One of the biggest diet trends around is a low-carb or ketogenic diet. But is it all it’s cracked up to be, particularly for those of us moving through perimenopause? Let’s take a closer look at keto for women over 40 and what you need to consider.
Keto For Women Over 40
What is a ketogenic diet?
A ketogenic diet, or keto, is a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein approach to eating. The goal is to restrict dietary carbohydrates enough to switch the body’s energy system. Depending on your body’s needs and unique chemistry, you could be looking at 50, 30 or even 20g of net carbohydrates (total carbohydrates minus any fibre content) per day.
So what happens when you switch energy systems? When you’re consuming carbohydrates, glucose is the main fuel source. But when you remove these from the diet, the body is forced to create a different form of energy. This energy source is known as ‘ketones’. When ketones are your primary source of energy, you enter a state called nutritional ketosis (not to be mistaken with ketoacidosis, a rare and serious condition that can occur in those with diabetes)
Generally speaking, those on a keto diet will be omnivorous – eating both animal and plant products. Although you could follow a vegetarian or vegan keto diet, they tend to be far more restrictive and require supplements to prevent deficiencies.
Being in a state of ketosis may lead to:
- Weight loss (partly due to fluid loss)
- Reduced appetite
- Improvement in blood sugar regulation
- Improvement in blood cholesterol levels
However, it also has a host of potential downsides – and I’m not just referring to the ‘keto flu’ you might experience as your energy systems switch over!
Why I don’t recommend keto for women over 40
Now that you know what keto is all about, let’s talk about why it’s not something I recommend to my clients.
Firstly, a keto diet is restrictive by nature. You’re looking at eating 20-30g of net carbs per day, which takes a lot of ingredients off the table – including some pretty nourishing ones!
This can have a big impact on your mindset and set you up for failure. Your focus is on depriving yourself, which can turn your brain into a rebellious teenager. So as soon as there is a tempting plate of your favourite carbs at a party, you’ll end up diving in and beating yourself up for it afterwards.
Then we also need to look at keto’s impact on hormones. One reason that keto for women over 40 is a problem is the effect on the thyroid gland. Very low carb diets can impact on thyroid function, reducing thyroid hormones. Perimenopausal women are already more prone to thyroid conditions due to hormonal shifts, so a keto diet may not be ideal.
Very low carb diets can also suppress the production of leptin. Studies suggest that we need a certain level of leptin for optimal menstrual cycles. Once you add a keto diet in on top of menstrual dysregulation from perimenopause, you’ve got a recipe for severe symptoms!
There is also a lot of concern about how keto may affect the gut and microbiome long-term. As carb intake is down, fibre is often on the lower side as well. This can have significant impact on the balance of good and bad microbes found in the gut.
Is there any situation where keto for women over 40 be a good idea?
Small bursts of ketosis might not be a problem for some women. If you’ve got an event you’d like to drop some weight for within 2-4 weeks, keto might be a solution. But as with any health consideration, I’d much prefer that we get you down to your optimal weight with long-term, sustainable eating habits!
What’s the alternative?
So if you’d like all of the benefits of a ketogenic diet without having to ditch carbs or suffer through the side effects, what’s left?
For women over 40, a moderate carb diet that is high in protein and fibre may be more sustainable. It also counteracts many of the issues experienced with keto. And of course, I will always recommend eating plenty of wholefoods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants!
Want to learn more about how to drop some weight without resorting to fad diets like keto? Make sure you give this blog a read.
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Susie Garden | Clinical Nutritionist & Naturopath
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