When newly diagnosed diabetics realize how much of diabetes management involves calculations around carbohydrates— counting them and administering insulin accordingly— it’s natural to wonder, does a low-carb keto diet help control diabetes?
According to the CDC, 34.2 million people across age groups in the U.S. has diabetes. That’s over 10% of the US population. With so many people affected, it’s a legitimate question. Can diabetes be managed with diet, or at least, can you reduce your dependence on insulin by changing the way you eat?
Let’s see what the science says.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic (long-term) disease that affects the way your body turns food into energy. When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t have enough of the hormone insulin, so the energy form of food, glucose, stays in your bloodstream for too long. Too much glucose in the bloodstream can be dangerous or even life-threatening.
How insulin works
When you eat, your body breaks down food into components, a major one being glucose, the form of sugar in your bloodstream. While your body is breaking down food, your pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that signals to your cells to grab glucose from the blood and use it as fuel.
Diabetes and carbohydrates
You can manage diabetes by calculating your carbohydrate intake, monitoring your blood sugar, and administering insulin according to your doctor’s instructions.
Since carbohydrates readily convert to glucose, the more carbohydrates you consume, the higher your blood glucose will go, and the more insulin you will need. Without insulin, your cells will not take up the sugar in your bloodstream, and you can end up with high blood sugar that can cause damage to blood vessels and tissues, damage to organs, overly acidic blood, and other serious issues.
Why a keto diet could help with diabetes
Since your body needs insulin to regulate the blood glucose that comes from carbohydrates, it makes sense that carbs and insulin go hand-in-hand. So, lots of diabetes patients and doctors are taking a closer look at keto as a potential part of a diabetes management program. Here’s what the research has found so far.
- In a small study of 21 participants, a low-carb ketogenic diet helped type-2 diabetes patients reduce or discontinue their diabetes medications.
- A 2008 study of 49 diabetes patients found that patients who followed a ketogenic diet had better glycemic control (aka blood sugar control) and a more frequent reduction in medication than patients who followed a low glycemic index diet.
- Research on a low-carb ketogenic diet improved blood sugar control in obese diabetic patients
- A ketogenic diet reversed complications from diabetes in study animals, but further research is needed to determine whether humans would experience similar results
So far, the research is promising, and some diabetes patients may use the keto diet as part of their diabetes management program.
If you decide to try keto to help manage your diabetes, talk to your doctor or registered dietician about it before you dive in, as it’s possible for your blood sugar to drop too low, or you may have to change the way you use your insulin.
A handful of studies make a distinction between a low-carb and a keto diet. The difference is that in a low-carb diet, only carbohydrates are limited. To follow a ketogenic diet, you keep carbohydrate consumption low and protein consumption low to moderate.
Can you use a keto diet to control diabetes?
Whether or not diet is part of your diabetes management plan is between you and your doctor. The research is promising, but only your doctor has your full medical history and can determine the safest approach to your unique situation.
No matter what route you take, you don’t have to give up sweets! This day in age, there are plenty of tasty treats to enjoy that won’t send your blood sugar through the roof: chocolate, muffins, pancake syrup, drink mixes… the possibilities are endless. Check out Lakanto for more zero glycemic sweeteners, mixes and treats!
Is the keto diet safe for diabetics?
Since diabetes is a metabolic disorder, you may have to watch your carbohydrates and blood sugar more closely than you would if you had a fully functioning pancreas. Always involve your doctor when you want to make any changes. You may also consider working with a dietician who can monitor how your body reacts to your dietary changes and make personalized adjustments along the way.