Can diabetics do the keto diet?

If Blood Sugar is the Problem Then Maybe the Solution is a Low Carb Diet

Taking a closer look at what an alternative to glucose can do for diabetics.

Keto for diabetics

The ketogenic diet is what you get when you bring your daily consumption of carbohydrates down to 5% of your daily caloric intake. When that happens you trigger a state known as ketosis wherein your body’s primary source of energy becomes ketone bodies. What happens next is that you experience accelerated weight loss because your own body fat becomes your primary source of energy. You also get increased mental clarity, focus, energy, and improved mood because ketone bodies are a consistent source of energy.

A ketogenic diet exists in juxtaposition to a diet that is rich in carbohydrates. Carbs get turned into a sugar called glucose that gets transported by the bloodstream and is absorbed by cells thanks to a hormone called insulin. That is, unless you have diabetes, a metabolic disorder defined by the body’s inability to properly regulate blood sugar levels, leading to many complications.

Given the above, it makes sense to wonder if a ketogenic diet could work for diabetics. After all, if the problem for those living with diabetes is an inability to absorb glucose, then why not sidestep the issue altogether by relying on a different source of energy? Let’s take a closer look and see if keto is safe for diabetics.

Blood Sugar Test 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is the name of several metabolic disorders that entail elevated blood sugar levels and the consequences thereof. Usually what happens when carbohydrates are consumed is that the body turns carbs into a sugar called glucose, glucose is ferried around the body in the bloodstream as a source of energy, and glucose absorption is dictated by a hormone called insulin. Not so for diabetics.

For those living with type 1 diabetes, also known as “early onset diabetes”, the pancreas fails to produce a sufficient amount of insulin. According to Endocrine Web, type 1 most often starts before the age of 40, with 14 being when most diabetics are diagnosed. It is currently unknown what causes type 1 diabetes. Symptoms include extreme thirst and even dehydration, weakness, abdominal pain, blurry vision, quick mood changes, wounds healing poorly,  and even changes to or loss of menstruation.

Type 2 diabetes, meanwhile, is caused by insulin resistance, a condition in which cells don't respond to insulin correctly. Sometimes insulin production begins to decrease as well. This is what's known as "adult-onset diabetes". It's often caused by not exercising enough and being overweight. Symptoms are similar to those of type 1 diabetes.

The ketogenic diet is good for managing diabetes’ symptoms.

The ketogenic diet can reduce blood glucose levels just by replacing them as the primary source of energy for diabetics. People with diabetes are already told to monitor their carb intake, so taking things a little bit further isn't that much of a stretch. Of course, it does take effort to remain in ketosis. And even though there are exogenous ketone supplements that make it easier to get into and stay in ketosis, it’s still a diet that requires work. However, as explained by Healthline, keto can pay off since it’s been shown by numerous studies  to effectively reduce blood sugar levels over time and can even lead to a medication reduction. Additionally, the ketogenic diet can reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease as well. It’s just important to stick to keto or a low carb diet because yo-yo dieting leads to complications of its own.

There is, however, the risk of developing a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is what it’s called when you have too many ketones in your blood. While the condition is more often encountered by those with type 1 diabetes, it's still a risk for those living with type 2. And DKA is a medical emergency; it can cause a diabetic coma. Some symptoms include dry mouth, frequent urination, consistently high blood sugar, breath that smells like fruit, nausea, and breathing difficulties. What this means is that while the ketogenic diet has been shown to help those living with diabetes, it doesn’t mean not monitoring one’s blood sugar or blood ketone levels.  

The ketogenic diet can prevent type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes is what it's called when someone has slightly elevated blood glucose levels. While it can signal that someone is going to develop type 2 diabetes, prediabetes does not necessitate that someone become diabetic. This is when a ketogenic intervention can be particularly effective. And it’s an intervention that can benefit a lot of people because one in three American adults has prediabetes.

As reported by Lifehacker, you need to burn  7,0000 calories, not 3,500 to lose a pound. That’s because the human body is a dynamic system, which means that results will not be unilateral and predictable. But that shouldn’t really matter to pre-diabetics because what they need is a lifestyle change and not a diet. Once the pounds come off, they need to stay off. And while it may be a struggle, it’s something can be done easier with the help of one’s friends and family.

The National Institute for Health conducted a study on the benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. What the NIH discovered was that those who went at it alone completed treatment at a rate of 76% and 24% kept the weight off for 4 to 10 months. But 95% of those who received social support completed treatment with 66% keeping the weight off for 4 to 10 months.

So, get your friends and family on board with your weight loss goals. It’s not just vanity that’s compelling you! Your health and quality of life, and by extension the quality of their lives, are on the line. Keto gives you the tools to reverse the symptoms of prediabetes and better manage your symptoms if you’re already diabetic. It won’t be easy because sugar is both addictive and there are so many sneaky foods with added sugar, but you can also figure out how to eat sweets on the keto diet so it’s not all that bad. And doing keto is definitely better than the symptoms of diabetes.