Last week, we talked about a few foods that can help with hormone dysfunction. But with so many diet fads popping up in your newsfeed, it is hard to wonder if one of the fads would be beneficial. Here are four popular diets and the potential effects they may have on your hormonal health.
1. Ketogenic Diet
This low-carb plan is intended to put your body into ketosis, which occurs when you restrict glucose and start burning fat as a fuel source. Used medically for children with epilepsy and some oncology patients, this diet breaks down to about 80%-85% fat, 10% protein, and only 5%-10% carbs. While studies suggest that the diet may have health-promoting potential, the protocol restricts carbs so severely that most experts recommend doing it only with medical supervision. No one, whether you wrestle with hormone imbalances or not, should undertake a ketogenic diet lightly or without trusted medical support.
Potential upside: You may lose weight. People who follow a ketogenic diet tend to feel full for a long time after each meal (because fat is so satiating) and this can lead to eating fewer calories overall. It also means most junk food is ditched from your diet because almost all packaged foods have more than the allowed limit of net carbs.
Hormonal downside: You may stress yourself out even more. Some studies suggest that Keto may negatively affect T3 production. The thyroid is one of the master glands of the endocrine system and for optimal hormone health women need optimal thyroid health. The very low number of carbs can put stress on the adrenal system, slowing T3 production. Also, adrenal fatigue is, by definition, a hormone imbalance.
2. Raw Vegan
Eating an abundance of rainbow colored vegetables and fruits, whether cooked or raw, is a major win for health and hormone balance. But a true raw diet consists only of plant-based foods that haven’t been heated over 104°F -118°F. The diet also dictates that nothing you eat is pasteurized, refined, or processed. Advocates of raw veganism believe cooking food destroys important enzymes and reduces their nutritional content.
Potential upside: You fill up on natural nutrients. Raw fruits and vegetables have more fiber. Also, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C aren’t cooked out of your lunch, leading to better absorption. An abundance of organic, phytonutrient-rich foods can improve digestion, enhance heart health, reduce inflammation, support cellular health, and have anti-aging benefits.
Hormonal downside: You miss out of some vital vitamins and minerals. Many vegans develop iron anemia as the best sources of absorbable iron are from animal sources. Some studies have linked strict raw food diet to amenorrhea because of this. Also, we normally cook out the natural phytic acid in vegetables, which blocks the absorption of vitamins and minerals. We normally add fats to cooked vegetables, which we need to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins D, A, K, and E. On top of this, your gut microbiome may be out of whack due to hormonal imbalance or synthetic birth control, which will also inhibit absorption of these important nutrients in raw foods. Nutrient deficiencies can compromise your entire hormonal system and show up as a host of symptoms, from missing periods to mood issues to weight gain.
This diet started with the discovery or Celiac disease. Relative to the Paleo diet, Grain-free cuts out all grasses: wheat, barley, rye, rice, corn, spelt, amaranth, millet, oats, bulger, and buckwheat. This diet allows carbs in the form of quinoa, beans and legumes, potatoes, and root vegetables.
Potential upside: You may lose weight. Since you cut all grains and replace them with healthy fats, proteins, and complex, phytonutrient-rich carbs, you may lose weight in the short-term. Some people also report a reduction in brain fog and general well-being due to the cut processed trigger foods.
Hormonal downside: You may experience emotional turmoil. Your body uses carbs to make serotonin, a feel-good hormone. Without it, you’ll initially get mood swings and more frequent drops in blood sugar. This can make you vulnerable to moments of binging carbs, which can lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. This turbulence in blood sugar and insulin can interfere with ovulation and wreak havoc on metabolism and fat loss.
4. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
Intermittent fasting is going for short or intermediate periods of time without food. This “not eating” window can be as short as 12 hours and include sleep time, or as long as 16 or 24 hours. Some people try to go 12 or more hours without eating every day. Others try to go 12 or 16 hours without food a couple days a week. Some people don’t eat for a full 24 hours one day each week.
Potential upside: Your body learns to depend on itself. Without the frequent blood sugar spikes from food, your body adjusts the amount of insulin from the pancreas. This keeps your blood sugar stable, which can help your adrenals and thyroid rest. The stabilization of digestive leptin and ghrelin can help you regulate your appetite and moods. Because of this, studies suggest that intermittent fasting may promote weight loss.
Hormonal downside: Your hormones may retaliate. Without the proper amount of nutrients, you put even more stress on the body as it tries to hold onto the nutrients you’ve already eaten. This will increase cortisol and decrease estrogen. Less estrogen may lead to decreased bone mass, infertility, thyroid dysfunction, and weight gain. If you notice a difference in your period, experience dryer skin or insomnia, or experience dark colored urine, you are cutting too much too quickly. Stop your diet immediately and be sure to schedule a consultation with a Registered Dietitian and/or doctor.
Bottom Line: These diet trends are new and fun to try. However, everyone has different hormone levels each part of each day. If you struggle with any hormone-related symptoms, including weight loss resistance, severe PMS, irregular or heavy periods, PCOS, fibroids, hormonal acne, or impaired fertility, it’s imperative that you see an endocrinologist and find the best course of action. It is also important to read your body before you jump on the next diet trend bandwagon.
Jacqueline Corbett, MS RD LD
Women's Health & Fitness Specialist.