Is Keto Diet good for Diabetes?

5 Jan 2023
Stefano Mirabello
Stefano Mirabello
Medical Writer
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Since its recent surge in popularity, many people with diabetes have asked about the keto diet. The keto diet is a very low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet. The ketogenic diet can be a valuable tool for those living with diabetes, but it is important to understand how it works and what precautions are necessary before starting. Let’s look at the benefits and downsides of following a keto diet for managing type 2 diabetes.

What is a Keto Diet?

The keto diet is also called the “ketogenic” or “high-fat, low-carb diet” (LCHF) diet. It involves reducing your intake of carbohydrates and replacing them with fats. When you do this, your body begins to burn fat rather than glucose as its primary fuel source. This specialised eating plan gets its name from a process called “ketosis”, which occurs when a person drastically reduces their carb intake, causing the body to switch from using carbs for energy to using an alternative energy source in the form of stored fat. As a result, the body produces molecules known as ketones, hence why it’s commonly referred to as “the keto diet”.

In addition to being a low carbohydrate diet, the keto diet is also high in protein and healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, and grass-fed butter. Foods not allowed on the keto diet include grains, potatoes, legumes (beans), certain fruits like bananas and apples, most dairy products (except for full fat), white sugar and artificial sweeteners. It is important to note that while these foods are excluded from the ketogenic diet, they can still be enjoyed in moderation on other healthy meal plans for diabetics, such as the Mediterranean diet.

The evidence shows the keto diet can be safe and effective in helping people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes reduce their body weight, improve their HbA1c values, and reduce diabetes medication and risk of heart disease in the short term. There is little evidence to show the benefits of this diet in people with type 1 diabetes.

Benefits of the keto diet for diabetics

The benefits of following a keto diet for diabetes management include:

Improved blood sugar control

The keto diet has been shown to be effective in reducing blood glucose levels and helping diabetics better regulate their glucose levels. This is because the diet focuses on consuming healthy fats instead of carbohydrates from processed foods, which helps decrease spikes in blood sugar levels. Additionally, when your body enters a state of ketosis, when it begins burning fat instead of glucose as its primary fuel source, it can help your body become more efficient at metabolising glucose and improving insulin sensitivity. This diet has been connected with improved glycemic control due to its high amounts of beneficial fats and moderate amounts of protein.

Eating nutrient-dense foods

Another benefit of the keto diet is that it encourages eating nutrient-dense foods such as leafy greens, nuts and seeds, avocados, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon. These are all foods packed with vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that can help keep your body healthy while reducing inflammation in the body. This type of anti-inflammatory eating is beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes, who tend to have higher levels of inflammation due to insulin resistance caused by unhealthy diets filled with processed carbs and refined sugars.

Weight loss

Weight loss can be difficult for those with diabetes due to insulin resistance. However, studies have found that following a ketogenic diet helps reduce weight more effectively than other traditional low-calorie diets. If you are able to successfully lose weight while on this type of diet plan, it will likely lead to better overall health outcomes due to improved insulin sensitivity and reduced risk factors associated with obesity such as heart disease or stroke.

Improving blood cholesterol levels

Lowering triglycerides, raising HDL, and decreasing LDL are all critical for proper blood cholesterol. The keto diet makes it much easier for those with diabetes to address these issues. With careful dietary planning and management, diabetics on the keto diet can improve triglyceride levels by reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing healthy fat intake. This reduction of carbohydrates helps increase LDL clearance from the body, which also improves one’s cholesterol profile. Additionally, by increasing healthy fat intake, higher levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) will be achieved, further promoting a healthier balance in one’s overall blood lipid profile. Improving blood cholesterol can also help reduce risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries).

Alternative to low-fat diets

Since the majority of calories come from dietary fats rather than carbs on a keto meal plan it may provide an option for those who find it difficult to stick to traditional low-fat diets due to hunger or cravings caused by low caloric intake.

Downsides of the keto diet for diabetics

For those living with diabetes, being on a keto diet or eating very few carbohydrates can present unique challenges.

High levels of ketones

It’s important for those managing diabetes to monitor their body for the presence of high levels of ketones, which can be caused by eating too few carbohydrates on a keto diet. High levels of ketones in the blood and urine could be an indication that someone is entering diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can potentially be life-threatening. Those taking insulin could find their insulin levels become too high, which can be dangerous for their health. Signs of these elevated ketone levels include feeling nauseous, fatigue, confusion, stomach pain and even rapid breathing.

It’s important always to monitor those numbers carefully and adjust your diet accordingly. Controlling insulin intake, monitoring food and medication intake, and regular testing are all important components of effective diabetes management. The goal is to keep glucose and ketones at healthy levels for continual wellness and overall health.

Lack of variety

Another downside of the ketogenic diet is that it does not offer a lot of variety in terms of food choices. Because it is so restrictive, it can be hard for diabetics on this diet to get all the essential vitamins and minerals they need from food alone. A multivitamin supplement may help fill in some nutritional gaps but should never replace a healthy, balanced meal plan prescribed by a doctor or nutritionist that incorporates all kinds of nutritious whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates like whole grains.

Low blood sugar risk

Lastly, diabetics following a strict low-carb/high-fat eating plan may face an increased risk for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This is because when carbohydrates are restricted, there is less glucose available in the bloodstream, which can result in sudden drops in blood sugar levels. This can happen during physical activity or if meals are skipped or spaced out too far apart throughout the day. It’s important for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels regularly when on this eating plan and always carry snacks with them just in case symptoms arise suddenly.

Difficult to maintain long-term

The keto diet requires precise tracking and adherence to specific macronutrients in order for it to be effective and safe. This makes it difficult for many people to stick with it long-term. Additionally, because it restricts certain food groups like grains and fruits, many people find it difficult to adhere simply because they don’t enjoy the foods allowed on the plan or don’t find them filling enough. Talk with your doctor or nutritionist before beginning any restrictive eating plan.

Easy to overindulge

It’s important not to overindulge in fatty foods while on the keto diet, although fat consumption will be higher than normal when following this plan. This is because consuming too much-saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels and put you at risk of developing other health problems such as heart disease or stroke.

Ketosis side effects

Keto flu as it is known as is a set of uncomfortable side effects that can occur when transitioning to a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet. Symptoms may include fatigue, brain fog, nausea, cramps, headaches and constipation. These symptoms generally happen as your body adapts to the switch in its energy source from carbohydrates to fats into a state called ketosis. Though not everyone experiences keto flu symptoms, it’s important to listen to your body and take care if you do experience any of these effects while making the dietary transition. Staying hydrated and complementing your diet with electrolytes can help reduce any uncomfortable feelings associated with keto flu.

Unsuitable for kidney disease

For people with diabetes with pre-existing kidney disease, the ketogenic diet is not recommended as it creates a high level of acidity in the blood. This metabolic state can often overwhelm the kidneys, reducing their ability to properly filter acid from the body and leading to further complications.

It’s best for those with kidney disease or impaired kidney function to stay away from this type of diet as it could place additional strain on their already delicate health condition. Additionally, it’s important for any diabetes patient to consult their doctor before starting any new dietary changes, particularly if they have pre-existing health conditions that could be affected by drastic diet modifications.

Is the Ketogenic Diet Like the Atkins Diet?

The Ketogenic and Atkins diets share some similarities but they also have major differences. Like the Atkins diet, the Keto diet requires followers to eliminate most carbohydrates from their diet. However, while the Atkins diet consists of a variety of stages that gradually increase your carbohydrate intake, the Ketogenic diet works by drastically cutting down on carbohydrates and replacing them with fats so that your body can access its internal stores of energy (ketones). Additionally, keto relies much more heavily on foods like leafy greens, nutrient-dense proteins, and healthy oils whereas Atkins is known for its focus on processed meats such as sausage and bacon.

The verdict

A properly planned ketogenic or low carbohydrate high fat meal plan can be beneficial when used correctly alongside medications and lifestyle modifications prescribed by your healthcare provider. However, caution must be taken when deciding whether this eating pattern is right for you, particularly if you have pre-existing kidney disease or other medical conditions like high blood pressure that could worsen over time due to changes in dietary protein intake.

Health care professionals and registered dietitians are available to help you every step of the way if you begin this diet change. With their resources and knowledge alongside your own diligence, you can develop an effective meal plan and monitor how it affects your glucose levels. With proper planning, though, this approach can effectively manage type 2 diabetes while still enjoying tasty meals!

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