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The Principles of the Keto Diet: Controlling Blood Sugar, Weight, and Overall Health

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

The keto diet is currently one of the most popular diets around today and is considered one way to control your blood sugar, weight, and overall health. In this post, we'll discuss the principles, potential benefits and downfalls of the keto diet, as well as the impact of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels, weight management, and overall health. We'll also offer guidance on choosing the right foods and maintaining proper nutrient balance if you choose to follow a low-carb or keto lifestyle.



Understanding Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar

Carbohydrates are one of the three required macronutrients. Macro does not refer to size but rather to the amount the body requires for optimal health. Carbohydrates can be found in many different foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, and sugars. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and can raise blood sugar levels when consumed in large amounts at a time. This spike in blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and other health issues.


Low-carb and keto diets are thought to control blood sugar by limiting the amount of carbohydrates consumed. A typical keto diet consists of less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, while a low-carb diet typically allows for up to 150 grams of carbohydrates per day. Both diets emphasize the importance of choosing healthy, whole foods and avoiding processed, high-carbohydrate foods.


Low-carb and keto diets may offer a range of potential short-term health benefits. For example, studies have shown that low-carb diets may be effective for weight loss, improving blood lipid profiles, and managing diabetes (speak with your health care provider). In addition, some people report increased energy and mental clarity when following a low-carb or keto lifestyle (in the short-term).


While low-carb and keto diets can be beneficial, it's important to choose the right foods and maintain proper nutrient balance. Some people may be tempted to eat a lot of processed, gluten-free low-carb products, which can be high in unhealthy fats, processed ingredients and low in nutrients. Instead, focus on eating plenty of nutrient-dense whole foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats. If you're following a low-carb or keto diet, it's important to monitor your intake of vitamins, minerals, and fibre to ensure you're getting all the nutrients your body needs.


Benefits of a Low-Carb or Keto Diet

One advantage of reducing high glycemic carbohydrate intake is the positive impact on stabilizing blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates, particularly those with a high glycemic index, can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to energy crashes and potential long-term health problems such as diabetes.


By cutting back on fast carbs and focusing on healthy sources of fat and protein, a low-carb or keto diet can also promote weight loss. When the body is in a state of ketosis, it burns stored fat for fuel instead of relying on carbohydrates, this is how it helps to lower blood lipids levels.


When done correctly with an emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods, a low carb diet can help reduce inflammation and improve gut health.


However, it is important to note that a low-carb or keto diet may not be suitable for everyone, particularly those with certain medical conditions or nutrient deficiencies. Before starting any new diet, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.


Managing Weight with Low-Carb or Keto Diets

In general, I never like to recommend dieting as a way to lose weight. It is much better to view the idea of losing weight as creating a healthier lifestyle that naturally results in weight loss to balance your unique body. That said sometimes we need a little push to make the appropriate lifestyle changes. A low-carb or keto diet can be that push.


Studies have shown that low-carb diets can lead to greater weight loss than traditional low-fat diets. By reducing the amount of carbohydrates consumed, the body is forced to burn stored fat for energy, leading to weight loss. This weight loss may vary depending on individual circumstances such as genetics, current weight, and lifestyle habits. Additionally, it's important to make sure the foods consumed are nutrient-dense to avoid any potential negative health effects. Overall, a low-carb or keto diet can be a helpful tool in managing weight and promoting overall health.


Choosing the Right Foods for a Low-Carb or Keto Lifestyle

When starting a low-carb or ketogenic diet, it can be challenging to determine which foods are suitable for your lifestyle. It's essential to focus on nutrient-dense whole foods and avoid highly processed foods with added sugars and artificial sweeteners.


Some good food options for a low-carb or keto diet include:

1. Low-carb vegetables

Leafy greens like spinach and kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini are all excellent low-carb options. These vegetables are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, making them essential for overall health.


2. Healthy fats

Fats are a crucial part of a keto diet, providing the body with the energy it needs to function correctly. Sources of healthy fats include nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, and butter.


3. High-quality proteins

Protein is vital for maintaining muscle mass, and sources of high-quality protein include grass-fed meat, fish, eggs, and plant-based protein sources like tempeh and tofu.


4. Low-sugar fruits

Some fruits, like berries, are lower in sugar and can be eaten in moderation on a low-carb or keto diet.


It's important to remember that not all low-carb foods are healthy, and it's essential to read labels and avoid foods with added sugars, preservatives, man-made ingredients, and sugar substitutes. Additionally, when transitioning to a low-carb or keto diet, it's crucial to stay hydrated and increase your salt intake to avoid symptoms of the keto flu. By choosing the right foods and focusing on nutrient-dense whole foods, you may be able to maintain a proper nutrient balance while following a low-carb or keto lifestyle.



Maintaining Nutrient Balance on a Low-Carb or Keto Diet

While following a ketogenic diet can be effective in promoting weight loss and help to manage blood sugar levels, it's essential to ensure that you're still receiving all of the necessary nutrients to maintain good health.


One potential challenge with a low-carb or keto diet is that some of the foods that are typically limited or eliminated are high in important nutrients. For example, grains are often cut out of these diets, but they are a key source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals.


One solution to this problem is to incorporate more gluten-free whole grains into your meals. Gluten-free grains like quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice provide essential vitamins and minerals and can help ensure that you're meeting your nutritional needs.


Another way to maintain nutrient balance on a low-carb or keto diet is to focus on incorporating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats into your meals. Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and kale are high in vitamins and minerals, and they can be paired with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado to help your body absorb those nutrients more effectively.


In addition to whole grains and vegetables, it's also essential to ensure that you're getting enough protein and healthy fats. Grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, nuts, and seeds are all excellent sources of protein and healthy fats.


Overall, a low-carb or keto diet can be one way to achieve your weight goals, but if you're looking to improve overall health (in my opinion) it is not the best approach. It's important to approach low-carb diets mindfully and ensure that you're still receiving all of the nutrients that your body needs, by incorporating a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods.


Dangers of a keto diet

It is important to note that this diet may not be suitable for everyone; there are potential risks and side effects associated with the keto diet that should be carefully considered before embarking on this dietary regimen.


Low blood pressure


The diet can cause the body to excrete more sodium, which can lead to a drop in blood pressure. Additionally, the keto diet has been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones and constipation, which can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for some individuals. Long-term adherence to a keto diet can increase the risk of kidney disease.


Potential for nutrient deficiencies

Since the diet restricts certain food groups, it can be difficult to get all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. This can lead to deficiencies in important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.


It is also important to note that the keto diet is not safe for individuals with certain medical conditions. Those with conditions involving their pancreas, liver, thyroid, kidneys or gallbladder should avoid the keto diet altogether.


Recent studies have shown that this diet may have negative effects on bone health. It may lead to a reduction in bone mineral density, which can increase the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. This reduction in bone mineral density may be due to the increased production of ketones, which can lead to an increase in bone breakdown over time. While the keto diet may have short-term benefits, it is important to consider the potential long-term effects on bone health. Further research is needed to fully understand the impact of the keto diet on bone health and to develop strategies to mitigate any negative effects.


Studies have shown that low carbohydrate diets that primarily consist of animal-based foods may increase the risk of mortality from heart disease and cancer. This evidence suggests that a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in animal-based foods may not be the healthiest option for individuals.


Finally, someone new to the keto diet may experience what is known as the “keto flu”. This is a collection of symptoms that can include upset stomach, dizziness, decreased energy, and mood swings. These symptoms are caused by the body adapting to ketosis and typically subside after a few days.


Long-Term Effects of Low-Carb Diets

While the ketogenic diet, or keto diet, has been touted for its potential weight loss and health benefits, it is important to consider that this diet may lead to certain health risks over time.


Specifically, individuals who have kidney disease, diabetes, heart or bone ailments, or other medical conditions should consult with their healthcare provider before trying the keto diet. This is due to the potential risks of nutrient deficiencies, digestive issues, poor bone health, and other complications that may arise from following this diet. In addition, it may be beneficial to consult a dietitian to plan balanced meals and monitor nutrient levels while on the keto diet. By doing so, individuals can help minimize the risks of complications and nutrient deficiencies associated with this lifestyle.


It is also important to note that while the keto diet may lead to initial weight loss, there may be challenges in maintaining weight loss over time. The strict dietary guidelines of the keto diet may be difficult to maintain long-term, potentially leading to a cycle of weight loss and weight gain. It may be better to consider a sustainable and balanced approach to weight management that incorporates a variety of healthy nutrient balanced foods and physical activity.


 

Jenn is a Mindful Nutritionist (PhD) who believes that by taking a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition, individuals can support their physical and mental health over the long term.

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