What is keto breath?
Ultra-low carb diets have grown in popularity over recent years. At the time of writing, there were over 15m #keto tags on Instagram. The aim of these “keto” diets (short for ketogenic) is to facilitate weight loss by minimising carbohydrates and increasing fat intake, in order to get the body to use fat as a form of energy.
Keto diets have become popular on account of their rapid results, together with the practical benefits of consuming healthy volumes of the right foods, making hunger less of a problem than more typical calorie-controlled diets.
After about two to seven days of following a keto diet, you go into something called ketosis, the state the body enters when it doesn’t have enough carbohydrates for cells to use for energy. That’s when the body starts making ketones, or organic compounds, that the body then uses in place of the missing carbohydrates. At this point, the body also starts burning fat for more energy. This, in turn, can lead to weight loss.
However, one of the most common complaints from being on a keto diet, is that it can result in “ketosis breath” or “keto breath”. Quite simply, individuals opting for a very low carb diet can suffer from pungent and unpleasant smelling breath.
So what can be done to counteract this problem?
The Cause of Ketosis Breath
In order to learn how to get rid of keto breath, we first need to understand why breath can smell when choosing to follow a ketogenic diet.
There are two potential causes(1), both of which can operate independently, or in conjunction with one another.
The most typical source of energy used by the body is glucose. This is typically derived from carbohydrates, and is where the digestive system breaks down complex sugars into simple glucose molecules.
On very low carb diets, the body is unable to access glucose as a fuel. Instead, the liver utilises the fat present in the body as an energy source, producing “ketones” in the process(2). This is known as “ketosis” – and it is from this process that the keto diet derives its name.
These ketone bodies come in three common forms; acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetone. In large quantities they are removed from the body through the urine or through exhalation.
Ketones can have quite a characteristic smell; they often make the dieter’s breath smell quite sweet and fruity, quite distinct from a typical bad breath smell. Excessive volumes of acetone, however, can smell rather different. Acetone on the breath is most commonly likened to the smell of nail polish remover.
In summary, the release of ketones and their effect on a dieter’s breath can be linked directly to the reduction of carbs and the subsequent breakdown of fat as a fuel source.
A second possible origin of ketosis breath is a side effect caused not by the lack of carbohydrates, but by the increased consumption of other nutrients; most typically fat and protein.
A diet that is high in protein can impact the breath in two ways. Firstly, the breakdown of protein in the body produces ammonia which can lead to strong smelling urine or breath. If your breath has started to acquire this distinctive smell (you can do a quick check by licking the back of your wrist, waiting a few seconds and then smelling) while on a ketosis diet then this may well be your culprit!
The most common cause of bad breath is from bacteria in the mouth. There are many strains of bacteria found within the mouth, but the odour-causing strains all tend to have one thing in common. They feed and reproduce within the mouth, and in doing so they produce sulphurous compounds. Most commonly known as Volatile Sulphur Compounds or simply VSCs. It’s these noxious gases which are mainly responsible for halitosis.
It is interesting to note that studies suggest that the most common source of VSC production is the breakdown specifically of protein, as opposed to other food sources. Higher protein diets, especially in the absence of effective oral hygiene, can impact the freshness of the breath.
How to Stop Ketosis Breath
Keto diets can impact one’s breath in a number of ways; through providing extra food for odour-causing bacteria through increased protein in the diet, to increasing ammonia production and also the release of ketones and acetone.
The following steps can be beneficial in getting rid of bad breath caused by keto diets:
Stop following a Keto diet
Switching from a ketosis diet is of course the most obvious way to get rid of ketosis breath. By raising your carbohydrate intake gently your body should stop producing ketones, resulting fresher breath.
However, if you’re benefiting from being on a keto diet, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to stop. If you’re managing to lose weight due to this new diet, who could blame you for wanting to carry on? Therefore, we’ve come up with some alternative steps.
Clean the tongue
Most VSCs can be found on the tongue. As well as brushing teeth twice daily, it’s important to clean the tongue too. Using a tongue scraper is even more effective, so investing in a tongue scraper can be a worthwhile exercise as it can lead to a reduction of VSCs.
Simply sipping on water throughout the day isn’t just beneficial for hydrating the body, it can also help in the fight against bad breath. Drinking plenty of water serves to not only rid your mouth of excess food particles but also effectively lubricates the mouth.
Reduce Protein Intake
If you’ve adopted a high protein diet to replace the carbohydrates you would normally consume, some experts claim that increasing the fat in your diet, while reducing protein, can also have a beneficial impact on bad breath caused by dieting.
Mask Unpleasant Odours
If your bad breath is being caused solely by ketone production, and you’re keen to stay on your diet, one of the few remaining solutions is simply to mask the smell as much as possible.
Consider the use of calorie-free and carb-free mints or gum, or use a flavoured oral preparation such as the alcohol-free UltraDEX mint mouthwash. The UltraDEX mint-flavoured breath spray is a great solution for freshening up on the go, so you can stay fresh breath confident throughout the day.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that some dieters find that ketosis breath only lasts for a short period of time, usually measured in weeks. After this point, it seems that some people’s bodies become accustomed to their new fuel source, and the malodour disappears.
As a result, no matter which of the many solutions you experiment with, it is reassuring to know that ketosis breath may well clear up on its own with enough patience.