How a Low Carb Diet Affects Women’s Health
A carb is one of three macronutrients that our bodies use for energy (the other two are protein and fat). They’re all used in the body to make the energy ‘currency’ that our cells use – ATP. All three macronutrients have various roles and each is important in within the human body.
So, why are Carbs the Bad Guy?
It turns out, carbs are the most likely macronutrient for us to overeat, causing us to gain weight and crave more. At the same time, carbs are the least likely to make us feel full or stabilize our blood sugar.
Unfortunately, many of us in our modern-day society eat more carbs than our bodies can use for fuel, so we end up storing the rest as fat. Plus, we tend to choose simple carbohydrates sources (think granola bars, cereals, chips, and breads) that give us a quick energy boost, followed by a crash a few hours later. Complex carbs do the opposite. They’re high in fiber and allow our body to slowly use the calories for energy, without a crash or overeating (since extra fiber in foods help to keep us full). These are foods like sweet potatoes, quinoa, berries, and beans or legumes.
Keto and Women’s Health
Keto is the process of using fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. This can help your body burn body fat, lose weight, stabilize blood sugar, and crave less. Sounds great, right? Well, sort of.
This typically means eating less than 50g of carbohydrates, but it often means eating less than 20g per day to get your body adjusted. While this shift of your macronutrients can work short-term wonders for your waistline, more than a couple of months on this strict plan can start to throw off your hormones. We’re talking mostly about the thyroid hormone, and the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle.
This imbalance happens because your body sees carbs as a ready-to-use fuel source, and a sign that you are not starving or under stress. Long term keto diets can signal to the body that it’s under stress, which means it wants to slow down your metabolism (thyroid) and shut off fertility (loss of ovulation or irregular cycles). Keep in mind, each body is unique and not every woman will respond this way, and not after the same period of time. However, most commonly we see these effects after several months of reducing carbohydrates below 75g per day (even if you’re eating enough calories from fat and protein).
Low-Carb vs. keto
Going on a low carb diet is not the same as going keto, and many women can see a significant improvement in their health when they reduce the amount of carbs as well improve the source of their carbs. The average woman eats about 150-200g of carbs per day on a standard North American diet. This would look like cereal for breakfast, granola bars, yogurt and fruit for snacks, sandwich for lunch, and a protein, starch, veggie for dinner. By simply reducing the total carbohydrates in half, we are left with an effective low-carb (not keto) diet, without risking our hormonal health.
If you’ve been thinking of trying to lower your carbs or even jumping into a keto-based diet, be sure to get some expert advice first. Boosting your fat content too quickly can hurt your digestion, while reducing carbs too much without the proper balance can cause adrenal issues (energy, recovery, midsection weight loss). Speak with your naturopathic doctor or holistic nutritionist about getting started the right way for your body.
Have you tried low-carb or keto diets? Let us know how it went for you in the comments below!
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.