IU research: High-fat keto diet reduces insulin use, obesity in diabetics | News

The numbers tell a frightening and sobering story on diabetes in the U.S.

According to the American Diabetes Association:

  • 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4 percent of the population, had diabetes in 2015, the most recent data.
  • 23.1 million cases were diagnosed and 7.2 million were undiagnosed.
  • 12 million Americans age 65 and older, or 25.2 percent, have diabetes. 
  • More than 695,000 Indiana adults, or 13 percent, have diabetes.
  • 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year.
  • 84.1 million Americans age 18 and older had prediabetes in 2015.
  • Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • 1.25 million diabetics are Type 1, in which their pancreas does not produce insulin. The other 29 million have Type 2 diabetes, a chronic disorder characterized by high blood sugar and insulin resistance that’s frequently the result of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Through years of field work and research, Dr. Sarah Hallberg, medical director of the weight loss program at Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital in West Lafayette, is hoping to change some of those statistics.

“As an exercise physiologist, I worked with patients who followed the low-fat diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association,” she says. “I began to question the relevance of the diet, because more people were struggling with obesity and diabetes every year.”

She returned to school and became a physician. Her clinical research led her to the conclusion that a ketogenic diet would provide much better results for patients suffering from obesity and diabetes.

“I believe that the ketogenic diet is much more evidence-based,” she explains. “I just don’t feel the diets currently recommended have strong evidence behind them. And the results we are producing with our weight loss program speak for themselves.”

The ketogenic diet is very low in carbohydrates and high in fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.

“When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy,” Hallberg says. “It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain.”

The ketogenic diet used at IU Health Arnett is resulting in significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. “The body burns fat as energy instead of blood sugar,” Hallberg says. “By consuming an average amount of protein, very low amounts of carbs and high amounts of fat, the metabolism changes and uses fat as its energy source.”

Hallberg recently published the results of her one-year study on 400 patients following her version of ketogenic diet. The report reads: “After one year, patients on average lowered their A1c (blood glucose) from 7.6 to 6.3 percent. Patients lost 12 percent of their body weight, and reduced diabetes medicine use. Ninety-four percent of patients who were prescribed insulin reduced or stopped their insulin use.” A second report notes cardiovascular benefits from the diet as well.

In October, Hallberg took her research to Congress, sharing her results with a bipartisan “food as medicine” group in the House of Representatives.

While the group was impressed by the reduction in the use of insulin, Hallberg also made the point that “if 30 million Americans were infected with a virus, our country would be in panic mode. Yet we have 30 million with diabetes that can be helped through diet, and we don’t react with the same intensity.”

Despite the promise, more research is needed, particularly over the long term. “According the American Diabetes Association, the role of low carbohydrate diets in patients with diabetes remains unclear,” says Terri Sakelaris, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Community Hospital in Munster. “While benefits to low-carbohydrate diets have been described, improvements tend to be in the short term and, over time, these effects are not maintained.”

Community recommends that a patient who wants to follow a low-carbohydrate meal plan discuss it with the health care provider overseeing their diabetes management. If approved, the patient will have to consistently monitor their glucose levels and medication.

Tracy Toodle, certified diabetes educator at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, sees the benefits of a balance. 

“A well-balanced diet with a variety of nutrient-dense foods is optimal,” she says. Toodle recommends the diabetes plate method planning guide as an excellent resource.


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