“Keto” is certainly a buzzword these days, and for good reason. Not only is safe and rapid weight loss a reality on the ketogenic diet, there are many other medical benefits like lowered blood sugar levels, improved cholesterol and lipid panels and increased insulin sensitivity.
The incredibly long list also includes mood stabilization, increased energy and mental function, and has shown to be beneficial to those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, early dementia, diabetes, mental health disorder and even some cancers.
Chronic pain is not exempt from the list. The research so far has shown this to be a three-fold combination of ketogenic benefits which aid in neurological and other inflammatory pains.
First though, let’s go over the basics of the ketogenic diet, so you can then understand how it can help with pain relief.
The Keto Diet
In a nutshell, the ketogenic diet, is a carbohydrate-restricted way of eating. Instead of using sugar to provide the energy necessary for the body and brain, the body naturally switches over and uses ketones. Ketones are produced when carbs aren’t present. The alternative, cleaner fuel!
On the ketogenic diet, followers are recommended to limit carbs, get adequate protein and high fat on a 5%-25%-70% caloric ratio respectively. The numbers may differ slightly for certain individuals however, the ratio clearly demonstrates the vast majority of calories are ingested from fats. It sounds drastic and certainly unrealistic at first.
However, it should be noted fat has more than twice the calories of carbohydrates or proteins gram for gram. There are 9 calories per gram of fat versus only 4 calories per gram of carbs and proteins.
Many foods you may be eating currently may not be included in a keto diet, and many of these foods may be causing you inflammation and pain.
What to Eat?
The simplest way to summarize keto-approved foods is to label it as clean eating. There are many keto-approved foods that are both delicious and satiating. Here are the basics:
Good fats. Avocado, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, full fat dairy and eggs are great for reaching that 70% daily intake of fats.
Above-ground vegetables. The best choices with the least amount of carbs are dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale, chard, collards, etc.), broccoli and cauliflower. Green beans and squash are also great options. Spiralizers have taken zucchini to a whole new level for the keto-ers!
Nuts are a good source of both fat and protein but should be eaten in moderation. Likewise, fruits should be limited to berries as most other fruits are loaded with sugar.
Lean meats with the least amount of processing are optimal. Shellfish is another great option, however watch out for the fat content!
What NOT to Eat?
This list is much shorter and tends to scare people away at first.
Here’s the no-no list:
Basically, keep things simple. Stay away from processed foods, sugary/starchy fruits and vegetables, artificial sweeteners, grains, legumes and refined oils/fats. Foods pre-agriculture is a good starting point.
Again, many of these foods cause inflammation and therefore pain.
The Trifecta of Keto on Chronic Pain
Essentially there are three components in the ketogenic way of eating which help with chronic pain relief. Some argue most pain issues are originated by inflammation. And it turns out, sugar is inflammatory.
Research, and common sense, indicates a diet high in carbohydrates could certainly be the source of at least some chronic pain. Goodbye ibuprofen and hello ketogenic diet!
- Less Weight, Less Pain
One of the benefits of the ketogenic diet, and probably the main reason most venture out and try it, is weight loss. And with weight loss comes less pressure on painful joints and stiff bones. It makes perfect sense.
The human body is smarter than most realize. Adenosine is the body’s naturally produced anti-inflammatory analgesic. Studies have shown those who maintain a state of ketosis also have higher levels of adenosine.
Ingested sugar, which as above is highly inflammatory, sets off the insulin alarms to help get the sugar to the cells that need energy. What happens when there is leftover sugar roaming around? Most of it is turned into fat.
Double trouble: Sugar is inflammatory and increases fat stores. The ketogenic diet is devoid of inflammatory sugars and artificial sweeteners. Remove the sugar, remove the pain?
Maybe “remove the pain” is reaching a bit, but the science is there. Those with IBS, fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, neuropathy, and any number of other problems where inflammation is at the core could benefit from a great deal of relief.
Additionally, better mental focus, increased strength and stamina, and improved overall health are all part of the reward plan of the ketogenic diet.
The ketogenic diet is a great option for most people with unlimited benefits, but unfortunately isn’t for everyone. There are certain circumstances where one should not entertain the ketogenic lifestyle.
As always, discuss drastic dietary changes with medical professionals just to be on the safe side.