The keto diet has been taking the world by storm lately. But is it actually the right diet for you? Is the ketogenic diet truly healthy? And what does keto do to women’s hormones? Here’s what the latest scientific research and our Nutrition Experts have to say about keto.
Jump ahead to
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet is a very low carbohydrate, high fat, and moderate protein eating approach. Carbs are usually restricted to less than 50g/day and fat makes up the bulk of daily calorie intake.
In practice, this means that foods like nuts, avocado, meat, fatty fish, eggs, cream, and butter feature frequently, while fruit, starchy veggies, and whole grains are heavily restricted.
The ketogenic diet is built on the idea that when carbohydrates are depleted, fat becomes the predominant fuel, and ketone production increases to fuel the brain and other tissues. Weight loss on a ketogenic diet can be rapid because water is lost as carbohydrate stores are depleted.
Does the ketogenic diet actually work?
The ketogenic diet has long been used as a treatment for severe epilepsy in children, but a growing body of evidence suggests that it may be useful for other groups.
In particular, keto eating appears to be beneficial for weight loss, blood sugar reduction, and cholesterol control in those who are obese and/or have type II diabetes.
Furthermore, following a ketogenic diet appears to reduce sleep disturbances, improve female sexual function, and reduce food and alcohol cravings.
What are the effects of the ketogenic diet?
Ketogenic eating is one of the more restrictive dietary approaches, and has a number of side effects.
It tends to be low in fiber and calcium, which can lead to constipation, and issues with bone health over time.
Dehydration can also be a problem on a ketogenic diet since ketones increase urine production, and water is lost as carbohydrate stores are depleted.
Some people on a ketogenic diet also report low energy levels, especially when in engaging in high intensity exercise. If you’re particularly active, keto might not be right for you.
Most of the studies to-date have evaluated the short-term effects of ketogenic eating, and little is known about the long-term health effects. Adhering to a ketogenic diet long-term may increase your risk of fatty liver and/or kidney stones, as well as other chronic conditions.
How do I maximize weight loss on keto?
In order to reap the benefits of keto, you must pay very special attention to how you implement the diet. This can be tricky, and many women actually find themselves gaining weight after being on the keto diet for a while.
The biggest reason people fail to lose weight on the keto diet is because they are still consuming too many carbs. On the ketogenic diet, only about 5% of your total calories should come from carbs. If you don’t achieve this consistently, your body won’t be able to go into a state of ketosis, where your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.
Another tip for maximizing weight loss on keto is to reduce consumption of processed, convenience-type foods as much as you can. Processed foods like snack bars, fast food, and hot dogs are nutrient-poor. They’re low in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but high in empty calories. Instead, stick to meals that contain fresh, whole ingredients.
You should also pay attention to your portion sizes and increase physical activity, in order to create the calorie deficit required to shed pounds.
Stress and lack of sleep can also slow down weight loss, so make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye every night and pick a few stress-relieving methods to help you stay calm and relaxed.
Women’s hormones and the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet has been suggested as a strategy for managing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition characterized by ovarian cysts and metabolic issues such as weight gain, high insulin levels, elevated blood glucose, irregular menstrual cycles, and subfertility.
The underlying pathophysiology behind PCOS is still being investigated. However, elevated insulin levels are thought to increase ovarian androgen production and throw off other hormones which affect menstrual cycles and fertility.
The ketogenic diet has been shown to lower insulin levels in some populations, and is therefore proposed as a solution for addressing hyperinsulinemia in women with PCOS.
A small pilot study investigating the effect of keto on overweight women with PCOS showed that a very low carbohydrate diet was effective for improving weight loss, insulin reduction, and rebalancing female hormones.
However, we still have much to learn about whether or not the ketogenic diet is a sustainable and useful eating approach for this population.
A ketogenic diet may affect your period
Some women that follow the keto diet report that their cycle becomes irregular or even stops altogether (a phenomenon known as amenorrhea). In fact, one study found that 45% of female participants that adopted a ketogenic diet reported menstrual dysfunction.
This may be because the drastic weight loss many experience on a keto diet can cause cycle irregularities to develop.
This is because when weight drops significantly, so do estrogen levels, which is the hormone responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle.
If you normally have a regular cycle but suddenly develop irregularities while on keto that lasts more than three to six months, we recommend you consult with your doctor. You may need to increase your calorie intake to get your period back to normal.
On the other hand, a ketogenic diet can actually bring a regular period back to those that are overweight. As weight gain can lead to disruption in ovulation, going ketogenic (and the weight loss that accompanies it) can help overweight women regain a regular cycle.
Related reading: What vitamins should I take for period pain?
What are the best vitamins for ketogenic diets?
Omega-3 fatty acids can be especially beneficial for people on ketogenic diets, as they can help maintain a healthy omega-3 to omega-6 ratio when following a diet high in fat.
Ketogenic diets are very limited in fermented dairy and fiber which may impact digestion and microbial health. It is therefore advisable to supplement with a powerful Probiotic while following this diet.
Most magnesium-rich foods are also high in carbs, like fruits and beans. As a result, those following a keto diet may need to take a daily Magnesium supplement to keep themselves from getting a Magnesium deficiency.
If weight loss is your goal, consider adding CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, to your daily regimen. CLA is still being studied, but early research indicates that it alters body composition by reducing fat mass and increasing muscle mass.
Our 2-in-1 CLA formula contains caffeine which stimulates the nervous system, boosts metabolism, and enhances workout output.
Related reading: How CLA helped me lose 22 pounds
The bottom line
The ketogenic diet may be helpful for certain groups such as type II diabetics, those who are obese, and women with PCOS.
That said, it’s a highly restrictive eating approach, and not right for everyone.
Specifically, keto is not recommended for athletes or highly active individuals, people who are underweight, women with amenorrhea, type I diabetics, and various other groups. For these people, keto can be detrimental not only in day-to-day performance, but also endanger their health.
Curious to try the keto diet? Just like with any restricted diet, it’s important to have the right vitamins to fill the nutritional gaps in your diet. We strongly recommend you work with both your doctor and a nutritionist to ensure your diet is right for your unique health needs.
Take our 5-minute consultation quiz to discover your personalized vitamin mix. Our team of Nutrition Experts are always on hand to support you and answer any questions throughout your journey.