Managing Diabetes with a Keto Diet…
Can following a keto lifestyle help with diabetes? The simple answer is – yes, it can. Of course, people and bodies are different, and you should always check with your doctor, but decades of scientific research and countless personal success stories have many people discovering how keto diets can prevent and manage diabetes – and for some, without increasing meds. (1)
Diabetes is a health issue on the rise, impacting over 500 million people (2) across the world, and unfortunately this number isn’t getting any smaller. As a significant contributor to kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, blindness, and lower limb amputation, it’s not surprising that people are asking what they can do to prevent or manage symptoms.
The good news is that changes in diet and lifestyle can make a big difference. And one of the biggest positive factors is reducing carbohydrate intake – which happens to be the cornerstone of a ketogenic diet.
If you think a keto diet may help you or a loved one, the answers to these questions may help you get started…
Diabetes is a condition where the body doesn’t control blood glucose properly. When things are running smoothly, insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar, prevents extreme fluctuations. But when this function goes astray, blood sugar levels become too high or too low – causing a heap of unhealthy, and sometimes dangerous, problems for the body.
Starting on a keto diet means eating fewer carbs which results in lower blood glucose levels. The body then switches into a state called ‘ketosis’ where it turns fat stores into energy – burning fat and improving insulin function.
Studies have shown that ketogenic diets lower blood glucose levels. (3) Specifically, a 24-week study also found significant reduction in blood sugar levels – and 95% of the participants were able to stop or lessen their diabetic medication (4).
Keto diets have also been shown as one of the most efficient ways to lose weight. And dropping just 5 to 10% of your body weight can have healthful effects on your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. (5)
Reduced appetite, inflammation, better heart health and increased mental focus have also all been reported on a keto diet.
Type 1 diabetes is often a hereditary condition where the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin – essential for proper blood glucose regulation. However, insulin also prevents ketone levels from becoming too high. This means there is a risk that if a person with type 1 diabetes follows a keto diet without appropriate use of their insulin medication, ketoacidosis – a serious and sometimes fatal condition – could develop. (6) A keto diet can be very beneficial for people with type 1 diabetes, but we always recommend checking with your doctor before making a big change especially if you have a chronic condition.
Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1. This is where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react efficiently to insulin.
insulin, or the body’s cells do not react efficiently to insulin. People with type 2 diabetes may be genetically predisposed, but often obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and aging are the main causes. (7) Fortunately, changes in lifestyle such as following a keto diet can prevent diabetes before it starts or help people manage it. The advantage of a ketogenic diet is that it addresses some of the root causes that lead to diabetes: excess weight and insulin resistance.
Prediabetes is a metabolic condition that if undiagnosed or untreated can develop into type 2 diabetes. It is identified when blood glucose levels are higher than normal but too low to be classed as diabetes. (8)
Testing for prediabetes is recommended for people who…
- are overweight or obese
- have a close relative who currently has or has had diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have low HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) or high triglycerides
- are over the age of 40
- have given birth to a baby who weighed over 9 pounds
But – you guessed it – a keto diet has been shown to reverse prediabetes and prevent diabetes from developing.
In its simplest terms, a ketogenic diet means eating fewer carbohydrates combined with moderate protein and high fat. This helps the body go into ketosis and utilise fat for energy rather than glucose.
Generally, a keto diet recommends 20-50g carbs per day, 40-60g of protein and no set limit for fat. This could also look like 70 to 75% fat, 20% protein, and about 5 to 10% carbs.
Fats deliver the majority of calories in a keto diet. The open limit for fat intake is because people have different energy needs, although we definitely recommended healthy high fat foods such as eggs, meat, avocado, dairy, olive oil, coconut oil and oily fish rather than fried, processed foods.
The keto diet can be done in a few different ways – e.g. 5 days on 2 days off, variations in levels of carbohydrates, protein and fats, addition of MCTs. But the principle remains the same – get fewer of your calories from carbs and more from fats.
And don’t forget there is plenty of room in a ketogenic diet for a range of vegetables, particularly non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, pepper and courgette.
Consistency is key when comes to keeping the body in ketosis. So you do need to be mindful of your carb intake most days – a bit of dedication goes a long way!
However, nowadays, there are plenty of keto enthusiasts in the food industry which means so many more specialised – and delicious – products are available that make a keto lifestyle super simple and convenient. For example, Heylo Seeded Loaf can be used exactly like high-carb bread – and tastes as good too, keto savoury snacks are easier than ever to source and even keto sweet treats can be found online in seconds.
Switching its fuel source from glucose to fat is a lot for the body adapt to. As the body rebalances, it’s usual to experience side effects known as ‘keto-flu’. This can take anywhere from 2 – 6 weeks to pass, but it is temporary.
As for risks, there are a couple of things to be aware of, but a sensible approach, careful monitoring and keeping your doctor updated can make your keto diet a safe one.
Going too hard too soon can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels. Do your research, speak to your medical team and stick to recommended intakes. Establishing ketosis is a marathon, not a sprint!
People who are taking insulin need to be aware that they could be at higher risk of hypoglycaemia. However, adjusting your medication can prevent this, and your doctor will be able to advise.
Additionally, ketoacidosis, a complication of insulin deficiency, is a life-threatening problem that can affect people with diabetes. This mostly occurs in people with type 1 diabetes, and occasionally people with type 2 diabetes. The risk occurs when someone misses their insulin dose or severely reduces their food intake in a short space of time: the production of too many ketones can be overwhelming for the body. However, if your medication is properly controlled and you have spoken with you doctor before starting a keto diet, the risk is considered to be low. (9)
There are some groups of people that shouldn’t try a keto diet. According to www.diabetes.co.uk , the following people should avoid restricting their carb intake too much:
• Pregnant or breastfeeding women
• People on hypo-causing medication or taking SGLT2 inhibitors
• People who are underweight or have an eating disorder
• People with gallstone problems or who have had their gallstones removed
• Children or adolescents under 18 years old
We’d also add that keto isn’t suited to anyone undergoing or recovering from a medical procedure.
A ketogenic diet can help you manage diabetes by regulating blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity and function – and has even helped people reverse their symptoms and come off medication. But always check with your doctor first.
If you want to see how delicious keto can be, why not check out our recipe section – packed with exclusively keto meal ideas and homecooked favourites revamped for a keto diet.
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