The Keto Diet and Gut Health: How a Ketogenic Lifestyle Impacts Digestive Health

The Keto Diet and Gut Health: How a Ketogenic Lifestyle Impacts Digestive Health

A new study shows the ketogenic diet may have a positive impact on gut health.

This is awesome news because maintaining a healthy gut can prevent diseases and help you lose weight.But what exactly is the gut microbiome? And how can going low-carb help improve your health in this area?

Here's everything you need to know.

What is the Gut Microbiome?

Think of your gut (also called your digestive tract and gastrointestinal tract) as a home to millions of tiny bacteria, archaea, viruses, and other microbes [1].

Therefore, the term “gut microbiome” refers to all the microbes living inside of your digestive system—your stomach, small and large intestines, and to a lesser extent, other organs.

These microbes, when properly balanced, protect your immune system and assist with digestion. And when you eat well, exercise often, and lead a stress-free life, your gut microbiome stays healthy [2][3].

Conversely, an unhealthy lifestyle can damage this tiny 'metropolis' of bacteria living in your gut, which in turn exposes you to digestive issues and makes you more susceptible to getting sick.

How Does Gut Health Impact the Immune System?

In short, by maintaining homeostasis in the body [4].

A healthy balance must exist between the amount and types of bacteria that exist in the gut. 

If there is too much and you aren't in good health, those microbes can overwhelm your system and make you sick. 

But if there isn't enough healthy bacteria, the opposite can happen: due to a lack of bacteria, you might get sick or could develop autoimmune issues [5].

When the gut microbiome is healthy and balanced, your body's ability to digest food, absorb nutrients from it, and protect itself from harmful pathogens are all elevated. 

And this can be best managed by following a nutritious diet and living a healthy lifestyle.

How does Gut Health Impact Weight?

More and more, scientists are finding there is an undeniable connection between gut health and the types of food we eat [6].

In fact, compromised gut health is one of the key characteristics that scientists have linked to obesity in recent years [7].

A damaged gut is a specific example of the metabolic damage that being overweight or eating too many unhealthy foods can lead to. 

(This is the reason that metabolic diseases like heart disease and cancer are some of the leading causes of premature death in America [8].)

A 2018 study even goes so far as to say diet alteration to cater to gut health is one of the key targets for treating obesity [9].

In general, leaner people that eat a healthier diet are more likely to have the right amount of microbes and bacteria in their gut [10].

This is incredibly useful to know, especially if you need to lose weight, as a ketogenic diet is proven to be especially effective for shedding excess weight [12].

Is the Keto Diet Good for Gut Health?

As mentioned above, a new study published May 20, 2020, in Cell showed that a low-carb diet like the ketogenic diet can do wonders for improving gut health [11]. The UC San Francisco study found that ketone bodies impacted the gut microbiome in ways that reduced inflammation. 

The findings indicate ketones may be a potential way to treat autoimmune disorders that impact the gut, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Researchers also discovered that mice fed normal amounts of carbohydrates experienced microbial changes from added ketones.

“As someone who is new to the keto field, I had assumed that producing ketone bodies was an all-or-nothing effect once you got to a low enough level of carb intake. But this suggests that you may get some of the effects of ketosis quite quickly," said Peter Turnbaugh, PhD, a UCSF associate professor of microbiology and immunology, member of the UCSF Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine and a Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator. “This is a really fascinating finding because it suggests that the effects of ketogenic diets on the microbiome are not just about the diet itself, but how the diet alters the body’s metabolism, which then has downstream effects on the microbiome.”

In short, the keto diet appears to be good for gut health, even if you’re not strict about it. Simply increasing the level of ketones in your body may offer benefits to digestive health.

5 Tips for Improving Gut Health

With this information in mind, here are 5 tips you can use to improve the health of your gut microbiome.

1. Go Keto

There are plenty of reasons to switch to this low-carb, high-fat diet, and better gut health is among them. 

Keto dieters consume only 25 to 50 grams of net carbs per day, which helps them enter a state called ketosis. This metabolic state means their body burns stored body fat for fuel instead of stored sugar.

Besides being directly linked to better gut health, going keto has also been shown to have metabolic benefits [13].

If you’re on the fence about keto, check out this pros and cons guide to help you decide whether it’s right for you.

If you’re ready to jump start your keto journey, then take the KETO 30 Challenge, a 30-day keto weight loss program that involves 4 easy steps.


2. Drink Plenty of Water

Bacteria thrive in a warm, wet environment, which makes hydration important for anyone looking to improve gut health [14].

Your digestive system as a whole is also responsible for much of the water loss you experience on a daily basis [15]. 

Current studies show that drinking 4 to 6 cups per day is standard for healthy people. But if you exercise or live in a hot climate, you should probably take in even more [16]. (In this case, you might also consider taking electrolytes.)

Keep in mind these are just general hydration guidelines; be sure to consult your doctor about your hydration levels before making any drastic changes—it is, after all, possible to drink too much water.

3. Minimize Stress

Believe it or not, all of the following things can mess with your gut health [17]:

  • Psychological stress
  • Disrupted circadian rhythm (going to sleep or rising at erratic hours)
  • Environmental extremes (excessively hot or cold weather)
  • Alcohol or drug consumption
  • Overexercising
  • Poor diet

All of these things are forms of physical or mental stress and can negatively impact your gut microbiome. Therefore, anything you do to mitigate stress can all be potentially helpful for keeping your gut healthy. Ideas include setting a routine, going to bed at a consistent time, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, meditating, and doing yoga, to list a few.

4. Eat More Fiber

Fiber is an indigestible part of many plant foods. 

It can't be digested through traditional means like most of the other stuff we eat, and is instead passed through the stomach into the small intestine where bacteria devour it [18].

Eating plenty of fibrous foods like cauliflower, nuts, broccoli, and avocados are all good ways to keep your gut bacteria healthy and thriving.

And by the way, eating enough fiber also has a direct link to weight loss. Because it helps keep you full longer after meals and regulates your metabolism, you're more likely to shed weight if you're eating enough of this nutrient [19].

5. Eat Foods that Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is similar to gut health in that poor diet can cause it, and the long-term effects can be devastating on your body [20].

Inflammation (by itself) is a natural response by the body that promotes healing. But when you eat poorly all the time or live a sedentary lifestyle, your body can get into a "loop" where it's unable to heal the damaged tissue. This chronic issue can lead to disease if left untreated [21].

In fact, poor diet can cause intestinal inflammation, which does not bode well for gut health at all [22].

And just FYI: the keto diet is considered a great diet for reducing systemic inflammation [23].

Keto Foods that Improve Gut Health

keto diet gut health

Looking for some low-carb foods that can put you on the right track to gut health? Look no further—the following foods are great for promoting gut bacteria health or reducing inflammation. And they're all keto-friendly!

  • Salmon
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Broccoli
  • Berries
  • Cauliflower
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Any fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut)
  • Olive oil

Head over to our recipes section for some delicious low-carb ways to integrate these foods into your diet!

Final Takeaways on Keto and Gut Health

Here's a short recap on everything we shared above:

  • The gut microbiome consists of millions of tiny bacteria and microbes that keep your immune system healthy, boost your metabolism, and can assist with weight loss.
  • Gut health helps maintain homeostasis in the body. Eating lots of fiber-dense, anti-inflammatory foods is a great way to maintain the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
  • Eating a keto diet has been shown to improve gut health and support weight loss
  • Hydration and reducing stress are two other ways you can help maintain good gut health.

We hope this helps you make more informed decisions about managing gut health and prioritizing quality foods in your diet!

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