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Keto’s Lesser Known Health Benefits

Discover the Lesser-Known Benefits of Ketogenic Diets

Keto diets aren’t just all about weight loss. Discover nine other unexpected health benefits that are possible while following a ketogenic diet!

While most ketogenic dieters choose this diet because of its weight loss benefits, there are several other reasons to follow a low carb high fat diet! In this article, we dig deeper into the health benefits of ketogenic diets to shed some light on some of the lesser-known effects of being in ketosis.

Keep reading to learn about 9 other benefits of ketogenic diets and stay tuned for an exclusive offer on keto-friendly products found at The Low Carb Grocery!

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to replace personalized medical advice. A low carb diet may not be suitable for you. Consult your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle or use this information at your own risk.

1. Neurological Benefits

Although in recent years the keto diet has become widely popular among health-conscious communities, it is not all that new. The ketogenic diet has been used to clinically treat neurological disorders such as epilepsy for over 80 years! In fact, records state that fasting (which induces ketosis) and other dietary regimens have been used as a treatment for epilepsy as far back as 500 BC. Before the advent of antiepileptic medications in the 1920s, physicians often recommended low carb, high fat diets to patients suffering from epilepsy.

The reason why this type of diet is an effective treatment for epilepsy is that it changes the way the brain functions. Normally, the brain uses glucose (metabolized from carbohydrates) as its primary fuel source. When glucose stores run out, the liver produces ketones (metabolized from fats) to provide a long-lasting alternative fuel source. However, the brain can function with ketones as its primary fuel source as well, and there may actually be more benefits to doing so than relying on quickly depleted glucose stores.

The ketogenic diet is particularly useful for reducing the frequency and severity of seizures experienced by epileptic patients for two reasons. Firstly, the ketogenic diet reduces the amount of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, and increases the amount of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, in the brain. This dual effect reduces the likelihood that neurons will fire unexpectedly in the brain, causing seizures. Secondly, the ketogenic diet has been shown to reduce brain inflammation, one of the root causes of seizure disorders and other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

2. Improved Mental Health

Although not yet heavily researched, here are some of the current findings about the ketogenic diet’s effect on mental health:

  1. Increased levels of certain neurotransmitters that play critical roles in stress management, anxiety, and mood.
  2. Reduced mitochondrial dysfunction, which has been linked to depression.
  3. Decreased levels of oxidative stress (the presence of toxic particles, “free radicals”, in the body), which are typically high in those with depression.
  4. Improved insulin function, which if left unregulated, can increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, or excessive weight gain that can impact quality of life.

Other scientific studies show a general correlation between our diets and our mental health. What we eat has direct physical effects on our hormonal responses, metabolic efficiency, and sleep quality. All of these are factors that affect how well our brains respond to stress, and if our stress response is ineffective, it can lead to a downward spiral in our mental health. Learn more about how food influences your mood on our blog.

3. Improved Energy

Carbs and sugar are likely the culprits behind low energy levels. High carb foods including refined grains and sugars cause high insulin levels in the body, which can develop into a condition known as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone involved in fat storage; it tells the body to store excess carbohydrates as fat, while preventing existing reserves from being broken down. A ketogenic diet not only helps keep insulin levels low, allowing fat reserves to be broken down, but can also reverse and prevent insulin resistance, which also reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

With lower insulin levels, the body is able to use fat reserves for extra fuel, which are much longer lasting compared to carbohydrates. So, you can hit the gym without hitting a wall if you are in ketosis! Many ketogenic dieters report experiencing improved athletic endurance after transitioning into ketosis. That said, lower energy levels are often experienced during the transition, attributed to the body’s adjustment to its new metabolic state, known as the “keto flu”. Learn more about the keto flu and other frequently asked questions when starting a ketogenic diet.

4. Keto Libido

On a related note, many people also report experiencing a surge in their sex drive after starting a ketogenic diet. It has been shown that limited consumption of healthy fats is linked to low levels of estrogen and testosterone in men and especially in women. In contrast, consuming high levels of healthy fats, as required by the ketogenic diet, increases the production of these reproductive hormones and promotes overall hormonal balance.

Be sure to include lots of healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, if you suspect you may have low libido or if you suffer from reproductive dysfunction. Some good foods to include in your diet if you want to improve hormonal balance include:

  • Avocados
  • Flax seed and flax oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Nuts and unsweetened nut butters
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sesame seeds, sesame oil, or tahini (sesame paste)
  • Egg yolks
  • Wild-caught salmon, trout, cod, mackerel, sardines, oysters, and mussels

5. Increased Levels of Good Cholesterol

High levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, which is why it is important to manage overall cholesterol levels.

The role of cholesterol in the body is to aid in the production of hormones and build and repair cells. Our livers produce all of the cholesterol we need, but excess cholesterol can accumulate from dietary sources. The largest influence on cholesterol levels is the mix of fat and carbohydrates in our diet. Consuming high levels of carbohydrates and low levels of healthy fats causes the liver to produce more cholesterol than necessary, which results in a buildup of cholesterol in our bloodstream that blocks the arteries that feed the heart and brain.

One of the best ways to increase your levels of “good” cholesterol is to limit highly processed carbohydrates and animal products (which contain their own inherent levels of cholesterol produced by the animals’ livers) and consume more healthy fats.

Foods such as avocados, extra virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil, nuts and seeds, and wild-caught fatty fish are all great sources of omega-3 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fats. Include these types of fats in your ketogenic diet and avoid following the “dirty keto” trend. This approach involves consuming large amounts of bacon, grain-fed dairy, fatty cuts of meat, and refined vegetable oils, which can have the opposite effect on cholesterol levels. Learn more about this topic on our blog where we explore cholesterol level’s impact on our health.  

6. Healthier Liver

Increasing evidence suggests that a ketogenic diet may be one of the best diets to treat fatty liver disease. Wondering what this is? It’s exactly as it sounds – a disease caused by the buildup of fat in the liver – which currently affects about 20% of Canadians. Fatty liver disease can cause a host of physical symptoms including abdominal swelling, yellowing of the skin and eye whites, swollen limbs, extreme tiredness or mental confusion, and an increased your risk of developing diabetes or metabolic syndrome. Although genetics can be at play with developing fatty liver disease, it is also caused by lifestyle factors including a lack of exercise and consuming too much sugar and refined carbohydrates.

The key to reversing fatty liver disease usually involves weight loss and generally adopting healthier lifestyle habits. These may include restricting calories to facilitate weight loss, limiting dietary carbohydrates, and exercising more. Luckily, a ketogenic diet can help with these lifestyle changes! Being in ketosis is one way to assist with weight loss without having to calorie-restrict, and all that extra energy you’ll be feeling after transitioning into ketosis can help make exercising easier.

7. Sounder Sleep

Many followers of the ketogenic diet report having longer, deeper sleep at night. Research into this observation shows that a ketogenic diet can promote the production of adenosine, a brain chemical that relaxes the nervous system as the day progresses, reduces pain, and lowers inflammation – all of which can improve sleep quality. However, during the transition into a ketogenic diet, a lot of people experience initial bouts of insomnia or difficulty sleeping. But don’t worry, restful nights await! Read more about how diet affects our sleep on our blog.

8. Bye-Bye Cravings!

Dieting can be difficult when cravings kick in. But that’s one of the greatest benefits of the ketogenic diet – your cravings tend to subside! Sugar cravings result from a rise and fall in blood sugar levels that sends a message to our brain to seek out more sugar and carbohydrates. When we cut carbs and add more healthy fats to our diet, it puts an end to this vicious cycle. As mentioned previously, fats are a much more sustaining fuel source than carbohydrates, which helps suppress our appetite for long periods and regulate blood sugar levels. Learn more about how to handle sugar cravings, which you may experience during the first week or two of transitioning into a ketogenic diet.

9. Reduced Acne

One of the major benefits of the keto diet that has been shown is its lowering effect on inflammation levels in the body. Inflammation is the root cause of many chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and more – but it is also a contributing factor to acne!

Acne is caused by inflammation of the pilosebaceous unit (PSU), consisting of hair follicles and sebaceous glands in the base layer of our skin. When the PSU becomes clogged by dead skin, excess oils, or bacteria, it becomes inflamed, giving rise to pimples and zits on the skin’s surface.

Enter the ketogenic diet: low levels of sugar and refined carbohydrates and high levels of healthy fats reduce inflammation in the body and have a balancing effect on our hormones. Both of these effects lower sebum (oil) production in the PSU, preventing it from becoming clogged and inflamed. In addition, high insulin levels can stimulate the production of skin cells and sebum, but as we know, the ketogenic diet is effective at lowering insulin levels, too. While more research is needed on this topic and results may vary from person to person, it is generally wise to eat lots of minimally processed, nutrient-dense low carb foods such as non-starchy vegetables and healthy fats to improve the look of skin! 

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