The low-carb lifestyle may not be for everyone, but I encourage you to do some research and see if perhaps reducing your sugar and carbohydrate intake would improve your overall health and livelihood.
For me, I feel better in so many ways when I stay away from sugar especially. However, I didn’t realize the effect carbohydrates in general had on my system until I cut them out for weeks at a time.
A Journey to Healing with a Low-Carb Diet
Similar to an elimination diet, I decided to test a theory. I wanted to stop taking the plethora of pharmaceuticals I had been on since getting out of the Army over a decade ago. Reading up on alternative treatments for migraines, insomnia, and pain management I found that the Ketogenic or Gluten-Free diets were common recommendations. Studies have shown that eliminating sugars from the diet reduced migraines and inflammation. Inflammation often aggravates sleep disorders and pain issues as well as other ailments. I figured it was worth giving it a try.
Bonus – I needed to lose some weight anyway. And no, I was not berating myself for gaining a few innocuous pounds. I was legitimately 30+ lbs over any notion of a “healthy weight” by the time I was approaching 40. Surprisingly, this was not something my primary care doc ever brought up. I knew I was overweight, so she didn’t need to mention it, but she could have voiced some friendly concern. The medical field has become overly cautious of being honest with women about our weight. Treading carefully to not offend, they seem to rarely mention the fact that we are overweight even when we truly are in dangerous territory medically speaking.
So for me, trying the low-carb diet held the promise of several healthy benefits. Not just for losing the excess weight, but in hopes that it would improve my other issues as well. Aside from the weight loss typical of being on a low-carb diet, like Keto, there are several other lesser known benefits!
In case you aren’t interested in weight loss, here are 5 of my favorite “bonus effects” of the low carb lifestyle:
Glowing Happy Skin!
“When you lower inflammation in the body, you can see this in your skin as feeling more radiant, less red, and less congested.”– Jennifer Gordon, MD, a dermatologist in Austin, Texas
For many, just 2 weeks on a keto or low-carb diet seems to make our skin glow. There are a few reasons for the dramatic improvement in our skin, but the benefits are more than just on the surface. When eating a low carb high fat diet, you are adding more healthy fats like avocados and coconut oils and adding restorative collagen and proteins. This boosts your skin’s elasticity, repairs environmental damage, and helps hold in moisture. Another skin boosting element of Keto is that you are eliminating the simple carbs, thus reducing your body’s overall inflammation. Inflammation can lead to acne breakouts, rosacea, and overall irritated skin. Cutting out these inflammation-inducing sugars results in clearer happier skin!
Almost any time you make big changes to your diet you may experience worse sleep patterns while your body and mind adjust to the new “normal”. The first week or so of Keto was like that for me. It seemed my insomnia increased and quality of the sleep I did get decreased. Mind you, I was cranky and had the horrible “keto flu” and sugar-withdrawl headaches pretty bad those first few days. However, now that my body has adjusted to using fat for fuel my sleep has also adjusted. I would say I sleep like a baby now, but we all know babies don’t actually sleep very well at all.
In a diet fueled by carbs, our bodies use glucose and L-tryptophan to produce serotonin which converts into melatonin, the sleep hormone. Since we are not getting sugars and carbohydrates, our body does not produce glucose. The brain has to learn to create serotonin in different ways, and eventually adjusts and melatonin levels are able to return to normal. Most people report deeper and more restorative sleep after a few weeks of this process.
Less Hunger and Cravings
Low-carb and keto diets train your body to use food more efficiently, and you are eating (or drinking) readily available and long lasting foods. A bagel and schmear is great, but it burns up quickly and once those carbs are converted to glucose your body craves more and more. With MCTs and healthy fats and proteins your body is able to slow burn for hours instead of minutes. The ketogenic diet also reduces ghrelin levels, one of the main hunger hormones, which causes you to eat less calories overall.
Once your body is weaned off of sugar as it’s main fuel source, it starts to adapt to healthier longer lasting nutrition. Having my morning coffee is still just as blissful, but now I use an MCT coffee creamer like this one from Bean Envy. Adding MCT oil and grass-fed butter or collagen turns coffee into a meal almost. I am genuinely satisfied and not hungry even as lunch time approaches.
Improved Mood and Brain Function
With improved sleep comes improved mood and overall brain function as well. But getting more sleep isn’t the only reason the brain functions better. The brain is a fatty organ, and when ‘fed’ healthy fats like MCT oil the brain will produce more mitochondria – the powerhouses of the cells. Simply put, the more mitochondria the better the cells are able to function. Your brain is able to perform at peak levels when fueled properly.
Lower sugar levels also keep your insulin from spiking up and down throughout the day. I remember the days of “that 2:30 feeling” that would result in reaching for a quick fix like a soda or sugar-laden Frappe to give me a mid-afternoon pick up. Then the sugar crash would lead to being anxious and miserable until I could get more. Sound a little like an addict? That’s because I was.
Instead of sugars, when I am fueled with healthy fats and protein my overall mood is more stable. I have less uncomfortable peaks and valleys during the day, so I am able to focus better and keep the brain fog at bay.
Less Frequent Migraines – My Favorite Low-Carb Bonus!
And finally, one of the best benefits for me personally from cutting sugar out of my diet is the effect it has had on my migraines. At one point, my migraines were bad enough I had to be medically discharged from the military for them. They were debilitating, some times for days at a time. Later we found a more helpful medical protocol, but that meant taking multiple pills every day to prevent attacks.
Being able to control my headaches through diet instead has been a God-send. I still have the occasional migraine, but they are much less frequent. Now they are controlled by taking just 1 of the 4 medications I was taking. Which is a huge improvement since I also do not have to deal with all the associated side effects. Between eating low-carb, taking CBD oil daily, and adding a magnesium supplement my migraines are few and far between.
There are several case reports showing the potential for ketosis to protect against migraine. In one study, the ketogenic diet resulted in up to an 80% reduction in migraine frequency, severity and use of medication in 96 migraine patients .– Ketones and Migraines, Ketonutrition: From Science to Application
The ketogenic diet positively effects many aspects of the body and brain. This in turn helps to reduce the imbalances and inflammation that can cause migraines. Ketones in the brain are a better fuel source, helping reduce the problems associated with insulin resistance and glucose metabolism that can trigger migraines. The gut microbiome also has a large correlation to migraine frequency and intensity. A well formulated low-carb diet may help alter the gut in ways that improves overall gut health and bio availability of nutrients.
Initially, you may feel worse on a low-carb diet
Beware that the first week or so of converting to a low-carb diet will likely INCREASE headaches. This is just part of your body adjusting (or fighting you) while learning to use fat and ketones for energy, rather than sugars. It’s an adjustment, but your body will get there.
Along with the headaches, many people also experience a “keto-flu” during the first few days. Common symptoms are muscle cramps, fatigue, and an overall malaise. Symptoms can be severe enough to cause dizziness, nausea, or feeling faint. I quit the first few times because the keto flu was so bad.
However, I found that this is easily managed with a few simple hacks. With some determination you can get you through the rough patches with little issue. Now, when I am going into ketosis (the metabolic change over from carbohydrates to ketones) I barely notice any discomfort.
So if you are starting the keto jouney, have these on hand and ready to go:
- Water, Water, Water! (and some more water)
- Electrolytes – Himalayan Pink Salt, Magnesium, and Potassium
- MCT Oil
- “Fat Bombs” or almond butter packets
Keeping these handy and adding them to your foods will help keep your brain happy and flu symptoms at bay.
Do Your Own Research
Keto / Low Carb diets have also been found to be helpful in treating some pretty serious medical conditions. If you or a family member is dealing with medical issues like the ones below, maybe some dietary changes could help.
Health Conditions That May Benefit From a Ketogenic Diet:
- Fighting some types of cancer
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Glycogen Storage Disease
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
So much is relatively unknown today about our bodies and how things actually work. We just recently realized the gut is the “2nd brain” in terms of how our nutrition is absorbed and utilized in the body. There are as many neurotransmitters in your intestines as there are in your actual brain. It makes sense food has a more significant effect on our body and mental health than we previously understood.
Do some research, carefully and safely test some diet changes for yourself, and find what works for you!
The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.– Adam Hadhazy, Think Twice: How the Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well-Being