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Carbohydrate flu and how to beat it

Sugar has an enormous impact on our body. If we eat too much of it, it will immediately get stored as fat. It also contributes to the development of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. However, if you think that the moment you give up on sugar or most carbohydrates you are home and dry, then we have a reality check for you.

Sugar flu

I’m sure you are all familiar with the main macronutrients that the body needs – carbohydrates, protein and fats. Most of you will also know that the main and quick source of energy is carbohydrates. If you reduce your carbohydrate intake in order to enter ketosis, you might develop a set of symptoms commonly referred to as “sugar flu”, “keto flu” or “carbohydrate flu”. This is your body rebelling against the new diet and demanding the sugar that it loves so much.  This protest can take several days, weeks, or it might not happen at all.

If we take a closer look at the development of keto flu, we will see that apart from the typical sugar dependency, it is also insulin that plays a role in this process. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in response to what we consume and the amount of carbohydrates in our diet. If we eat lots of carbohydrates, the insulin production increases. Conversely, if our diet contains only small amounts of carbohydrates, the insulin production decreases.

This important hormone is responsible for the transfer of glucose (simple sugar) from the blood into the cells of skeletal muscles, heart and fat tissue. It also controls, albeit indirectly, the storage of energy taken by the body and it prevents the kidneys from excreting water and some minerals.

If you reduce your carbohydrate intake, your insulin levels will also drop. Your body starts to excrete more water and minerals, the blood sugar levels go down and before you know it, the keto flu is here. 

Keto flu symptoms

I’ll be honest with you – the first few days might be a challenge, especially for those of you whose diet used to be packed with carbohydrates. Your body might struggle to adjust to the new diet and the new fuel. But there’s no need to be worried or scared. The keto flu is only temporary and usually lasts just a few days. It comes on quickly and before you know it, it’s gone again.

Before your body figures out that it can naturally use energy from its fat reserves, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • tiredness
  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • headaches
  • nausea, constipation
  • irritability, anxiety
  • insomnia
  • cramps in legs, tingling
  • palpitations
  • feeling thirsty or experiencing strange tastes
  • feeling hungry

Not everyone will get the keto flu. Why is that?

There is no simple answer to this. Just as we all respond differently to physical exertion, stress or food, there are also differences in our reactions to the reduction of carbohydrates in our diet. Apart from your previous diet, it is also genetics, level of dehydration, your mental state and a possible mineral deficiency (mainly sodium, magnesium and potassium) that will determine whether you will develop any of the keto flu symptoms.

How to get through the keto flu?

Starting a low-carb diet might be a challenge for you, however, there are some tips on how to alleviate the symptoms or stave off the keto flu altogether.

Keto / Sugar flu | KetoDietLeave an intense workout till later

Having reduced your carbohydrate intake, running or even walking for a bus or tram might be a struggle. Therefore, it is important that you limit the level of your usual physical activity at this stage and that you don’t take up any new exercise. You should avoid strength training, extreme cycling, fast running or circuit training. Go for yoga or long walks instead. Take it easy and give yourself time and space to adjust.

Have a rest and relax

If you’re having trouble sleeping or feel weak and lethargic, make sure you get some good quality rest. Lack of sleep increases the level of cortisol, a stress hormone. It activates the body and increases the blood pressure and cardiac output. This will then have a negative impact on your mood as well your sleep pattern - a classic vicious circle.

Try having a cold shower in the morning, going out to get some fresh air more often, limiting your caffeine intake (especially in the evening) AND no electronic devices before bedtime!

Keep hydrated

This is not just some old cliché. When following any low-carb regime, and therefore also a KetoDiet plan, your body excretes higher volumes of water. Keeping hydrated is therefore very important even if you don’t feel thirsty. Plenty of fluids will help you fight off weakness and cramps.

Top up your mineral levels if needed

I have already talked about how insulin affects the levels of fluids and minerals in the body. To put it simply: low insulin levels = higher risk of dehydration = increased loss of potassium, sodium or magnesium = higher risk of headaches, muscle cramps, anxiety and sleep problems.

That is why our protein meals and drinks are enriched with important minerals to help your body maintain a healthy mineral balance. We also recommend that you don’t unnecessarily limit your salt intake as it will increase your chances of fending off some of the keto flu symptoms.

Foods rich in potassium (K): tomatoes, fresh spinach, mushrooms

Foods rich in magnesium (Mg): broccoli, cabbage, fresh spinach, artichoke

A good and easy source of sodium (Na) is ordinary table salt.

Don’t be afraid of healthy fats

With the change in your diet, you might experience sudden bouts of craving for sugar or anything that you can’t have. These cravings can be pretty intense. In order to withstand these sudden sugar dips, go for healthy fats. Make sure you always have with you some nuts, such as almonds or cashews. Include avocado in your diet and when making salads, use a good-quality olive oil.  Even home-made mayonnaise is allowed!

I wish you all the best and hope that the carbohydrate/sugar/keto flu won’t stand any chance with you. However, if you need a bit of moral support or some advice when starting on a diet plan, please feel free to email us.

Have a great day!


Author: Janina Dvořáková

Photo: Depositphotos


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