Keto Diet for Women: The Comprehensive Guide
The ketogenic diet has gained popularity in health circles because of its weight loss benefits, but many of the studies done into keto have been focused on males and lab rats. What about women? Do the same health benefits that apply to men apply to women who choose to adopt a high-fat, low-carbohydrate eating pattern?
Let’s go over the science behind the diet to decipher the health benefits and pitfalls of the keto diet for women, plus cover some simple tips to make sure you start the keto diet off on the right foot.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The keto diet focuses on consuming a diet high in fat, with moderate protein, and low total carbohydrates. It emphasizes fats of all varieties – like those found in coconut oil, avocado, lard, butter, nuts, and olives – and eschews carbohydrates from nearly all sources, including grains, fruit, and legumes.
The goal of eating keto is to get the body into ketosis, which is the state in which the body metabolizes fat for energy. Typically, carbohydrates are our main source of energy; so by significantly reducing carbs, the body shifts to break down stored and ingested fat into ketones. These ketones become the primary source of fuel throughout the body.
Once ketosis is in effect, your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for energy, blood sugar and insulin levels become more optimal, and mental acuity is increased.
Foods You Can and Can’t Eat on the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is one of the more restrictive diets out there, so it’s important to have a good grasp of what foods you can and cannot eat. Here is a brief list that you will need to know
- Animal proteins, like beef, pork, bacon, chicken, turkey, and fatty fish
- Eggs and dairy foods, like milk, cream, butter, and cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
- Low-carb plant foods, like avocado, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and fresh herbs
- Grain foods (including whole-grain or refined) such as baked goods, cereals, rice, quinoa, and pasta
- Beans and legumes
- Fruit, except for small portions of low-sugar berries or citrus
- Root vegetables, tubers, and high-carb vegetables, like potatoes and carrots
- Sugars and sweet foods, including soda, juice, ice cream, and candy
- Sweeteners, including honey, maple syrup, and agave
- Refined and hydrogenated oils
If the above list seems daunting, you’re not alone. Keto is notoriously one of the more restrictive and strict diets to follow. To make the transition easier, a keto diet meal planning service may be a great choice to make sure you’re getting balanced nutrition while on the diet.
Keto Diet for Women vs Men
The way women’s bodies react to the keto diet is vastly different from how men’s bodies work with the diet, and this is due to a few important biological differences.
Female sex hormones like estrogren and progesterone play an integral role in the regulation and functioning of the female body. Studies in mice have shown that when fat is increased in the diet, this can wreak havoc on hormone balance, increasing estrogen levels. Increased estrogen supresses the thyroid, which is a control center for weight management, energy levels, sex drive, concentration, and mood. Weight gain is also one of the most common effects of having imparied thyroid function.
It feels awkward to talk about periods, but let’s be real: they affect 50% of the human population, so let’s cut to the chase! Premenstrual Syndrome (or PMS) affects many women and a common symptom is food cravings. Often these cravings are for carb-rich foods like bread and sweets; so if you’re on the keto diet, this can cause a major dilemma and challenge to stick to the diet. The fact that your month may also be affected by bloating, headaches, and fatigue makes sticking to a strict diet that much more cumbersome. Males on the other hand, are free from these regular hormone fluctuations caused by periods, so it’s comparatively easier for them to stick to the regimine.
Effects of Low Carb on the Female Body
While carbs are a big no-no on the ketogenic diet, they actually hold a lot of nutritional value in the form of essential vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients; many of which are essential to female health. Cutting carbs drastically can also increase the stress hormone, cortisol. Higher levels of cortisol are linked to negative health outcomes, like inflammation, blood sugar spikes, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
Regardless of gender, it’s always vital to weigh up the pros and cons of a new eating pattern, and starting the ketogenic diet is no exception.
Benefits of the Keto Diet for Women
The benefits of the keto diet can be plentiful for women, and when done correctly, a low carbohydrate, high fat pattern of eating can have positive effects on women’s overall health.
A recent meta-analysis showed significant positive improvements in fertility after participants went on a low carbohydrate diet. While the results are promising, it’s still a new area of research, so more studies need to be done to address how a high fat diet specifically plays into fertility in women.
Improved Energy and Mood
Once you are in ketosis, ketones provide a great fuel source for your brain which may increase your overall brain functionality. This is supported by studies that suggest a low carbohydrate ketogenic diet may help improve energy, cognition, and mood.
Women’s bodies have a higher percentage of fat due to our natural makeup, hormones, and reproductive needs. Fat is essential in the regulation of the menstrual cycle, and having enough fat is important for maintaining a healthy period cycle. But for overweight or obese women (and men), body fat can be linked to a slew of negative health outcomes, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The ketogenic diet uses body fat for fuel, and has been shown to be extremely beneficial for weight loss (including fat loss!). Since women are more likely to have more body fat, this provides a great foundation for keto-diet-based weight loss, which is driven by fat metabolism.
Many people report to have a decreased appetite while on the ketogenic diet, but the jury is still out as to why this happens. It may be due to increased fat in the diet, which fills you up with its high calorie ratio (fat has 9 calories per gram, versus 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein). A study also showed that the ketogenic diet affects hunger hormones, causing a reduction in hunger.
Tips and Tricks for Doing Keto Right
You’ve weighed up the pros and cons, and you’re now interested in trying keto! Here are simple tips to start your keto diet journey on the right foot.
Limit Your Carbs Slowly
Jumping into the keto diet too quickly and rapidly depriving your body of carbohydrates can lead to the infamous “keto flu”. This is where keto beginners experience flu-like symptoms as the body adapts to a diet with much less carbohydrates. To reduce the chances of falling ill, stay hydrated, don’t over do it on exercise, get adequate sleep, and make sure you’re consuming enough food (within the boundaries of the diet).
If you were previously eating with no restrictions, starting keto can be a difficult transition due to the restrictions. Our tip: be prepared! Research the diet in-depth, learn about the foods you can and cannot eat, and make a plan of action for your first few weeks. Ask yourself: What am I going to eat? Do I have the right foods in my kitchen? What am I going to snack on when I get a craving? If it’s overwhelming, it may be a smart time to invest in a meal planning service to give you a leg up with preparing.
Create a Custom Meal Plan
Eating out can be difficult on the ketogenic diet, so cooking your meals at home is essential to success. It can be helpful to make a meal plan for all your meals and snacks to make sure you’re meeting your nutritional needs, while also staying within the macronutrient boundaries of the diet. If creating this plan from scratch seems daunting, there are services which do the research for you - try out this personalization quiz to make your custom keto meal plan.
Understand Your Body and Listen to How You Feel
As much as you read and research, the fact is that everyone’s keto experience will be different. The transition may be easy and you may quickly feel results from the dietary changes… or you may struggle with new foods and get hit with the keto flu. The person who knows your body best is you, so listen to the feedback it’s giving you. If you’re feeling below your usual standard, consult with your doctor or a registered dietitian. They can help you navigate the transition and make sure you are safely adopting the diet.
Is a Keto Meal Plan Right for You?
We have covered a vast array of benefits with the ketogenic diet, and dug into some of the potential risks specifically for women. It’s important to weigh up these factors when choosing to start a new diet, and for women, it’s particularly vital to keep tabs on your health so you don’t mess up your hormones and reproductive health. Make sure you are taking into account your activity level, fertility goals (if any), and any pre-existing health conditions; and always consult with a health professional before making any big dietary or lifestyle changes. Once you’ve committed to a keto change, planning is key and a meal planning service is a small but worthy investment to make your transition as smooth as possible.