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Dear Dietitian – Are keto pills worth trying?

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PICT Leanne McCrate Dear Dietitian
Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC

Dear Dietitian,

What’s the deal with keto pills coming out? There are so many of them, and they all claim good results. Are they worth trying?


Dear Colleen,

Since dietary supplements, like keto (short for ketogenic) pills, are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you are wise to gather information before buying. Keto supplements have emerged as a result of the latest fad diet, the ketogenic diet.

The ketogenic diet a very low-carbohydrate diet. It allows less than 30 grams of carbs each day, although that number may vary slightly. The goal is to put your body into ketosis, where fat is the body’s primary fuel. The difference in the keto diet and other low-carb plans is that it emphasizes fat, while other low carb diets focus on protein.

Carbohydrates are our bodies’ preferred source of energy. In the absence of adequate carbohydrate intake, your body can use fat as its main energy source. However, in ketosis, it doesn’t break down fat efficiently, creating ketone bodies.

Ketosis is a survival mechanism; it is not your body’s normal state of being. It’s a process given to us by Mother Nature so that the body can survive during a time when food is seriously scarce. For example, if you were lost in the desert for 40 days, surviving on bugs, wild berries, and water, your body would go into ketosis until your usual food supply is restored.

The ketogenic pill contains ketone esters and ketone salts. The studies to test the effectiveness of these supplements are few. Manufacturers of these products often claim to be supported by science. In reality, they rely on testimonials and crafty marketing techniques to sell their products. Let’s evaluate some of the claims:

  1. Keto supplements will put your body into ketosis without following the ketogenic diet. This claim is false. Ketosis is a physiological state that takes three to four days and must take place in the absence of adequate carbohydrate intake. There is no way around it.
  2. Provides energy- This is not likely. Ketones by themselves will not provide energy. Some supplements contain caffeine, which may give you a boost.
  3. Weight loss-The keto pill itself does not produce weight loss. If calories are sufficiently reduced, you will lose weight.
  4. Reduces appetite- This is possible if the supplement is taken along with the ketogenic diet. However, it is not the ketones that produce this effect.  In a normal healthy state, your body sends signals when it’s time to eat. You feel hungry, your stomach growls, or you may feel weak. In survival mode, your body realizes these signals are not being recognized, so it stops sending them.

That said, there is one case in which the keto pill may be useful. If you are on the ketogenic diet and bordering on ketosis, the supplements may help get you there, but only for a few hours. You must take the supplement regularly while severely restricting carbohydrates to remain in ketosis.

As consumers, we must weigh the cost of a product against its benefit. Many ketone supplements are quite expensive. Is it worth the benefit? Remember, we live in a “Let the buyer beware” society. You may be wise to spend your hard-earned dollars on healthy fruits and vegetables instead.

Until next time, be healthy!

Dear Dietitian

Leanne McCrate, RDN, LD, CNSC, aka Dear Dietitian, is based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate consumers on sound, scientifically-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her today at Dear Dietitian does not endorse any products, health programs, or diet plans.