How diets like keto can impact your gut health

When Nitika Gandhi, a Delhi-based communications professional, discovered she weighed over 72 kg, which she categorized as overweight at 5’2, she was appalled. “I used to be a basketball player,” she recalls, adding that she thinks it is high time to do something about it. So she embarked on a low-carb, high-fat keto diet, replacing whole grains with things like almond flour, paneer, mushrooms, chia, and flax. “I did it for 2.5 to 3 months,” says Gandhi, who planned the diet herself by doing research on the internet and using weight loss apps. In June of the same year she weighed 48 kilos. Then, as she switched to a more balanced diet, she noticed something. “I seem to have developed a gluten allergy,” she says. Her stomach, she adds, now reacts badly to chapattis, which has never been a problem before. “After all, I grew up eating.”

The relationship between gut health and diet has long been known; Today almost everyone knows that too many highly processed foods have a drastic impact on the gut biome. However, recent research suggests that there is something else terrible for your gut – restrictive diets, especially high-fat, low-carb diets like keto. According to a May 2021 study published on Frontiers, a leading open access publisher and platform, the human gut contains around 1000 types of bacteria that play a key role in maintaining overall health. “This community of microbes is often referred to as a” hidden metabolic organ “because of its enormous influence on host metabolism, physiology, nutrition and immune function,” the study says. “Any change in diet, while having positive effects, can affect the composition of the microbiota, especially if carried out over a long period of time,” she adds. Another article published in Science Magazine in August explicitly outlines the effects of the keto diet on the gut. “A high-fat diet impairs mitochondrial oxygen uptake in the host’s enterocytes and increases nitrate in the mucus, which in turn weakens healthy anaerobic bowel function,” it says.

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Dr. Avnish Seth, Director, Gastroenterology & Hepatobiliary Sciences and Director, Fortis Organ Retrieval & Transplant (FORT) at the Fortis Memorial Research Institute, says this is not surprising. “Our intestinal microbiome consists of more cells than we have in the entire human body,” he says, pointing out that these bacteria can mainly be divided into good and not so good. “Healthy people have a perfect balance between good and bad, and this relationship not only promotes gut health, but also increases the body’s immunity and prevents disorders triggered by inflammatory signals from the gut.” A very low calorie or very low carb Diet reduces the population of good bacteria in the body, he agrees, adding that it leaves you vulnerable to gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. “Also, systemic inflammatory diseases associated with increased intestinal bacterial migration, such as arthritis and alcoholic liver disease, can worsen,” he says.

Eat a healthy and balanced diet
(Sara Dubler, Unsplash)

Since these microbes feed on the fiber in the carbohydrates and produce metabolites like SCFA (short chain fatty acids), which play a key role in neuro-immune endocrine regulation, completely avoiding carbohydrates is always a bad idea, believes the nutritionist and certified diabetes specialist. Educator Madhavi Karmokar Sharma, founder of Informed Health, an organization dedicated to providing authentic information and services on healthy eating. Although carbohydrates have been heavily denigrated recently, leading to the popularity of low-carb diets, they are an essential macronutrient, she says. “A low-carb diet has its own disadvantages such as irritability, insomnia and constipation,” believes Sharma from Delhi. “Avoiding carbohydrates for fear of gaining weight will affect the quality and population of the strains of good bacteria in your gut.”

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While the best situation is certainly not to be on a very restrictive diet and upset your gut, what can you do if you have already done so? Delhi-based nutritionist Vidhi Chawla recommends eating a diet rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods to replenish the gut microbiome. “You should also get adequate, good quality sleep for 7-8 hours; that helps too, ”she says. Dr. However, Seth is a little cautious about prescribing a unified approach to gut health. “Our intestines have their own identity. Every person is different. What works for your friend may not work for you, ”he says. However, he says certain foods are advocated for gut immunity, although robust scientific data is still lacking. These include turmeric, papaya, carrots, garlic, ginger, wheatgrass, green tea, sprouts, mushrooms, spinach, and broccoli. Also, “fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, and kimchi are high in probiotics that increase healthy gut bacteria,” he adds. And yes, it’s a myth that you have to go without dairy or wheat in order to have a healthy gut. “Dairy and wheat products have been an integral part of our diet for centuries, and some of our elders lived very healthy and long lives,” he says. “You can only avoid these foods if you have a specific lactose or gluten intolerance.” Seth also advocates regular exercise. “Researchers have reported improvements in gut biome after six weeks of exercise, which boosts the body’s immunity,” he says.

In general, Sharma believes, a diet should be evaluated based on the following parameters: it should contain foods that have been eaten; the food should be available locally and regionally; it shouldn’t force you to eliminate a food group; it should match your exercise and exercise program and take into account your state of health. “We all differ in how our bodies ingest, ingest and assimilate food,” she says, pointing out that this is influenced by genetic predispositions, cultural backgrounds, dietary preferences, daily routines and the expression of the gut microbiome. “Only a sustainable diet will improve and maintain permanent weight loss,” she says.

Gandhi, for example, managed to maintain most of the weight by continuing to exercise regularly and eating well. She had added carbohydrates to her diet again and decided to eat jowar chapatis, or chillas made from chickpea flour, instead of wheat chapattis, which she still finds difficult to digest. “My doctor said that cutting out carbohydrates completely was a bad idea,” she says. “I like the fact that I’ve lost weight, but I’m still struggling with the aftermath.”

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