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Does the Keto Diet Work for Diabetes?

There are countless types of diet plans out there that claim to help someone with diabetes. If you are a diabetic, particularly type 2, odds are at some point you have tried one of these because it was billed as the “best”. It’s easy to fall victim to this mentality despite the fact that most of us know there is no one “best” of anything, especially when it comes to diet plans. One such plan is the keto diet that has become popular in the past few years and has garnered attention as the “best” new diet making the rounds, particularly in regards to weight loss. But could the keto diet have benefits for someone with diabetes? Let’s discuss what the ketogenic diet is all about first before we come up with that answer.

Simply put, “going keto” is reaching and maintaining your body in a metabolic state called ketosis. Our bodies normally burn carbohydrates for energy, but when you severely restrict the number of carbs you consume your body will break down stored fat, creating molecules called ketones to use as fuel. The byproducts of this process, ketone bodies, are an energy source we can use just like carbs, fats, and proteins. By cutting off the body’s carbohydrate (glucose) supply, but still providing energy and nutrients in the form of fat, and to a lesser degree protein, you can essentially get the same effects as starving yourself. Exactly how does this work? The simplest explanation comes from Krista Scott-Dixon of Precision Nutrition, who explains it like this:

Insulin makes stuff go into cells.

Stuff that goes into fat cells makes us fat.

If we don’t help stuff go into fat cells, then we won’t get fat (and actually might lose fat).

Carbs (in their digested form of glucose) stimulate insulin release.

Therefore eating fewer carbs = less body fat.

Neat, huh? Consumption of more protein and fat means we get hungry less, which means we eat less. Therefore we lose even more fat! Did you catch that eat less part? Sounds fairly easy, right? So then why doesn’t everyone do it? In short, the overconsumption of carbohydrates gets in the way.

A truly ketogenic meal aims for near-zero carbs, an adequate amount of protein, and very large amounts of fat. Most estimates range from 10-15 grams of carbs per day, or about 5% of your calories for any given meal, with fat accounting for roughly 75% of the calories and protein kicking in the other 20%. For comparison’s sake, most people consume a ratio of roughly 50:30:20 as a percentage of carbs-to-fats-to-proteins, so cutting back carbs can be a tough hurdle to clear.

So back to the question of whether or not this is the “best” diet for controlling type 2 diabetes. In my opinion, for some yes. For others, definitely no. A ketogenic type of diet looks to be a good option for those with poor glucose control, or type 2 diabetes. However, if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease it would be wise to exercise caution with your overall fat intake, especially saturated fats. Or, at the very least, consume the majority from monounsaturated fat sources, such as nuts, avocados, and healthy oils. So, like anything, for some it may be a solid option for controlling diabetes and for others it’s probably not such a good idea.

Taking health risks out of the equation, the question that you need to ask yourself is, “Is what I’m currently doing sustainable long-term to help me control my diabetes?” If the answer is “yes”, and you’re satisfied with the results, and your health markers are on point, then you’re probably onto something. If not, you’re likely setting yourself up for failure and frustration, and eventually will fall back into old habits and poor health choices.

Remember, when you hear that something is the “best”, keep in mind that whoever is making that claim doesn’t know anything about you specifically. Each of us is different and need to be treated as such. They might have a general idea, but unless you have had a thorough consultation with a professional, they don’t have a clue whether or not something is truly good for you.

If you have type 2 diabetes and would like to sit down and discuss your current health and dietary status I’m available by appointment at HealthFit. As a wellness coach with an extensive background in nutrition science, it would be a pleasure to get to know you and your particular situation and together we can figure out what is “best” for you!


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