The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as simply “keto”, is becoming quite popular. The high-fat, ultra low-carb diet may seem bizarre to newcomers, but millions of keto fans have benefitted from the diet over the years.
Eating keto can be challenging, particularly in the beginning. Your body will undergo a lot of change in the switch from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat. And even once you’re established with keto, maintaining the diet while ensuring you get all the nutrients you need can be a challenge.
While discipline and a balanced diet are most important, there are also some supplements for keto that you can take to potentially make things easier. We’ll explain some of the best supplements for keto diets in the guide below.
How Can Supplements Help with a Keto Diet?
There are many different supplements that can potentially have some benefits for ketogenic dieters. They typically fall into one of these categories:
- Balanced Nutrition – When you switch to eating keto, you’ll have to cut out a LOT of foods that can be a good source of various vitamins, minerals and nutrients. Some of the supplements we recommend seek to help you maintain a balanced nutrition profile in your diet, by adding in specific nutrients without increasing carbohydrate intake.
- Ketosis – Some supplements used by keto dieters help to keep you in the state of ketosis, which is the entire goal of the ketogenic diet. Most of these consist of healthy fat supplements, like omega-3’s and MCT oil. These also provide a great source of calories from fat, with minimal carbohydrates.
- Transition – The transition into a keto diet can be difficult. As your body adapts to the new energy source, there can be some side effects like headaches, fatigue, hunger cravings and more. Even returning to ketosis after breaking your diet can be a challenge and can produce some unpleasant side effects. Some supplements may help to ease this transition and minimize side effects.
What are the Best Supplements for Keto?
What are electrolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals in the body that have an electric charge. They are important for proper hydration, maintaining balanced pH levels and many other processes in the body. The main electrolytes are magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium.
How electrolytes can help with keto
The switch to a keto diet can alter the way your body deals with water and electrolytes. When switching to keto, the change in your body’s processing of glycogen (among other changes) can cause more water to be expelled from the body, which removes electrolytes along with it.
In many cases, this can cause temporary electrolyte imbalances. An imbalance of electrolytes can cause dehydration, fatigue, headaches and other side effects – a collection of symptoms commonly called the “keto flu”. The keto flu can be quite unpleasant and can lead to a lot of people quitting the diet before any benefits are realized.
Increasing electrolyte intake through the use of supplements can help minimize the unpleasant transition. Thus, electrolyte supplements may be beneficial for those new to the keto diet. Some keto dieters continue to use electrolyte supplements long-term, which is not strictly necessary if you eat a balanced diet.
How to take electrolytes
To reduce or prevent the symptoms of the “keto flu”, we recommend taking a mixed electrolyte supplement on a daily basis for the first several weeks of the keto diet. You should also ensure that you drink plenty of water during this time – and recognize that you’ll likely need more water than usual when transitioning into keto.
Electrolyte side effects
When taken as directed, electrolytes typically do not cause side effects. With that said, all of the electrolytes can cause problems if you consume too much of them. Don’t exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations, and do not take electrolytes long-term unless directed by a doctor.
What is potassium?
Potassium is a mineral that is important for bone and muscle maintenance, fluid balance, cardiovascular health and more. It’s also one of the main electrolytes, which are discussed in greater detail above. Up to 98% of Americans do not get enough potassium in their diets, and ketogenic dieters may be even more at risk for a potassium deficiency.
How potassium can help with keto
Potassium is an electrolyte, and it plays an important role in electrolyte balance in the body. This in turn affects hydration, energy levels, muscle function and more. It also helps to lower blood pressure and preserve muscle mass in older people. It may also help to reduce muscle weakness and wasting for those in ketosis – although more research is needed.
The keto diet unfortunately excludes many foods traditionally seen as primary sources of potassium. Foods like bananas, sweet potato and squash are some of the best sources of potassium – but they are all far too high in carbohydrates to fit into the keto diet. Thus, many people use potassium supplements instead.
How to take potassium
Potassium can be obtained through some keto-friendly foods, like avocados and spinach. Potassium is also included in most electrolyte supplements and sports drinks. And of course, it’s available on its own in supplement form.
The recommended daily intake of potassium is 4,700 mg per day. Supplement forms usually contain between 100mg and 600mg per serving. You should try to obtain adequate potassium through your diet, but supplements can help fill in the gaps in some cases. You should never rely solely on potassium supplements, however – the focus should be on eating plenty of potassium-rich (and keto-friendly) foods.
Potassium side effects
Potassium supplements can cause side effects like nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain and vomiting. If taken in large doses, more serious side effects are possible.
Taking too much potassium can be toxic. We recommend talking to your doctor if you intend to take potassium supplements long-term.
What is calcium?
Calcium is an important dietary mineral that helps strengthen bones, manage weight, regulate nerve function and more. It’s also one of the main electrolytes that the body needs to perform many different roles.
How calcium can help with keto
Calcium is vital to a huge range of processes in the body. Most people get the bulk of their dietary calcium through dairy products and fortified cereals/breads. Unfortunately, these foods are often too high in carbohydrates for the keto diet.
Additionally, high protein diets (such as keto) have been shown to increase the excretion of calcium. So, it’s possible for keto dieters to lose more calcium and consume less calcium than the average person. Thus, keto practitioners must take extra steps to ensure they get enough of this key mineral.
How to take calcium
The RDA for calcium ranges from 1,000 to 1,200 mg per day, depending on age and gender. This amount should ideally be obtained through the diet, where possible. You can get some calcium from keto-friendly foods like broccoli, hard cheeses and dark leafy greens. You can also drink small amounts of milk, but just be mindful of the ~11g of carbs per cup of milk.
Keto dieters may need to add calcium supplements to their diets. For best results, do not exceed manufacturer recommendations. And, try to obtain calcium from a mix of dietary sources. Lastly, do not exceed the upper tolerable limit amounts for calcium (2,000 to 2,500 mg).
Calcium side effects
Calcium can cause common side effects like belching and gas. Higher doses can cause more serious side effects, so it’s important to not exceed the upper limit (2,000mg for most adults). Keep in mind that this upper limit includes calcium from all sources, both dietary and supplemental.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that is very important for a wide variety of functions in the body. It plays a role in heart health, blood pressure, bone health, immunity, sleep and more. It’s also one of the most common nutritional deficiencies.
How magnesium can help with keto
At least half of all Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diets. Some estimates put that number as high as 90%. So, it’s important for most people to get more magnesium than they are currently getting, whether they are on the keto diet or not.
For keto dieters, magnesium is particularly important. During the initial switch to keto, magnesium levels can be depleted as your body eliminates water. Later on in the keto lifestyle, magnesium remains important – particularly since many high-magnesium foods are not keto-friendly.
How to take magnesium
Magnesium comes in capsules and tablets, and is available in a number of different forms. Magnesium oxide is among the most common, but also has the lowest bioavailability. For best results, choose a magnesium supplement that uses a blend of forms, and not just magnesium oxide.
Beyond that, magnesium should be taken daily, with food ideally. Try not to take magnesium and calcium supplements at the same time, as they can compete for absorption. Magnesium dosage recommendations range from 310mg to 420mg per day, depending on age and gender.
Magnesium side effects
Generally, magnesium supplements are safe so long as they are taken as directed. The most common side effects associated with magnesium supplements include nausea, diarrhea and cramps. Magnesium can also interact with certain medications, so speak with your doctor if you take any prescription pharmaceuticals.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient for a variety of functions in the body. It’s sometimes referred to as “the sunshine vitamin”, because our skin actually creates vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. Many people do not get enough vitamin D from the sun and from (limited) food sources of the vitamin, so many choose to supplement their intake with dietary supplements.
How vitamin D can help with keto
Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, thereby helping to strengthen bones. It is also very important for muscle health, the immune system, cardiovascular health, and mental health. For many people, vitamin D supplements can help ward off seasonal affective disorder, which affects millions worldwide.
For keto dieters, the likelihood of not getting enough vitamin D is slightly elevated compared to the average person. This is because many high-carb foods, like cereals, breads and milk, are fortified with vitamin D. Thus, many people get a significant portion of their vitamin D from high-carb foods, and keto dieters may need to supplement to make up the difference. It’s also relatively common to be deficient in vitamin D, regardless of your diet.
How to take vitamin D
Vitamin D can be obtained through direct sun exposure – although keep in mind that unprotected sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer. Thus, most experts recommend that you obtain most of your vitamin D from diet and/or supplements. There are some foods that contain vitamin D, but unless you eat a lot of fish you may struggle to get enough from diet alone.
Vitamin D supplements come in D2 or D3 form – D3 is typically recommended as the more effective option. The National Institutes of Health recommend an intake of at least 600iu of vitamin D per day. However, most supplements contain far more than this, often in the 2,000 to 5,000iu range.
The official safe upper limit is 4,000iu for adults – but Examine.com notes that the safe upper limit observed in studies has been up to 10,000iu. Most people will be fine with 2,000iu or so per day.
Vitamin D side effects
When taken as directed, vitamin D does not usually cause side effects. However, some people may experience fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Long-term use of high dose vitamin D supplements can cause more serious side effects.
What are omega-3’s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats that are essential to the proper function of our bodies. We cannot synthesize omega-3s in our bodies, so we must obtain them from our diet. Omega-3’s, namely DHA and EPA, are mostly found in fatty fish. If you eat a lot of fish, you probably get enough of these beneficial fats. If not, you may consider adding an omega-3/fish oil supplement to your diet.
How omega-3 can help with keto
Omega-3 fatty acids have a ton of health benefits. They can help to lower triglyceride levels, particularly for those on a keto diet according to this 2015 study. Lower triglyceride levels can help to lower the risk of heart disease. Also, many keto dieters also like to exercise, and fish oil can help reduce muscle soreness after tough workouts.
Omega-3’s can also help with arthritis, depression, asthma, ADHD, and more. Most people do not get enough of these important fats on their own. You may be in the same situation, unless you eat a lot of seafood.
How to take omega 3’s
Omega-3’s can be found in various supplements. The most popular are fish oil and krill oil. Standard fish oil supplements typically contain about 1,000mg of fish oil per serving, which usually supplies around 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA. Omega-3 supplements can be taken with or without food, but most people prefer to take it with a meal.
Omega-3 side effects
Indigestion, gas and fishy breath are common side effects of omega-3 pills. Other side effects are possible. Usually these effects are mild. It may help to take the supplements with a meal.
What is MCT Oil
MCT stands for medium chain triglyceride. MCT falls into the “healthy fat” category, which has been the subject of much research in recent years. MCTs are found in coconut oil, palm oil and others, and nowadays there are concentrated, pure MCT oils available.
How MCT oil can help with keto
MCT is a health fat that can be quickly broken down by the body and used for fuel. On the keto diet, fat serves as the main source of fuel for the body, and MCT oil is a good way to obtain some of that fuel while providing your body with healthy amino acids and triglycerides.
How to take MCT oil
MCT oil can be taken plain by the spoonful, added to smoothies and other foods, or mixed into beverages. A lot of people like to mix it into their morning coffee. Most manufacturers recommend taking about 1 tbsp at a time, up to 3 times per day.
MCT oil side effects
MCT oil can cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, nausea, and irritability. If you experience side effects, you can try taking the oil with food to minimize the negative effects.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a form of carbohydrate found in plants that cannot be fully digested or broken down. It’s found naturally in legumes, oats, grains, and more. Fiber helps with the digestive process and helps the body normalize bowel movements, among other things. Most people do not get enough fiber in their diets, so fiber supplements are also available.
How fiber can help with keto
Fiber is important for everyone, but it may be particularly important for those on a keto diet. This is because many of the best sources of fiber are things like whole grains, oats and beans – which have too many carbohydrates to be a big part of the keto diet. Thus, those on a keto diet are more likely to not get enough fiber in their diets.
Fiber has a wide range of benefits. It’s important for digestive health, bowel movement regularity, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and more. It may also help to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health concerns. Thus, it’s a good idea to try to get more fiber in your diet, regardless of whether or not you’re keto.
How to take fiber
Fiber can of course be obtained through dietary sources. When that’s not enough, powdered fiber supplements can help. These are typically flavorless, odorless powders that can be mixed into water and other beverages – or even just sprinkled on food. For best results, follow manufacturer directions and be sure to consider how much fiber you get from your regular diet. If you’re new to taking fiber, you may wish to start with a small amount and slowly increase the dose over time.
You can also boost your fiber intake with certain high-fiber, low-carb foods. Some prime examples include chia seeds and flax seeds.
Fiber side effects
When taken in proper amounts, fiber won’t usually cause many side effects – although gas and stomach cramping are relatively common. Taking too much can cause constipation and other gastrointestinal issues.
Taking too much fiber that hasn’t been fully dissolved in at least 8 oz of water can also be dangerous. In some cases undissolved fiber can swell in the throat, causing choking.
What are ketone supplements?
Ketone supplements contain exogenous ketones, which are ketones made in a lab instead of in your body. These synthetic ketones seek to mimic the natural function of ketones in the body, which is to provide energy when the body is in a state of ketosis.
How ketone supplements can help with keto
Ketone supplements are designed to help get you into ketosis quicker than usual. Thus, they may be beneficial for people who are new to the keto diet, or those who fall out of ketosis for one reason or another. Some keto athletes also use exogenous ketones to provide a quick boost of energy before a workout.
Keep in mind that exogenous ketone supplements are very new. They have not been adequately studied in clinical trials, and many have not been studied at all. While they appear to function similarly to ketones produced in the body, we do not have definitive evidence to support that claim.
How to take ketone supplements
For best results, follow manufacturer instructions on the product you are taking. This is a new class of supplement, so there are no official recommendations from any health authorities. Caution is advised, particularly with long-term use. We recommend you speak with your doctor before taking ketone supplements.
Ketone side effects
Research on the side effects of exogenous ketones is very limited. Most people do not report side effects, but these reports are anecdotal. More research is needed into these products.
What are greens supplements?
Greens supplements are health products that contain powdered greens. Usually they will include a mix of vegetables, often including kale, spirulina, broccoli, spinach, chlorella, and many other greens. They also often contain powdered fruits and vegetables that are fiber rich.
How greens can help with keto
Greens products provide an easy way to add a wide variety of vegetables to your diet. They also typically contain very few carbohydrates, and a good amount of fiber. A quality greens supplement will contain a wide range of beneficial vitamins and minerals, from natural food sources. There is some evidence to suggest that whole foods are a superior source of vitamins compared to multivitamins.
Additionally, it can sometimes be challenging for keto dieters to get all the micronutrients they need from food alone, due to the restriction on carbohydrate intake. Greens supplements can help fill this gap.
How to take greens supplements
Greens supplements come in powdered form, or less often in premade capsules. Usually the best way to use them is to mix them into a smoothie. They generally have a very earthy taste that some people may find unpleasant at first.
As for dosing, every product is different – so it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Greens side effects
Because these products usually contain a wide range of ingredients, side effects are quite possible. Each individual ingredient has the potential to cause side effects, so when you take a product with 20+ different ingredients, the chances are relatively high.
With that said, most side effects reported are mild. Stomach upset and gas are perhaps the most common. Allergic reactions are always possible, but rare. Start with a small amount the first few times you use the product before proceeding to a full serving.
Supplements are not strictly necessary to find success with the keto diet, but they can certainly help. Some are most useful during the initial transition into keto, while others can be beneficial for regular use throughout the diet.
One last thing to keep in mind is that many supplements are not necessarily meant to be taken for very long periods of time. If you have chosen keto as a lifestyle and plan to follow the diet for the foreseeable future, it’s worthwhile to make an appointment with a doctor or nutritionist. There you can discuss your diet, any supplements you’re taking, etc. and address any concerns you might have.
Some traditional western doctors may be hesitant to recommend the keto diet, so be aware of that going in. You may find more success with a specialized nutritionist, naturopath, etc.