Before we start with the keto diet, you need to know why you should be good to your gut.
The gut microbiome is the ecosystem of microbes that subsists in your intestine. This ecosystem consists of viruses, yeasts, fungi, beneficial bacteria, and pathogenic microbes. Gut bacteria are responsible for a lot more than body odor. Most biological functions in your body are influenced to some extent by the bacteria and their state of health. Your immune response, production of hormones, and neurotransmitters, synthesis of vitamins, nutrient absorption, body weight management, brain health, mental health, and skin health all depend on the good bacteria in the gut. The digestive tract does a lot more than ingesting, digesting, and excreting waste. The health of the gut influences your overall system. So, you might want to be nice to your gut.
The consensus is that the greater the degree of bacterial diversity, the better your gut health. The more the number of bacterial species, the more benefits you can reap as each bacterial strain contributes different benefits. However, along with the good comes the bad. Some pathogenic bacteria do make their way to your intestines. Since the beneficial bacteria control the immune system, they keep the harmful bacteria in check. Sometimes though, the bad bacteria overrun the gut and this leads to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is the imbalance that happens in the gut and leads to a myriad of problems in the long run. The most rampant and gravest of those problems is a leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability.
The leaky gut syndrome affects the way the intestine functions. The intestinal wall is perforated, in a way, and protected with a mucosal gut lining. Normally, the tight junctions in the intestines only allow water and nutrients through into the bloodstream. When the ratio of harmful bacteria, also known as gram-negative bacteria, increases in the gut, it leads to increased intestinal permeability. This is because of endotoxins – a component in the bacterial cell that is released when the cell disintegrates. These toxins interact with the mucosal protective layer and cause the spaces in the intestinal wall to broaden. The wider spaces allow bacterial toxins, undigested foods, bacteria themselves, and other harmful substances into the bloodstream. This leads to systemic inflammation and the rise of autoimmune disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.
So, now you know why one must take care of one’s gut. Since the balance in the gut between good and harmful bacteria is rather delicate, it can be disturbed quite easily. Diet, exercise, stress, and sleep are the major factors that influence gut health – diet being the most important. What you eat is what you feed the gut bacteria which is why diet is central to a healthy gut.
Food and Healthy Gut Microbiota
Over the years, science is only beginning to understand the full scope of gut influence. Because of this newfound interest in the human gut microbiota, many eating habits are being questioned. So far, there are certain things that the medical community has agreed to as being beneficial to gut health.
- Plant foods
The American diet is not a very healthy one for the gut microbiome as it is too centered around meat, fish, eggs, and high fat intake. The gut bacteria need fiber and this fiber can be had only from plant-based foods. Plant foods are high in vital nutrients, beneficial plant compounds, and dietary fiber. While the nutrients support your body, the fiber cannot be digested by the human digestive system and is sent to the intestines where the bacteria break up the fiber into compounds that they can consume. Foods with high fiber ensure that the bacteria in your gut are fed and healthy. Also, fiber improves bowel movements.
- Fermented foods
Fermented foods are those that contain live bacteria in them and when consumed, replenish the gut microbiome with healthy beneficial bacteria. Foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, pickles, or yogurt all contain live and active cultures of bacteria that help the gut maintain a healthy balance.
Staying hydrated is key. Keeping the body sated with water helps the body detox and helps the digestive tract move things along easier. Moreover, water helps to keep your body in better shape. This is especially true if you lead a physically active life.
Prebiotic and probiotic supplements are a great way to keep a healthy gut. Good supplements replenish the gastrointestinal tract with good bacteria and provide for their nutrition. At the same time, these products also ensure that the bad bacteria are rooted out. Here is a list of 10 Best-Selling & Clinically Proven Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplements designed exclusively for bolstering Gut Health.
- Processed foods
When foods are minimally processed – washed and packaged, the foods can do no harm. However, highly processed foods – cleaned, treated with additives for a longer shelf-life, and sated with salt or sugar, they tend to feed the pathogenic bacteria. Processed goods, plant or animal, have high levels of sodium, fat, and sugar. The food may taste better but they lead to severe medical conditions in the long run.
- Artificial sweeteners
Studies confirm that non-caloric sweeteners hurt the body’s metabolism, gut bacteria, and appetite. Extended use of such sweeteners would lessen the chances to lose weight and result in increased food consumption. Both obesity and binge eating further affect a healthy gut.
Other factors that affect gut health include exposure to chronic stress. The gut microbiome is sensitive to subtle changes in the body and when under stress, the body reacts accordingly. The gut microbiota undergoes changes to accommodate the stress responses from the body.
Sleep is another important influence. The gut bacteria influence the body’s circadian rhythm, and when your body does not get the rest it needs, this affects the gut bacteria. Getting up and staying physically active helps both stress and sleep. Also, it allows the gut bacteria to process food to fuel which is used up. This helps to keep them active and healthy.
Over the years, many diets have been proposed and discarded as gut healthy. What works for you may not work for another as each body and gut microbiota is unique. One such diet is the Ketogenic diet. Proposed to help with weight loss and to keep the body healthy, the ketogenic diet has its benefits but does it really help the gut? Let’s find out now.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is a low carb high fat diet plan. The diet is capable of dealing with problems like diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The keto diet was first used in the 1920s, to counter the symptoms of epilepsy. It was used widely for almost 2 decades before being abandoned due to the rise of anti-epileptic drugs and medication. The ketogenic diet was first proposed by Dr. Russell Wilder in 1924 at the Mayo Clinic. As it is a very low-carb diet, it mimics intermittent fasting which was said to help with epilepsy.
The keto diet is based on the body’s reaction to low carbohydrate intake. The body uses carbohydrates as a primary source of fuel. When all the body has are low-carb foods, your body begins to burn fats for energy-producing ketone bodies or ketones in the process. This is called ketosis. Following a ketogenic diet is the easiest way to achieve ketosis. The limited consumption of carbs allows for this. However, you must also keep a close watch on the protein intake as protein can be turned into glucose when consumed in high amounts. This will cause a speed breaker on your journey to reach ketosis. Intermittent fasting is another way of hitting ketosis quickly. This method involves 16hrs of fasting with only 8hrs of eating.
You know your body is in ketosis when:
- There is significant weight loss
- Bad breath
- Increased number of ketone bodies in blood and urine
- Loss of appetite
- Short-term fatigue and lowered productivity
- Heightened focus and energy
The research surrounding the keto diet has yielded mixed results. Ketosis has several health benefits, especially for children with epilepsy, weight loss, and improved blood sugar management. However, following the keto diet for extended periods has shown that the body begins to lose and miss vital vitamins and minerals that can be had from high-carb foods.
Following a keto diet is not recommended for those who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome IBS, ulcerative colitis, constipation, or diarrhea. A very low-carb diet like Keto lacks the fibers that are required by the GI tract to help with symptoms of these diseases.
Types of Ketogenic Diets
There are several versions of the keto diet and each version has its own set of rules and benefits.
- TKD- The therapeutic ketogenic diet: This strict form of keto is followed by those who suffer from epilepsy. The original diet does have its drawbacks such as malnutrition, anorexia, and growth reduction in children.
- SKD- The standard ketogenic diet: This diet includes very low carb intake, moderate amounts of protein, and high fat intake.
- CKD- The cyclic ketogenic diet: A cycle of periods of high or normal carb intake followed by longer periods of following a ketogenic diet. 2 carb days followed by 5 keto diet days.
- TKD- The targeted ketogenic diet: Usually recommended for those who follow rigorous physical workout routines. This diet allows for the inclusion of carbs around the time one works out.
- HPKD- The high protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to the SKD but includes greater amounts of protein. The standard diet includes 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. The latter includes 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
- LKD- The Lazy ketogenic diet: Possibly the easiest diet to follow. There are no keeping tabs here as long as you keep your carb intake low. The move to ketosis is slower but you will get to that metabolic state eventually.
- MKD- The Mediterranean ketogenic diet: Since the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest in the world, this version of keto allows for the inclusion of Mediterranean ingredients like fatty fish and healthy oils. On in this version of the diet, you would be eating better-quality fats.
The standard and high protein have been studied extensively as they are usually followed by everyday people. The CKD and TKD are mainly followed by athletes and bodybuilders.
Regardless of which form of keto you choose to follow; the result should be the same – the achievement of ketosis which would lead to weight loss and improved heart conditions. This diet is also best suited for those with insulin resistance as the keto diet restricts the amount of glucose in the bloodstream.
What to Avoid and What You Can Eat while on Keto?
Diets rich in carbohydrates must be avoided. Sugary foods must be ditched and so should whole grains, cereals, starches, and wheat-based products. Fruits are a no-go except for small portions of berries like blueberries or raspberries. Peas, beans, lentils, and legumes are not allowed and neither are root vegetables, starchy vegetables, or tubers. Some sauces like barbeque sauce, teriyaki, and ketchup, are not kosher for the keto diet either. Alcohol must be removed from use and so should all diet versions of food and low-fat foods.
The focus should be placed on high-fat foods like those that include meat, fatty fish, eggs, butter, cream, cheeses, nuts, seeds, avocados, and healthy oils like olive oil or avocado oil. Low-carb foods like green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, onions, and peppers could be added though. Since this is a low-carb diet, the intake of veggies, whole grains, and cereals must be monitored constantly.
Benefits of the Keto Diet on Health
Losing weight is such a priority so let us begin with that. The keto diet does aid in weight loss. And it does so with minimal risks and is suitable for those who suffer from medical conditions. Research suggests that the keto diet is just as effective a form of weight loss as a low-fat diet, only you would not be required to count calories every time you have a bite to eat.
A study where 34 older adults were asked to follow ketogenic diets for 8 weeks showed nearly 5 times as much weight loss when compared to a low-fat diet. The study also concluded that the ketones, lower blood sugar, and improved insulin sensitivity aided the additional weight loss.
Apart from losing weight, ketogenic diets can help you lose the weight that is closely linked to type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome. A study involving 90 women with type 2 diabetes showed reduced levels of A1C hemoglobin – a marker for blood sugar levels. The diet can improve insulin sensitivity which allows for better diabetes control and an improvement in metabolic diseases.
When it comes to brain and mental health, the keto diet has also proven useful. Already a remedy for epilepsy, the keto diet may help to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s and even aid in the healing of brain injury. This high-fat diet was able to slow the progression of mental illnesses and induce quicker recovery from brain trauma.
There is also proof that the keto diet can improve PCOS symptoms and reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Negatives of the Keto Diet
Even though the ketogenic diet is suggested to be a safe one, nothing comes without risks. The keto diet does have a few quirks too.
- The keto flu is not an unknown term today, the onset of ketosis means the beginning of losing weight but you might not feel so great initially. The symptoms include headaches, fatigue, irritability, nausea, and even constipation. As ketosis continues, these symptoms should dissipate. Or you can also add a keto BHB supplement to your routine, to speed up the process of ketosis while also avoiding its side effects, learn more about Keto Charge Pills.
- Keto diets can bring on increased urination. That is not a side effect per se, but it could lead to the loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium. This may leave you prone to kidney damage or arrhythmia as electrolytes are required for the normal beating of the heart.
- If you are a woman, then you have irregular menstrual cycles to look forward to. This seems to be a rather prominent effect of keto on women.
- A major concern is a lack of nutrition. Fats can fuel your body but the body needs for than just fuel. It needs plant compounds like polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. A diet deficient in most fruits and vegetables will leave the body open to bone loss, and increased risk of chronic diseases.
- The diet is not for all. This is particularly true for those with conditions like severe diabetes, high blood pressure, or gut inflammation.
The Human Gut Microbiota & The Keto Diet
Inflammation is the body’s immune response that protects the body from infection. Your body induces these responses only when it senses the presence of a pathogen or some threat. Chronic inflammation is not a good thing and is usually the result of leaky gut syndrome. Inflammation of this sort causes autoimmune diseases like ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease. The ketogenic diet has been shown to decrease inflammation. Several studies have shown that the diet alters the way the body responds to possible threats and this may reduce inflammation.
The keto diet may also help with some digestive disorders. A study revealed that, for some, the keto diet was able to reduce symptoms like gas, bloating, stomach cramps, and constipation. It also improved IBS symptoms to a certain extent. Because the ketogenic diet restricts FODMAP foods, it may as well treat IBS.
If you suffer from SIBO – small intestine bacterial overgrowth, a low-carb diet could prove beneficial. The keto diet stops the bacteria in the small intestine from fermenting the carbs and reduces the chances of you getting gassy and bloated.
To some extent, the keto diet can improve symptoms of leaky gut syndrome and the health issues that initiate from it. The high-fat low-carb diet can relieve intestinal inflammation and could improve the damage caused to the gut lining.
However, that is as far as the benefits of keto on the gut. The gut microbes need a lot more to survive than fats and that is where the keto diet fails. Several studies have shown that the keto diet could have an adverse effect on the gut microbiome.
Gut health depends on the health of the gut microbes. This in turn affects human health. The keto diet restricts the intake of carbs – whole grains, starchy vegetables, tubers, and fruits and all these foods are rich in prebiotic fiber also known as microbiota-accessible carbohydrates. The bacterial fermentation of carbs allows the bacteria to feed themselves and grow stronger. Without prebiotic fiber, many beneficial bacteria species would perish leaving the gut susceptible to distress.
A low-carb diet also reduces the production of short-chain fatty acids by the gut microbes. These acids like butyrate and acetate are created through bacterial fermentation and are critical for gut-brain communication, healthy weight loss, and reduced chronic inflammation. Without carbs, there would be no short-chain fatty acids.
There are inconsistent results but the keto diet has shown the potential to damage the gut microbiota and change the composition of the gut microbiome. This is not always a good thing as this may lead to dysbiosis and may damage digestive health. Digestive issues may ensue as a result of the shift in gut balance.
Almost all probiotic foods contain carbs and ketogenic diets do not allow for their intake, check out the list of Probiotic Foods. You would be forced to take supplements to right the balance in the gut microbiome. The keto diet does not include probiotic foods and this could further damage the gut, find out about the best Probiotic Foods that you can add to your daily diet to feed the beneficial gut bacteria.
Fats take the longest time to move through the digestive tract. On the upside, they leave you feeling full for longer. However, a high-fat diet may also lead to stomach upsets, heartburn, and increase risk of regurgitation.
There is a definite chance of your developing diarrhea as there is little to no fiber in the diet.
A poor diet, i.e., a diet lacking in vital phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and protein can inevitably injure the body as a whole and, in the process, the gut as well. Because of the general shortage of nutrients, the immune system cannot do much to protect the body. The lack of nutrients leaves the body open to attack from within and without.
The Keto Diet Verdict
Several studies have been conducted on the ketogenic diet and unfortunately, there is still no one true verdict as to whether the diet is good for the gut microbiome or not. Some studies reveal that the keto diet can reduce chronic inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic problems. While another school of thought suggests that this low-carb diet stifles the nourishment and diversity of the gut microbiota which results in digestive issues and gut-related conditions.
The keto diet does have its benefits but any diet when followed for too long can have consequences. The low consumption of plant-based foods leaves the body vulnerable to infection and nutritional deficiencies. The immune response may also be compromised because of the possible impact the keto diet may have on the gut microbiome. If you do wish to follow the ketogenic diet, you must ensure to include gut-healthy foods like butter, leafy greens for fiber, avocado for healthy fats like omega 3s, and coconut oil to improve the gut environment, to learn about more Digestive Superfoods, visit here. One can follow the keto diet to lose weight and get in shape but in the long run, it may not be the ideal diet for a healthy gut.