Do you need to test your ketones?
The short answer is NO but one thing that’s nice about the keto diet is there is a way you can check to see if you’re doing it right. With that being said, if you keep your net carbohydrates under 20 grams and your total carbs under 50 grams, you will get yourself into ketosis.
Like most people, when we started keto we ran out and purchased ketone urine strips. It was so awesome around day 3 to see that little stick turn from white to dark purple. Then came week 4 and that little stick was hardly changing color. We were keeping our net carbs under 20 so what were we doing wrong? The answer is nothing. Urine ketone strips test for acetoacetate but not for Beta-hydroxybutyrate, which are the ketones that are the most active in the blood. When your body makes more ketones than it can use, it gets rid of them through the urine and thats what the pee strips are measuring. Once you get into ketosis and your body begins utilizing them, very few, if any, will appear in your urine. When we realized that, we purchased a blood ketone meter. The problem with blood meters is they are expensive to use. The cheapest one on the market is the Keto Coach and it costs 65 cents a test plus the initial cost of the meter. Even the blood tests can be inaccurate with your level of ketosis. The blood meters test for the Beta-hydroxybutyrate that is floating in your blood, not the ones in your body mass. Basically, the more body mass you have, the lower the ketones in your blood may be since you’re utilizing them. For example, Joe has more muscle and more mass than Rachel. He consistently keeps his carbs under 20 net carbs yet usually only registers between .5 and 1.0 on the blood meter. Rachel on the other hand, usually measures ketones around 1.0-1.8. The other thing to consider is that the longer you do keto, the better your body gets at utilizing the ketones. Just remember, blood meters are testing to see if you have ketones in your blood, not how effectively you’re using them. And keep in mind, high ketone numbers do not necessarily mean more weight loss.
The third way you can measure ketones is with a breath meter like the Ketonix. Breath meters are great for testing those low levels of ketosis but only if you do it properly. The breath meters measure acetone in your breath. When you body is burning fat and converting it to ketones, the by product is acetone in your breath, hence the term “Keto Breath”. While you can measure these ketones, you need a good meter and the better ones are between $150-$200. Because the breath meters are basically measuring gases, the pollutants in the air can effect the readings so you need one that calibrates itself. The other issue with breath meters is it takes a little practice to get accurate numbers. Acetone is at the bottom of the lungs so there is a special technique to get to them when you exhale into the meter. Also, eating or drinking prior to using a breath meter will affect the result.
There are times when you may want to measure ketones. If you have been doing keto for a while and not feeling optimum, you may want to test your blood. Testing your blood will at least give you an idea of whats going on. If you are seeing really low numbers, you want to consider a fast to reset your body or analyze your diet. You may be consuming too many hidden carbs. We like to use the Keto-mojo for experiments like what a fast does to our body or changing the amount of fat we consume. For the most part though, we don’t check our ketone levels.
In the end, you don’t really need to test for ketones. If you are strapped for cash and trying to do keto on a budget, the better thing to test is your blood glucose. You can pick up a blood glucose meter at Wal-Mart for about $8 and the test strips can be purchased for as little as 3 cents. Measuring your glucose level will give you an accurate idea of whats going on with your body. It’s also a great way to see if you should eat a particular food or steer away from it. Just test in the morning to see your fasting glucose level and then test about 1-2 hours after eating. The bigger the spike, the more that particular food is affecting your glucose.