Is the Keto Diet Good For Diabetics? A Keto Expert Gives Us the Answer

POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim
POPSUGAR Photography | Sheila Gim

The keto diet has been a proven tool to help people lose weight and even fight off inflammation. But there's another chronic condition that the keto diet can successfully treat: diabetes. Specifically, type 2 diabetes.

We spoke to Steve Phinney, MD, PhD, chief medical officer at Virta Health, who explained which patients can benefit the most from the keto diet, and how to successfully use the diet to treat type 2 diabetes. He stressed that the treatment of type 2 diabetes with the keto diet should be done under close medical supervision, especially if the patient takes medication that lowers blood sugar or blood pressure as it can lead to dangerous side effects. But once you get the go-ahead from your doctor, here's how it works:

How the Keto Diet Impacts Blood Sugar

To understand how the keto diet plays a role in blood sugar, it's important to understand how your body uses carbohydrates. When you eat carbs, they are broken down into simple sugars that enter the blood stream, which causes blood sugar to rise. In someone who isn't diabetic, the pancreas releases more insulin to help the glucose in your blood center cells where it's then used for fuel.

People with type 2 diabetes, however, have impaired insulin release and a resistance to the insulin once it gets into the blood, Dr. Phinney explained, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels.

With the keto diet, which is marked by a high-fat, moderate-protein, and super low-carb diet, your body goes into a state of ketosis where it starts using fat for energy and releasing ketones. Dr. Phinney said the ketones in the blood will help reduce insulin resistance, which is beneficial for diabetics.

"By making fat their main fuel source, people living with type 2 diabetes are able to harness the powerful biochemistry of nutritional ketosis to lower their blood sugar and insulin levels, and in the majority of cases reverse the disease's underlying pathology," he told POPSUGAR.

By cutting out most carbs and replacing them with a well-formulated ketogenic diet, he said, people with type 2 diabetes are able to reduce their blood sugar closer to the normal range.

What Diabetes Patients Should Know Before Going Keto

First and foremost, diabetes patients shouldn't make any major changes to their diet without speaking with their doctor, including going on the keto diet. It should be an informed decision made by the person and his or her medical provider, especially if the person is already on glucose-lowering medication. Going into ketosis has a major impact on blood sugar and blood pressure levels, so medication should be adjusted accordingly.

Dr. Phinney also emphasized that keto only works if you're consistent; ultimately, it should be thought of as more of a lifestyle change than a temporary diet.

"If an individual living with type 2 diabetes reverts back to eating a higher carb diet after seeing success with a ketogenic diet, it is likely that their blood sugar levels will promptly return to abnormally high levels, requiring immediate medical attention," he said. "I highly recommended working with an expert nutritionist to determine how to make a ketogenic diet fit into your lifestyle, so it is a long-term solution instead of a quick fix."

That being said, the keto diet can be a useful tool for people who have diabetes, when done under close medical supervision. In addition to helping regulate blood sugar levels and fighting insulin resistance, Dr. Phinney notes that the keto diet has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Since inflammation may be a cause of diabetes, this is especially beneficial for type 2 diabetes patients.

When done properly and under medical supervision, a ketogetnic diet can help reverse type 2 diabetes. If you're thinking of giving it a shot, be sure to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to create an effective, sustainable plan.