We’re right in the middle of the holidays, which for most people means festive decorations, celebrations with friends and family, and an overabundance of food.
At risk of looking a bit more like Santa Claus at the start of 2018, this editor embarked on a diet and exercise journey over the past several months to drop some weight, build muscle mass, and improve his overall health. He employed a common arsenal consisting of an Apple Watch, Fitbit Aria, and various apps, and he also got help from a device called LEVL. LEVL, a device from Medamonitor, a Seattle, WA firm, measures the amount of fat you are expending with a simple breath test.
The science behind the device is that when your body uses fat instead of glucose as a primary fuel source, your liver produces by-products called ketone bodies that are expelled in your breath when you exhale. These ketone bodies are absent in diets that include carbohydrates. This is the basis of the low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet: eliminating carbs will eventually allow your body to run solely on the fat stores in your body (a state called ketosis). The more fat your body uses for fuel, the greater the concentration of ketones (acetone specifically) will be in your breath, which LEVL measures. Ketogenic diets are currently popular for weight loss, but are also reportedly beneficial for those who suffer from Type 2 diabetes or epilepsy.
This goes without saying that LEVL will only be useful if you are on a keto diet. Even a calorie-restrictive diet consisting of super healthy carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole grains, and beans won’t work, as your liver won’t produce the acetone that LEVL detects in your breath. So, it’s not a tool for all dieters.
Thankfully, this editor had been experimenting on and off with the keto diet, so the device worked perfectly with his efforts. Read on to follow his journey with LEVL!
The LEVL device itself is a rounded, rectangular plastic box about the size of a shoe. At its top is a translucent, plastic hinged lid that acts as a start mechanism and also protects the two plastic breath pods and the breath testing port. The device is fairly heavy, but it’s just meant to sit on top of a desk or counter. Also included are two plastic breath pods resembling inhalers, disposable cardboard mouthpieces that are inserted into the breath pods to put your mouth on for sanitary purposes, two cans of gas to calibrate the device, a power cable, and an extra sensor module.
The setup process starts with a power-up cycle that takes 24 hours, so don’t expect to be able to take a measurement straight out of the box. Once the 24 hours is up, you need to calibrate LEVL, another 15 minute procedure which involves running two gas samples with specific concentrations of acetone through it. Once these steps are complete, you can finally go ahead and take a reading, but we recommend downloading the smartphone app first, as it’ll save your results and give you decimal point precision for them.
Another word about the setup: the calibration process must be performed every two weeks, which means you’ll eventually have to purchase additional cans of calibration gas. Moreover, according to LEVL, the sensor module should also be replaced every month. And you’ll eventually need to replace the mouthpieces after you use them, which means the costs of maintaining LEVL can add up. However, this is expected due to the real difficulty of measuring small concentrations of acetone within a humid gas that also has thousands of other compounds within it.
Thankfully, using LEVL was far less complicated than setting it up. To take a measurement, you simply lift the lid, remove a breath pod and attach a mouthpiece, press the mode button to select the user, exhale into the breath pod for 5-7 seconds, insert it into testing port, and close the lid. As the test runs, a colorful ring of LEDs lights up, and after about 15 seconds indicates your breath’s acetone concentration in parts-per-million with a lighted scale and a score of 1-6. According to the folks behind LEVL, a score of at least 2 indicates an elevated state of fat metabolism.
You’ll want to make sure the iOS/Android app is turned on and connected at this point, as it will not only give you a more precise score, but if you’re fully in ketosis, will often measure significantly higher than what the device is able to display. The app additionally calculates and displays the number of calories and the amount of fat per day you would lose at a particular acetone concentration and also tracks your history. If you wish, you can take another reading after about 15 minutes.
While we can’t exactly validate the accuracy without a blood test, LEVL is an FDA cleared medical device, so it’s gone through rounds of pre-clinical and clinical testing. We can also say that it definitely tracked along with our eating habits quite well. On one occasion, the day after cheating with our favorite pasta dish, LEVL began to give us an expected 0.0 ppm, suggesting that our body was using the carbohydrates from the pasta for energy. (Do note that it can take up to 24 hours to see the acetone level changing, and that depends on your metabolism.) As we continued over the next couple days back on the keto diet, our LEVL score slowly began to increase as we went back into ketosis. At the same time, we compared our results using keto urine strips, which is another popular and inexpensive method for keto dieters to check their metabolism. The strips also tracked along accurately with our diet changes, but, interestingly, tended to follow behind the trends when using LEVL. We’re guessing it’s because acetone probably had begun to show up in our breath before it was metabolized into our urine.
One important thing to remember about your eating habits while using LEVL is that certain foods and substances, such as alcohol and mint, can cause false, high measurements. Artificial sweeteners can also affect the measurements, so you’ll want to keep this in mind if you’re consuming any artificially-sweetened diet foods. LEVL says to wait at least 60 minutes after eating or being exposed to these substances. However, we found on one occasion that it took several hours after drinking a couple pints of beer before our LEVL scores dropped to a sensible range.
Overall, using LEVL was a really neat way of seeing the effects that various foods had on our metabolism. Pasta, beans, and of course sugar, would cause our LEVL score to drop, while low-carb vegetables and fats had little to no effect on our score. And it did give us the motivation to keep up with the diet and exercise plan, which resulted in some pretty pleasing weight loss.
- Fast and accurate results
- FDA cleared
- Dual-user support
- Excellent smartphone integration
- Expensive for a home-use device. Like, really expensive.
- Only useful if you’re on a ketogenic diet
- Results can be easily skewed by several foods and substances
- Some setup and waiting is required
The LEVL can be a helpful device if you’re looking to lose or maintain weight specifically with a ketogenic lifestyle. Over the couple of months we’ve used LEVL, it’s helped us see the effects of our eating habits, and we actually lost weight! But it’s definitely not the cheapest way to shed pounds. The device itself is expensive at $699, and there are additional maintenance costs, so it may not make for the best stocking stuffer. You’ll want to be fully committed to your diet and exercise plan before investing in a device like this. But if you are and can afford it, it’s an impressive piece of at-home laboratory equipment that may do you a lot of good.
Flashbacks: Tiny Breath Acetone Sensor to Measure Fat Burning During Exercise, Help Monitor Diabetes…; LEVL Measures Acetone in Breath to Detect Body Fat Burning…; New Acetone Breathalyzer May Replace Blood Glucose Testing for Managing Diabetes…