Food Freedom Friday Edition 142 - Keto & Gut Health

Your gut microbiome is a key determinant in your digestion and can have a huge impact on how your body responds to your ketogenic diet.

Having a healthy, diverse ecosystem of gut bacteria is crucial and supports:

1. Fat Absorption

Fats are one of your main sources of nutrition and energy when following a ketogenic diet. It is thus vital to ensure you are able to absorb them well. Studies have shown that having specific strains of gut bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract regulates the digestion and absorption of fats, with some strains promoting the production of the digestive enzymes needed to break down certain fats and others regulating the uptake of fat into the intestines for use in the body.

2. Optimal nutrient absorption.

The relatively restrictive nature of the ketogenic diet can make it more challenging to get appropriate levels of nutrients unless are mindful of getting your optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals and nutrients within your allotted carbohydrate value.

This potential pitfall becomes even more of an issue if your microbiome is out of balance, since it is responsible for helping your body absorb nutrients. A healthy gut microbiome protects your intestinal lining, helps break down certain foods, and produces enzymes to digest food and stimulate the absorption of nutrients.

Certain strains even manufacture some of the vitamins your body needs, including B vitamins (which help your body convert food into energy efficiently) and vitamin K (which is crucial for calcium regulation). A healthy microbiome is clearly important to gain the most benefit from eating a ketogenic diet.

3. Maintaining Energy

Eating fewer carbohydrates can be incredibly good for you. One downside could be the challenge of getting sufficient prebiotic fiber as these types of fibers are commonly found in relatively carbohydrate-heavy foods, although above-the-ground, low carbohydrate vegetables to provide keto-friendly fiber.

Not getting enough prebiotics can be problematic because your gut uses them to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which are necessary for maintaining your energy, mood, brain function, and intestinal wall.

To put it simply, without enough SCFAs, you are most likely going to be feeling less than your best both physically and mentally. This could really put a huge dampener on the benefits you could be enjoying from your keto diet.

A healthy, diverse, resilient gut microbiome combined with prebiotic supplementation can help offset these effects, keeping you firing on all cylinders.

4. Healthy metabolism and weight- management.

If you are following a ketogenic diet for weight loss, focusing on the health of your gut microbiome is imortant. Research indicates that having an unbalanced gut microbiome can affect your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you burn when at rest) and contributing to weight gain. Having a balanced gut microbiome can keep metabolic processes functioning well.

5. Regulates blood sugar.

Being on a ketogenic diet is incredibly beneficial for blood sugar regulation. The carbohydrate-heavy Standard Western Diet is relatively new for humans as a species and the body has not yet fully adapted to consuming this amount of glucose.  When eating a diet containing more carbohydrates than you are able to process, you flood your body with glucose, overwhelming its natural responses and setting yourself up for mood swings, energy crashes, and potential problems regulating insulin.

Cutting out carbohydrates gives your body some respite, and a healthy gut microbiome can make this effect even more pronounced. Studies show that having a balanced microbiome rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum can significantly impact the way your body deals with glucose, helping you normalize your blood sugar levels naturally.

A Ketogenic Diet And Your Microbiome

The relationship between a ketogenic diet and your gut microbiome is a 2-way street. Your gut microbiota can do wonders for your diet and being on a ketogenic eating protocol is also really good for your bacterial balance.

Following a ketogenic diet means that you are, by the diet’s definition, removing many of the foods that feed undesirable bacteria, like sugar and processed foods. This naturally gives your bacterial allies an advantage, letting them take over and colonize your gut. Similarly, eating keto-friendly food means that you tend to avoid foods that can damage your intestinal lining, like grains and beans. The gluten and phytic acid they contain can really damage your gut lining and prevent the absorption of nutrients. This makes it tougher for beneficial bacteria to colonize. A Ketogenic diet addresses this concern before it even begins.

Furthermore, all those good fats being consumed on a ketogenic diet can be really beneficial to your gut microbiome. A well-formulated ketogenic diet is rich in omega-3s which are not only highly correlated with microbial diversity, but also help beneficial bacteria adhere to your intestinal lining, preventing colonization of less-beneficial species.

Recent research has also shown that a ketogenic diet both increases the abundance of types of beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as decreases some of the problematic strains that can lead to temporary inflammation.

Maintaining Gut Health on a Ketogenic Diet

Make high quality foods an integral part of your keto diet.

If you are following a ketogenic diet, chances are that you are already quite aware of what you are consuming, but on the off chance that you might have been following the rules rather than the spirit of the program, now is you time to re-assess. Following a ketogenic plan technically (meaning all your macronutrients seem to be in line), but doing so with a lot of low quality fats and proteins is not going to give you the results you want. Lower quality foods are often full of antibiotics or pollutants, both of which can absolutely devastate your bacterial balance.

Focus on electrolytes.

It can be particularly easy to find yourself lacking in sodium, potassium and magnesium, since these are commonly found in things like beans, potatoes, and bananas. They are really important for your gut to work properly and efficiently. Not having enough magnesium changes the composition of your gut bacteria, and the resulting mix may leave you open to unwanted mood changes; while not having enough potassium shifts the way your digestive system works, creating conditions that allow unwanted bacteria to thrive. Be sure to include keto-friendly foods that are rich in these nutrients in your diet, including spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, avocados, and salmon and use a high quality unrefined salt liberally.

Remember pre-biotics.

Your beneficial gut bacteria need prebiotics to thrive, and your body needs the SCFAs they ferment to feel good and function properly. It can be difficult to get all the prebiotic fiber you need even in a typical diet. Most people on a standard Western-type diet get far less than the daily recommendation of 30 grams of fiber a day. Eating a ketogenic diet can add another layer of complexity, making it important to focus on the low-carbohydrate plant matter you are eating. Consume as many ‘above-the-ground’ vegetables as you can, raw or cooked, to give your gut what it needs to keep you feeling your best!

If you continue to struggle to get adequate fiber in your diet, you may consider supplementing with a premium prebiotic powder. Look for a food-based, organic one, which contains a mix of FOS, inulin, and soluble dietary fiber to give your good guys all the nutrition they need without compromising your keto diet.

Use both food and supplement-based probiotics

There are so many factors in the modern lifestyle that can throw your microbiome out of balance, that even if you are eating a healthy diet, you likely need to reseed your gut with beneficial bacteria to keep it in balance. Eating unpasteurized, naturally fermented foods on a daily basis helps to keep the microbiome diverse and strong. These should always be a part of your daily food consumption. There are many o0tions so find your favorites and although some can be an acquired taste, they can add a ton of flavor to any meal!

To make sure you have all the strains you need to support your dietary efforts, consider a supplement-based probiotic too. Look for a premium probiotic supplement, preferably physician-grade and independently tested and verified (ask me for more details on my favorite brands). These can be especially helpful during the sometimes-rough initial phase of the ketogenic diet (when many people experience digestive distress due to the sudden cutback of sugar and carbs) by supporting optimal digestive function.

Even though a well-formulated ketogenic eating plan may not be the simplest diet plan available, the results are more than worth it, so don’t give up! With a little targeted probiotic support, you can enjoy even greater returns on your efforts, and experience many healthy days for years to come.

Michal Ofer