Exogenous ketones are one of the hottest supplement products on the market these days, especially for those following a ketogenic diet. However, there are a few misconceptions about supplemental ketones claiming to be a “short-cut” to ketosis without the need to follow a well-formulated keto diet.
So, before you empty your wallet, you really need to understand exactly what they are, who they can benefit, and if they can potentially help or hinder your health goals.
What are exogenous ketones?
Essentially, there are two different ways we can achieve ketosis:
Endogenously—meaning, created from within. Following a low-carb, high-fat diet like keto allows the body to create ketones for energy from dietary and stored body fat.
Exogenously—from an outside source. These are synthetic or manufactured ketones packaged into a supplemental form. Exogenous ketones are considered by some to be a fourth macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate, ketones) as they contain calories of ~4.7 calories/gram and provide direct energy to the body.
Exogenous ketones currently come in two different forms:
Ketone salts—ketones are bound to a type of salt: sodium, magnesium, potassium, or calcium. Salts are the type most commonly available in the market today.
Ketone esters—ketones are bound to another compound. This form is used primarily in research and is not readily available on the market. Ketone esters are substantially more powerful than salts.
Both types of ketone supplements will increase blood ketone levels, mimicking the ketosis one would achieve from following a ketogenic diet.
But will exogenous ketones help me lose weight?
Although exogenous ketones have been shown to help reduce appetite, if taken regularly, they will likely interfere and hinder progress with weight loss. Remember, ketones provide calories and direct energy to our body. What this means is that the body must take care of incoming energy before it can tap into the reserve tank (unwanted stored body fat).
I have personally seen weight plateaus with my clients who took them regularly thinking it would help them lose more weight by achieving higher ketosis… once we removed the supplemental ketones from the diet, the body was able to tap into its reserve tank and weight loss resumed. Don’t chase ketones—chase results!
Are there benefits to taking exogenous ketones on a keto diet?
Use of exogenous ketones has sparked a big interest in research and science, especially for health conditions affecting neurological function, metabolism, and cognitive decline. Here is a list of other potential applications for using exogenous ketones:
Although studies are limited, exogenous ketones are showing promising results for certain medical applications such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, diseases of impaired glucose metabolism, epilepsy, anxiety, and even cancer.
Improved mental performance
Exogenous ketones can be used to provide a big boost of energy to the cells of the brain optimizing focus, memory, and cognitive performance.
Keto flu symptom relief
The exogenous ketones most commonly available on the market today are bound to salts (a.k.a. electrolytes). Symptoms of the keto flu are likely related to electrolyte imbalances at the beginning of a keto diet, which is why some people may feel better after taking them. However, there are much cheaper methods to rectify electrolyte imbalances and remedy the keto flu. Read here for keto flu remedies.
Also, when first starting a keto diet, the body is not adapted to using ketones for energy, in which blood ketone levels may already be quite high – more than the body is used to. Making ketones even higher by taking exogenous ketones can actually make you feel worse… use with caution if you’re new to keto.
Getting back into ketosis quickly
Exogenous ketones will result in ketosis, even after a night of eating carbs. But that’s just it… ketosis! Remember, the presence of ketones does not mean anything aside from ketosis. Long-term weight loss and health benefits will be difficult to achieve if you think exogenous ketones will rescue you from a poor diet.
Ketone supplements may provide a boost of energy, especially for endurance athletes. However, many athletes are now also using these alongside a keto diet.
However, there’s one very big downside to exogenous ketones…
The price! Good quality ketone supplements come with a hefty price tag. If you are using them sporadically (such as for a mental boost), they may be worth the cost, but taking them daily will cost you a pretty penny. However, watch out for:
- Hidden ingredients and fillers that may contain carbohydrates.
- Misleading “secret recipes” not disclosing the amount of BHB (ketones) in their product, which could mean “fairy dusting” their product with just minimal trace amounts of ketones.
- Unreasonable health claims like “lose weight without dieting”.
- Added ingredients such as caffeine, which some people are sensitive to.
- Brands that are “dirt-cheap” as those are likely a big red flag of poor quality, misleading products.
Exogenous ketone brands to try
Again, there are multiple brands available on the market, but here are a few that I trust based on their ingredients and label. My personal favorite is Perfect Keto, which seems to have the least amount of ingredients and full disclosure of ketones in their product.
- Perfect Keto Exogenous Ketone Base
- Kegenix Prime BHB Salts + MCT Oil Exogenous Ketones
- Kiss My Keto Exogenous Ketones
- ZHOU Keto Drive BHB Salts
At the end of the day, exogenous ketones may offer some benefits, but they will not compensate for a poor diet. You can fill up your internal fuel tank by taking them orally, or you can consume a healthy keto diet and tap into its reserve… a.k.a. stored body fat. If your goal is weight loss, I’d opt for the latter.
Following a healthy keto diet is more likely to have lasting positive health benefits than trying to short-cut your way by taking expensive ketone supplements. Remember, don’t chase ketones, chase results!
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.