People often ask me about potassium deficiency (or any other mineral deficiency) on a low-carb, ketogenic diet. I decided to summarise which minerals you should be aware of and what the adequate intake is...
To pin or bookmark an easy to follow guide to keto-flu remedies, have a look at this post!
What is "Keto-Flu"?
Electrolytes (sodium, magnesium and potassium) are often underestimated on low-carb diets. As low-carb expert and scientific researcher Dr. Volek suggests, mineral and electrolyte management is the key to avoiding side effects typically associated with low carb dieting. When entering the induction phase of a Ketogenic Diet (50 grams or less of total carbs - about 20-30 grams of net carbs), most people experience "keto-flu”. This often scares them off and they start to think that low-carb is not right for their body. The "flu" is nothing else than a result of starving your body of carbohydrates. Stay strong! You can easily counteract these effects by replenishing electrolytes. Make sure you include foods rich in electrolytes in your everyday diet and take food supplements (if needed).
Firstly, I would like to share my own experience with electrolyte deficiency. I have been really tired recently. It was actually so bad that I couldn't open my eyes and could barely get up even after 7-9 hours of sleep. Also, my energy levels at gym were very low. I woke up in the middle of the night and experienced heart palpitations (weird feeling that could be described as "heart beating too fast"). I knew what was going on: I was magnesium / potassium deficient. I have been on a low-carb diet for more than a year and always made sure I include food rich in these minerals in my diet. The truth is, I have been so busy recently that I didn't pay enough attention to my diet. Also, stress may have contributed to all this. Excessive stress usualy means you need more vitamins and minerals. So, I got some supplements - an easy way to boost your electrolyte intake. The one for magnesium was great: 400 mg which is 100% RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) per pill, while the supplement for potassium was not as good: 99 mg per pill (only 5% RDA). I understand that this is due to the risk of excessive potassium intake which may be as dangerous as potassium deficiency. However, I still prefer using lite salt (potassium chloride or potassium sulfate. 1/2 a teaspoon of lite salt (mixed in a litre of water) provides 750 mg of potassium! Now, let's have a look at why electrolytes are so important for us...
The most commonly deficient mineral (not just on low-carb diets) is potassium. EDR (Estimated Daily Minimum) for potassium is round 2,000 mg for healthy adults. However, people on a ketogenic diet have special requirements on the top of this, which is round 1,000 mg more. There are a few ways how you can boost your potassium intake. Eat food rich in potassium or take supplements (if needed). Be careful about potassium supplements, too much of potassium can be toxic and as dangerous as its deficiency. AI (Adequate Intake) of potassium is stated to be 4,700 mg a day. There is no upper limit for healthy individuals and you shouldn't worry about eating too much of potassium, unless you take supplements. Some salt substitutes are very high in potassium while other potassium supplements like this one only contain 5% EMR.
Who should consult supplementation with his doctor: those with kidney disease or take medication for high blood pressure, heart failure or other conditions. Also, salt substitutes may interfere with some medications.
Why is potassium so important for us? Here are signs of potassium deficiency (hypokalemia):
- cardiac arrhythmia
- muscular weakness and muscle cramps, weakness
- depression and irritability
- heart palpitations
- skin problems
- respiratory depression, heart failure (severe deficiency)
Unfortunately, many potassium-rich foods are not keto-friendly but here is a list of keto-friendly potassium-rich foods:
- avocados (~ 1,000 mg per average piece)
- nuts ( ~ 100-300 mg per 30g / 1 oz serving, depending on the type)
- dark leafy greens (~ 160 mg per cup of raw, 840 mg per cooked)
- salmon (~ 800 mg per average filet)
- mushrooms (~ 100-200 mg per cup)
Magnesium is commonly deficient in modern diets, including low-carb diets. You should be aware of your intake, especially if you are an active individual like me. RDA for healthy adults is 400 mg a day. However, if you are suffering from magnesium deficiency, you may experience muscle cramps, dizziness and fatigue. Of course, severe magnesium deficiency can result in more serious problems.
Here is a list of foods rich in magnesium:
- nuts (~ 75 mg per 1 oz of almonds)
- cacao powder and dark chocolate (~ 80 mg per 1 tbsp cacao powder)
- artichokes (~ 75 mg per average piece)
- fish (~ 60 mg per average fillet of salmon)
- spinach, cooked (~ 75 mg per 1 cup)
- blackstrap molasses (~ 50 mg per 1 tbsp)
Who should consult supplementation with his doctor: those with kidney disease or taking diuretics (magnesium citrate has a diuretic effect).
Sodium has always been advised against, especially for those trying to lose weight. The truth is that your body needs extra sodium on a low-carb diet. The reason is that insulin, which also has the effect of reducing the rate at which sodium is extracted through kidneys, drops and it can cause sodium levels to drop significantly, too. You should eat 3,000-5,000 mg of additional sodium occurring naturally in food. It's quite simple to get sufficient intake of sodium: Unless you have any medical conditions that restrict your sodium intake, don't be afraid to use salt, and even if you feel you need more, drink 1-2 cups of bouillon / stock / broth a day.
High sodium content is also one of the reasons bacon has gained such a bad reputation. To read more about bacon, check out my post: 3 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Fear Bacon. Keep in mind that sodium in bacon is very high and doesn't count as "naturally occurring in food."
You can make your own electrolyte drink in a few easy steps: Beat Keto-Flu with Homemade Electrolyte Drink
Who should consult supplementation with his doctor: those with heart failure or kidney disease.
To find out more about the ketogenic diet and keto-friendly recipes, check out my apps KetoDiet, KetoDiet Basic and my new cookbook!