals, including electrolytes. Particularly magnesium which is not as readily available in our foods naturally, like it used to be. That’s due to poor soil conditions these days.
So, when you cut these processed foods out, you may notice the effects, especially with a lack of magnesium. You will soon know if something is “missing”. If you already take over the counter supplements or vitamins there shouldn’t be any reason to stop them, but you might choose to.
If in any doubt at all, speak to a pharmacist or your GP, always get advice from a health professional. The one thing we would suggest is do not buy over the counter potassium – too much can be harmful. Only take a potassium supplement if your GP tells you to.
Potassium can be found in various foods, and also by adding Lo Salt to your food daily. A good magnesium supplement should be taken if you can’t get enough from your food sources.
Why is sodium so important?
Our bodies need it to function. When you cut out carbs and go into ketosis, your kidneys flush out all the stored water that your body no longer needs (your body needs water to process carbohydrates – no carbs, no need to store excess water). Along with the excess water, sodium and potassium can be flushed out too. We need these, so it’s important to replace the lost salts and electrolytes while on keto. And remember, staying hydrated throughout the day is good practice – water is best, but any fluids – coffee, sugar free squash, tea – all count towards your fluid intake.
Types of salt and how to incorporate them into your diet:
Lo Salt (from all shops, usually under £2) and Himalayan Pink salts (available from most shops these days, especially TK Maxx, B&M, Amazon, health food shops, but major supermarkets are now stocking it too), or simple sea salt are good to replenish your requirements.
Add salts to your food when cooking, or sprinkle over meals.
About 1 ½ teaspoons of salt over your food or in drinks over the day.
Broth or bouillon – 1 to 2 cups per day.
Make an electrolyte drink.
Add a small pinch to your coffee or BPC – Salt counter acts the bitterness of some coffees and can give it a very pleasant taste.
½ an avocado a day
At least a good handful of spinach, kale etc daily
Mushrooms (so low in carbs you can eat these in abundance)
Lo Salt – ¼ teaspoon daily
Potassium works along with sodium for normal brain and muscle function and it regulates your blood pressure, helps with good cardiovascular health, healthy bones and good muscle strength.
Potassium imbalances may cause feelings of weakness, muscle cramps, constipation. In severe cases you might even experience heart palpitations or a skipping heartbeat. Keep in mind though, that too much is just as bad as too little so be aware of this and if supplementing, speak to your GP first. You should be able to get enough through your foods.
½ an avocado a day
A good handful of spinach and leafy greens, daily
2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds
Magnesium is needed and is present in every cell in your body. It’s the one we need the most of. It is essential for normal bodily functions, skeletal and muscle functions.
Magnesium is important for your energy metabolism, protein synthesis, cardiovascular health, blood glucose control, and your nervous system. Ask your pharmacist about the different magnesium supplements available to top up with:
For energy, muscle soreness. Best to take in the morning. It contains malic acid, which helps your cells make and use energy, soothes muscle pain. Can be beneficial for fibromyalgia.
For memory and brain. Boosts your brain and nervous system. Can also prevent memory deficits.
For relaxation. Calming properties. Can aid mental and muscle relaxation and reduce muscle cramps. It is more absorbable than magnesium oxide but you might be on diarrhoea alert (never trust a keto fart?!) Start small and increase dose slowly to find what works for you.
For sleep. One of the most absorbable forms of magnesium so a good choice if you want to raise your levels quickly. A really good choice if you get diarrhoea with any of the other forms. The glycine content in collagen is why people often take collagen before bed.
Common symptoms of magnesium deficiencies
Depression, tiredness/lethargy, muscle cramps, heart palpitations. If magnesium gives you anxiety or elevates your heart rate, you might have other minerals out of balance, like sodium and potassium. You also need adequate levels of vitamin B, and vitamin D to aid absorption.
There is no right or wrong magnesium, take the one that’s right for you.
Typical Electrolyte Drink
- 1 litre of water
- Squeeze juice of ½ a lemon
- ¾ tsp of Himalayan pink salt
- ¼ tsp of Lo-Salt
- 2 teaspoons Apple Cider vinegar (with ‘the mother’ – that’s the real stuff, the sometimes cloudy looking one that needs a good shake before you use it)
Sip throughout the day.
So there you have it, electrolytes and keto flu in a nut shell.