The basic principle behind the keto diet is that carbohydrates—basically, anything sweet or starchy—are to be avoided at all costs in favor of healthy fats (think avocados and eggs) and clean sources of protein (think seafood and grass-fed beef). Cutting carb intake to a bare mininum is the only way to switch bodily energy production from glucose to the fat-based ketones that give the keto diet its name.
Now if only pie, candy and cookies weren’t so…tempting.
It’s not uncommon for people who start eating the keto way to experience strong carbohydrate cravings. However, there are ways to quell these urges so that they don’t derail your diet.
Fluctuating Blood Sugar
For decades, scientists believed that eating too much fatty food promoted body fat formation. However, we now know that the main culprit is excessive carbohydrate consumption, especially eating simple carbs such as sugar and white flour.
In the body, carbs break down into glucose (blood sugar), which enters the bloodstream. The body then releases insulin, which guides the glucose either into cells to be burned for energy or into storage as fat. Since there’s a limit on how much glucose your body can burn at any one time, it’s easy to see why eating too much carbohydrate can overload your fat cells.
What’s worse, eventually the body stops responding to insulin the way it should, which causes insulin levels to rise. This condition, called insulin resistance, can lead to diabetes and other chronic disorders. In the meantime, glucose levels will continue to spike after each meal and then crash; this can lead you to crave sweets and other carb-laden foods.
Adopting the keto diet can eventually help you get off the glucose roller coaster for good. But if you’ve spent a lifetime eating a carb-based diet, cravings may continue in the early stages of your glucose-to-ketone changeover.
Of course, the keto diet works best in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and stress relief. In addition, many herbs, and the compounds found in them, have considerable track records in helping to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. (Such herbs should always be used under a practitioner’s guidance if you have a pre-existing condition, especially if you take prescription medication.)
One example is berberine, a compound found in several herbs long used by practitioners of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been found to activate an enzyme within cells called AMPK, which functions as a master switch that controls cellular metabolism. In a number of studies, berberine has shown an ability to lower blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance in addition to fighting inflammation and increasing the number of healthful probiotic microbes in the digestive tract.
Other herbs also help keep blood sugar in balance. They include cinnamon (especially the Ceylon variety), which curbs the rate at which blood sugar rises after meals and helps the body better respond to insulin; banaba, which contains a glucose regulator called corosolic acid; garcinia, an Indian herb traditionally used to control appetite and improve digestion; and gymnema, known in Hindi as “destroyer of sugar,” which promotes healthy insulin production.
Cravings don’t have to trip you up when you’re going keto. Herbal remedies can help your blood sugar levels stay on an even keel.