A well designed ketogenic diet does not really need much in the way of supplementation. Most of the key nutrients will already have been more than adequately catered for. This is in contrast to many other, so-called healthy diets. Many plant-based diets, in particular, lack even the most basic of vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutrients and hence need supplementation. With keto though, we are safe for the most part of the need to worry about such vitamins and nutrients. It is, however, always tempting to go the extra mile and turn what is already a great diet into something even better. Hopefully, something that will fundamentally change your physical and mental health. With this in mind, here is our list of the top 10 supplements that you may wish to include in your keto lifestyle.
No. 1: Omega-3 fatty acids
One of the major problems with modern diets is the huge imbalance between sources of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. In the past, a normal diet would have given a ratio of around 2:1 omega-6s to omega-3s, or even 1:1. Even a 4:1 ratio is not too bad. Modern diets, especially the Standard American Diet, renders a ratio in the region of 40:1 or even 50:1. Given the inflammatory role of many sources of omega-6s, this is clearly a very unhealthy state of affairs. Being on a ketogenic diet is likely to redress this balance to some extent. It can still wise to supplement, though, especially at the start. Beyond that, ensure that you include sufficient oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, and wild salmon in your diet. In addition, other sources of sea-food will almost invariably contain some omega-3.
No. 2: Exogenous Ketones
The term ‘exogenous’ in this context simply means from outside the body. It is the opposite of ‘endogenous’, from within the body. When we are in ketosis, our body is supplying ketones as our main source of energy. We can, however, choose to either supplement them or, indeed, accelerate the ketogenic process by adding exogenous ketones. Ketone esters are the most powerful exogenous ketones, though they tend to be quite expensive. The taste is also not that pleasant. Many of the supplement producers add electrolytes to the esters. This may kill two birds as far as we are concerned. If they add such nutrients as magnesium, potassium, calcium, and sodium then so much the better. This also often renders the tablet form somewhat more palatable.
No. 3: A Source of Electrolytes
One of the vulnerabilities of a ketogenic diet is that we tend to be at risk of dehydration. This is because we lose the water that comes along with carbohydrates (hence the ‘hydrate’ part of the name: for every carbon atom there are two water atoms). As humans, we sweat, urinate, etc. As we lose the water we tend to lose electrolytes at the same time. Hence, if you are following a keto diet, it is wise to ensure that you have a sufficiently high intake of electrolytes. This catches many people out, particularly in the first few weeks when so many report the symptoms of the dreaded keto flu. Much of this, if not all, can be avoided by supplementing with electrolytes. Alternatively, you can simply make sure that your food has an adequate supply.
No. 4: Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin that is needed by our bodies to appropriately utilise calcium and hence build strong bones. A vital protein is provided by vitamin K2 that allows the calcium to bind to our bones and thus render them stronger. It is fundamental in the process of maintaining a healthy skeletal structure and for the absorption of nutrients. Being fat-soluble, I tend to prefer to take it with a little coconut oil rather than a glass of water. Coconut oil itself almost made this list; it is excellent for cooking on keto and also supplies exogenous ketones.
No. 5: Vitamin D3
Vitamin D3, the next supplement on our list, works very well in combination with vitamin K2. It also aids in the process of calcium uptake and thus helps ensure the health of our bones, teeth and even muscles. While the vast majority of vitamin D3 is involved with processing calcium, it also plays a key role in strengthening our immune system and the absorption of nutrients. Given the current Covid 19 crisis, and how necessary vitamin D3 is for our immune systems, the NHS in the UK are advocating supplementing with this vitamin.
If you are fortunate enough to live in a continuously sunny part of the World, you are likely to be getting quite enough vitamin D simply from going out and being exposed to the sun. For the rest of us, particularly those living in such areas as the Northern United States, the North of Europe, and Canada, supplementation would be a wise move, at least for the darker months of the year.
Curcumin is the active ingredient that is found in turmeric. Unfortunately, simply using turmeric as a tasty addition to stews and soups is unlikely to supply sufficient amounts of curcumin to be effective (although I do love to add some to my morning coffee!). Therefore, if you wish to enjoy the benefits of curcumin it is a good idea to supplement. The best of these come combined with black pepper. The latter contains piperine, which substantially boosts the effectiveness of curcumin. The most significant benefit of curcumin is it is a powerful anti-inflammatory (1). Inflammation is now believed to be at the root of many of the chronic diseases we suffer in the West: metabolic syndrome, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Curcumin also acts to boost the body’s own antioxidant defences (2).
Again, as with vitamins D3 and K2, curcumin is fat-soluble, hence consuming these vitamins with a fatty meal, or maybe coconut oil is indicated.
No.7: MCT Oil
MCT Oil is a great favourite of many of the more enthusiastic followers of the keto lifestyle. MCT stands for Medium Chain Triglycerides. The molecules in MCT are smaller than those in the fats that we mostly consume, hence they are easier to digest. Your body can quickly absorb MCT into your bloodstream and hence they are quickly converted into ketones that your body can use for energy. Indeed, they can simply be thought of as another source of exogenous ketones. MCT itself is extracted from coconut or palm oil. As well as supplying ketones, MCT also has anti-inflammatory properties (3). Other reported benefits are appetite control and weight loss.
No.8: Bulletproof Coffee
Simply drinking good-quality coffee helps the ketogenic process (4). Followers of the keto lifestyle, however, have managed to take this several steps further by inventing, and then elaborating on, a brew we call Keto Coffee. This usually means a base of high-quality coffee with various added ingredients and nutrients such as coconut oil/MCT oil, electrolytes, ashwagandha, co-enzyme Q10, etc., etc. Sometimes it feels as if there are almost as many variations as there are advocates, each with their own idea of what a perfect keto coffee should be. I personally prefer to make my own using coconut oil, turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon. You pays your money and takes your choice. as the saying goes.
No. 9: Folate
If you have low levels of the essential nutrient folate you may suffer depression, general tiredness, and cognitive problems. It is essential for the health of your brain and plays a key role in the synthesis of your DNA (5). Lack of folate may also put you at a greater risk of stroke, heart disease, and even dementia. Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin that is to be found quite naturally in leafy greens and some complex carbohydrates. The latter gives those of us on keto a problem, and it is hard to eat enough leafy greens to meet our needs. Folate works particularly well when combined with vitamin B6. This is found in various meats such as pork and beef, and also in eggs.
No.10: Digestive Enzymes
In recent years, science has come to the realisation that gut health is fundamental not only to our health in general but our mental health in particular. One of the key ways we can protect our gut health is by supplementing with digestive enzymes. The role of these enzymes is to assist in the breaking down of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Although we may eat and drink the nutrients we need, the body is not always able to adequately break them down and thence absorb then. At the base of this problem is often the poor state of digestive enzymes within the gut. If this is the case, you may experience unpleasant symptoms such as flatulence, diarrhoea, bloating, and stomach cramps. This is where the digestive enzymes supplements come in. They will guard against malabsorption. This will ensure that we actually benefit from the healthy nutrients we consume on a ketogenic diet.
There is a range of ways to boost the powerful effects of a ketogenic diet, as well as avoid some of the pitfalls. Fortunately, the diet is already powerful in itself, so even without supplementation, you are likely to do very well. Although we supply links to each of these powerful supplements, many of them may occur naturally in the basic diet. Generally, if our diets can obtain directly from a food source, then so much the better. On the other hand, obtaining some keto coffee or MCT oil is sure to give your ketones that extra boost that they may need every now and again. Keep the diet clean, wholesome and direct, avoiding processed foods whenever you can, and success is more or less guaranteed. Adding these supplements simply takes it to that next level, if you so desire.