Many people, including myself, have experienced what’s called “keto breath” after starting on a low-carb journey. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that no matter how often I brushed or used mouthwash, my breath stunk like a rotting carcass. I started researching and discovered that this was not uncommon on keto.
Causes of keto breath.
A ketogenic diet is a scientific equation designed to switch the body’s fuel source from glucose to fat. When this occurs, your liver breaks down the fatty acids for energy to power both the body and the brain. This is the process known as “ketosis” which is where the ketogenic diet gets its name. During ketosis, water-soluble molecules called ketones are produced, one of these is acetone. The excess acetone is then excreted through urine, blood, and breath. This is why people use test kits to check whether or not they are in ketosis. The test strips check for the unused ketones present in your urine or blood depending on which testing meter you use.
Unfortunately, the ketones in your breath can cause some serious dragon breath. The smell has been called both sweet and/or pungent, comparing it to nail polish remover, which makes sense because most polish removers contain acetone. But I have personally not found that to be the case. I don’t know whose keto breath they’ve been sniffing, but mine was nowhere near that pleasant.
A second possible cause is thought to be from the protein being broken down in your digestive system. A byproduct of this process is ammonia. Without excess carbohydrates to help dilute it, the ammonia is also released into the urine and breath causing a smell similar to cat litter.
There is good news though. For most people, the offending aroma will subside after a couple months. And some others report not being affected by it at all.
What you can do.
Make sure you stay hydrated. I know telling people to drink water seems to be the universal fix, but the truth is, most people operate at some level of dehydration most of the time. Obviously, good oral hygiene is a given. Make sure you are brushing regularly and more importantly, flossing. Meats have a tendency to be sinewy and get stuck in between your teeth. No need to add the smell of rotting meat to your keto breath. Keep in mind as well that keto is a moderate protein diet. Try to eat a balance at each meal and that will help to prevent an overload of ammonia being produced.
You can try to incorporate some of the herbs into your diet that help to freshen breath. These include peppermint, sage, tea tree, clove, eucalyptus, cinnamon, and parsley. Some people make their own “breath capsules” or you can buy pre-made ones, but I can’t speak to their efficacy. Although I have found that drinking herbal teas containing these herbs have helped.
Sugar-free mints can offer a temporary reprieve, but make sure you are reading the ingredients. Most contain sugar in some form, despite being labeled as “sugar-free”. I use the Altoid mini mints. They seem to be the least of the offenders.
The only true remedy is time. My boyfriend likes to tell me that he can discern my level of ketosis by how bad my breath smells. I can tell you that it’s definitely decreased significantly over time. If you’re found something that you feel works particularly well, please drop me a comment. I’m always open to new suggestions.