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
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.
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!
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