A Quick primer on the Ketone Test Strips...|
Questions about ketones, ketosis, KetoStix, and its implications and misconceptions have always been
one of the most common querries at Low Carb Luxury. We'll try and clear up some of those mysteries here.
So... what are they?
You'll hear them referred to as KetoStix (the original brand name), Urine
Test Strips, Reagent Strips, Ketone Testing Strips, and
Lipolysis Test Strips.
Depending on the plan you follow and whether you are
new to this way of life, or an old timer from the 70's, you'll be referring to
them as one name or another if your plan calls for being in Ketosis.
we're not here to debate the merits of Ketogenic vs non-Ketogenic diets here, so
don't send me mail of disagreement. For me personally, being in Ketosis is my ideal
state and keeps my body's systems at their best. The Ketosis we're talking about
here is what Dr. Atkins refers to as "Benign Dietary Ketosis" (or BDK), and should
never be confused with Acidosis — a dangerous state for diabetics and those in
advanced starvation where acetone builds in the blood and tissues. People will
sometimes tell you that producing ketones is dangerous for the body. This is simply
misinformation. They're confusing ketosis (the state from a Ketogenic diet) with
ketoacidosis (or acidosis) which occurs in uncontrolled diabetes and/or starvation.
Ketones are incompletely burned carbon fragments. The very fact that they are less efficient as fuel is
what makes them give you that 'metabolic advantage.' Some of the calories burned are not used to their
full capacity... hence the person can eat more calories when in ketosis than when not, and still lose
the same amount of weight.
Ketoacids are short (four carbons long.) It's important because in that way they are able to penetrate
cells to feed them when there is no glucose present. The fat stores accumulate fat as very long fatty
acids. They're ordinarily difficult to break down because they're so long.
When the body must use its fat stores for energy (our goal to lose weight), these fat cells begin to
release the long fatty acids into the blood.
To be used as fuel, particularly by the brain, the fatty acids go to the liver where they are literally
cut into two carbon fragments (ketoacids.)
They are then utilized (burned) by many tissues, including the brain. The brain operates just as well on
a diet of ketoacids as it does on glucose. What's left (the incompletely burned fragments) are called
ketones, and they are what spill into the urine to be swept from the body.
So in a nutshell...
When the body is in the fat burning state — where it has no carbohydrate to burn and is breaking down body
fat for fuel, the body is in a state of ketosis-lipolysis (ketosis for short.)
This is the only metabolic pathway for fat breakdown (lipolysis.) Therefore, there is no lipolysis
without ketosis, no ketosis without lipolysis. The two terms are biologically linked and, therefore, it is
appropriate that they be linguistically linked.
So being in ketosis simply means that you're burning your fat stores and using
them as the source of fuel they were meant to be.
This is where the test strips come in...
While they are in no way necessary to the diet, most of us feel more secure with a
way to test to know if we are in ketosis at any given time and at what level. The
test strips provide a quick and private way to determine that. Simply dip the reagent
end of the strip into a urine specimen (collected in a clean cup) and remove
immediately. Or alternatively, (the method most of us prefer)
— wet reagent area
of the strip by passing through the urine stream. Tap edge of strip to remove excess
liquid and check color within 10-15 seconds against the color chart provided on
all test strip brands' bottles.
A beige or cream color indicates NO KETOSIS detected.
Any shade of pink/purple indicates some level of ketones in the urine. Some people
get very hung up on the fact that their friend's/husband's/daughter's etc strip
shows a darker color all the time, etc. We are all different. Some of us lose better
(and feel better) at lighter or darker levels. You'll soon learn what feels right for
What if your sticks don't "turn"?
A negative result does not always mean you're not in ketosis. If you're keeping your carbs
below a certain level (different for different people, but the 20 to 40 carbs per day range
is a safe bet), you're probably in ketosis. Some people use their ketones more efficiently,
and indeed make fewer of them, hence their lack of "spill" into the urine.
Keep in mind, though, that it's possible to keep your actual carb count low (say at around
30 grams), and still side-step ketosis. The culprits? Most often it's from eating foods that
contain even a small amount of "High Fructose Corn Syrup" (HFCS), which can cause a strong insulin
spike and halt fat burning. HFCS is far more destructive to your health and your weight
loss than regular sugar.
You might also be a person who reacts to aspartame intake with an
insulin release. The Atkins Center reports up to 25% of people have such a reaction to aspartame
An appreciable amount of trans fats in the diet can also halt weight loss and fat
breakdown. Why? Because trans fats are artificial fats that the body fails to recognize as "real", and
attempts simply to store them, taking an "I'll deal with it some other time" approach.
Are they right for me?
In my personal opinion, if you become obsessive about your levels at every hour of
the day and in comparison with others' or where you think you should be,
then don't bother with the sticks. If you can use them sensibly — once a day or when
you want to detect your level because of dietary changes etc, then they can be great
tools. I probably use them 3 to 4 times per week.
Which ones and where?
There are a number of brands to chose from. The original — Ketostix by Bayer — is the
most common and the easiest to find in most pharmacies. If you don't see them, ask.
Also, it can't hurt to price-shop. I've seen them anywhere from $9.99 to $24.99 in
different stores. Many of the online low-carb and health/drug stores carry test strips
as well. Some of these are "off-brands" and private label. There's Uriscan and
Atkins label. It doesn't matter which you use, but I've found it's best to
pick a brand and stick with it because they color slightly different and it can
get confusing if you're brand-switching. Also remember, these are marketed ostensibly
for diabetics to check for ketones where there should be none, so please ignore the
paper inserts in the box if you're using the sticks for detecting ketosis from within
a low carbohydrate (ketogenic) diet.