Is The Keto Diet Good For Diabetics? – Positives & Negatives Explained

Being a diabetic can affect everything from the cosmetic (skin) to the critically important (brain function) as many of you will know. More immediately, diabetics suffer from blood sugar spikes that are caused by an inability to use insulin effectively. 
Well the good news is that diabetes can be controlled and reversed (in some cases of type 2 diabetes), if the patient is willing to follow a lifestyle plan that includes a change in diet and an increase in exercise.  As there are many diet plans out there this leads to the question, is the Keto diet food for diabetics?

How Diabetes Affect You

Diabetes is a serious condition where your body does not produce insulin  (type 2). Diabetes affects many major organs from your heart to your kidneys. While not immediate, diabetics are at a greater risk for heart disease, nerve damage, kidney damage and even skin conditions. There is even research that shows that type 2 diabetes sufferers are at an increased risk for Alzheimer's disease though it is not clear why. 
So earlier I mentioned blood sugar spikes, well these can lead to Ketoacidosis.  This is a condition in which the blood becomes highly acidic and requires emergency care.  However this is treatable and typically resolves within days with proper medical attention. 
It's extremely important for diabetics to routinely monitor their blood sugar levels and to have their medication on them at all times to greatly reduce the risk of a complication like ketoacidosis.

Difference Between Type 1 And Type 2 Diabetes

The main difference between Type 1 and type 2 diabetes is insulin. With type 1 diabetes your pancreas makes little to no insulin and you must inject insulin regularly to metabolize glucose. With type 2 diabetes your pancreas either has stopped producing insulin or your body has become resistant to its effects causing glucose to build up in the blood.

In most cases, type 2 diabetes is brought on by years of poor eating (processed foods, sugary foods, etc) and low activity levels. In fact, type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes, but it's not anymore because more children are being diagnosed with type 2 after living a similarly unhealthy lifestyle of poor food choices and lack of exercise.

The rise in children with diabetes has also coincided with the rise in the amount of heavily processed and refined foods within the typical diet. The Keto diet discourages the consumption of processed foods and encourages more natural foods in their place which might be beneficial in the fight against childhood diabetes.

Diabetes And Diets - The Importance Of Eating Healthy

Diets are one of the main ways an individual can lower their blood sugar levels or, in some cases, rid themselves of type 2 diabetes entirely. The goal for most diabetics includes weight loss as just lowering your weight can lower your blood sugar levels.
The Mayo Clinic states that sustained weight loss of 7% or more of your starting body weight is ideal. Most know that weight loss can be obtained by simply reducing the number of calories you consume in a day or increasing your amount of daily exercise.
For most diabetics, the answer is usually to both cut calories and increase exercise. As for what foods are best for diabetics? There really is no true consensus. The Mayo Clinic recommends a sensible diet that includes fewer refined carbohydrates (think candy, cookies, white pasta) and less saturated fat (think chips, french fries, fatty cuts of red meat, fried chicken) while increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, and foods containing fiber that you eat.
Related: Top Vegetables On Keto Diet: 13 Of The Best Out There! 
This type of diet will help in keeping your blood sugar levels steady as carbohydrates play a major role in spiking blood sugar. A diet low in carbohydrates and fried foods is also key to weight loss which is a critical component in most people's battle with diabetes

Diabetes And Keto Diet - How Does This Help?

The Keto diet is based on high fat, low carbohydrate and moderate protein intake. Due to the low carbohydrate intake, your body will stop using blood glucose as fuel and it will have to adapt. That adaptation the body will make is to start breaking down fat and protein for energy.
When the body converts to burning fat for energy as opposed to using blood glucose it is said to be in ketosis. This diet is popular because its tenets basically eliminate a lot of the processed foods, heavily refined foods, and sugary foods that have become so prevalent in recent years.
Proponents of the diets cite weight loss, increased energy, and even increased mental clarity as major benefits of being "Keto".
As a diabetic their maybe additional benefits to following a Keto diet. Because your body is now running on fat and protein as opposed to blood sugar your body will start making less insulin because now it does not need as much of it.
Insulin is a hormone that allows your body to use or store sugar as fuel, but since you have dramatically reduced your intake of sugar (and your reliance on it) the need for insulin has been reduced. Your blood glucose levels are low, but healthy on the Keto diet because you are avoiding the carbohydrates that typically cause spikes in these levels.

Keto And Type 2 Diabetes

The Keto diet can particularly help with type 2 diabetes, this is by both lowering body weight and reducing the need to rely on insulin.

With a keto diet, the type 2 diabetes patient will eventually start to use fat and protein for energy which decreases their reliance on insulin.

There have been studies done such as this one at Duke University where some type 2 diabetics were completely off of diabetes medications after just 16 weeks of following a keto diet.

While everyone is different, there have been some very encouraging results for type 2 diabetes patients on the Keto diet.

What To Look Out For On Keto As A Diabetic

One of the main concerns with following a Keto diet while having type 2 diabetes is the potential of developing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Early signs of hypoglycemia are sweating, headache, shakiness, and dizziness and as it worsens it can develop in to a loss of consciousness or even seizures.
This risk is there because of the combination of the insulin regiment a type 2 diabetic might be on at the same time they are on the Keto diet. Essentially they have both their medication and their diet both working to lower their blood sugar levels which can take the patient from where they were at (or at a risk for) hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) to a point where their levels actually have gotten too low.
The easy answer for this is to talk with your doctor about your diet plan and schedule frequent visits to adjust your medication as your body adapts to your new diet.

Following a Keto Diet Correctly 

Many people who switch to the keto diet eat more meat than they are used to now that they are replacing the carbs and processed foods that used to fill their diet. These protein rich foods put added stress on the kidneys and without other changes in the diet can lead to kidney stones.
The fix to this potential problem is also very simple and it starts with hydration. Drink more water! Whatever diet you choose to follow, but especially if you follow the keto diet, you need to make sure you stay hydrated.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that an adult drink between 91 and 125 fluid ounces of water a day.
The second way to prevent the risk of kidney stones is not to overdo the protein as the keto diet suggests high fat and moderate protein, with fewer carbohydrates, so maybe limit the bacon to a couple times a week instead of being your everyday breakfast.

Importance Of Monitoring Your Ketone Levels

As a diabetic on the Keto diet you should talk to your doctor about blood ketone testing. The American Diabetes Association recommends blood testing with a Ketone meter as it is believed to be more accurate than a urine test. 

While diabetics should always be aware of their blood glucose levels, they also need to be aware of their Ketone levels especially on the Ketogenic diet. 

The main concern is Ketoacidosis and while Keto alone should never drop a person in to this state the combination of diabetes, medication, and Keto could. Your doctor will help you learn to read your blood Ketone results and let you know at what level you need to call them. As long as you stay on top of your Ketone testing like you do with your glucose testing, developing Ketoacidosis is avoidable.

Alternative Methods To Help With Diabetes

It is important not to ignore the other aspects of your life that can help with diabetes, including exercise.

One of the great benefits of Keto for many people is that they find that the transition to relying on fat and protein for energy as opposed to blood sugar results in feeling a lot more energized. That energy, they find, is especially beneficial for cardiovascular workouts.

So take advantage of this energy with any cardio workout such as getting out and jogging, playing tennis, joining a volleyball team or taking a dance class.  Just finding one or two things you enjoy and making them part of your life will help you immensely with your Keto as well as controlling your diabetes.

Related: Learn About Keto Diet And Exercise: A Complete Plan for Everyone

In addition, with the added exercise comes an increased reliance on sleep. It's critically important you don't neglect your rest as a tired body leads to a tired mind and poor decisions follow. It's simply not possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle without giving your body the rest it needs.  This in turn will help you to keep your insulin levels in check.

Speaking of taking care of yourself, don't forget that you are still a person that deserves to live a well rounded life. Don't beat yourself up over one bad day on your diet or one day of skipping the gym. Sometimes a friend's birthday or a child's sporting event or even a few hours with a good book or television show can take precedence over your diet.

In Closing 

You are not just a diabetic and a follower of the ketogenic diet. When one becomes too obsessed they eventually burn out. The key is to be consistently good rather than inconsistently perfect with Keto or any other diet you choose. The changes you make to be a healthier you should be celebrated and not looked at as sacrifices.

Those changes will need to come in the form of increased exercise and a more disciplined diet that likely features fewer calories and less processed foods (especially those high in sugar) than they are currently eating. 
While the keto diet may not be for everyone, it does seem like a good option for many with type 2 diabetes. The keto diet has been shown both to help people lose weight and to improve glycemic control for those with type 2 diabetes. Weight loss in particular is the first step for many who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and many people (diabetic or otherwise) have had recent success on the low carbohydrate, moderate protein, high fat diet.
With Keto forcing the body to find an alternative energy source to blood sugar, the body's blood glucose levels will naturally fall to a low, but healthy state which is ideal for those with type 2 diabetes who are having trouble properly using or producing insulin.
The one area to watch as a type 2 diabetic who takes medication to control their blood sugar is the danger of their blood glucose levels getting too low. It is important to consult with a doctor before starting any diet plan and the Keto plan is no different. Make sure to make regular visits to your doctor as your medication may need adjusting. The good news is many type 2 diabetics who stick with Keto are eventually weaned off diabetes medications entirely! 
As with any diet plan or any major change to your life, it is extremely important not to let it overwhelm you. There will always be good day and bad days and the important thing is to concentrate on consistent success as opposed to perfection.
It's also important to note that diet alone is not the answer. It's imperative to include exercise, healthy sleep habits, and good mental health practices in your overall wellness plan. The journey to a healthier you begins with a decision to make a change and continues with a determination to stick with that change though the inevitable low points.

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