KETO FOR WOMEN: SHOULD YOU REALLY TRY KETO?
Every woman is different. And we LOVE that. How awful would the world be if we were all the same? Because of this, we think that hyper-individualisation when it comes to diet, supplementation, mindfulness and even movement, must be considered.
For the longest time, diets and exercise advice have seemed to be very male-driven, and if it does cater to women, it doesn’t take into consideration how different our bodies are. What's more, it doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to our cycles.
Ketogenic diets are a perfect example of this. Now, let’s preface this by saying that ketogenic diets aren't inherently bad or ineffective. In fact, when it comes to cognition and supporting more serious brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) and increasing insulin sensitivity, there are several well-done studies that support these cases.
However, we want to know more, especially in regards to weight loss, the reason why keto is SO attractive to many.
How many of these studies included women? And what happened to the health of the subject post-diet? What did the subjects stress levels look like, and what kinds of fats were being consumed? Were they on the hormonal contraceptive pill at the time, and did the diet influence any change in their menstrual cycle? This also goes for all the books, blogs and social media accounts triumphing keto.
It’s all well and good losing weight, but if it also means a lost period, hormonal imbalances and further stressed out bod, you’re not selling it to us. But we’re not anti-keto, we promise. We’re just anti-everybody going keto.
WE'RE ALREADY STRESSED AF
The keto diet, from the most reductionist viewpoint, keeps carbohydrates to a minimum. Typically, this sits at around 5% of your total caloric intake for the day and 75% fat, with protein sitting at a pretty standard 20%.
When we starve the body of glucose, it turns to beta-oxidation in which it starts using fat as fuel and once we enter a state of ketosis, the liver turns fatty acids into ketone bodies via the liver. Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier and the brain loves them, hence why so many report feelings of increased focus during keto.
However, the drastic restriction of carbohydrates can become an intense stressor on the body. Of course, we don’t need nearly as many processed carbohydrates as seen in the standard western diet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy to limit or omit them completely.
This restriction can cause an increase in cortisol levels, our major stress hormone, which in turn can influence the rest of our sex hormones including our progesterone and oestrogen ratio (responsible for healthy cycles), thyroid hormone and androgenic pathways.
We really do believe that as women, our bodies are super sensitive to stress yet we seem to wear it as a badge of honour. Our diets shouldn’t be a further source of stress on top of our never-ending to-do list and external pressures to be perfect ALL the time.
At certain points in our cycle (you know, like when we bleed for a week straight), carbohydrates can be incredibly supportive and give us that extra bit of easily accessible energy.
FIBRE FOR HORMONE BALANCE
Furthermore, when we drastically cut back an entire macronutrient, we also lose the wonderful micronutrients vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals as well as the fibre that comes with carbohydrates. When depleted, these deficiencies can further amplify any underlying health issues, hormonal imbalances and are a source of internal stress.
When it does come to hormonal imbalances, fibre plays a huge role in helping to support the detoxification and excretion of oestrogen. When in excess or circulating the body in a more potent form, oestrogen dominance can result in those pesky PMS symptoms, irregular or long cycles, heavy periods, painful breasts, acne and mood swings, to name a few.
An imbalance in oestrogen plus high cortisol can influence thyroid hormone, which controls metabolism in every cell throughout the body. If messed with or if we spend too long in this state, the diet that you thought would help you lose weight, may actually cause you to gain it instead.
We need a lovely abundance of fibrous foods such as whole grains, cancerous veg, leafy greens and starchy veggies to aid in the process, which is hard to do when limited to such a small amount of carbohydrates. And whilst the absence of sugar is certainly a good way to ensure that the bad bacteria in our gut doesn't thrive, we do need fibre for a healthy gut to feed and sustain the healthy bacteria that live there too.
IS IT TOO RESTRICTIVE?
As with any diet, the ketogenic diet can be incredibly restrictive. It can require up to one week of eating high fat before you even reach the state of ketosis in which fat is your body’s preferred fuel and its very easy to fall out of. Whilst happiness looks different on everyone, we fear that this takes away the connections created over food and going out with friends if you can’t eat what you really want to.
We also need to look into the quality of fats and whether or not this is causing you to reach for unhealthier options just because they sit within the dietary norms.
At the end of the day, the healthiest way of eating is the way that you can maintain for your entire life. Not just for your physical health, but for your mental wellbeing too.
AN ALTERNATIVE APPROACH
There are a few aspects of keto that we can get behind, and even implement into our own diets. The first being this aspect of fat.
Fat is essential for healthy hormones and balanced blood sugar. The low-fat trend is (hopefully) out the door and we're witnessing much more of an appreciation for fat in our diets.
We want you to consider the quality of the fat on your plate, opting for lovely, nourishing sources of monounsaturated fats such as avocado and avocado oil, omega-3 fatty acids such as wild-caught oily fish and eggs as well as moderate amounts of saturated fats found in coconut milk, yoghurt and oil as well as grass-fed ghee.
There is also a lot that can be said for omitting sugar. Of course, have the chocolate cake at your best friends birthday or the ice cream during a Saturday night Netflix marathon, but all in all, keeping sugar to a minimum can only do wonderful things when it comes to our health.
HOW CAN YOU HEALTHILY ADAPT KETO?
- Keep processed carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and pastries to a minimum and opt for sweet potatoes and whole grains in their place.
- Include a vast amount of non-starchy veggies in every single meal.
- Keep sugar to a minimum and opt for monk-fruit or natural stevia leaf which don't influence blood sugar levels.
- Include seasonal fruit and pair with a fat source to ease the release of sugar into the blood.
- Ensure that you’re aiming for 30g of fibre every single day.
- Opt for lovely nourishing fat sources such as avocados, wild-caught fish, coconut oil, chia seeds and eggs.
- Adapt your diet around your cycle – for menstruation and ovulation, up the carbohydrates a little and focus on balancing blood sugar with lots of healthy fats during the second half of your cycle.
glow market and the content provided are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on glow market and The Scoop is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your doctor and/ or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programs.