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4 Ways Going Keto Can Impact Gut Health

Keto continues to gain momentum in the health world related to its potential health benefits. However, health experts warn following a keto diet may impact gut health in a number of ways.

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Going "keto" is one of the most popular trends in the diet world. Dieters follow the diet in the mostly in hopes to lose weight and gain a number of health benefits.

While the diet can be safe and successful for some, health experts often warn it is not a long-term solution. What's more, sticking to a high-fat diet may come with risks, including negative impacts on gut health.

What Is a Keto Diet?

Informally known as keto, the ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. The drastic reduction of carbs puts the body into a metabolic state known as ketosis. Altering into the state of ketosis mostly limits access to sugar glucose. With glucose absent in the bloodstream, insulin release is dramatically reduced.

Instead, body fat releases and transfers fatty acids to the liver. This is where are they converted into ketones and used as the primary fuel. The conversion of fatty acids to ketones is critical. Fatty acids are unable able to cross the blood-brain barrier and provide energy to the brain, whereas ketones can.

Uses of a Keto Diet

The keto diet has a long history, as it was created in 1924 to reduce seizures in the pediatric population. Fast forward to 2006, health experts dietitians identified its use in pediatric patients unresponsive to anti-seizure medications.

Keto continues to gain momentum in the health world related to its potential health benefits. These include weight loss, blood sugar control, and reduced inflammation. The benefits, in turn, are hoped to lower the risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions.

However, health experts warn following a keto diet may impact gut health in a number of ways.

Keto and Gut Health

Gut health essentially refers to a balance of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. The balance of bacteria, viruses, and yeasts helps maintain overall good health.

Diet is one of the most influential components of a healthy gut. But not all diets can be beneficial, as there are many ways going keto can impact gut health.

1. Keto Diet and Fiber Intake

A keto diet uses a ketogenic ratio of up to 4 grams of fat per 1 gram of carb and protein. This translates to about 75 to 80 percent of daily calories coming from fat and 50 grams or less of carbs. With an increased need for fat, there is heavy use of whipping cream, butter, mayonnaise, oils, and high-fat meats.

In this eating pattern, notice the absence of whole grains, fruits, veggies, and legumes. These whole foods are rich in dietary fiber, a non-digestible plant component.

Dietary fiber helps increase and soften stools, thus keeping bowel movements regular. A high-fiber diet may likewise reduce the development of hemorrhoids and diseases of the colon, including colorectal cancer.

2. Keto and Gut Inflammation

Lowering the intake of whole plant foods can reduce beneficial nutrients beyond fiber. Plants are also rich in phytochemicals, which simply translates to plant chemicals.

Phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory properties. This is of benefit as chronic inflammation may contribute to inflammatory disorders like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

These plant compounds often function as antioxidants, too. Antioxidants defend and inhibit the process of oxidation that can produce harmful free radicals. Ultimately, antioxidants help protect from cell damage and chronic diseases.

On the contrary, though, a keto diet naturally limits processed, carb-rich foods that can be pro-inflammatory.

3. Keto and the Gut Microbiome

First off, the human microbiome is composed of bacteria, archaea, viruses, and microbes that reside both in and on the body. Housed bacteria has a tremendous impact on health, primarily by boosting the immune system and fighting against harmful, foreign invaders. But when it comes to the microbiota of the gut, it is quite diverse compared to other body sites.

Microbiota is an integral component of digestion and nutrition and has shown to offer beneficial interactions on the immune system. There are also emerging findings on their relationships with chronic diseases, including heart disease, colorectal cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

The gut microbiome can be impacted by diet. And a high-fat diet is linked to unfavorable gut microbiome changes. The researchers found higher-fat diet was linked to changes in long-chain fatty acid metabolism. This resulted in higher levels of chemicals that may trigger an inflammatory response.

4. Keto Diet and Acid Reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which potent stomach acid is refluxed into the delicate lining of the esophagus. Frequent and ongoing irritation can cause many side effects of GERD, including tooth decay, esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, and esophageal cancer.

The worry of keto and GERD is that high-fat foods can worsen acid reflux symptoms and cause irritation. If symptoms worsen following a high-fat diet, it is advised to stop eating them until symptoms improve. Avoiding them altogether may be recommended as well.

Keto and a Healthy Gut & Lifestyle

If wanting to follow a keto diet and sustain good gut health, nutrition experts do recommend seeking out professional guidance first. They can help decide if a keto diet is suitable and lessen the risk of potential side effects, including the gut.

Keto-friendly recommendations to help support a healthy gut may include the following:

Increase Pre- and Probiotics

Prebiotics are carbohydrates that cannot be digested. They feed probiotics, which are live bacteria cultures shown to support gut health by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria.

Keto-friendly sources of the two include full-fat yogurt and cheese, kimchi, sauerkraut, and asparagus.

Stay Hydrated

Water plays a large role in the absorption and digestion of nutrients obtained from foods. And especially in combination with fiber foods, adequate water intake helps to keep bowels regular and reduce constipation risk.

Aim for at least 64 ounces of water daily. Water needs can also be calculated based on calorie consumption, or 1 milliliter (mL) per calorie. Based on a 2,000-calorie diet, this equals 2,000 mL or 2 liters.

Moderate Alcohol Intake

Initial consequences of a nightly bender can lead to dehydration and digestive distress. Regular alcohol abuse can cause imbalance the gut flora and intestinal environment.

Alcohol may also trigger leaky gut, a condition in which tight junctions lining the intestinal wall do not work properly.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise helps get things moving the way fiber and water can and decreases the risk of constipation.

Additionally, aerobic exercise promotes the contraction of intestinal muscles by speeding up the breathing rate. There is emerging evidence exercise can impact gut microbiome and its integrity as well.

Manage Stress

Stress can either cause digestive processes to slow down or become heightened. This can subsequently cause constipation or bowel urgency related to the respective digestive response. Furthermore, dealing with such issues can increase stress and only exacerbate digestive consequences.

Consider These Final Thoughts

All-in-all, following a ketogenic diet can be safe. But going keto is similar to all diets, as their success vastly depends if they can adhere to long-term. And critics of keto suggest following the diet requires strict adherence. There really is no sort of forgiveness, as straying from the eating pattern can reverse the metabolic pathway of ketosis.

Unlike the ketogenic that requires strict guidelines, bistroMD offers flexibility to best fit your health goals and lifestyle. Utilizing fresh ingredients, each meal is nutritionally adequate to meet the body's needs for optimized health. Low-carb meal options are available, too.

Low-carb meals supply 25 net carbs or less while snacks are limited to 15 net grams or less. Both meals and snacks also deliver adequate lean protein the body needs to regulate blood sugar levels. They ensure the body receives an adequate amount of calories to prevent metabolism from slowing down. Meals likewise supply dietary fiber and healthy fats to support overall health.

BistroMD offers a custom menu and over 200 nutritious and delicious recipes. So truly, feeling deprived is out of the question with so many flavorful food options!

Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on July 30, 2019. Updated on October 02, 2019.

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