Did you know that the diet choices we make can dramatically increase or decrease the risks related to insulin resistance?

Did you know that keto improves insulin metabolism and fasting insulin levels? 

Cutting carbs may just be one of the most effective ways to ameliorate insulin resistance and reduce fasting insulin levels, particularly in type-2 diabetics.

Read on as we take a closer look at how keto improves insulin resistance and what the research has to say about a low-carb diet for reversing type-2 diabetes.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which helps your cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream.

When your cells become resistant to the effects of insulin (typically from chronically high insulin levels), your cells can’t properly absorb glucose; this is generally known as “insulin resistance” and/or type-2 diabetes. 

Insulin resistance over a prolonged period of time can damage cells and cause chronic hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels), which can promote the risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity.[1]

How Keto Improves Insulin Resistance: What Research Has to Say

The keto diet forces your body to utilize fat and ketones for energy, while also helping eliminate sugar cravings by promoting satiety throughout the day.

In turn, this generally encourages a healthier energy balance. 

Research has shown that the keto diet can produce a substantial decrease in [2]:

  • LDL (aka “bad”) cholesterol levels
  • Fasting blood glucose
  • Abdominal body fat
  • Blood pressure

But there’s a little more to it than that; let’s take a further look at how keto improves insulin resistance and insulin levels.

#1 – The Keto Diet Allows You to Eat More Satiety-Promoting Fats

The keto diet encourages you to consume more fats while restricting carbohydrate intake; in turn, keto tends to promote a greater sense of fullness throughout the day (which can help reduce overall calorie intake).

Most people that are trying to lose weight on keto do well; unlike other diets, the body doesn’t have a sense of deprivation while being in a caloric deficit on keto.

Moreover, controlling calorie intake is crucial for reducing fasting insulin.

By following a keto diet, insulin-resistant individuals were found to bring their fasting insulin and blood sugar levels back to back to healthier levels.[3] Ultimately, this may help reverse type-2 diabetes altogether. 

#2- The Keto Diet Makes it Easier to Eat Fewer Carbs

Carbohydrates increase blood sugar and insulin levels the most of any macronutrient, which can encourage you to eat more (like a domino effect). By following the keto diet, you will be less susceptible to erratic blood sugar swings and the associated food cravings. 

Clinical research has demonstrated that consuming a high-fat, low-carb diet is effective for controlling postprandial blood glucose levels and contributes to weight loss in human subjects.[4]

#3 – The Keto Diet Helps Eliminate/Reduce Added Sugars

By cutting out carbs, you drastically reduce your sugar intake (especially added sugars). Sugar is a major culprit when it comes to type-2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

It’s well-known that consuming high amounts of sucrose (table sugar), agave, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and other forms of sugar promotes insulin resistance.

Research also suggests that regular consumption of sugary foods leads to an increase in fasting insulin levels.[5]

#4 – The Keto Diet Encourages Proper Protein Intake

Proper amounts of protein are beneficial for controlling insulin levels and promoting weight loss. Protein will also keep you satisfied longer.

In fact, studies show that people consuming higher amounts of protein at breakfast feel fuller throughout the day when compared to those who eat a low-protein breakfast[6].

It appears this is the result of a higher protein breakfast reducing levels of ghrelin – a hunger-inducing peptide. 

#5 – The Keto Diet Can Help You Lose Body Fat

Having excessive visceral and subcutaneous fat contributes to insulin resistance. A calorie-controlled keto diet is generally a good approach for reducing body fat fairly quickly, especially in those who are highly overweight.

Even though calorie restriction is ultimately what improves insulin resistance, research suggests that reducing the glucose load on our cells also allows for improved insulin signaling and enhanced fatty acid oxidation.[7

Calorie Control Is the Most Important Factor

Studies have all but confirmed that being in a caloric deficit is of utmost importance to improve insulin resistance[8,9].

As such, both the keto diet and/or being on lower calorie diet is one of the most prudent ways to reduce fasting insulin levels and support insulin sensitivity.

Although weight loss is the number one answer in reversing insulin resistance, the lifestyle factors below can also have an impact:

  • Getting adequate rest will improve insulin resistance. Research has demonstrated that lack of sleep for even one night can impair insulin metabolism in otherwise healthy subjects.[10]
  • Quit smoking! Smoking increases insulin resistance, among a myriad of other negative health ramifications.
  • Reduce stress levels. Stress contributes to a rise in blood sugar and chronic cortisol secretion, which can cause an excessive breakdown of lean body mass.
  • 30 minutes of daily exercise can help improve your insulin sensitivity. Research has shown that daily moderate exercise can significantly reduce fasting insulin levels and enhance glucose uptake in type-2 diabetics.[11]

Again, be sure to cut your calorie intake and sugar intake if you want to improve insulin resistance and fasting insulin levels.

If you’re not sure how much to eat or how to use the keto diet for weight loss, be sure to read: How to Use the Keto Diet for Weight Loss – The Complete Guide

Stick with it and have patience; over time your efforts in the kitchen and other pertinent lifestyle changes can, and will, certainly have a positive impact on your insulin levels and sensitivity.

References

1. Reaven, G. M. (1988). Role of insulin resistance in human disease. Diabetes37(12), 1595-1607.
2. Sharman, M. J., Kraemer, W. J., Love, D. M., Avery, N. G., Gómez, A. L., Scheett, T. P., & Volek, J. S. (2002). A ketogenic diet favorably affects serum biomarkers for cardiovascular disease in normal-weight men. The Journal of nutrition132(7), 1879-1885.
3. Boden, G., Sargrad, K., Homko, C., Mozzoli, M., & Stein, T. P. (2005). Effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on appetite, blood glucose levels, and insulin resistance in obese patients with type 2 diabetes. Annals of internal medicine142(6), 403-411.
4. Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European journal of clinical nutrition67(8), 789.
5. Daly, M. (2003). Sugars, insulin sensitivity, and the postprandial state. The American journal of clinical nutrition78(4), 865S-872S.
6. Blom, W. A., Lluch, A., Stafleu, A., Vinoy, S., Holst, J. J., Schaafsma, G., & Hendriks, H. F. (2006). Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response–. The American journal of clinical nutrition83(2), 211-220.
7. Martinez, J. A. (2006). Mitochondrial oxidative stress and inflammation: an slalom to obesity and insulin resistance. Journal of physiology and biochemistry62(4), 303-306.
8. Capel, F., Klimčáková, E., Viguerie, N., Roussel, B., Vítková, M., Kováčiková, M., … & Hanáček, J. (2009). Macrophages and adipocytes in human obesity: adipose tissue gene expression and insulin sensitivity during calorie restriction and weight stabilization. Diabetes.
9. Larson-Meyer, D. E., Heilbronn, L. K., Redman, L. M., Newcomer, B. R., Frisard, M. I., Anton, S., … & Ravussin, E. (2006). Effect of calorie restriction with or without exercise on insulin sensitivity, β-cell function, fat cell size, and ectopic lipid in overweight subjects. Diabetes care29(6), 1337-1344.
10. Donga, E., van Dijk, M., van Dijk, J. G., Biermasz, N. R., Lammers, G. J., van Kralingen, K. W., … & Romijn, J. A. (2010). A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism95(6), 2963-2968.
11. Cuff, D. J., Meneilly, G. S., Martin, A., Ignaszewski, A., Tildesley, H. D., & Frohlich, J. J. (2003). Effective exercise modality to reduce insulin resistance in women with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes care26(11), 2977-2982.

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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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