Ever hear, “Eat your vegetables and take your vitamins”?
Speaking to keto, there’s definitely a priority list when it comes to what constitutes the best vitamins, supplements, and minerals. But are those nutrients really all that important? Do some matter more than others?
First and foremost, emphasize whole foods over supplements in any diet.
It is well known that vitamins and minerals found in real foods are usually better absorbed than those found in supplements. A well-formulated keto diet should focus on whole, unprocessed foods with ample amounts of non-starchy vegetables, good quality sources of proteins, and healthy, unprocessed fats. Thus, if you make good food choices and eat the appropriate number of calories for your body, you will be at low risk for nutritional deficiencies.
That said, most of us are not perfect all the time and may need to consider supplementing to ensure an adequate balance of vitamins and minerals in our diet. Below are some nutrients that may deserve some special attention on a low-carb, high-fat diet like keto.
On the keto diet, the kidneys switch from retaining sodium to excreting it. This is the main culprit behind the “keto-flu”. Unless you have a heart condition like high blood pressure, you should aim to increase the sodium in your diet. Salting your foods, drinking broths, and eating more sodium-rich foods like eggs and red meats will do the trick.
Additional reading: Signs of the keto flu and how to alleviate the symptoms.
Potassium performs several functions like maintaining blood pressure, fluid balance, and muscle and nerve function. Avocados, spinach, swiss chard, and fatty fish like wild-caught salmon are all great food sources of potassium. Note that potassium is leached out in liquids during cooking, so aim to steam your veggies and keep drippings when cooking.
The keto diet does not cause a magnesium deficiency, but it may unmask one. In fact, more than half the US has a magnesium deficiency, so keto or not, I recommend supplementing. Signs of magnesium deficiencies include muscle cramps, difficulty sleeping, mood disorders, fatigue, and irritability. Keto-friendly magnesium-rich foods include spinach, avocado, swiss chard, nuts/seeds, and some fatty fish.
Magnesium may still require supplementation – regardless of food sources – to ensure daily consistent intake and replete deficiencies. As a supplement, look for highly absorbable forms like magnesium glycinate, malate, and chloride versions. Unless you have constipation, avoid forms with citrate and oxide or you may find yourself running to the bathroom. Shoot for at least 400 mg per day.
This essential fatty acid has powerful health benefits for your body and brain. It has been studied for its role in lowering heart disease risk, reducing inflammation, and improving mental decline. Western diets tend to be too high in omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oils and processed foods). Although essential for health, when too high, it promotes the opposite of omega-3s — increased inflammation. Basically, whichever fatty acid is most abundant in the diet will be the outcome — higher omega-3s = less inflammation, while higher omega-6s = more inflammation. The goal is about a 1:1 ratio or higher, favoring omega-3s to omega-6s.
Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines are great sources of omega-3s. You can also purchase omega-3-rich eggs. If your diet does not include these types of foods regularly, consider supplementing with a reputable brand which provides at least a combined 500 mg of EPA and DHA per 1,000 mg serving.
Vitamin D, a.k.a the “sunshine” vitamin, acts both as a nutrient and as a hormone. It helps the body to absorb minerals like calcium and magnesium. In addition, vitamin D plays a key role in maintaining bone density, muscle growth, and aids in cardiovascular function and immune support. One study found that more than 40% of the US population was deficient in vitamin D. This is likely due to the limited food sources that naturally contain vitamin D (fatty fish, tuna, egg yolks, mushrooms), and those that are fortified (such as dairy products) are often restricted on low-carb diets.
Geographical location, climate, and sun-protection also affect one’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun. The dietary reference intake for vitamin D is 600 IU per day, but upwards of 1000 IU per day may be necessary if one lacks exposure to sunlight. Higher supplementation may be needed to correct the deficiency, which can be determined by your doctor.
For the best results on your keto diet:
- Choose real food sources for better absorption of vitamins and minerals over supplements.
- Follow a well-formulated keto diet, with ample amounts of non-starchy vegetables, healthy sources of proteins, and natural sources of fats.
- Pay special attention to sodium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin D.
- Always, if you are concerned about certain deficiencies, consult your doctor or dietitian.
Stay healthy, keto people!
Want more about keto nutrition? Read up on how to decode nutrition labels to find out if your favorite foods are fit for keto!
Tara Finnerty RDN, CSP, CD—is a ketogenic specialist and fat-fueled enthusiast. Tara is a registered dietitian in Utah and owner of Sugar House Nutrition LLC. Her aim is to provide nutrition support for people wanting to reap the many health benefits of the ketogenic (keto) diet. Her expertise in the keto diet was initially working with children who have uncontrolled epilepsy. Tara supports nutrition diversity and works toward helping people find an individualized approach to make healthy eating sustainable.