What is Keto Breath?
Research has found that half of all people have unpleasant breath or halitosis at some point in their lives. This funny taste and odor that can start spreading around as soon as you open your mouth is often attributed to low-carb as well as high-protein diet plans and lifestyles, and is a lot different from the regular bad breath caused by bacteria.
Some people even compare keto breath with the smell of nail polish remover. It has also been described as fruity-smelling, having ammonia or metallic taste, and all together — pungent.
The ketogenic diet is a type of diet which allows a person to draw most of their energy from fats and — if done correctly — raises blood ketone levels. To supply enough energy for the brain, the liver starts creating large numbers of ketones. This is when the body goes through many changes and adaptations such as increased fat breakdown, decreased insulin levels, as well as weight-loss.
One of the most recognizable signs that you’ve reached ketosis is bad breath. Ketosis or keto breath is a distinct – sometimes even unpleasant odor from your mouth that usually occurs within a few weeks of starting the keto diet.
Is Ketosis a Cause of Your Bad Breath?
This unpleasant smell is typical during ketosis occurs for a couple of reasons:
Ketones are released through breathing.
Your liver starts turning fatty acids into three main types of ketones: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), and the most abundant type—acetone. It’s actually a byproduct that your body tries to dispose of through the urine and yes — breath. In fact, research has shown that “acetone breath” is a definite sign that your body has reached ketosis and, despite its unpleasant smell, your breath is a good sign that you’re on the right path.
You eat too much protein.
Another possible cause of an unpleasant odor coming from the mouth of someone who has recently changed their diet is not closely related to fat breakdown, but rather to the fact that now — since you only consume a small amount of carbs — you often compensate by eating more protein. This sudden increase in protein intake results in the body being unable to digest it properly, so improper fermentation in the gut results in stomach bacteria producing more ammonia while breaking down the food, which can lead to strong odor of breath and urine.
You don’t eat enough.
Unpleasant breath is a common problem in people with dry mouth — those who are dieting or miss meals frequently. Chewing food increases saliva in the mouth. When your saliva production decreases, this causes bacteria levels to increase, which leads to bad breath. If you are in ketosis, not eating enough can only worsen your existing problems with bad breath. As a rule of thumb, never let your mouth go dry, except of course during the night when you can’t do anything about it — when the salivation is significantly reduced, resulting in dry mouth and awful breath in the morning.
Your keto breath might seem awful and make you feel ashamed and miserable, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s only a temporary nuisance, until your body adjusts to the low-carb diet, but if it bothers you too much, you might be able to mask it or even get rid of it with a few simple steps.
How to Get Rid of Bad Breath?
A preliminary study showed that acetone concentrations in the breath are highest in a fasting state, and after a protein-rich meal. Acetone will come out through your breath when you start with the keto diet, that’s a fact, but there are a few easy steps to combat the bad breath.
Drink more water
It’s not only that water helps to flush things out of the system; it also helps to prevent dry mouth which can make keto breath worse. Saliva keeps bacteria away. We already talked about acetone being expelled from the system through breath and urine — if you drink plenty of water, this means that the more acetone is flushed through the urine, the less there is to expel through your breath!
Even better, you can add lemon or lime to your water. According to studies, lemon is highly antibacterial and is also a potent salivary stimulant, meaning it can help with dry mouth, which is a common cause of bad breath. You can drink lemon juice or gargle the water-lemon solution to kill bacteria and stay hydrated.
Eat less protein
As we established earlier, eating a lot of protein can affect your breath. Trying to fix bad breath with overbrushing can be too much of a good thing here. It probably won’t help because the unpleasant smell comes from your gut which suddenly has to process a boat-load of protein. Sometimes a simple switch from red meat to chicken or fish as the main source of protein can affect which types of ketones are being produced.
Dairy products are a solid source of protein with a good impact on many aspects of our health, but they have a tendency to leave a residue at the back of your mouth which can turn into a nasty breath. If you love dairy products, try to brush your teeth and tongue after consuming them; and don’t indulge in them excessively.
There are people who swear that increasing the amount of fat while lowering your protein intake can have a good impact on bad breath caused by high protein consumption, but there is no adequate research to support these claims.
Follow good oral hygiene practices
Musty breath caused by diets high in protein can be worsened by bacteria in the mouth. Many people may not realize this, but our mouths are flooded with odor-causing microbes. They feast on the residues of whatever you’ve eaten, and decomposition of the food causes your breath to stink.
Many people brush only once or twice a day. Cleaning the mouth after every meal will clean food particles that have remained there. Make sure that you clean the tongue as well.
Tongue cleaners have gained popularity in recent years and with good reason. Scrape the surface of the tongue every time you brush your teeth. Research has found that cleaning the tongue is almost as important as brushing when it comes to fighting bacteria which can eventually cause unpleasant breath.
Eliminate odor with mints and gum
Most oral health experts suggest that the best way to freshen your breath is good oral hygiene. However, it isn’t always possible to brush and floss after a meal and we’re often forced to find other ways to freshen the mouth.
Mints and gum can do a lot to stimulate saliva flow and thus help to cleanse your mouth. Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum can’t do a lot for your overall oral health, but they are quite efficient in removing debris after a meal. Unlike unsweetened products, gum containing sugar can act as a food source for odor-causing bacteria.
Sugar is hidden in many products nowadays, including mints and gum, but luckily, there are many products that can freshen your breath that are still relatively healthy and low in carbs and calories. There are chewing gums and mints specially designed for people on the keto diet to moisten mouth and freshen the breath.
You can use calorie-free and carb-free gum or mints made with xylitol, a sugar alcohol that contains some antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Xylitol has low glycemic index and doesn’t cause a spike in blood glucose levels or insulin release.
Mints and gum made with stevia are also a good choice and won’t kick you out of ketosis. Stevia has no calories or carbohydrates, and multiple studies have shown it doesn’t affect blood glucose levels, insulin levels, or blood pressure.
Be careful when picking your sugar-free gum and mints — even though they’re advertised as a healthier option than regular products with sugar — they often contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, a chemical loved by many for its low caloric value, and sucralose, which is not metabolized and passes through the body providing no carbohydrates or calories.
These sweeteners which are widely used in breath mints and gum are keto friendly and considered safe by the FDA; however, they’ve been associated with several health problems. Until their long-term effects are better researched, stick to mints and gum with natural sweeteners discussed above.
Consume more carbs
Eating diverse foods is perhaps the only way to truly avoid the bad breath caused by ketosis. Of course eating a lot of carbs will get you out of ketosis. However, low-glycemic index carbohydrates have very little effect on blood sugar levels so you can still stick to your diet plan without cutting more carbohydrates than necessary.
Eating fruits with acidic elements that are high in vitamin C can kill bacteria that cause the unpleasant breath. Also, diet rich in vegetables such as celery, cucumber, or carrots can get you sweeter-smelling breath fast.
Just relax; expelling ketones, which unfortunately results in bad breath, is actually good for you. If they’re not flushed out of the system regularly, this can cause ketone buildup in the bloodstream and lead to a dangerous type of coma called ketoacidosis.
Stress is the leading cause of a majority of illnesses. It can also lower the immune system, decrease the production of saliva and slow down digestion, which can lead to bad breath. Keeping stress at a minimum can prevent unpleasant breath not only at the beginning of your keto diet but in the long-run as well.
Just be patient
According to the majority of people who tried the keto diet, ketosis breath is short-lived, lasting a couple of weeks at most. After the initial period of adjustment, the body seems to become accustomed to the new lifestyle and the bad breath disappears.
Regardless of which of the above solutions you might want to try, it is comforting to know that with patience, the unpleasant breath may disappear on its own after adjusting to the new fuel source.
A renowned health author and nutrition expert Thomas DeLauer says that your breath probably smells bad because your body is not adapted to high-fat just yet. Having bad breath at the beginning of your keto journey means that ketosis is slowly kicking in and that your body is working well on the keto diet.
Can Keto Breath Be Prevented?
Bear in mind that keto breath is not caused by bad hygiene and that there is nothing you can do except reintroducing more and more carbs to slowly come out of ketosis — but you probably don’t want that after all your hard work and sacrifices.
If your bad breath won’t go away even after a couple of months, it might have nothing to do with ketogenic diet or any form of dieting but rather be caused by underlying conditions such as gum disease, diabetes, acid reflux, sinus problems, as well as liver problems and kidney disease. If you’re experiencing bad breath for a long time, make sure to speak with your physician or dentist. It’s probably nothing serious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Keto breath is definitely annoying for most people but you can rest assured it will go away relatively quickly, until then, you can try some of the tips from the list above.