Is the keto diet good for diabetics?

It’s important to know that the American Diabetes Association (ADA) does not recommend any single diet over another to control your diabetes.

As an individual with different dietary needs, blood sugar levels, and target weight goals your diet needs to be tailor-made. Your focus should be to follow a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Carbohydrates should be spaced out over the day. Smaller meals should be eaten more often alongside following a personalized diet plan. Personalized diet plans can be created with your doctor or dietitian to make sure you follow a diet that’s suitable for you. In the following blog, we will go into more detail about one of the most talked-about diets surrounding diabetes, the keto diet, to help you make an informed decision for your health.

What is keto?

Keto is the shortened term for the full scientific word ‘ketosis’.

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic (keto) diet, sometimes known as the keto plan, is high in fat, moderate in protein, and low in carbohydrates and can potentially change the way your body stores and uses energy. Eating more fats and protein and fewer carbohydrates causes our body to switch to using fat for fuel instead of burning sugar. This switch produces ‘ketones’ and reduces blood glucose levels. As glucose drops and ketone levels rise in the bloodstream, the body stops burning sugar and instead uses the ‘ketones’ as an alternative fuel. This is called being in ‘ketosis‘. A ketogenic diet may improve blood glucose (sugar) levels while also reducing the need for insulin, however, it does come with some risks that will be looked at later.

How does the keto diet affect diabetes?

Keto and diabetes are often talked about together because of the benefits this type of diet can bring to a diabetic:

  • The ketogenic diet has the potential to decrease blood glucose levels
  • Managing carbohydrate intake is often recommended for people with type 2 diabetes
  • It may help some people with type 2 diabetes because it allows the body to maintain glucose levels at a low but healthy level
  • Some people with type 2 diabetes who also follow a ketogenic diet may be able to reduce their need for medication
  • Beneficial to a person who is trying to lose weight

How to follow a keto diet

A low-carb diet is when you eat 100-150 grams of carbs per day. The keto diet goes even lower than this because the goal is to get into ketosis. Typically between 20-50 grams of carbohydrates is the goal for a keto diet. The nutrient breakdown on a ketogenic diet typically works out to be 70-75% of calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 5-10% from carbohydrates daily. 20-50 grams of carbohydrates can easily slip into your diet without you realizing it, so tracking your food with an app on your phone is a helpful way to keep you within your carbohydrate intake limit.

Ketogenic diets should consist of the following types of food:

  • Low-carb vegetables e.g. broccoli, kale, spinach
  • Eggs
  • Meat e.g. lamb, chicken, beef
  • Healthy fats e.g. avocados, flaxseeds
  • Fish e.g. mackerel
  • Berries e.g strawberries, raspberries

The most important carbs on a keto diet are green leafy vegetables as they are alkaline. As the ketogenic diet is acidic, green leafy vegetables help with reducing acidity in the body. You can add small amounts of berries and other low glycemic index fruits, but be careful you do not add too much.

Your focus when choosing fats for the keto diet should be heart-healthy fats such as salmon, avocado, nut butter e.g almond butter, nuts, eggs, cottage cheese, and seeds such as flaxseeds.

Keto diet risks

  • Changing your body’s primary energy source from carbohydrates to fat causes an increase in ketones in the blood
  • When you have too many ketones you may be at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
  • Short term side effects such as constipation, leg cramps, headaches
  • Long term side effects such as kidney damage, cardiovascular disease, and an increase in hypoglycemic episodes

Monitoring your diabetes

Your doctor will need to monitor both your blood glucose and ketone levels to make sure that your diet is not causing any negative effects. A high-fat diet needs to be closely monitored with regular testing and medication adjustments. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the most suitable testing plan for you.

Alternative diets for diabetics

The best diet for diabetics is not a straightforward answer. Keto diets may be the best for some people and other alternative diets may suit others better.

  • Plant-based diets for diabetics focus on eating food such as whole grains, beans, legumes, rice, and unprocessed breakfast cereals. The findings of a 2019 Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that individuals who follow a plant-based diet lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes by 23%.
  • Mediterranean diets for diabetics contain a large amount of fish, whole-grain bread, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, herbs, and spices. There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss.
  • Paleo-based diets for diabetics are based on eating foods from the earth. This diet contains fish and meat, vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants.

There is no simple answer to which diet is best for a diabetic. The keto diet and alternative diets all need strict medical supervision.

Keto diet and diabetes FAQs

Can keto reverse diabetes?

Keto diets can lead to short-term improvements but strictly restricted dieting is unnatural and not sustainable for humans.  There are still many benefits of following low-carb diets, which include improved blood glucose control and reduced reliance on medication. This means lower doses of medication or less need to take the stronger medications that have greater side effects.

What is the one food that kills diabetes?

One food or food group alone can not kill off diabetes in the body. It is a combination of a controlled diet under the supervision of your doctor, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. There is no cure for diabetes.

How long does it take to reverse diabetes on the keto diet?

A new study in The BMJ found that sticking to a low carb diet for six months showed higher rates of diabetes reversal with people who had type 2 diabetes.

Why is my blood sugar high when I don’t eat carbs?

Diabetes is a disease in which the body can not lower blood sugar levels. Diabetics are unable to break down glucose into energy. This is because there is not enough insulin to move the glucose (type 2 diabetes) or the insulin produced does not work properly (type 1 diabetes). Once the production of insulin slows or stops, your blood sugar remains high all the time. When you have diabetes your blood sugar can be high no matter when you had last eaten, because the glucose metabolism process isn’t working properly.

How do you lose belly fat on keto?

Carrying too much belly fat is harmful and has a strong link with diabetes. The keto diet is a good way to reduce belly fat alongside reducing your total weight and overall body fat much more than a low-fat diet. Follow our simple advice above to get started losing belly fat on keto.

How many carbs should a diabetic have in a day?

Studies show that restricting carbs may benefit people with diabetes. The lower your carb intake the greater the effect on your blood sugar levels and other health benefits. Again, carb intake is extremely individual and it also depends on the diet you are following. Please speak to your doctor to discuss the appropriate amount of carbs you should be eating.

Medically reviewed

A medical professional has reviewed this article.

Jamie Winn, PharmD
Jamie Winn, PharmD

Jamie Winn, PharmD

Medical Writer & Reviewer

Jamie Winn, PharmD

Medical Writer & Reviewer

Dr. Jamie Winn received his Doctor of Pharmacy in 2002 from the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, Columbia, SC. Jamie is a medical reviewer for NiceRx.

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The content on this website is intended for information purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice. The information on this website should not be relied upon and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always speak to your doctor regarding the risks and benefits of any treatment.