You know when something is really good in theory, but too darn complicated in real life?
That’s what I think of ketogenic (keto) and high-fat low-carb (HFLC) diets.
In theory, they offer several benefits.
Especially to people with insulin resistance, such as Type 2 diabetics and prediabetics.
Why is Keto and HFLC helpful in diabetes?
By promoting a diet higher in fats and lower in carbs, these two diets reduce insulin resistance, which is a major contributor to the development of diabetes, and address the real cause for high blood sugar.
(If you’re not familiar with insulin resistance, here’s a 101 crash course for you.)
When insulin resistance is reduced, our body cells respond better to insulin’s effect. This means the body needs to use less insulin to do the same job (i.e. regulate blood sugar).
This phenomenon, which is also known as increased insulin sensitivity, helps bring our blood sugar levels back to normal.
Because of this, the ketogenic and HFLC diets have been gaining popularity with the prediabetic and diabetic population. There are even several cases of people reversing their prediabetes and/or getting off their diabetes pills with this way of eating.
The problem with Keto and HFLC
However, as with many diets, the keto and HFLC diet has several “rules” to follow and a strong emphasis on foods to avoid.
And what happens when there are too many rules to follow and a focus on things you can have?
- You get confused or overwhelmed by what you can or can’t do.
- You become obsessed with counting (carbs, calories, g, etc.)
- You end up craving the foods you “can’t have”.
- Your enjoyment for food disappears (and you get reeeeal cranky).
- You give up (and don’t get to reap the benefits of this great way of eating)
While I still believe that keto and the HFLC are good diets for people with insulin resistance, I’d like to simplify them and suggest 5 cores principles to follow instead.
Simplifying Keto and HFLC, so you can still reap the benefits
Below I share 5 core principles that the keto and HFLC diets have in common. I chose them because of their positive effect on insulin.
These benefits include:
- Decreasing insulin resistance, so you don’t worsen your prediabetes or diabetes
- Helping you feel full, so you avoid overeating and stimulating insulin release
- Decreasing your food cravings and daytime fatigue by stabilizing your blood sugar levels
Plus, by keeping it simple with only 5 key principles and a focus on foods to INCLUDE (instead of avoid), we take the feeling of overwhelm and restriction away.
Now, isn’t that more fun than religiously counting your carbs?
So without further delay, here are the my 5 key strategies to eating a healthy diet when you have prediabetes or diabetes.
Include plenty of healthy fats
Benefit: Normalize blood sugar levels
As explained in my article about insulin resistance, out of the 3 macronutrients, fatty foods keep your blood sugar levels the most stable.
As fat doesn’t spike up your blood sugar, it also doesn’t require your body to produce as much insulin as carbohydrates to process it. The less insulin your diet needs, the less likely you are to develop insulin resistance, or worsen it. As a reminder, insulin resistance is a MAJOR contributor to the development of diabetes.
So it makes sense to adopt a diet that has the least effect on your insulin production to prevent diabetes.
Benefit: Promote weight loss
Because insulin is a fat-storing hormone (in addition to a blood sugar regulating one), the first signs of insulin resistance is usually weight gain around the belly. This accumulation of fat, called visceral fat, is considered dangerous as it has been linked to heart disease and diabetes.
When you decrease your levels of insulin in your body by decreasing your intake of carbohydrates, your fat-burning hormones like glucagon get a chance to use up the energy stored in your fat cells and deliver it to the parts of your body that need it. This in turn reduces the visceral fat around your belly.
So not only will you look good by reducing the “belly fat”, but you’ll do your health a big favor.
What types of fat should I eat?
While there is controversy around saturated fats, the truth is that your body needs some saturated fats to function. Just ensure you don’t go over 5-6% of your calorie intake (as recommended by the American Heart Association) and favor plant-based saturated fats like avocados and coconut oil over animal fats.
Finally, you’ll want to avoid trans-fats at all cost, which has been associated with heart disease. Trans-fats are often found in processed foods.
While keto and HFLC diets seems to be all about bacon and fatty meats these days, there is a way to adopt a plant-based high fat diet.
In fact, this is what I encourage, considering the emerging evidence of how beneficial eating a plant-based diet can be.
But this doesn’t mean you can never eat meat again.
I would suggest getting MOST of your daily healthy fats from plants (ex. avocado, olives, nuts, seeds and plant oils), and adding organic cage-free eggs and wild-caught fish to your meals a few times per week.
When it comes to meats like chicken or beef, favor grass-fed animal and enjoy it every once in a while, as opposed to daily.
Add green vegetables to every meal (even breakfast!)
Green vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that all contribute to a well functioning body and prevent nutrient-deficiency (which unfortunately still happens in 2018 because of the amount of highly processed foods available on the market).
They’re also rich in fiber (which I share the benefits below), low in carbohydrates, have a low glycemic index, and don’t trigger a large release of insulin (and therefore don’t contribute to insulin resistance).
Wondering how to add green veggies at breakfast or snack time?
- Make a green smoothie full of spinach, kale and avocado
- Add sauteed spinach as a side to your eggs in the morning
- Dip cucumbers, broccoli and snow peas into your hummus for a quick healthy snack
Focus on fiber-rich food.
Not only does fiber contribute to gut health and can decrease your risks of several diseases, but it’s also great for your blood sugar. Fiber-rich foods tend to have lower glycemic-index, and therefore raise your blood sugar much less than high glycemic index foods.
By now, you understand that foods that trigger insulin release to a lesser degree are ones you want to favor, especially if you have prediabetes or diabetes.
Fiber also activates your stretch receptors in your stomach, giving you the sensation of being full. This sends a signal to your brain to stop eating, which in turns prevents you from overeating.
Ever notice how you feel much more full when drinking a smoothie, instead of a juice made from the same fruits and vegetables? That’s because the juicer has removed most of the fiber from the fruits, as opposed to the smoothie that uses the full fruit.
To sum it up, a diet rich in fiber is great for gut health, has a lower glycemic index, and prevents overeating.
For ideas on how to increase your fiber intake, click here to read my article “6 ways to eat more fiber”.
Include protein in every meal
Most people think about adding protein to their lunch and dinner, but often forget breakfast.
For many, breakfast include little to no protein. People mainly eat carbohydrate-rich foods to satisfy their hunger after waking up.
Unfortunately, all this carbohydrates sends a sudden stream of sugar into the blood, which releases a giant wave of insulin to deal with the increased blood sugar.
All this insulin then creates low blood sugar, which in turn sends a signal to your brain that you need to eat something sugary to bring your blood sugar back up. Which explain your mid-morning craving for Snickers before lunch. And so the vicious circle is born.
By replacing some of the breakfast carbs by protein, you trigger insulin release to a lesser degree, which in turn prevents your blood sugar from going on a roller-coaster and you wanting to eat carbs all the time.
Therefore at each meal (and even snacks), include a source of protein such as eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, fish or protein powder.
Focus on whole foods
As a general rule, most diets encourage people to avoid added sugar and processed foods.
However, I’ve learned that telling people what to avoid contributes to the “restrictive diet” mentality, which isn’t something I promote.
If you instead focus on eating mainly whole foods, you naturally avoid refined sugar and flour-rich products, which are two main contributors to elevated blood sugar, insulin demand, and insulin resistance. You also increase your intake of nutrients when you chose a whole food diet.
Finally, when you spend your time thinking about how you can include more of certain foods to your diet instead of finding ways to avoid them, you tend to feel less deprived and anxious about what you eat. So let’s remove the stress and drama from eating, please!
There you have it, my 5 key strategies to eating a healthy diet when you have prediabetes or diabetes.
When the majority of your diet is composed of plant-based fats, protein, green vegetables, fiber and whole foods, you are providing your body with the fuel it needs to thrive.
As I said in the beginning, I’ve seen people have great results by managing their diabetes and prediabetes on a keto and HFLC diet. But I’ve also seen many people get frustrated with the rigidity and the carbohydrate counting, and give up on a way of eating that could greatly help them if it was simplified.
That’s why I’m giving you the best concepts of the keto and HFLC, without all the frustrating rules to follow.
I hope this articles helps you understand what foods to eat to better manage your prediabetes. If you have any questions, leave me a comment below. I love getting messages from you! 🙂