The Ketogenic Diet Part 2: Sugar, Insulin, and Inflammation

You can view the first part of this series here: The Ketogenic Diet Part 1: What is Keto?

Let’s explore the relationship between insulin, inflammation, and weight gain, beginning with what we put in our mouth.

After you eat excess carbohydrates and/or too much protein, your blood glucose stays at a higher level longer because the glucose can’t make it into the cells of the muscles. This toxic level of glucose is like tar in the bloodstream, clogging arteries, binding with proteins to form damaging AGEs (advanced glycation end-products), and causing inflammation.

This high level of glucose causes triglycerides to go up, increasing your risk for coronary artery disease.

Then, sugars (and starches) get stored as fat. Because the cells of the musculature basically have a crust over top of them (called glycation), the cells aren’t taking glycogen in from the bloodstream, and are therefore considered “resistant.” Additionally, since insulin stops the production of the fat-burning enzyme lipase, now you can’t even metabolize stored fat!

You can exercise all you want, but if you continue to eat oatmeal before your workouts, you will never be a fat-burner: you will remain a sugar-burner and you will continue to become insulin resistant.

If the above information isn’t bad enough, I have more bad news: when you’re insulin resistant, the pancreas begins to mistakenly believe, “if a little insulin isn’t working, I’ll just produce more!” This is not good. Insulin is very toxic at high levels, causing cellular damage, cancers, plaque buildup in the arteries (which is why diabetics are more likely to have heart disease) and many other inflammatory issues such as nerve damage and pain in the extremities. Starch and sugar can also destroy nerve tissue, causing tingling and retinopathy, which in turn cause glaucoma and cause you to lose your eyesight.

And on top of that, our cells become so damaged after a life of cereal and skim milk for breakfast that not only does in­sulin resistance block glucose from entering muscle cells, but the crust we have formed over our cells also blocks amino acids from entering. Amino acids are the building blocks for our muscles and are synthesized from proteins. So now, you can’t even maintain your muscle mass. Worse yet, your muscles become cannibalistic. Because your body thinks there is not enough stored sugar in the cells, it sends signals to start to break down valuable muscle tissue to begin gluconeogenesis.

So, where does that leave us? Instead of feeling energetic after you eat, you feel tired, and you crave more carbohydrates. Since you now have less muscle, exercise is getting too darn difficult, and the sad cycle continues.

Because of everything your body has been through up to this point, thyroid disorders can occur. When your liver becomes insulin resistant, it can’t convert thyroid hormone T4 into the T3, so you get those unexplained “thyroid problems” which continue to lower your energy and your metabolism.

Sugar and Inflammation

Many folks tell me that they are on an anti-inflammatory, low-sugar diet…but are they really? Do they think that since they replaced table sugar with fruit that they’ve reduced inflammation? Sure, someone with a healthy metabolism may be able to handle more fruit than someone with chronic pain, but why even stimulate those sugary taste buds? A truly effective anti-inflammatory diet requires cutting out all sugar, and when I say sugar, I also mean starch.  If you would like to reduce inflammation in your body, and all of the negative side effects that inflammation causes, then the ketogenic diet is for you.

Sugar is demonized on television commercials and in health magazines (and rightly so), but these critics take a wrong turn when they recommend eating a banana when you have a sugar craving. Guess what? Your sugar craving may have gone away, but only because you ate sugar! Bananas are sweet for a reason. It is the same with kombucha; it tastes sweet because there is sugar in it.

No, a banana isn’t the same as eating a KitKat bar; however, the prevailing definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different outcome. I’m not judging you: I was guilty of this myself. I would eat dried prunes for lunch thinking they were “fat free” and filled with fiber (to keep me full). How brilliant was I? Fifty-pounds-over­weight brilliant; that’s how smart I was!

Let’s look into a typical day of “healthy” eating that I hear in my office. I had a client come in the other day who described what her diet was on “good” days. On “good” days, she took the time to make an egg-white omelet with two organic chicken sausages for breakfast; for a snack, she had eighteen homemade raw-vegan nut-flour crackers; lunch was sautéed turkey in chicken broth; and dinner was chicken with a ton of low-starch vegetables. Why is this not a fat-burning diet?

  • She was eating way too much protein for her body, which was keeping her a sugar burner.
  • She wasn’t eating any healthy fats.
  • She often caved to less healthy days of eating because the cravings got the best of her.

After hearing about her diet, it wasn’t a surprise to me that she was experiencing health woes!

Avoiding the Consequences of Sugar Intake

If you don’t want any of this to happen to you, there is good news! Here are some steps you can take to avoid the consequences of sugar and starch:

  1. Lower your carbohydrates, moderate your protein intake, and increase healthy fats. Do it not only for yourself, but for your kids, too! It is important they don’t end up as insulin sensitive as we are.
  2.  Exercise. I’m not referring to exercise for the sake of calorie expenditure, but for hormone balance. Even if you are simply walking after meals, your body will benefit. Moving has a major impact on improving insulin sensitivity since muscles burn your stored glycogen as fuel during and after your workout. People mistakenly think that they need to exercise to create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. This is not how exer­cise helps with weight loss. Exercise builds muscle, and muscle builds mitochondria. It is in the mitochondria where fat is oxidized so you can keep your cells and your liver insulin sensitized.

That’s right. Only two steps. It’s really that simple!

In the next installment in this series, I’ll explain exactly how to become a keto-adapted, fat-burning, inflammation-fighting machine!

The Ketogenic Diet Part 3: How to Become Fat Adapted

Sugar image licensed under the Creative Commons.

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Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich

Maria Emmerich is a wellness expert in nutrition and exercise physiology. She shares a passion for helping others reach their goals of optimal health. She struggled with her weight throughout childhood and decided enough was enough. She decided to study health and wellness so she could help others stop wasting their time being discouraged with […]

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