When I first started the low-carb way of eating, there were a whole lot of people coming out of the woodwork to offer “advice” on the dangers: “Haven’t you heard of ketoacidosis?” or “There’s no way that low-carb is sustainable!” or even worse: “Don’t do a low carb diet… you could die from that!”
Will I get Ketoacidosis from Low Carb?
Please note: the nutritional information for this article is provided by Cara Halber, a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
If you’ve been asking around about low carb diet, chances are you’ve heard this extremely unhelpful piece of advice perhaps about dying or any number of other things. And, like me, you’ve started asking yourself: “Could there be some truth to this? Can low carb harm me?”
First of all, it takes two very specific events to occur simultaneously in the body for you to have any concern that low-carb could be dangerous. This is very rare and can only happen if you have uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Now, uncontrolled blood sugar levels usually occur in people who have diabetes.
So if you are not diabetic, there’s very little reason to worry. And if you are, you should know that a low-carb diet has the potential to be extraordinarily beneficial. You do need to be aware though. If your blood tests show that your sugar levels are consistently above 15mmol/l, something’s not going right. As a comparison, normal levels are between 4-6mmol/l.
But this is only one part of the equation. If you’re just starting your low-carb journey, you may have already heard of ketosis and ketoacidosis. And, like I did in the beginning, you may get them confused. Don’t worry, people confuse them all the time. That’s one of the reasons why low-carb is considered harmful. So let’s dig a little deeper into these two terms – they’re actually two very different body states.
Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis
You may have heard about ketosis being dangerous. And what about ketoacidosis? The names may be similar, but each one is a completely different state.
First off, ketoacidosis is a condition that occurs when the blood’s pH becomes too acidic for the body to handle. A normal pH level is between 7.35 and 7.45. And even 0.01 outside this range can cause serious problems. So ketoacidosis occurs when the pH falls below this range. The symptoms are vomiting, dehydration – and if it’s left untreated coma and even death. Our bodies have developed mechanisms to keep our blood in this stable range, regardless of what else is happening in the body. In fact, our body will even pull calcium from our bones in order to increase the pH of the blood. Isn’t that amazing?
So if your body is so proficient at controlling the pH of the blood, it will take more than a couple of tablespoons of butter in your morning coffee to cause your blood’s pH to fluctuate. Diet has virtually no influence on the acidity of the bloodstream but can affect other systems, like bone density – remember what I said earlier about the body pulling calcium for the bones to maintain a normal pH level of the blood?
Since your body will do anything to keep your blood pH in check, it will sacrifice the mineralization of your bones, causing them to become weaker if there are not enough minerals in your diet. Luckily, the most acidic foods to eat that may cause this phenomenon to happen are not a part of the low-carb lifestyle – the most acidic foods are soda, sugar, and grains.
The second condition that’s required for ketoacidosis is a ketone blood level greater than 5 mmol/l. 0.6-3.0mmol/l is the range for nutritional ketosis, what your aim may be with an LCHF diet. While it is possible to reach a ketone level of 5mmol/l it is not an issue unless your blood sugars are high at the same time. If you are eating high fat but don’t measure your ketone levels, there is nothing to worry about.
The thing to remember is that ketoacidosis is a rare condition. It mostly affects people with Type I diabetes that is not yet under control. Obviously, if you have any reason to be concerned about it, be sure to consult with your doctor.
On the other hand, ketosis is a normal state, where your body’s main fuel source becomes fat. Our bodies need energy for all the complex processes happening inside. The most common source of energy is sugar. But our bodies can also run on fat. And not only does fat provide a higher quality energy for our body, but we’re also experiencing a linear energy level throughout the day. So when your body is in ketosis, you’re a fat burning machine, instead of sugar. That’s it.
Now that you’re armed with more knowledge about ketosis and ketoacidosis, you can move forward with confidence and continue your low-carb lifestyle. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to put them in the comments below.