Digestion and the Keto Diet

by Megan Dodds, NTP, Bedrock Functional Nutrition

Despite the many benefits keto goers gain from a low carb-high fat diet, there are precautions to take if you are considering jumping into the keto diet full force. One huge aspect that is often overlooked is digestion. If you already have gut issues, you’ll need to take it slow. Drastically shifting the types of food you eat can cause stress on your digestive system, and plunging head first into it can exacerbate existing digestive problems whether you’re aware of them or not.

Our fat-breakdown mechanisms are the most important aspects of digestion as it concerns the keto diet, which include:

  • Pancreatic enzymes
  • Liver/Gallbladder health

Pancreatic enzymes are released from the pancreas once our partially digested food leaves the stomach into the duodenum (part of the small intestine). The enzyme responsible for the breakdown of fats is called “lipase.” Lipase works with bile secreted from the gallbladder to further digest fat molecules from our food so they can in turn be fully utilized by the body for things like: absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, providing energy, nourishing our cells, and more.

The health of the liver and gallbladder is crucial for the smooth function of literally hundreds of processes in the body. (Follow these links to learn more about the processes of the liver and gallbladder). Because of this, it is even more important to be mindful of them during your transition to a ketogenic lifestyle. As mentioned above, fats are digested by the bile secreted from the gallbladder, which is first created in the liver. Think of the gallbladder as a storage container for bile, and once we consume food with fat content our gallbladder is notified and begins to release the bile to breakdown that fat. Simple, right?

BUT. If the liver is congested or stressed from other lifestyle factors such as alcohol consumption, high fructose consumption, blood sugar dysregulation, smoking, use of NSAIDs, etc., it will be more difficult for the liver to carry out other processes like aiding in fat digestion and creating ketones!

How do you know if you’re dealing with issues of pancreatic enzyme insufficiency or a stressed liver/gallbladder? A very simple way to detect this is to pay attention to how you feel once you begin consuming larger amounts of fat. If the following sounds like you, you may need to slow down and supplement with supporting nutrients:

  • Bloating/indigestion/gas
  • Feeling nauseous after high fat consumption
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Undigested fat in stool

Sound familiar? Well, you are certainly not alone! To remedy these symptoms it is best that you take a step back and slow down your transition into a high-fat diet, as well as incorporate supplementary nutrients to help your body with digestion. To support fat digestion, here are some things you can include in your daily regimen:

  • Beet products – Beets are exceptional for liver/gallbladder health because they contain an amino acid called betaine. Betaine is “lipotropic,” meaning it assists in processing fats, specifically in the liver. Betaine can also help with reduction of homocysteine levels in the blood, which is a fancy way of saying “reduces inflammation.”
    • Try incorporating beets in salads, roasted with garlic, paired with goat cheese, OR you can even ferment them into something called kvass. TRUEST UltraTonics®, a local Colorado company, has created delicious Beet Ultratonics™ that are packed with all the nutrients beets naturally have to offer. They use a lacto-fermentation process which converts the beets’ natural sugars into lactic acid, leaving zero sugars remaining in the beverage. This makes it an excellent candidate for your keto diet!
  • Ox Bile – What?! Yes. Supplementing with additional bile can help if your bile function is lacking. These come in capsule form. Don’t worry, they don’t taste like anything.
  • Pancreatic enzymes – These also come in capsule form. Make sure to read the back and look for “Lipase,” as this is the main pancreatic enzyme involved with fat digestion. The extra help in breaking down macronutrients will relieve bloating and gas from the lower GI tract.
  • Bitter foods and herbs – Bitterness stimulate the liver to produce bile. Try things like dandelion root, milk thistle, arugula, swiss chard, chamomile, and more!

If you are considering taking on the ketogenic diet, do your research and make sure you are truly ready for it. A very low carb/high-fat diet can be beneficial for many, but it remains important that you are cognizant of how your body reacts as you transition into this new lifestyle. Happy Keto-ing!

Megan Dodds, NTP, Bedrock Functional Nutrition, LLC
[email protected]