Back in August, I wrote about my decision to try lowering my carb intake in an attempt to improve my blood sugar levels. Already eating a low-carb diet (about 30 grams net carbs per meal) and at a healthy weight, I didn't know if following a very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD) would have an appreciable effect on my readings or how I'd feel at that level of restriction, but I felt compelled to try it.
Well, after consistently consuming 30-45 grams of net carbs a day for six months, I have only positive things to say about my very-low-carb experience. Not only are my blood sugar readings exactly where they should be -- less than 90 fasting and less than 130 an hour after eating -- but I truly feel healthier, less stressed, and more balanced than ever. I'm hypothyroid, and although my T3 has declined in response to lower carb intake, I feel more energetic and not at all "hypo." Is it the stabilization of blood glucose or being in a mildly ketogenic state that's responsible for my renewed sense of well being? Perhaps a bit of both. There's some interesting research supporting the beneficial effects of ketones on brain health, including depression.
I've mentioned several times that the reason I began following a VLCKD in the first place was strictly for blood sugar control. I didn't want or need to lose any weight, and as a diabetes educator, I wanted to try it out to see if I could get my own numbers under control this way. Limiting my carbs to less than 45 grams a day has been surprisingly easy. My diet consists of plenty of fat from avocados, nuts and nut butters, olive oil, cheese, butter, cream, and coconut oil; moderate amounts of fish, chicken, beef, Greek yogurt, and eggs; and at least one serving of nonstarchy vegetables at every meal and a small serving of berries at breakfast. It's truly a rich, satisfying, and luxurious way to eat. Although I've questioned the validity of a low-carb metabolic advantage in the past, I'll admit that I've recently lost a couple of pounds while eating 200-300 more calories daily than before. While I still think calories count, I won't dispute the fact that some people -- although not all -- can consume additional calories and lose weight at very low carbohydrate intakes. After many years of restricting calories, I just didn't think I'd be one of them.
While doing research for my ADA low-carb article, I read many studies on carb restriction for diabetes and weight management, but I didn't consider the beneficial effects of ketosis. At the time, I was still consuming close to 100 net grams of carbs a day and wasn't ready to try anything as extreme as a ketogenic diet. But after having looked into the research on VLCKDs and experiencing their effects first hand, I'd like to see more obese and otherwise metabolically challenged people try them. Improved lipid profiles, slowing down of the aging process, and improvements in mood and cognition are just a few of the potential benefits attributed to ketogenic diets, along with weight loss and blood glucose control. In addition to the studies, I've read countless online accounts of how ketosis has changed people's lives for the better. And I plan to continue eating this way indefinitely unless I develop problems, at which point I would make adjustments as needed. That's how I got here in the first place, after all.
Now, as enthusiastic as I am about VLCKDs, do I realistically think that all dietitians, nurses, doctors, and other health professionals will come on board in the near future? Probably not, considering most of them think ketosis is unhealthy and that we need at least 130 grams (and preferably a lot more) of carbs at a minimum to support the needs of the central nervous system. But I am cautiously optimistic that the tide is starting to turn as practitioners begin to look at the research and listen to their patients' accounts of success -- or perhaps even test their own postprandial blood sugars. Carb restriction may not be appropriate in every case, but I defy anyone to objectively look at the evidence and deny how beneficial it's been for so many, especially those who have struggled with weight and blood sugar issues for years.
1. Murphy P, et al. The antidepressant properties of the ketogenic diet. Biol Psychiatry 2004 Dec 15;56(12):981-3
2.Dashti HM, et al. Beneficial effects of ketogenic diet in obese diabetic subjects. Mol Cell Biochem 2007;302:249-256
3. Dashti HM, et al. Long term effects of a ketogenic diet on obese patients. Exp Clin Cardiol 2004 Fall; 9(3): 200–205
4.Stafstrom CE, et al. The ketogenic diet as a treatment paradigm for neurological disorders. Front Pharmacol 2012;3:59
Disclaimer: The ideas espoused in this blog post are for general information only. Always consult with your physician prior to adopting a low-carbohydrate diet or making any other dietary changes.
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE