When you start a very low-carb ketogenic diet, you’ll flush water and sodium out of your body in the first few weeks. As your sodium levels fall, so too will potassium levels. This can leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and wondering what you got yourself into. Fear not, it’s only temporary. Here are some suggestions for avoiding key mineral deficiencies when jumping into a ketogenic diet.
When you lose sodium on a keto diet, the salt depletion causes a parallel loss of potassium. Common symptoms of a potassium deficiency - the medical term is hypokalemia - include weakness, muscular cramps, constipation, irritability or skin problems. In athletes, low potassium can compromise lean muscle mass which will ultimately impact performance, and in more severe cases, you may experience heart palpitations, irregular heartbeats, respiratory distress (and even heart failure with serious deficiency).
Virtually all fruits and veggies contain significant amounts of potassium, but not all are keto friendly. In fact, most people don’t realize that animal protein is terrific source of dietary potassium, however the cooking process strips a great deal of it away (but the leftover juices from cooking can be used to keep your levels up).
Here is a list of my potassium rich keto-friendly foods;
- Cream of tartar (2 Tsp - 990 mg) -
- Spinach (1 cup) – 840mg
- Avocado (1/2 medium) - 500mg
- Kale (1 cup) – 330mg
- Avocado (1/2 medium) - 500mg
- Mushrooms (1 cup) - 420mg
It is an electrolyte that counteracts the effects of sodium, helping to maintain consistent blood pressure. Potassium is also important for maintaining the balance of acids and bases in the body. Bases are alkalis that have not yet dissolved in water.
- Blood pressure and cardiovascular health
Low potassium intake has repeatedly been linked with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, but ensuring a good intake of potassium may be just as important.
An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium is crucial to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In one study, those who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed about 1,000 mg per day.
2. Bone and muscle maintenance
Potassium-rich foods maintain an alkaline environment in the body, unlike in acidosis. Metabolic acidosis is triggered by a diet full of acidifying foods like meat, dairy products, and processed cereal grains. Acidosis is a common outcome of the typically acidic Western diet.
Acidosis can cause nitrogen excretion, loss in bone mineral density, and muscle wasting. A diet high in potassium can help preserve muscle mass in older people, as well as during conditions that tend to lead to muscle wasting, such as diabetic ketosis. However, a sufficient potassium intake can help prevent this.
One study found that participants that took in 5,266 milligrams of potassium per day maintained an average of 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue mass than those with a potassium intake 50 percent lower. Some studies also show an increase in bone density with high potassium intake.
Lack of magnesium is likely the culprit. Magnesium is the body’s “calming” mineral; helping to keep your brain, heart and muscles relaxed. It’s also essential for protein synthesis, blood sugar control, energy metabolism and over 300 other biochemical reactions in the body. Intense exercise, lack of sleep, and stress can all deplete magnesium levels.
Animal protein is also a great source of magnesium – in particular shellfish like oysters and mussels – along with leafy greens. Veggies get their deep green colour from chlorophyll, and the core of the chlorophyll molecule is magnesium, so make sure to always eat your leafy greens at mealtime. The darker the leafy green, the more magnesium.
Include the following regularly;
- Supplements (1 tablet - 500mg)
- Spinach (1 cup) – 157mg
- Swiss Chard (1 cup) – 154mg
- Pumpkin Seeds (1/8 cup) – 90mg
- Oysters (3 oz.) – 80mg
- Yogurt (Plain) – 50mg
- Avocado (1/2 medium)– 30mg
An adequate intake can help prevent problems with bones, the cardiovascular system, diabetes, and other functions.
The following health benefits have been associated with magnesium.
1. Bone health
Magnesium is important for bone formation. It helps assimilate calcium into the bone and plays a role in activating vitamin D in the kidneys. Vitamin D is also essential for healthy bones.
Optimal magnesium intake is associated with greater bone density, improved bone crystal formation, and a lower risk of osteoporosis in women after menopause.
2. Calcium absorption
Calcium and magnesium are important for maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis.
Without magnesium, a high intake of calcium can increase the risk of arterial calcification and cardiovascular disease, as well as kidney stones.
Anyone who is taking calcium supplements should also take magnesium to ensure their calcium intake is properly metabolized.
Magnesium plays an important role in carbohydrate and glucose metabolism, so magnesium status can also impact the risk of diabetes.
Several studies have associated a higher intake of magnesium with a lower risk of diabetes.
For every 100 mg per day increase in magnesium intake, up to a point, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by approximately 15 percent. Low magnesium levels were linked to impaired insulin secretion and lower insulin sensitivity.
In most of these studies, the magnesium intake was from dietary sources. However, other studies have shown improvement in insulin sensitivity with a magnesium supplement intake of between 300 and 365 mg per day.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Diabetes Association note that further evidence is needed before magnesium can be routinely used for glycemic control in patients with diabetes.
4. Heart health
Magnesium is necessary to maintain the health of muscles, including the heart, and for the transmission of electrical signals in the body.
Adequate magnesium intake has been associated with a lower risk of:
- atherosclerosis, a fatty buildup on the walls of arteries
- hypertension, or high blood pressure
In the Framingham Heart Study, people with the highest intake of magnesium were found to have a 58 percent lower chance of coronary artery calcification and a 34 percent lower chance of abdominal artery calcification.
- Patients who receive magnesium soon after a heart attack have a lower risk of mortality. Magnesium is sometimes used as part of the treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF), to reduce the risk of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm.
A daily intake of 365 mg of magnesium a day has been shown to improve lipid profiles.
The NIH cite findings "significantly" associating higher magnesium levels in the blood with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and of ischemic heart disease resulting from a low blood supply to the heart. They also note that higher magnesium levels may lower the risk of stroke.
However, they point out that taking magnesium supplements lowers blood pressure "to only a small extent."
The NIH call for a large, well-designed investigation to understand how magnesium from the diet or from supplements might help protect the heart.
5. Migraine headaches
Small studies have suggested that magnesium therapy may help prevent or relieve headaches, but the amount likely to be needed to make a difference is high. It should only be administered by a health professional.
6. Premenstrual syndrome
Ensuring an adequate intake of magnesium, especially combined with vitamin B6, may help relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as bloating, insomnia, leg swelling, weight gain, and breast tenderness.
7. Relieving anxiety
Reductions in magnesium levels, or changes in the way that it is processed, have been linked to increased levels of anxiety.
This appears to related activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a set of three glands that control a person's reaction to stress.
Research has shown that a low-magnesium diet may alter the types of bacteria present in the gut, and this may impact anxiety-based behavior.
One of the biggest health and nutrition “myths” is that you should avoid salt. If you’re fit, healthy, and following a keto diet you’ll lose water and sodium in the first few weeks. For athletes, this problem can be compounded because you also lose sodium through your sweat, and as your sweat rate increases, your sodium and blood volume will decline. Not a good recipe for optimal energy and performance.
On the flip side, if you’re overweight, out of shape or in poor health then your body is likely already holding on to too much sodium from high consumption of packaged and processed foods (i.e. sodium is used as the primary preservative) or from chronically elevated insulin levels. Therefore, a low-carb or keto approach is great way to restore healthy levels.
Symptoms of low sodium include fatigue, headaches, compromised ability to perform (especially outdoors in the heat) and in more serious cases you may pass out. Remember that most of the sodium in your body is found in your bloodstream, so if your body gets deficient, you don’t have many reserves to tap into.
In the first few weeks on a keto diet, only about half of your weight loss is from body-fat. The other half is from water and sodium loss. Therefore, getting enough sodium is crucial.
Aim for an extra 1,000-2,000mg of sodium daily via;
- Pink Himalayan
- Celtic Sea salt
- Bouillon (1-2 cups per day)
Athletes should aim to take one gram 30 minutes before workouts to offset adverse effects of low sodium on performance.