The Ketogenic Diet Will Get You Off The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster, According To Science

Photo: Nadine Greeff

Editor’s note: Will Cole, D.C., is a longtime member of the mbg family (he’s in the mbg Collective and is even a class instructor!). His new book, Ketotarian, is all about marrying a ketogenic and vegetarian, vegan, or pescatarian diet for exponentially greater health benefits. Here, he shares how going on a ketogenic diet can help get you off the blood sugar roller coaster.

You've heard about it online or from your friends, but what the heck is the ketogenic diet? Well, I'm glad you asked. Put simply, the ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) nutritional strategy. But what the heck does that even mean? Well, let's start with the basics. By using a specific ratio of high fats, moderate proteins, and low carbohydrates, the goal of the ketogenic diet is to shift your body from a sugar-burning state into a fat-burning state. Using fat for fuel is also known as nutritional ketosis and it has a ton of health benefits.

Most of us are using sugar to fuel ourselves—and it's not the healthiest way to live.

Before we talk about burning fat for fuel, it's important to know that the majority of people are burning sugar for fuel most (if not all) of the time. And that's because, as humans, we're eating sugar and carbohydrates, well, all the time. The typical American eats an average of 765 grams of sugar every five days—and much of it comes from not knowing where sugar is lurking or whatever alternative name it's going by! Compare that number to 45, which is the number of grams of sugar Americans ate in 1822 in the same time period. Every person eats and drinks 130 pounds of added sugar every year, an average of 3,550 pounds in a lifetime. That is equal to eating 1.7 million Skittles or an industrial-size Dumpster full of sugar! On top of that, we eat grains like breads, pastas, granola bars, cereals, and crackers, which also break down into—you guessed it—sugar.

So what does all this sugar do to your body? Well, breaking down carbs into glucose is the simplest energy source, and insulin is there to help carry the glucose around in your bloodstream. The problem is that high blood sugar is toxic and can lead to serious health issues, and the blood sugar your body doesn't burn is stored as fat around your liver, stomach, and in circulating fat (known as triglycerides). Burning sugar as your primary source of energy is akin to using dirty fuel: You have to refuel often (or you will get hangry on that blood sugar roller coaster), and it leaves behind pollution in the form of inflammation.

Photo: Darren Muir

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How the ketogenic diet gets you off the blood sugar roller coaster.

Need some good news? You don't have to get stuck on the blood-sugar roller coaster, with its erratic peaks and crashes. Burning fat is another, more efficient fuel source for your metabolism and ketones are a beneficial product of fat metabolism. When you lower your carbohydrates, it lowers your blood sugar and insulin levels. As insulin levels fall and energy is needed, your liver then produces ketones to fuel your body. Your brain can also use ketones as an alternative fuel source when blood levels are high enough to cross the blood-brain barrier, which is great news because ketones have been shown to be very neuroprotective.

But is eating that much fat really healthy? Your brain is comprised of 60 percent fat, and we need to consume fat to fuel it. At birth, many of us relied on fat in the form of breast milk for brain development and energy. And for those who drank formula, MCT oil (derived from coconut and palm oil) is added to most formulas as a source of healthy fats. In order for your brain to work optimally, it needs a lot of energy. From an evolutionary and biological standpoint, the most sustainable form of energy for your body is healthy fats.

Make sure you go keto the right way.

A healthy ketogenic diet isn't about starving your body of food, it's about allowing your body to be in a better metabolic state. Think of ketosis as converting your metabolism from a gasoline-chugging semi truck (sugar burner) to a hybrid engine that is able to work more efficiently by burning either fat or sugar when it needs to, something called metabolic flexibility. Use healthy fats for fuel and sugar only as a secondary form of energy. In addition to lowering your carbohydrate intake and focusing on healthy fats, intermittent fasting is another way to go into a ketotic state. (If you're interested in intermittent fasting, you can check out my guide here.)

The problem with many mainstream versions of the ketogenic diet (you know, the meals you usually see on Instagram) is that they feature a lot of non-organic and processed meats and dairy, which have been linked to many health problems. Many people in the keto world are wrongly avoiding plant foods for fear of going over their carb limit. This unhealthy fear of plant foods creates an unintentional loss of a vital range of essential plant phytonutrients and prebiotic food for the gut microbiome. So is it possible to go keto and remain plant-based? Yes! In my new book, Ketotarian, I describe my plant-based ketogenic approach. Ketotarian is an amalgamation of the best of the keto and plant-centric diets with vegan, vegetarian, and pescatarian ways to go to keto.

William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr. Will Cole, leading functional-medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam at www.drwillcole.com and locally in Pittsburgh. He specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing health programs for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal dysfunctions, digestive disorders, and brain problems.Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional-medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the author of Ketotarian in which he melds the powerful benefits of the ketogenic and plant-based diets.
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William Cole, D.C., IFMCP

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