Is Your Diet Causing Bad Breath

by October 9, 2013

Is your low-carb diet actually causing you to have bad breath?  One of the possible “side-effects” of following a low-carb diet can be “bad breath”, sometimes accompanied by a bad taste in the mouth.


Causes of Bad Breath

There are many causes of bad breath, but if the change in your breath has happened suddenly after starting a low-carb diet there are two main causes:

  1. Bad breath due to acetone caused by ketosis – meaning our body is using fat for energy.
  2. An excess of protein in the diet producing ammonia in the breath.

One of the results of cutting carbohydrates in our bodies is that we start to use more fat for energy. This process generates molecules called “ketones”. One type of ketone, called acetone, tends to be excreted, both in the urine and the breath. The description of the smell varies, but it is often described as “fruity” or like the smell of apples which are “past their prime” (or even downright rotten).

Suffering from Keto-Breath

The good news is that keto-breath usually doesn’t last forever. Most people find it settles down after a few weeks, or at the most a few months. The reason is unclear, but it seems our bodies adapt in some way. Children on a ketogenic diet for epilepsy have been shown to have less acetone in their breath as time goes on, for example. In the meantime, there are things you can do to minimize the impact of “keto-breath”:

  1. Drink more water: try 8 glasses per day to see if this helps, and then you can experiment from that point.
  2. Natural breath fresheners to try include mint, parsley or other greens, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel seeds.
  3. Some people swear by breath capsules, which are usually made from parsley oil (e.g. Mint Assure) for keto-breath. Others find they do not help.
  4. Sugar-free mints or gum can be tried, but watch out for the carbs in them.

When the body metabolizes protein, ammonia is produced. When people eat high-protein meals, there tends to be increased ammonia in their breath and/or urine. In large amounts, this can smell pretty bad.

Minimizing Protein in Your Diet

It’s important to remember that we don’t need lots and lots of protein in our diets. Our bodies use protein to maintain and build muscles, to make enzymes, and for other structural and chemical needs. The body will convert excess protein to energy, which is where you will get the extra ammonia (this also happens during starvation or long exercise when the body begins to rely on breaking down muscles for energy if it runs out of sources of fats and/or carbohydrates).

Sometimes people load up on protein because they are afraid to eat more fat. This is one of the reasons why it is rarely a good idea to try to eat a diet that is low in both carbohydrates and fats. The solution to “ammonia breath” for people on a low-carb diet is often to increase fats in the diet, and cut back some on protein foods.

There are also other diseases that can cause bad breath. Liver disease, tonsillitis, diabetes, fever, stomach, esophagus, and intestinal diseases can also cause bad breath.  But when you are experiencing bad breath due to your diet you know you are able to take control and correct it.

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