Friday, August 24, 2007

Does Caffeine Impact Ketosis On A Low-Carb Diet?

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:


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!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jimmy,
I don't use caffeine-containing coffee or diet coke(with Splenda, of course) for any purpose other than for small bits of taste pleasure I allow myself in the grand scheme of life, and I don't really go pee pee on keto sticks or worry about ketosis anymore, because in my mind, this low carb life I'm living is timeless, and infinite. So even if I hit a bump via accidentally or unknowingly (hee hee) ingesting a higher than normal amount of carbohydrate for me, I pay it no mind--that's why I don't worry about the caffeine.

That being said, I do, however, value the gift caffeine presents to me on an almost daily basis by dulling my appetite. Keep in mind, I do eat regularly, but I also find my morning cup of java buys me valuable time from hunger distraction from one meal to the next. And hey, they coffee is loaded with antioxidants, right?

8/24/2007 7:07 PM  
Blogger sjm said...

8/25/2007 12:27 AM  
Blogger LCT Cathy said...

I know that caffeine consumption seems to have had an effect on a few of the low carbers that I know. It was a situation where they had hit a stall, eliminated caffeine and started to lose again.

Now whether that was just a cycle thing or it was the caffeine, I can't say. Caffeine never affected my ability to lose weight.

BTW, I'm from Seattle and we don't give up our Starbucks too easily. I'll take a quad grande with heavy cream...thank you ;)

8/25/2007 2:52 AM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Dr. Atkins was indeed not a proponent of regular consumptions of (any) beverages containing caffeine, but he did leave us with some very good tips for those that would suffer from caffeine withdrawal. For example, on pp. 172 and 173 of his brilliant "Dr. Atkins Vita Nutrient Solution" (Amino Acids section) he indicates that phenylalanine may offer some relief.

Phenylalanine is a very good eye-opener, also in the morning when one could feel fatigued as a result of caffeine withdrawal. Anyone who wants to enhance alertness can try it. Studies repeatedly show that it works under a variety of conditions. Take 500-1000mg on a empty stomach, or you may divide the total dose with a matching amount of L-Tyrosine, an amino acid with very similar biochemistry. In all cases, note that PA is capable of raising blood pressure or pulse rate, so it requires a doctor's supervision.

Sometimes PA is also "abused" for significant appetite suppression, especially by the proponents of the low-calorie dogma, although these results are dependent on individual metabolism. And of course, as with all appetite suppressants, they have the great disadvantage that after stopping the use the natural appetite will return with a vengeance. But as a substitute for caffeine, as indicated by dr.Atkins, and in moderate amounts, it can be useful.

8/25/2007 3:18 AM  
Blogger The Bunnell Farm said...

Am I mistaken or did not Dr Atkins 'not allow' caffeine while in Induction. The 'stimulant factor' I think. -- Like in both sugar and hybrid carbohydrates both being stimulant drugs, probably being that factor. I say it 'stirs the pot' and like all of the rest of the drugs it is ultimately not good for our health or our diets. My Mac is up and running and is being used as I speak. (it had sat in it's box for over two years) Look out!

8/25/2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger Kamran said...

Atkins only discouraged caffeine use to those who were extremely carb-intolerant, but for the majority of low-carbers, caffeine is an excellent addition. During exercise, since we don't have as much glycogen as high-carbers, we need the caffeine to help break up more fatty acids for energy. A high-carb diet negates the positive effects of caffeine, but on a low-carb diet, caffeine works wonders, especially if you exercise (cardio and weight-traning). A good zero-carb rockstar or spike energy shooter before working will help you burn much more fat (and consequently, much less muscle which is a good thing, because anyone not weight-training on a low-carb diet is losing muscle at an incredibly fast rate).

But it always comes down to individual tolerance. If you're one of those lazy fatso low-carbers who want to eat yourselfs slim only to gain it back within a year or so because you lost so much muscle, then caffeine won't really help you. If you're a smart low-carber and know that exercise (esp. weight training) is a must, then caffeine will seriously help you with your energy in the gym).

Caffeine gets a two thumbs up from me on a low-carb diet.

8/26/2007 8:33 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

"anyone not weight-training on a low-carb diet is losing muscle at an incredibly fast rate"

Are you sure of this? I experienced the opposite, actually, and yes, I am the laziest guy on this forum. I do not exercise much and still I kept the weight off for more than a decade. I'm much stronger now than I was in my youth, and my heart muscle hasn't disappeared either according to my cardiologist - he says I have the heart of a young man.

Also, I wonder how it's possible, then, that any of our ancestors survived on a low-carb diet?

8/27/2007 1:36 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

For me, coffee is a replacement for anything I can/should/won't eat due to my low carb lifestyle. When I began serious dieting (age 22, 140 lbs), I was unaware of the carbohydrates in fruits and vegtables and just cut out simple carbs, and eventually complex carbs, until I began wanting to body compete. After cutting down to 5-10 grams of carbs a day- coffee remains my savior and allows me to remain (so I believe, due to no use of keto stix) in ketosis, where my eyes are typically watery, dull headache and the feeling of being high (in some way) resume.

I am currently consuming too much coffee- up to 10 cups a day and must cut back for obvious reasons none of which include my low carbing.

SO, coffee drinks- as long as your not a speed freak about it, like myself - drink up! :]

1/20/2009 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

"anyone not weight-training on a low-carb diet is losing muscle at an incredibly fast rate"

This is not true for most people on a low carb diet. The reduction of glycogen (while in ketosis) used by our bodies reduces the amount needed from gluconeogenesis. If you ate no protein at all, then yes, some glucose would be made from amino acids broken down from the muscle. If you consume an adequate amount of protein(there are studies which detail how much is necessary) then the body will break down dietary protein for glucose needs and spare muscle.

There is a good study on the muscle sparing effects of a Low Carb diet:

5/15/2009 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am 9 days in to induction and been on coffees and diet cokes since day 1, and i'm seeing incredible results!
I am well in to ketosis and rid of all cravings (exept caffiene!) and a coffee or diet coke totally curbs my appetite throughout the day at work.
My loss so far is 6lbs and i feel a million times healthier even though its only day 9.
Kind of doing my own version of Atkins - typically i have a cappucino for breakfast, 75g mixed nuts or grilled halloumi cheese with courgette for lunch, diet coke, 45 mins cardio/resistance, 3 eggs scrambled for dinner. At weekends I allow myself to drink gin and diet tonic and go out for a meal and choose steak or something low carb and substantial.
It works for me, and caffiene is a staple in my diet.

4/20/2011 5:35 AM  

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