If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably already aware of how toxic sugar is to your nerves, your feet, and your overall health. We’ve written about it here, and here, and here, and also here.
In short: this is really important stuff if you want the best for your long-term health. And very few Americans (and even relatively few health professionals) truly understand the magnitude of the danger.
But once you’ve determined you have to cut sugar out of your life, the next question becomes, “Well, what can I eat?”
Dr. Richard Jacoby, Dr. Parker’s close friend and author of the landmark book Sugar Crush (which we recommend to all our patients, especially those with neuropathy) answered this question in his own life by adopting a strict ketogenic diet.
Called “keto” for short, this diet has become increasingly popular in recent years. In fact, you may have even heard of it.
But what is keto, and what kind of difference could it really make in your life? Does it work? Is it safe? Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Keto?
In simple terms, keto is a very low carb, medium protein, high fat diet. Ideally you would be getting at least 75 percent of your calories from healthy grass-fed fats (Omega-3s, no trans fats), 5 percent (or less) of your calories from carbs, and the rest from grass-fed animal protein.
It requires you to drastically cut the amount of calories you get from carbs—or in other words, sugar. And we’re not just talking about “junk food” either; even natural carbs from sources like fruits and veggies need to be restricted.
When you configure your diet this way, it puts your body into a state of “ketosis.” Although it may sound scary, ketosis is a very normal metabolic process. Essentially, it means that your body is forced to start burning stored fats for energy, because it doesn’t have enough of its primary fuel—glucose. And it becomes incredibly efficient at doing it.
This might sound like a radical new way to eat—and for most Americans, it’s very different from what they’re used to. But what you have to remember is that, from a historical perspective, it’s our contemporary high-carb, highly processed diet that’s actually the radical one.
Before about 1800, refined sugar was an extremely expensive luxury good that most people ate little to none of. By 1900, the average American was eating 25 pounds of sugar and processed carbs per year. Today, that number is over 160 pounds.
A keto diet, in fact, is much closer to providing the kind of nutrition our bodies are designed to process than one containing generous amounts of pizza, microwave dinners, donuts, artificial sweeteners, and soft drinks.
What Are the Potential Benefits of a Keto Diet?
Today, most people who are interested in going keto do it for weight loss reasons. That’s not surprising, since most Americans are overweight, and keto is an extremely effective way to slim yourself down.
But you might be surprised to learn that weight loss isn’t why keto was originally developed—and it’s far from the only benefit. In fact, keto was first devised in the 1920s as a treatment for childhood epilepsy, and it was able to significantly reduce the number of seizures experienced by most kids who went on the diet.
As a podiatry clinic that specializes in neurological conditions of the feet and ankles, keto’s effectiveness at managing and even reversing the effects of nerve damage is of particular interest to us.
Sugar, as we’ve noted time and time again, is absolutely poisonous to healthy nerves, whether you have a clinical diabetes diagnosis or not. If you’re slowly losing sensation in your feet—and you want to avoid following the path to total nerve failure, lower limb amputations, and very potentially an early death—switching to a ketogenic diet may be the single most important decision you can make. So many times, the best answer isn’t found in what medicines you take, but in what you eat.
And of course, it’s not just the nerves in your feet that get the benefit of a healthier diet. In addition to peripheral neuropathy, a ketogenic diet may significantly reduce your risk of developing other nervous system and brain disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Furthermore, there is a growing (and encouraging) body of research showing that ketogenic diets may aid in the prevention and/or treatment of:
- Cancer. While healthy cells can burn either glucose (sugar) or ketones (the fuel that results from the body breaking down fat instead), cancer cells can only burn glucose. That means a ketogenic diet starves cancer cells of their only viable fuel source, killing them off (or at least significantly slowing their progression).
- Cardiovascular disease. High levels of sugar in your diet leads to inflammation that can damage the inner lining of your blood vessels and heart. This causes plaque to gunk up the vessels and increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
- Diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The connection here is obvious. If you don’t eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar and insulin levels have no reason to spike. This can help you prevent diabetes in the first place, or at least prevent the series of complications that are associated with it.
And those are just the “big headline” conditions. Because high-carb diets are the secret culprit lurking behind an incredibly broad range of health conditions—minor and serious alike—switching to keto could help you with headaches, rashes, acne, chronic fatigue, and more.
Are There Any Risks?
While we do believe that keto is an appropriate and healthy diet for a majority of people, you should always consult with a physician and/or dietician before making radical changes to your diet. A low-carb, high-fat diet may not be appropriate for everyone.
Some common scenarios where a keto diet would not be recommended, or would need to be modified, include:
- Women who are nursing or pregnant. During pregnancy, your body needs to store fat for use during the later stages, not burn it for energy.
- Women who are trying to get pregnant. While a ketogenic diet may in fact improve your odds of conceiving, you also don’t want your body to still be in a state of ketosis afterward.
- High-performance athletes. While a ketogenic diet will improve overall health and even athleticism for the vast majority of us “regular folks,” high-performance athletes typically require high glycolytic output, which requires a much larger reserve of glucose to metabolize.
- People with certain medical conditions. Those with kidney disease, hypothyroidism, or adrenal fatigue may not be able to eat a strict keto diet safely. Again, never attempt to radically overhaul your diet without checking with a professional first.
Is Keto Right for Me?
Look, there’s a reason the man who literally wrote the book about the devastating consequences of the contemporary American diet quit sugar, cold turkey, and adopted a strict ketogenic diet.
In short, it works.
That being said, we understand that it’s a radical shift, and that many of our patients—even after being educated on the risks of sugar—find it very difficult to sustain. And it requires a lot of discipline to do it in a healthy way. (For example, a high-fat diet that’s also loaded with trans fats is not going to be healthy for you.)
Ultimately, our hope for you is that you’re able to cut sugar and processed foods out of your life as much as possible, in a way that you can sustain over the long term. Maybe that means you start slow, and gradually shift closer and closer to a “strict” keto diet, experimenting until you find the right balance of nutrition for your needs.
That’s why we’ve also written a FREE downloadable beginner’s guide to cutting sugar and gaining control over your health! In this brief but extremely informative document, you’ll get real, practical advice about what foods you can eat, what foods you can’t eat, and how to fill your kitchen with healthy ingredients and meals.
No, we’re not saying it’s going to be easy. But cutting sugar and reprogramming your body to a healthy diet will significantly improve your health and your life—especially if you are currently suffering from nerve pain in your feet and legs.
If you have any questions, or would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Parker regarding your nerve pain, please call our office today at (281) 497-2850.