Is Keto good for your overall gut health and long term wellbeing?
It might be; the science to date is inconclusive, but promising – as long as you follow the nutritional guidelines consistent with both keto and optimal gut health.
Every one of us is different, and those differences are highlighted if we go microscopically.
Our gut bacteria behave like a fingerprint and modulate how we react to certain foods. That is, you and your partner, for example, will not have identical reactions; you are unique. Broadly speaking, though, we’re also giving you recommendations if you’re starting keto and worry about your gut microbiota.
The gut microbiome
Your gut microbiome is actually a single organ, comprising everything from mouth to colon, includng your large and small intestine and all the bacteria and viruses that live there. As with any population anywhere, diversity is important and, as our mothers taught us, ‘You are what you eat.’ That diversity of nutrients impacts your energy levels, your emotional well-being, your physical health and sickness.
The Keto diet
Today Keto is promoted almost exclusively for weight loss. But it was originally developed for medical purposes – notably, as in the 1920’s as an alternative to fasting in order to control epileptic seizures. Once anti-epileptic drugs came to market, Keto was forgotten until the 1990’s when it was revived for a) epileptic patients who didn’t respond to standard treatments b) patients with type II diabetes.
A ‘pure’ ketogenic diet requires that the patient consume less than 50g of carbohydrates per day. The reduction in carbs and increase in fats means the body no longer uses glucose for energy, only fats.
What’s the downside of the keto diet?
First, let’s talk about how the keto diet impairs gut microbiota. According to studies, this type of diet may reduce the diversity of microorganisms in your gut. Samples taken from individuals under keto diet have a lower number of different species of microbes. This sometimes leads to a reduction of short chain fatty acids, which are produced by these microbes and exert an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.
Additionally, some studies show that keto diet sometimes increases hydrogen sulfide levels. This is a byproduct of certain bacteria, and has adverse effects on the colon. It may even lead to the development of Irritable Bowel Disease.
Positive aspects about keto and your gut
Depending on how you conduct your keto diet, you may have one outcome or the other. Studies show that keto diet may reduce the diversity of your gut microbiota, but only if you’re eating an excess of monounsaturated fats. But if you eat rich sources of omega 3 and be careful around the type of fat you’re consuming, you may not have this effect. By leaving the diversity of your gut microbiota as it is, the concentration of short-chain fatty acids and hydrogen sulfide may stay normal in a given individual.
Moreover a well-driven keto diet may lead to an increase instead of a reduction of short-chain fatty acids.
Recommendations if you’re following a Keto diet
If you’re following a keto diet and want to benefit from it without the adverse effects on your gut, you can make these adjustments:
- Make sure that your diet has a very high proportion of Omega 3 fatty acids
- Avoid junk food and other unhealthy fatty sources
- Get enough fiber as a part of your keto diet (ideally, more than 25 grams a day)
- Use multi-strain probiotic supplements like this and make sure they have a variety of Bifidobacterium strains.
- Pay close attention to your symptoms, especially if you suffer or have a relative with Irritable Bowel Disease (Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis)
- Eat a range of gut-friendly Keto-diet foods – not only the fatty foods people associate with Keto and that are considered Äbad’ for gut health
If you adopt these recommendations and choose our fat sources carefully, you may get the best of the keto diet without the gut microbiota problems reported by certain studies. After all, one way in which a proper Keto diet ensures good health is by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
What to eat, specifically, for Keto gut health
Lets start by just acknowledging what should be obvious by now, no matter what diet you are on or not on: eat an avocado!
Legumes, fruits and leafy greens help as well as – yes, multistrain probiotic supplements. This is a case where supplements are not merely a convenience or afterthought
- Avocados. Avocados are stuffed with heart-healthy fats and also fiber, supplying 10 grams of fiber per cup (150 grams), Its also low in digestible carbohydrates and rich in essential nutrients.
- Fermented dairy and vegetables appear to improve the gut microbiome diversity and overall gut health:
- Dairy, eg. Kefir. It reduces oxidative stress, inflammation, and colon cancer risk also by improving digestion and stool frequency.
- Vegetables: For example, sauerkraut or if you don’t mind the ‘scent’ (!), you can include Kimchi. This standard Korean cabbage dish is made from fermented vegetables
- Nuts. There are many varieties of nuts recommended for a keto diet. Most are rich in fiber and MUFAs (Monounsaturated fatty acids), and their regular consumption leads to a better microbiome. However, fiber and fat content can vary significantly – a bunch of walnuts, for example, migh provide only 1.9g of fiber and over 2.500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. The same amount of pistachio nuts provides 3g of fiber and only 73mg of omega-3s. Eat a variety of nuts and seeds to get the most benefits.
- Butter is a natural source of butyric acid (3-4%), a short-chain fatty acid that gut bacteria produce and that improves digestive health, while reducing intestinal inflammation. Butter contains 3-4% butyric acid, which is high compared to other cultured dairy. Other sources include goat cheese, cheddar cheese, parmesan cheese, and ghee.
- Coconut oil is a gut-friendly fat, ideal for Keto. Virgin coconut oil increases the abundance of probiotic bacteria; it also contains antifungal properties and may reduce inflammation as well.
- Berries. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and goji berries are all encouraged on keto. Berries can help boost your daily fiber intake. Berries also contain phenolic compounds that inhibit the growth of ‘bad’ gut bacteria while increasing ‘good’ bacteria.
Here’s a smoothie recipe that includes a lot of the above, courtesy of lowcarbmaven :
- 1/2 avocado (3-4 oz)
- 3/4 cup full – fat coconut milk (from a can)
- 1/4 cup almond milk
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger (about 1/2 inch piece)
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp lemon or lime juice (or more to taste)
- 1 cup crushed ice (or more for a thicker smoothie)
- sugar-free sweetener to taste
The human gut microbiome is intricate, complex and its interplay with a ketogenic diet is not yet fully understood. And of course there are additional factors to consider: gender, genetics, ethnicity, medications, and other environmental exposures.
That being said, the ketogenic diet appears to have an overall beneficial impact on the gut microbiome associated with improved gut lining, anti-inflammatory properties, and improved immunity. The ketogenic diet can produce different results depending on what you choose to eat and nutritional ketosis can be achieved in a variety of ways, but if you follow the nutritional guidelines suggested above, your gut will thank you.