Can you Adapt a Keto Diet for Womens Menstrual Cycle?
Got questions about the ketogenic diet for women?
In this video, Sara Aguilar, the founder of Keto Supplements @thehealthanthropologist explains how the ketogenic diet could work for you and how, particularly for women, a cyclical low carb diet can be used to optimise your energy and mood throughout your cycle.
Key Takeaway: Eat more carbs in the week leading up to your period and during your period (Luteal and Menstrual) and eat a lower carb, higher healthy fat diet for the two weeks after your period (Follicular and Ovulation).
In this video, Sara discusses:
- The Keto Diet for Womens Menstrual Cycle.
- Is the keto diet suitable for women?
- What is ketosis?
- Why do we go into ketosis?
- Should women do a ketogenic diet? For how long?
- How can you eat, move and supplement to feel your best for each phase of your menstrual cycle.
This video was originally created as preparation content for Planet Organic’s Instagram LIVE.
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So, below, I have typed up the transcript of the video so that you can recap and read the information. how can we use a cyclical low carb/keto approach to optimise our hormones? The Keto Diet for Womens Menstrual Cycle.
When there are so many different fad diets around—one day something is a superfood, the next it’s absolutely demonised. How do you know what to eat? Here, I explain how the ketogenic diet could work for you and how, particularly for women, a cyclical low carb diet can be used to optimise your energy and mood throughout your cycle.
Is there any one diet that works for everyone?
Fad and elimination diets can have their short term benefits but as women, should we do keto long term?
Firstly, let’s look at what ketosis is. Our bodies have evolved to burn two sources of fuel: sugar from carbohydrates and ketones from fat. We are actually all born in ketosis and that is why human babies have so many rolls of fat—so that through using our own body fat stores we can survive if there is a shortage of breast milk. Ketosis is when we use fat that we have eaten, or our body fat stores as a source of energy—literally metabolising our fat cells for energy.
Ketosis can be amazing for eliminating inflammation, losing fat, increasing your energy levels, balancing hormones and alleviating PCOS (hyperlink https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(05)00373-0/fulltext) as well as healing neurological issues: from epilepsy to anxiety.
Ketosis is great for fat loss and neurological health but can have a negative hormonal impact if a woman follows a strict ketogenic diet long term. Strict keto means 80% fat, 15% protein and 5% carbs.
A strict keto diet can be a hormonal stressor and here’s why:
We evolved to go into ketosis, to use our body fat stores for energy, when there was a lack of food. Just think of our hunter gatherer ancestors; when there was a shortage of food and they needed to hunt, we would run out of glucose from our glycogen stores and switch to burning fat for fuel. Ketones fuel the brain and they are actually the preferred source of energy for the brain. when we have both ketones and glucose the brain will use ketones first. Ketones make us sharper, heightening our sense of smell, taste and hearing—enabling us to hunt better. It is incredible and you feel literally limitless. In ketosis you are never hangry, and you have a continuous, stable source of energy. However, a ketogenic diet is a fasting mimicking diet and over an extended period, signals to your body that you are living through a famine.
What does a severe carbohydrate restriction tell our hormones?
That it’s probably a really bad time to get pregnant due to the shortage of food. This can have a tremendously negative impact on your menstrual cycle and may fire your adrenals too, causing excess cortisol release (i.e. more stress reaction) which is not what you want for wellbeing or fertility. If the body is in starvation mode, our hormones will be off kilter. This can cause irregular periods and excess stress and anxiety.
So, is there a place for the ketogenic diet for women?
Yes, if strategically used and your ancestry and lifestyle are taken into account. If your ancestors are from the Northern Hemisphere where access to carbohydrates is limited to the Late Summer and Early Autumn, they would predominantly have survived on a high animal fat, low carb diet based around seafood, meats and foraged leafy greens. Whereas if you have ancestors from closer to the Equator, they would have evolved on more of a plant based, fructose rich diet from the abundance of tropical fruits and starch vegetables that were in season all year around, meaning you may do better on a higher carb diet.
For women, a shorter term, more moderated version of keto may be optimum for healthy hormone production and allowing you to intermittently benefit from both ketosis and using carbohydrates: involving a low carb diet and cycling carbs to suit your hormonal needs. This is because there are so many benefits to a low carb diet, and we are designed to use two sources of fuel, both ketones and glucose which is metabolic flexibility. Periods of being in ketosis and periods of using glucose for energy, which is the most natural way to be as it is closest to our ancestors’ metabolic flexibility.
It is highly important to get in your essential fatty acids as a lack of healthy fats is more likely to cause menstrual irregularities than a lack of carbs, as shown in this study.
So, how can we use a cyclical low carb and keto approach to optimise our hormones?
There are four stages of our menstrual cycle: In each one we produce different hormones and have correlating moods and energy levels. We can optimise our cycle by eating to promote the hormones that we do need, eating foods rich in minerals and vitamins that support our cycle as well as avoiding foods that may aggravate our symptoms, such as PMT or cramping.
The Four Phases of our cycle: How to Optimise the Keto Diet for Womens Mentstrual Cycle
Menstrual: Our Period, when we release the uteral lining. We will likely need more iron that we lose through menstruation, so it is advisable to eat more red meat and leafy green vegetables which are high in iron.
I also recommend turmeric as an anti-inflammatory compound and dark raw chocolate as a delicious way of supplementing magnesium: both of which will alleviate cramping and support relaxation.
Increased carbohydrate consumption will support hormone production for our follicular phase. Our energy levels can be low and moderate to low intensity exercise such as gentle yoga and walking are ideal. Supplement with iron, magnesium and B12 to boost energy levels and mood.
Follicular: During the follicular phase your oestrogen and FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) increase as you release follicles containing immature eggs. You want to be eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and high-quality sources of protein. As your energy levels increase you can do more intense exercises such as running or weightlifting.
Ovulation: During Ovulation an egg matures and is released into the fallopian tube and ready to be potentially fertilised. This is usually when we feel our best with the most energy, confidence and highest libido. A great for intense workouts and HIIT training. Eat a lower carb diet too so you can incorporate more healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, fatty fish and meat into your diet.
Luteal: The unfertilised egg then ruptures. This ruptured follicle stays on the surface of the ovary and becomes a corpus luteum which releases progesterone. As your progesterone rises, your energy levels dip, cravings increase, and your metabolic rate increases 30%. This is the time to listen to your body and eat higher carb, starchy vegetables such as sweet potato and butternut squash. As well as increase your antioxidant and vitamin C intake from foods such as berries and darkly pigmented fruits and vegetables to combat the ‘dulling’ effect of progesterone and to fortify your immune system.
In a nutshell: Eat more carbs in the week leading up to your period and during your period (Luteal and Menstrual) and eat a lower carb, higher healthy fat diet for the two weeks after your period (Follicular and Ovulation).
Overall, a lower carb diet is linked to reduced inflammation in the body, and we know that too much sugar is toxic in the bloodstream. Which is why I still recommend dipping in and out of ketosis so that you can get the best of both worlds. However, as shown above, being too strict on keto can be detrimental for our health too—like all fad, extreme and restrictive diets you will likely end up with deficiencies and imbalances.
I recommend reducing processed carbohydrates and processed vegetable oils that are highly inflammatory. Increase your intake of healthy fats to your diet, from fatty fish, coconut oil and avocados, as well as incorporating complex starchy carbs and allowing yourself treats as you crave them, particularly prior to, and during, your period. When we crave carbs, there is nothing wrong with us, our bodies are signalling that we need more carbohydrates, and we need to go with it. You also burn more calories on your period as your body temperature rises, increasing your metabolic rate. We are then primed for our high energy follicular phase which is perfect for intense workouts and a much lower carb intake.
I always say that everyone is an individual with different ancestry, biology and lifestyle. There is no one diet that works for everyone at all times in their life. You need to experiment with eliminating some foods and incorporating new foods to see what works for you. It is also important that when considering any diet change it is what you do every day—not on the odd occasion that counts so you can always make time for treats and flexing your diet. Diet shouldn’t be dogma—it’s about health and cultivating a healthy relationship with food, not becoming too strict.
Furthermore, sometimes how you eat is more important than what you eat as we can get so obsessed with macros and calories and forget to chew and taste the food that we are eating—mindfulness promotes health too.
Here are some of my favourite foods and supplements to balance your hormonal cycle from Planet Organic:
Phase in Cycle plus Food/Supplement: The Keto Diet for Womens Menstrual Cycle.
Menstruation Phase: Eat Plenty of Grass Fed Meat, Raw Chocolate, Turmeric and Leafy Greens
Follicular Phase: Consume Ample Protein with Alkalinising Leafy Green Vegetables
Ovulation: Increase Your Healthy Fat intake and Drop Carbohydrates
Luteal: Listen to Your Body and Eat More Starchy Carbs and Anti-Oxidant Rich Fruits
Simply put: Eat more carbs in the week leading up to your period and during your period (Luteal and Menstrual) and eat a lower carb, higher healthy fat diet for the two weeks after your period (Follicular and Ovulation).
Is there anything else you would like to know about the keto diet for womens menstrual cycle or for hormone balancing? Leave your questions and comments below…I would love to hear from you!