Is Keto Messing With Your Digestion?

Keto dieters—and even the keto-curious—have likely heard of (if not experienced) strange side effects of the diet, like keto breath and keto flu. However, there’s another common keto experience out there that doesn’t get much public attention: keto poops. Here, we break down how the ketogenic diet can affect your digestion and bathroom habits, as well as what to do about it.

Your Body On Keto

The high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein keto diet promises health and wellness benefits like weight loss, improved energy levels, and the joy of endless avocados.

However, the massive shift the diet demands of our bodies can’t be underestimated. After all, the diet literally transitions the type of fuel every single one of our cells uses for energy.

Given that, it’s no surprise our bodies experience some funky symptoms along the way. “Any time you start a new way of eating there’s an adjustment period for the body,” says Rudolph Bedford, M.D., gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. And that’s an understatement if you’re talking about keto…

When it comes to digestion, going keto often has two seemingly contradictory effects; either it sends you sprinting to the toilet or completely backs you up.

The Keto Runs

While constipation often becomes an issue later on in a keto diet, diarrhea often plagues beginners.

“At first, your body isn’t used to that much fat and isn’t able to absorb it all,” explains Bedford. “The sudden high intake of fat overwhelms the digestive system.”

The result: Whatever your rather unprepared body can’t absorb simply passes right on through your and into your stool. As a result, you may find yourself making sudden beelines for the bathroom—and going more often than usual.

Often, new keto dieters notice soft, mushy bowel movements. Because of their high fat content, they may even float or contain visible fat droplets.

Rather gross, we know, but most people’s digestion gets back to normal after a week or two of eating keto. (By this point the pancreas has adjusted to producing more digestive enzymes and the liver more bile, both of which help normalize digestion.)

Still, there are a few things you can do to lessen your stomach’s suffering as you get started on keto.

1. Focus On Eating Quality Fats

Keto may be all about loading up on healthy fats, but that doesn’t mean any fats will do.

In fact, according to naturopathic doctor and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C, eating highly-processed fats instead of healthy fats can just exacerbate any diarrhea you might experience at first.

Related: What A Healthy Day Of Keto Eating Looks Like

Axe recommends avoiding all highly-refined vegetable oils (think deep-frying oils) and packaged foods that might contain hydrogenated oils. Instead, focus on fats like avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, and fatty fish.

2. Beware Keto-Friendly Sweeteners

Instead of truly kicking the sweet stuff, going keto often leads many people to simply swap traditional sugar with low-carb sweeteners.

Issue is, many of these sugar-free sweeteners can cause digestive issues. “Sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol or xylitol, are used in a lot of low-carb products and can cause bloating, cramps, and diarrhea,” says Axe. Another popular calorie-free sweetener, Splenda, can have the same effect.

Why the issues? Our digestive system can’t effectively absorb these sweeteners, so they pass through undigested.

Axe generally recommends avoiding these sweeteners as much as possible—but it’s especially important if you’re dealing with loose stools.

Keto Constipation

Once your digestive system adjusts to breaking down all the fats, diarrhea often subsides—and quite the opposite toilet struggle pops up: constipation.

In fact, it’s one of the peskiest problems people experience on the keto diet, says Axe. Typically, it pops up when we eat a ‘dirty’ keto diet that’s not focused on high-quality, nutrient-rich foods.

Here are four things you can do to keep your system moving.

1. Load Up On Fiber

Quick refresher: Fiber moves through our digestive system undigested, adding bulk to our stool and promoting regularity. Without it, our system slows down and has a harder time passing stool.

According to Axe, lack of fiber is the most common culprit behind keto constipation. “The ketogenic diet involves cutting high-carb foods, such as whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes, many of which are rich in fiber,” he says.

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In addition, this lack of fiber can also slow weight loss and contribute to bloating, cramps and gas.

Good news: It’s totally possible to get ample fiber on keto. In addition to fiber-filled avocados, nuts, and seeds, incorporate plenty of low-carb, high-fiber vegetables like mushrooms, bell peppers, kale, and broccoli.

2. Hydrate

Whether you’re keto or not, fail to drink enough water throughout the day and you’ll probably end up constipated.

“Staying hydrated helps stimulate digestion, keeping things moving and warding off digestive issues,” says Axe.

If you don’t like water plain, try adding a squirt of a lemon or lime for extra flavor. Drinking herbal tea or bone broth will also get the job done.

3. Keep Your Electrolytes Balanced

Keto decreases water retention and increases our urine output, which can cause our body to flush out electrolytes.

These minerals, which include sodium, magnesium, and potassium, are important for all sorts of body functions, including muscular contractions and digestive regularity, says Axe.

While eating keto-friendly fruits and veggies will help replenish lost electrolytes, adding an electrolyte supplement to your routine can ensure you meet your needs.

Plus, because our colon absorbs water, leaving less available to soften stool, Bedford recommends keto dieters consume plenty of salt every day. This will help your body retain water, so there’s enough to go around—and keep your toilet time strain-free. So go ahead and bust out the salt shaker!

4. Move Your Body

What you eat and drink aren’t the only causes of keto constipation. “Inadequate physical inactivity can also contribute,” says Axe.

Often, when people experience the fatigue associated with keto flu during the first few weeks on the diet, cutting back on exercise can help reduce stress on the body as it transitions into ketosis.

Related: How Going Keto Affects Your Workouts

However, that doesn’t mean a keto diet justifies a sedentary lifestyle. “Staying active can speed up the passage of food through the intestines,” says Axe.

So if you want to truly feel your best on keto, you’ve got to get moving. Axe recommends at least 20 to 40 minutes of lower-intensity exercise (like walking, jogging or cycling) to promote regularity.

The Bottom Line

As you start and refine your keto diet, you can expect some funky digestive issues to pop up. Be patient, and focus on living an active lifestyle, staying hydrated, and eating healthy fats and fiber-rich foods.

As Axe says, “following a healthy, balanced diet rich in whole foods is the easiest and most effective way to reduce symptoms and optimize digestive health on the ketogenic diet.”

Pin this infographic for quick reference:

How To Keep Your Gut Happy On Keto infographic

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