The Keto Diet for Diabetics: Surprising Health Benefits and Risks You Need to Know
The ketogenic diet, or as it's most commonly called, the keto diet, was created in order to treat epilepsy, but how about other chronic conditions or diseases? The question that we want to know is can the keto diet alleviate symptoms of diabetes or even treat type 2 diabetes?
We asked certified diabetes educator and keto diet expert Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE, to shed light on current research surrounding the keto diet and diabetes.
Can the keto diet help someone manage type 2 diabetes?
The keto diet may be of interest to someone who has type 2 diabetes because, as Walsh says, it may help to improve blood glucose (sugar) levels. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, and because the keto diet is essentially void of all carbohydrates, you can imagine how beneficial this diet could be for someone who needs to be cognizant of their glucose intake.
"By significantly lowering carbohydrate intake, less glucose is consumed, which can be favorable for those with high blood glucose levels," Walsh says. "However, it's important to note that oftentimes, medications or insulin regimens—which work to lower blood glucose—may need to be adjusted to prevent the individual from having blood sugar that is too low. This is why it's important for people living with diabetes [and] who would like to try a keto diet to communicate with their doctor about it."
Having too low of blood sugar is equally as concerning as having too high blood sugar. Symptoms of hypoglycemia, the state in which your blood sugar levels are too low, range from feeling shaky and dizzy to having seizures.
Could the keto diet help reverse type 2 diabetes?
Walsh points out that right now there aren't enough studies with long-term research (5-10 years) that would support that following the keto diet is a successful way to reverse type 2 diabetes. In fact, as of right now, limited research, in general, exists on reversing type 2 diabetes permanently. However, research does show that bariatric surgery may reverse symptoms for an extended period of time.
The keto diet will likely help someone with type 2 diabetes lower their glucose levels, but the issue here is sustainability. Walsh says the diet may not be easy to maintain long-term, given how strict it is.
"However, speaking anecdotally, those who start eating a ketogenic diet often end up learning better portion control with items like bread, rice, pasta, and sweets. So, if and when they transition out of the strict keto diet, they are still eating a lower amount of carbs than they were prior."
In short, the keto diet—while hard to maintain over time—may help to instill better eating habits in the long run, which ultimately may help someone with the condition to better gain control of their symptoms.
Can the keto diet help someone manage type 1 diabetes?
Following the keto diet with type 1 diabetes may bring about some challenges, which is why Walsh emphasizes that one should discuss this in-depth with either a doctor or a diabetes educator.
"Because insulin is necessary for type 1 patients and not always necessary in patients with type 2 diabetes, there is even more of a need for patients with type 1 to discuss dietary changes with their healthcare professional, as their insulin needs may drastically change when following a ketogenic diet," Walsh says. "Also, not all type 1 patients may need to lose weight, so making sure their weight doesn't get too low [while] following the ketogenic diet would be important to consider as well."
Remember, insulin is the hormone responsible for absorbing glucose in the blood, and those with type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin on their own. This is why they need to deliver insulin into their body through a daily shot. As a rule of thumb, if you have diabetes, make sure to consult a professional before attempting to follow a diet as restrictive as the keto diet.