The keto diet, which restricts carbohydrates and trains the body to burn fat as fuel instead, has gained attention for potential benefits like weight loss, increased focus and energy, and even as treatment to certain illnesses.
And while the diet remains controversial among health professionals, marketers are eagerly stepping up to cash in on the interest with supplements billed to fill gaps in the diet and help dieters “get into ketosis,” or when the body is forced to switch its energy source from carbs to fat.
INSIDER talked to a nutritionist and a keto follower to learn which products may be helpful for some people, which are simply expensive and unnecessary, and which may actually set people back in their goals.
As your body gets into ketosis and converts to using fats instead of carbs for energy, it produces an acid called beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB for short. This is one of several compounds known as ketones that are used to power your body and brain in ketosis.
Synthetic BHB in supplements, a type of exogenous ketone supplement, claims to help people reach ketosis more quickly, lessen the negative side effects known as “keto flu,” or even give people the purported benefits of keto without the diet.
But particularly when it comes to weight loss, the research on how BHB supplements work in humans is mixed, registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick told INSIDER.
One study has suggested that exogenous ketone supplements can help induce ketosis in rats without restricting carbs. However, a more recent study found that similar supplements not only didn’t work to boost ketosis, but also caused side effects like nausea and stomach pain in human volunteers.
Suzanne Ryan, author of “Simply Keto” who’s lost 120 pounds on the plan, advised people to avoid exogenous ketone supplements, which she said are marketed on the false assumption that more ketones means faster weight loss or a better, more effective keto diet.
In fact, the opposite can be true — store-bought ketones can actually raise the level of acid in your blood and make it more difficult your body to naturally break down fat, according to Healthline.
Medium-chain triglyercides (or MCTs) are fatty acids that some research suggests may boost metabolism and help control appetite. Many keto dieters add them to coffee, along with butter, for a high-fat morning boost.
While you may get similar benefits from using coconut oil in cooking or baking, or mixing it into your morning coffee, research has found it may be more effective to a use a more concentrated supplement called MCT oil.
There is, however, no evidence to suggest that expensive MCT oil sold by high-profile wellness companies is any more effective than generic oils.
Many keto diet plans advertise an electrolyte blend as a means of preventing or easing keto flu, which can include symptoms like nausea, headaches, and irritability. It’s true that getting more potassium and sodium can help.
But, while keto companies are happy to sell you an expensive electrolyte supplement, Ryan said it’s just as easy, and better for you, to opt for whole foods like avocados for potassium and bone broth for sodium.
“You can get everything you need through the foods you’re eating,” she said.
You can also help prevent keto flu by drinking plenty of water and replacing electrolytes lost through fluids, Kirkpatrick said.
If, for convenience, you do want an electrolyte mix, there are plenty of inexpensive varieties available that don’t add carbs, including those for athletes in the form of sports drinks or powders.
Magnesium is not often marketed specifically to keto dieters, but probably should be, Kirkpatrick said, since water loss during early ketosis also reduces the body’s supply of this important nutrient.
Plus, it’s hard to consume enough through food on keto since it’s naturally found in whole wheat and beans, both too carb-heavy to play a frequent role in plan. However, keto dieters can acquire magnesium through spinach, almonds, cashews, peanuts and yogurt, all of which are keto-friendly.
Most other vitamins can be obtained by eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables (which the keto diet allows in abundance), so a majority of people on keto don’t need a multivitamin.
Many weight-loss supplements contain caffeine, and keto products are no exception. While it’s true that caffeine can help speed your metabolism by causing you to burn more energy, it has nothing to do with ketosis.
Be aware that supplements often contain pure or highly-concentrated caffeine, and even a small amount of it can cause an overdose with serious side effects. Read labels carefully and avoid consuming too much — 400 milligrams per day of caffeine is usually considered a safe amount.
Caffeine also contributes to dehydration, so if it’s a part of your regular diet, be sure to also drink enough water.