Everybody’s talking about the ketogenic diet as if it’s the latest, greatest weight-loss plan. But did you know that this high-fat, low-carb diet was first introduced in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy? Several Brain Warriors* have asked me about the keto diet and if it is good—or even safe—for weight loss, brain health, and overall health. I have to caution you that the keto diet is not right for everybody, and women need to be especially careful.
The keto diet restricts carb intake in order to trigger ketosis, a metabolic state that causes your body to switch from burning carbs for energy to burning fat for fuel. The high fat intake also increases satiety, so people tend to eat fewer calories. The idea of burning more fat to get leaner along with reduced calorie intake sounds like a great combo, but there’s a catch. For some people, the keto diet can backfire.
The Dark Side of Keto
Good-bye, good gut bacteria: The keto diet can have a negative effect on gut bacteria, which is known as the microbiome. The beneficial bacteria in our gut depend on a regular supply of fiber-rich foods for their sustenance. When you eat a low-fiber diet, as is recommended on the traditional keto diet, you deprive your good gut bacteria of food, and they die off. This can lead to an imbalance in gut bacteria that can contribute to difficulty in losing weight for some people. In addition, we need those beneficial bugs to thrive as they help us with so many things, including controlling hunger, producing vitamins, and synthesizing neurotransmitters for brain health.
Hello, hormonal hell: It’s important to understand that the vast majority of studies on keto have been performed on men—and a lot of lab rats—so there are still some question marks about how it affects women. What we do know is that what you eat can greatly influence your hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, and keto may throw your hormonal system off balance. When your hormones are out of whack, it can mess with neurotransmitter production and lead to symptoms like anxiety, sadness, moodiness, and irritability.
Sliding into starvation mode: Women’s bodies are more sensitive to calorie restriction, and if you consciously cut down on calories in addition to switching to keto foods, it can cause your body to go into starvation mode. This can make your body start holding on to fat rather than burning it.
Think about your thyroid: As someone who has survived thyroid cancer (three times!), I am extremely careful about how the foods I eat might affect thyroid function. The research on keto and the thyroid is mixed, but some studies suggest the popular high-fat, low-carb diet may interfere with healthy thyroid function. People with an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) may want to take this into consideration before diving into a keto diet.
A Smart Diet for Brain & Body Health
Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet with adequate protein, healthy fats, and healthy complex carbohydrates (primarily from vegetables), such as the one The Omni Diet* proposes, is one of the most well-researched diets to prevent and reverse many health conditions. It provides the brain—as well as your microbiome, hormones, and thyroid—with the nutrients needed for optimal functioning. When all of these systems are working in your favor, you can make better decisions, feel more energetic, have better moods, and cut down on cravings.
If you’re still having trouble with weight loss, concentrate on moving more often throughout the day (preferably getting a good sweat sesh on a daily basis), drinking adequate amounts of water, avoiding environmental toxins (pesticides, harsh chemicals, cleaning products, and plastics), and slowing down your meals to take 15-20 minutes to complete. That’s a recipe for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight!
Share your weight-loss story on my Facebook page so other Warriors can learn from your success. If you’re concerned about gut health, ProBrainBiotics* offer advanced support for gut bacteria and brain health. Want 21% off? Use the promo code TANA21.