The foods you eat on this low-carb, high-fat diet not only help you lose weight, but can reverse disease and improve your metabolism.
It's also been used to treat high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes—three conditions that left unchecked, can seriously hamper your body's health and immune system.
Here's a brief introduction to how blood sugar and insulin work, how insulin spikes can compromise your immune system health, and how the keto diet can help reduce or reverse any complications.
What Is Blood Sugar?Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is a measurement of how much sugar is found in your bloodstream .
For most people, a stable blood sugar reading is between 80 and 120 mg/dl.
Glucose is an important carbohydrate fuel. Our body converts complex carbohydrates and sugars from our diet into glucose, then uses that to fuel our brain, muscles, and organs (unless you're in ketosis—then ketone bodies use stored fat for energy instead).
Depending on your diet and lifestyle—or even, genetic conditions—your blood sugar levels can fluctuate.
This is important because blood sugar readings that are too high or too low can pose many complications to your health.
But to understand how that works, you'll first need to learn about insulin.
What Is Insulin?Insulin is a crucial hormone produced by your pancreas. It regulates your blood sugar levels to ensure your body stays in a healthy range .
Here's an example of how it works:
Let’s say you just ate an ice cream cone that contained 20 grams of sugar . This causes your blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn tells the cells in your pancreas to begin secreting insulin into your blood to blunt the effect.
There is a direct relationship between how much sugar you eat and how much insulin your body secretes. If you ate four ice cream cones, your body would release 4x as much insulin to balance your blood sugar out.
Eating lots of sugar or carbs in a short period of time can result in a massive insulin spike, and over time, lead to complications or diseases that affect your immune system.
How Can Insulin Spikes Impact Immune Health?Over time, frequent bouts of insulin spikes (due to poor diet) can lead to something called insulin resistance. And if this is also left unchecked, you have a very high likelihood of becoming a type 2 diabetic.
Because insulin is so frequently in your blood, your body becomes desensitized (resistant) to the hormone and no longer responds to it. Blood sugar levels usually exceed the healthy range as a result because there's no hormone working to negate the sugar you're taking in.
The frequent "abuse" of your pancreas damages your metabolism and can impair your immune system over time.
- Insulin resistance significantly increases the likelihood that you'll become obese or develop type 2 diabetes . Both ailments increase your risk of developing other diseases, like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- Insulin resistance may affect your body's ability to fight off blood-borne pathogens . This makes you more susceptible to viruses and infections that are transmitted through blood.
- There's a direct link between insulin resistance and chronic inflammation in the fat and liver cells . This is a big deal, as your liver is one of the most essential organs for fighting off viruses and infections.
- In general, being insulin resistant promotes inflammation throughout the entire body, which allocates immune cells and other resources you'd normally use to fight off disease and viruses elsewhere .
“What few people understand is that insulin is primarily a fat storage hormone. Insulin releases glucose from our blood to send it to our cells for immediate energy, but it also helps our body STORE any excess energy in our fat cells. Someone who is insulin resistant will produce more and more insulin to achieve basic energy function, which in turn leads to more and more fat storage. The only macronutrient that does not cause a significant insulin response is fat, which is why a high-fat, low-protein, moderate-protein ketogenic diet is ideal for the reversal of insulin resistance,” said Molly Devine, RD.
How Can The Keto Diet Help With Diabetes?As mentioned earlier, diet plays an important role in preventing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
A poor diet (especially one where you're eating lots of sugar), will result in frequent blood sugar spikes. Left unchecked, this can eventually lead to insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.
That's where a high-fat, low-carb nutrition plan like the ketogenic diet—where you eat virtually no sugar—can be very effective.
In fact, science confirms it. The keto diet has been shown to :
- Promote weight loss for those with type 2 diabetes
- Maintain blood glucose levels in the normal range (80 to 120mg/dl)
- Reduce your risk of certain diseases, like heart disease
Because keto dieters only eat a maximum of 50 grams of net carbs per day, your body has time to repair itself and heal the pancreas. And because your blood isn't constantly packed with glucose, your body can re-learn how to use and respond to insulin.
Plus, by drastically cutting carbs, you're using the fat-burning powers of ketosis to shed extra fat and improve your metabolic health.
For weight loss, diabetes, and immune system health, it all comes down to the types of foods you're eating.
What Are The Top Keto-Friendly Foods That Don’t Spike Insulin?Here's a list of keto-diet-approved foods you can eat that will help keep your insulin and blood sugar levels in check:
- Lean protein (beef, eggs, fish, pork, chicken)
- Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cucumbers, celery, Brussels sprouts, radishes, snow peas, squash, tomatoes, zucchini)
- Low-carb, high-fiber fruits (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries). Note: If you're monitoring your insulin, it's best to limit fruit intake to one cup maximum per day. But having some can boost your immune system!
- Full-fat dairy products (cheese, Greek yogurt, cream cheese)
- Healthy cooking oils (olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil)
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, etc.)
- Erythritol (a natural, sugar-free sweetener that won't spike blood sugar)
The Keto Diet, Immune System Health, and InsulinWhen it comes to your immune system health, managing your blood sugar levels is very important.
Controlled blood sugar levels help keep your body healthy and disease-free. Your metabolism can function properly, and your body isn't constantly dealing with insulin spikes.
This frees up your immune system to do its job, which is to protect you!