Ketogenic Diet and Blood Pressure

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet


Blood pressure is an indicator of how healthy our arteries and heart are. Understanding a blood pressure reading gives us an idea of how the heart is working with the blood vessels. Blood pressure is measured in two readings: the top number(systolic) over the bottom number (diastolic).1 A systolic reading is measured at the point of a heartbeat (systole) and the diastolic reading is measured when the heart rests in between beats (diastole).1 In a person with high blood pressure, there is more strain on the heart and arteries, causing them to become weaker. Over time the arteries become thicker, less flexible, and narrow allowing them to become clogged.1 If the arteries become completely clogged, a blood clot is formed increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, or dementia.1 High blood pressure typically goes unnoticed, without signs or symptoms present causing it to be a silenced danger. Almost half of Americans over 20 live with high blood pressure and many don’t even know.2 Although detrimental, blood pressure can easily be checked and managed. A ketogenic diet could present as a treatment diet for decreasing the risk of heart disease by reducing blood pressure.3

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, makes the heart work harder than it needs to.4 This strain in the cardiovascular system causes serious health complications. There are many contributing risk factors for hypertension including age, race, family history, being overweight, being sedentary, using tobacco, having a poor diet, drinking too much alcohol, certain chronic conditions, and experiencing high levels of stress.4 The longer hypertension goes untreated, the greater damage it causes leading to heart attack or stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, weakened and narrowed blood vessels in your kidneys, thickened, narrow or torn vessels in the eyes, metabolic syndrome, and trouble with memory or understanding.4 In studies of a Ketogenic diet’s effect on blood pressure, a reduction in systolic and/or diastolic blood pressure is noted.5 Why is this?

In a Ketogenic diet, a person consumes 70% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates. There is also a focus on consuming unprocessed foods. What do we know about fat and the heart? Fat is a major source of energy for the body allowing better absorption of vitamins and minerals.6 It is needed to build cell membranes, essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflimation.6 There are, however, good fats and bad fats and it is important to understand the difference. While all fats have a similar chemical structure, the length and shape of these structures forms crucial differences in form and function. The worst fat of them all, trans fats, are engineered from a process called hydrogenation, turning healthy oils into solids. Consuming trans fats increases the LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in the bloodstream and decreases HDL “good” cholesterol leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.6 Saturated fats get a bad reputation for being a contributor to high cholesterol, however there has not been enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease leaving saturated fats in the grey area of fats.6 The healthiest fats of them all? Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats both earning its name as “heart-healthy” fats for increasing good cholesterol and decreasing bad cholesterol.6

A study posted in the National Center for Biotechnology and Information (NCBI) shows the relationship of a high-fat, low-carb diet and the reduction of blood pressure in hypertensive rats.7 In another study published in the NCBI, a diet high in sucrose and glucose (carbohydrates) increased blood pressure tremendously while certain “heart-healthy” fats and proteins decreased blood pressure.8 Since we know that a ketogenic diet limits the amount of carbohydrates, sugar is not a worrisome factor. We also know that a ketogenic diet encourages the consumption of healthy fats and the elimination of trans fats, making it a possible diet to treat high blood pressure.

A ketogenic diet has proven to decrease the risk of certain diseases and could possibly be a useful diet to prevent high blood pressure and heart disease. Although more studies need to be done before this diet becomes labeled as a treatment, it can still logically serve an ideal diet for maintaining a healthy weight and decreasing risk factors associated with poor nutrition. Nonetheless, a ketogenic diet can be used as a nutritional approach eliminating the need for drug therapy. What could be more beneficial than taking a natural approach to treat and possibly cure a disease?

1 Why it matters. (n.d.). Retrieved from

2 (n.d.). Retrieved from

3 Blood pressure. (n.d.). Retrieved from

4 High blood pressure (hypertension). (2018, February 02). Retrieved from

5 Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The truth about fats: The good, the bad, and the in-between. Retrieved from

6 Bosse, J. D., Lin, H. Y., Sloan, C., Zhang, Q. J., Abel, E. D., Pereira, T. J., . . . Jalili, T. (2013, June 15). A low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet reduces blood pressure in spontaneously hypertensive rats without deleterious changes in insulin resistance. Retrieved from

7 Kosinski, C., & Jornayvaz, F. R. (2017, May). Retrieved from

8 Hodges, R. E., & Rebello, T. (1983, May). Carbohydrates and blood pressure. Retrieved from

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This Series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.

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Ketogenic Diet and Autism

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet


Currently, Autism is one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S. affecting 1 in 68 children.1 Out of those children, boys are five times more likely to have autism leaving 1 in every 42 boys and 1 in every 189 girls to be diagnosed.1 Autism differs from person to person, making it hard for researchers to find a conclusive cause, treatment, and diagnosis.2 This prevalent disease leaves many hopeless that one day there could be a cure. What if those suffering from autism could see improvements just through nutrition? Imagine the hope that would be restored for families affected by a disease that is widely misunderstood. Studies conclude that a ketogenic diet improves behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder.3

What is autism? A basic definition will tell you that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is a complex set of neurological disorders that severely impair social, communicative, and cognitive functions.4 Autism was discovered by Dr. Leo Kanner, 1943, who noticed 11 children that showed a lack of interest in people but had a highly unusual interest in the inanimate world.4 However, autism is still a disorder with many questions as the science and treatment for it can be difficult. Although autism has been proven to be a genetically based condition, the cause of it is still unknown. There were once beliefs that vaccines could cause autism, this theory has been disproven through many studies.4 There were also misconceptions that autism was a form of schizophrenia brought out in children who experienced bad parenting and traumatic experience; this theory has also been disproven through studies.4 A person is born with autism, it is not something that they can just get. Early diagnosis of this disorder can be detected at just 6 months if a baby is displaying signs.4 Signs range through severity but can include: lack of eye contact, lack joint attention, engaging in repetitive motions, failure to respond to their name, resistance to change, and aggression or self-injury in the most extreme cases.4

While treatments for Autism range from patient to patient, there is an agreeance that the earlier the child receives intervention services the better the prognosis is.4 Intervention services commonly include: applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and occupational, speech, and physical therapy.4 These methods have proven to be most effective, but they still are not a cure. There are also means of treatment through medication due to the combination of autism patients experiencing seizures. Seizures are so common in autistic patients that 30-50% experience them.4 We have learned through previous studies that a ketogenic diet proves to be effective in the treatment of epilepsy, and evidence supports the benefit of a ketogenic diet in treating the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorders.4 In a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology and Information (NCBI), a ketogenic diet improved behavioral characteristics of autism spectrum disorder in mice.3 The diet was noted to improve sociability and reduced repetitive behavior in female mice.3 There were limited effects in male mice, however, the diet proved to never worsen relevant behaviors.4

In another study published in NCBI, research shows the potential therapeutic use of a ketogenic diet in Autism Spectrum Disorders, more specifically how the diet improved mitochondrial function.5 More research is needed to understand the improved mitochondrial function, but improvement showed a better energy and/or neurotransmitter management in symptoms.5 A ketogenic diet is shown to improve and even reverse autism behaviors in a mouse model in this next study published in the NCBI.6 After 3-4 weeks of feeding the mice affected by autism, their new ketogenic diet reduced social abnormalities in the assessments of sociability, social contact, and self-directed repetitive behavior in male offspring.6 In this study, the female offspring (given the same bacterial and viral infection during gestation to induce ASD) exhibited normal sociability and therefore there was to behavior to improve through diet.6 This study relates to the male prevalence in humans where males are more likely to develop autism.6

In conclusion, the previous studies noted appear to show a direct relationship between a ketogenic diet and the improvement of autism spectrum behaviors. The results also concluded that the carbohydrate restriction played a role in ASD core behaviors when diets that were high in carbohydrates worsened behaviors.6 The phenomenon of the ketogenic diet’s role in ASD is contributed to the natural metabolic state of ketosis.6 Additional takeaway benefits of a ketogenic diet from the studies include improved mitochondrial function, lowered glucose concentrations, reduced inflammation, and increased adenosine.6 While a ketogenic might not cure ASD in every patient, it proves to be a beneficial treatment for those with autism.

1 Facts about Autism. (2012, June 05). Retrieved from

2 Autism and the Ketogenic Diet. (2017, December 11). Retrieved from

3 Ruskin, D. N., Fortin, J. A., Bisnauth, S. N., & Masino, S. A. (2017, January 01). Ketogenic diets improve behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder in a sex-specific manner in the EL mouse. Retrieved from

4 Quick Facts About Autism. (n.d.). Retrieved from

5 Napoli, E., Dueñas, N., & Giulivi, C. (2014). Retrieved from

6 Ruskin, D. N., Murphy, M. I., Slade, S. L., & Masino, S. A. (2017). Retrieved from

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.

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Keto Diet: A cure for Acne?

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet

You are just about to head out for the day when you stumble upon something in the mirror, it’s the dreaded red blemish on your face. For those who have had a pimple or two, know just what a damper this can put on your entire week. Acne has been linked to hormones and that can be a direct result of your diet. In teens and adolescents, it can feel like the end of the world; adults into their 30’s can struggle with acne too. Nobody likes having acne, in fact, dermatologists remain busy by prescribing acne medications. What if I told you that you could clear up your acne just by changing the food you eat? Would you believe me if I said that a ketogenic diet could be a cure for acne?

Most individuals have experienced acne with 90% affecting adolescents and 50% affecting adults.1 Acne is a result of complex skin interactions, creating an unpleasant look on an individual’s skin. The skin has glands that are connected to hair follicles responsible for producing an oily substance called, sebum.1 Sebum is responsible for lubricating hair and skin cells which are constantly shedding and being replaced.1 Hormones in the form of androgens, male hormones, have been directly linked to excess sebum production.1 This leads to oily skin preventing dead skin cells to shed and regenerate properly. The hiccup in this normal system causes dead cells to combine with excess sebum which causes blockages.1 During this process bacteria that live off sebum begin to produce leaving that undesirable look of acne.1 The skin can balance bacteria by using P. Acnes, bacteria living deep within hair follicles, to do so. When an acne breakout occurs, increased concentration of this bacteria causes inflammation that leads to whiteheads, pustules, and cysts.1

There has been much controversy amongst research on the role diet plays in acne. In previous studies, sugar was thought to be the culprit of acne but lacking evidence of specific foods and acne put the studies to rest. Today, studies have continued to pick up momentum as to how acne could have a dietary culprit. The reason for this is carbohydrates and their effects on hormone regulation. Again, we know that acne has a direct correlation with hormones.1 In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a low- glycemic-load (measured by blood glucose levels) diet was proven to reduce acne in various patients by decreasing androgen and insulin levels.2 This study proves that acne can be directly related to nutrition.

Many people following the ketogenic diet have noticed the reduction of acne as a result. Although there has yet to be a controlled study done on the Ketogenic Diet and acne, there are a few scientific reasons that would suggest that a low-carb diet would be helpful for acne sufferers. For instance, a reduction in insulin levels is a direct result of a ketogenic diet. When there is too much insulin in the blood, an increased production of skin cells, sebum, and androgens are a result.1 It is also suggested that low-carb diets reduce inflammation.1 Inflammation speeds up acne progression.1 IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) plays a role in acne by increasing sebum production.1 In a ketogenic diet, IGF-1 levels decrease.1

A ketogenic diet could be promising for reducing acne by regulating insulin, having anti-inflammatory effects, and by decreasing the amount of IGF-1 present. The nutrition in a ketogenic diet could be the reason acne suffers on the diet have noticed an improvement in skin conditions. There are certain foods that have effects on the body that are consumed on a ketogenic diet. For example, fatty fish is a popular choice for the diet and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory.1 Low-carb vegetables (leafy greens) are also noted for their hormonal regulation and in-turn skin health.1 Lastly, a ketogenic diet focuses on consuming unprocessed foods, limiting potential skin provoking additives.

1 Can keto or low-carb diets cure acne? (n.d.). Retrieved April 15, 2018, from

2 Smith, et al. “Low-Glycemic-Load Diet Improves Symptoms in Acne Vulgaris Patients: a Randomized Controlled Trial | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 July 2007,

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.

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How a Ketogenic Diet Can Stop Sugar Addiction

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet

“Sweet is the first taste humans prefer from birth,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a dietitian and American Dietetic Association (ADA) spokeswoman.1 We have been told for some time now that sugar addiction is real and can be just as addictive as any other form of drug.2 Sugar addiction has behavioral responses similar to substance abuse and sugar addiction relies on similar neurobiological circuits (units of nervous system cells) that process information and control behavior.2  However, we also know that naturally occurring sugars (found in fruits and lactose) are necessary for the brain to maintain daily functions.3 The problem isn’t consuming natural sugars, it’s overindulging in a sugar bender. To understand sugar addiction, we must understand what a sugar craving is and why we have them, what the difference is between a natural and processed sugar, and how to eliminate sugar cravings using a ketogenic diet.

What is a sugar craving? It is a selective hunger or an intense desire to consume sugar. Typically, a sugar craving is a sign that something in your diet is lacking at that moment; it can mean that you didn’t eat the right food or consume enough calories.4 Since we know that the brain uses sugar as its main energy source, not having enough of the right calories means that the body needs to get more fuel.1 Sugar is the quickest to get energy thus signaling a sugar craving. If you try to fulfill this craving by using an artificial sweetener, the body isn’t really getting the fuel it is looking for creating the same craving as you once had before.1

Natural vs. Added Sugars. A naturally occurring sugar is one that is naturally found in food fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose). An added sugar includes any sugars or caloric sweeteners added to food and beverages prior to consumption. The FDA recognizes the following as added sugars:

  • anhydrous dextrose
  • brown sugar
  • confectioner’s powdered sugar
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • nectars (e.g., peach nectar, pear nectar)
  • pancake syrup
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose
  • sugar
  • white granulated sugar

How a Ketogenic Diet Can Help. The subconscious brain is smart and uses food for survival. Processed carbohydrates are known to cause many changes in blood glucose levels.4 When blood glucose levels drop too low, the brain triggers an intense sugar craving with the intent to get you to resupply its fuel source.4 If the body believes that sugar is the result of the craving, it sends out a feeling of reward and pleasure to continue the cycle.4 A Ketogenic Diet can be the perfect way to put an end to sugar addiction and here’s why:

  • A Ketogenic Diet limits the amount of carbohydrates consumed relieving the body of up and down glucose levels.5 When blood glucose levels rise, the body secretes the hormone insulin to lower blood sugar.5 Too much of this reaction can lead to insulin efficiency (insulin resistance). A Ketogenic Diet stabilizes blood glucose levels and improves insulin sensitivity.5
  • A Ketogenic Diet uses fat as its main source of fuel, not sugar. Fat leaves individuals feeling fuller and satisfied longer.5
  • A Ketogenic Diet contains foods that can quickly stabilize blood sugar such as cheese, nuts, seeds, and hard-boiled eggs.5
  • A Ketogenic Diet includes “Approved” sugars such as stevia, erythritol, xylitol, and swerve.5 Since consuming sugar influences brain satisfaction, sugar cravings are still possible. These Keto approved sweeteners can be used when an individual on this diet has an urge for something sweet without reaping the cost of changing blood glucose levels.

1 Fries, Wendy C. “13 Ways to Fight Sugar Cravings.” WebMD, WebMD,

2 Lennerz, B, and J K Lennerz. “Food Addiction, High-Glycemic-Index Carbohydrates, and Obesity.” Clinical Chemistry., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2018,

3 Sugar and the Brain.” Sugar and the Brain | Department of Neurobiology,

4 Sugar 101,

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.

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Ketogenic Diet improves Acid Reflex

By recent ASU nutrition student Alysia Nelson

Part of an ongoing series of articles on the Ketogenic Diet

Heartburn is so common that more than 40% of Americans experience its pains at least once a month.1 Of that, almost 95% of people with heartburn symptoms correlate the pains to specific foods.1 It is no surprise that heartburn sufferers can distinguish which foods trigger symptoms because certain foods create responses in the stomach.2 It is so common that almost every person will experience heartburn symptoms at some point in their life. But why is that?

Let’s backtrack here, what do we know about heartburn? Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the heart. However, the symptoms resemble heart attacks or heart disease thus creating its name. Heartburn is an irritation in the esophagus caused from stomach acid, which is a long muscular tube connecting your throat into your stomach.2 Where the esophagus meets the stomach, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for keeping stomach acid in the stomach.2 This valve opens and closes to allow food in and to let you belch.2 When the LES opens too often or doesn’t close tight enough, stomach acid is able to escape from the stomach and seeps into the esophagus.2 This painful, burning sensation is called heartburn.2

There are some contributing factors as to why the LES doesn’t shut all the way such as too much food in the stomach or too much pressure on the stomach often because of obesity, pregnancy, or constipation.2 There are also foods that can relax the LES such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic and onions, chocolate, coffee or caffeinated products, alcohol, and peppermint.2 If a person is experiencing heartburn or indigestion chronically, they could be diagnosed with GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease). This disease is a digestive disorder affecting the LES.2

In a study published the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) GERD patients experienced a drastic reduction in symptoms with the utilization of a low-carbohydrate diet.3 In the trial conducted obese individuals were given a diet containing less than 20 g/day of carbs and symptom severity was then monitored using the GERD Symptom Assessment Scale—Distress Subscale (GSAS-ds).3 The data conducted proved that a low-carbohydrate in obese individuals with GERD reduced esophageal acid exposure and improved symptoms of heartburn.3 In another study in the Wiley Online Library concludes that a diet high in carbohydrate intake was directly related to GERD symptoms in obese women.4 The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic formula benefited all the women in the study in regards to GERD symptoms and frequency of medication.4

What does this mean? Both studies saw a significant decrease in heartburn symptoms with the reduction of carbohydrates. In evaluating the carbohydrates of the subjects, sucrose was higher in the dietary intakes of women with GERD.4 It could be possible that sugar influences lower esophageal sphincter function.4 A ketogenic diet reduces the amount of carbohydrate intake under 20 g/day creating an optimal range for heartburn sufferers. The diet also eliminates over-consumption of many food triggers. While it is always best to consult your doctor before dietary changes, a ketogenic diet could be the right diet to treat GERD and heartburn sufferers.

1 “Statistics about Heartburn.” Florida Hospital,

2 “What Is Heartburn?” WebMD, WebMD,

3 Austin, G L, et al. “A Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet Improves Gastroesophageal Reflux and Its Symptoms.” Digestive Diseases and Sciences., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2006,

4 Pointer, S. D., et al. “Dietary Carbohydrate Intake, Insulin Resistance and Gastro‐Oesophageal Reflux Disease: a Pilot Study in European‐ and African‐American Obese Women.” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Wiley/Blackwell (10.1111), 1 Sept. 2016,

Editor’s Note: Fill Your Plate neither endorses or supports this type of diet, but encourages readers to always consult with your doctor regarding special diets. This series shares one nutrition student’s experience with the diet.

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