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Does Caffeine Impact Ketosis On A Low-Carb Diet?

Posted Sep 11 2008 6:18pm
In an ideal world, there would be clear-cut criteria laid out in black and white about how to do a low-carb diet. While there are certain basics that apply to virtually every low-carb plan, there are also what I would describe as "gray areas" where it will really depend on the individual to figure out for themselves.

One such issue is caffeine. If you have read Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, then you know the late great Dr. Robert C. Atkins addresses this subject a couple of times--but only in passing. Here are the two brief references I found in my mass paperback version of the book:

Page 189-- "Excessive caffeine has been shown to cause a hypoglycemic reaction, which will provoke cravings and cause you to overeat. Omitting caffeine may be a big sacrifice for you, but, in my experience, weight loss often starts up again as soon as people remove caffeine from their regimen."

Page 222-- "Consume caffeine only in moderation."

Other than those two points, Dr. Atkins didn't say much else about caffeine consumption. Obviously he felt there was enough of a negative metabolic response to caffeine intake for him to dissuade Atkins dieters to try to steer clear of it as much as possible.

But what about the impact of caffeine on ketosis? Is there any and what guidelines can people following a low-carb diet use to gauge what amount of caffeine intake they can tolerate while still losing weight? These are some of the questions that were explored by one of my intelligent readers in the following e-mail:

Hi Jimmy,

I would like to clear something up with your help. I feel there needs to be a summary, possibly a FAQ, on caffeine. Here's my question: What are the effects of caffeine, ESPECIALLY when one is in ketosis?

When talking about caffeine, there are several hurdles most web articles don't get over.

1. The reasons why caffeine use is discouraged on low-carb.

A. I don't use caffeine because I don't want my weight loss/maintenance to be based on a drug.

B. I don't use caffeine because it negatively affects my mind, sleep, heart rate, or other.

2. I use caffeine because it speeds up my metabolism.

Okay, most agree it speeds up metabolism. How about difference in metabolic effect between ketosis and non-ketosis?

3. Caffeine causes release of adrenaline, which causes the liver to break down glycogen, causing a temporary increase of blood sugar, which causes insulin to be released. Thus the dreaded blood sugar/insulin roller coaster.

This I cannot find an answer for. Does this same process happen under ketosis?

As you know, Jimmy, everything changes when in ketosis. Most studies do not differentiate, which usually means NONE of the subjects studied were ever in ketosis, and thus they don't know. This seems to be true in every area of science, which is why so many nutritionists are so ill-informed and against low-carb.

Since I don't have problems under #1, and #2 seems to be a benefit, my whole use of caffeine hinges on #3, and I don't know the first thing about testing blood sugar levels on myself.

If caffeine causes the rollercoaster in ketosis, then I will stop using it. But how do I find out this fact? Is a caffeine FAQ a good idea?

As always, thanks for being such a great resource for everything low-carb!


Now THERE is somebody who's putting on their thinking cap about how he needs to be livin' la vida low-carb. I can appreciate anyone who cares enough to contemplate what's best for them that they would go through the trouble of analyzing something like caffeine consumption so closely. KUDOS to my reader!

My personal experience with caffeine consumption, primarily through diet sodas, has been negligible if non-existent regarding my weight loss and maintenance. I'm a fairly heavy diet soda drinker and switch back and forth between the ones with caffeine and the ones without (depending on what's on sale).

The only adverse effect I have noticed are the headaches when I switch to the non-caffeinated diet sodas. It lasts a couple of days and then I'm better. My weight does not change enough one way or the other, so caffeine doesn't bother me. But not everyone is this way.

For some, caffeine can cause their blood sugar levels to go haywire and bring on intense sugar cravings that lead to binge eating. This is NOT a healthy reaction when you are trying to overcome carbohydrate addiction and shed the pounds. So, are there any studies on caffeine and ketosis that might shed some light on this reader's questions?

I went directly to the most knowledgeable Atkins diet expert I know-- Jackie Eberstein --who worked directly with Dr. Atkins for three decades treating obese and diabetic patients with a low-carb dietary approach. Here's what she had to say about this issue:

Jimmy,

I am not aware of any studies that have looked at caffeine and ketosis. I can only comment upon my experience with myself and any number of my patients over the years.

Caffeine for someone with an unstable blood sugar can cause the blood sugar rollercoaster regardless of ketosis.

Some people are more sensitive than others and of course the amount of exposure matters. Other factors matter such as having caffeine when the blood sugar is more stable after eating a low-carb meal may have no or only limited negative effects. For some of us caffeine when we are stressed for other reasons can really provoke symptoms.

One needs to determine their tolerance. I recommend that people with an unstable blood sugar avoid caffeine intake and others limit to at most about 3 servings daily.

Hope this helps,

Jacqueline Eberstein, R.N.
Controlled Carbohydrate Nutrition, LLC


THANK YOU, Jackie! So the jury is still out about caffeine on a low-carb diet. I know I try to avoid it as much as possible just as I steer clear of aspartame and maltitol. There are plenty of alternatives to these that I enjoy, so there's no use in forcing myself to consume products with these ingredients in them.

When I forwarded Jackie Eberstein's e-mail to my reader to let him know her perspective about his thought-provoking questions, here's what he had to say:

Hi Jimmy,

Thank you so much for replying to my email. It seems very true when they say we are 50 years away from fully understanding the affect of food on our physiology. The essence of Ms. Eberstein's message is "see how it affects you and act accordingly."

Until we have the scientific facts, we all have to make little experiments in our diets. That makes your blog and forum one of the most valuable things because people's experiences become most important where the science is lacking.

Again, Thanks!


This reader actually was the inspiration for a brand new section of my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Discussion" blog called the "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Lab" where people who are low-carbing can express their own "Empirical Data" about "What's Working For You" and even make suggestions about "What Research You Would Like To See" about the low-carb lifestyle. I encourage you to get active in this section of the forum because we can learn a lot from each other's experiences.

Excellent discussion topic regarding caffeine and ketosis and I welcome your feedback on this subject matter in the comments section below. How has caffeine affected you? Does it kick you out of ketosis or lead to weight gain? Or do you avoid it like the plague so you don't have to mess with it? Let's hear from you!

Labels: Atkins, caffeine, diet, Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, Jackie Eberstein, ketosis, low-carb, metabolism, research, Robert C. Atkins, weight gain, weight loss

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