Keto for Women: The Free Complete Guide

With any diet, the primary consideration should be how one’s body reacts to the changes, and men and women react differently, especially with the keto diet.

In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss everything you need to know about how keto works for women, including factors that affect keto, how to combat them, benefits, supplement recommendations, and keto and menopause.

Key Takeaways:

  • The keto diet works differently for men and women, but both genders benefit from it.
  • The keto diet offers weight loss, stable energy, reduced inflammation, improved hormonal levels, metabolic health, cognitive health, and reduced cravings among women.
  • Rapid weight loss may cause estrogen levels to drop, so gradually cutting carbohydrates is necessary.
  • Resistance training and supplementation may be needed to support women’s overall health.
  • Recommended supplements include electrolytes, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin A, vitamin D, and MCT oil.
  • The keto diet is also beneficial for women in their menopausal years. It increases estrogen levels, retains muscle mass, and prevents cognitive decline.

Table of Contents:

Does Keto Work the Same for Men and Women?

Keto works differently for men and women and often works faster for men, mainly due to the different hormones in women. Metabolically, men tend to have a higher basal metabolic rate and more muscle mass, which can influence the time to enter and maintain ketosis.

Women, on the other hand, may experience variations in hormonal levels that can impact their response to keto. Here are a few challenges women face that may affect how keto works for them:

Hormone Differences

Hormones play a pivotal role in the effectiveness of the ketogenic diet, and women experience hormonal fluctuations across their reproductive lifespan.

For instance, the menstrual cycle involves changes in estrogen and progesterone,1 which can influence metabolism and energy expenditure.

Here’s how it’s somehow complicated for females: keto is an effective way to manage weight among females. However, rapid weight loss also leads to a drop in estrogen,2 which may cause irregularities in your menstruation cycles, which we will cover how to fix later.

Menstruation Challenges

The potential impact on the menstrual cycle on the keto diet may be related to changes in energy availability,3 stress hormones, and alterations in the delicate balance of reproductive hormones.

Moreover, menstruation often comes with cravings, which are mostly non-keto-friendly. However, there are approaches to these challenges, and for some, the benefits of keto may outweigh any temporary menstrual changes.

Menopause

Menopause4 is a significant life stage characterized by a decline in estrogen and progesterone. The ketogenic diet may offer potential benefits during this transition by addressing symptoms such as weight gain, mood swings, and hot flashes.

Some women report improved energy levels and mental clarity on keto during menopause thanks to the high-fat diet that stimulates estrogen production.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Pregnancy and breastfeeding bring unique nutritional requirements, and the ketogenic diet may not be the best option for people under this category.

However, there can be particular variations of keto diets for pregnancy, such as a flexible low-carb approach.

This way, pregnant and breastfeeding women can prioritize a well-balanced diet5 that ensures the essential nutrients for fetal and infant development.

Different Nutritional Requirements

Women often have different nutritional requirements than men due to menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and lactation.

The ketogenic diet should be adapted to meet these specific needs, ensuring an adequate intake of micronutrients, including iron, calcium, and folate.

Moreover, women have a different eating pattern than men: women consider eating a social activity, while men consider it a physical need.

Benefits of Keto for Women

keto for women

Weight Loss

Scientific studies suggest that the ketogenic diet’s induction of ketosis leads to increased fat oxidation.6 By shifting the body into a state of ketosis, where it primarily burns fat for fuel, women may notice accelerated fat loss.7

This can be particularly beneficial for those seeking sustainable weight management strategies. However, if you’re someone with a normal weight, you might need to go slow into ketosis to avoid crashing your estrogen levels.

Stable Energy

Research indicates that the stable and sustained energy levels experienced on a ketogenic diet are linked to the efficient and consistent availability of ketones8 as an energy substrate.

By relying on ketones as a primary energy source, women can experience fewer energy fluctuations throughout the day, avoiding the highs and lows associated with carb-heavy diets.

Reduced Inflammation

Women are more prone to developing inflammatory diseases than men. Chronic inflammation9 is implicated in various health issues, including autoimmune disorders.10

Numerous studies suggest that the ketogenic diet may exert anti-inflammatory effects.11 The reduction in inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), indicates its potential to mitigate chronic inflammation and benefit women dealing with inflammatory conditions.

Improved Hormonal Levels

The ketogenic diet may contribute to hormonal balance by stabilizing insulin levels and influencing other hormone-regulating pathways. One specific population of women who benefit from keto is those with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).12

Studies reveal that the keto diet increases levels of circulating sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG),13 which in turn, improves metabolic and ovulatory dysfunction in women with PCOS.

The low-carb intake during the keto diet also reduces ovarian androgen production, which means a lesser appearance of acne, hirsutism, and scalp hair loss. Moreover, studies also noted reduced LH/FSH ratio and serum free testosterone13 levels.

Enhance Metabolic Health

Keto can enhance metabolic health by improving insulin sensitivity,14 blood pressure,15 blood glucose regulation,16 triglyceride levels, and HDL cholesterol levels.17

The results show that the keto diet can potentially lower the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases, owing to the elimination of simple and refined sugar and a supply of healthy fats. 

Reduced Hunger and Cravings

The ketogenic diet’s impact on appetite regulation is noteworthy. By inducing a state of ketosis, women often experience reduced hunger and cravings, which can be advantageous for weight management and overall adherence to a healthy lifestyle.

This benefit is true even for women with ovarian and endometrial cancer,18 as in this 2018 study, where results show that keto does not negatively affect the quality of life and may improve physical function, increase energy, and diminish specific food cravings.

Improved Cognitive Health

Ketones, produced during ketosis, are not only a fuel source for the body but also for the brain.19 Some women report improved cognitive function, clarity, and mental focus while following a ketogenic diet. This may be attributed to the brain’s efficient utilization of ketones as an energy substrate.

An example of this benefit is the improved cognitive function in a patient with Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease20 with seizures after starting with the keto diet, restoring her cognitive function over 6 weeks and overall improved quality of life.

Risks of Keto for Women

Reduced Calorie Intake

One potential risk associated with the ketogenic diet, particularly for women, is the unintentional reduction in calorie intake. This can occur due to the appetite-suppressant effects of ketosis, leading individuals to consume fewer calories than their bodies require.

While this can contribute to weight loss, inadequate calorie intake may pose risks such as nutrient deficiencies and compromised energy levels. A good keto meal plan is an excellent way to maintain calorie intake and meet nutritional needs.

Athletic Difficulties

Engaging in intense physical activity or high-performance sports while on the ketogenic diet may pose challenges, especially during the initial adaptation phase. Glycogen,21 the body’s primary energy source during high-intensity exercise, decreases in a low-carbohydrate diet.

However, this is mostly temporary, and some athletes quickly get past this and can adapt and maintain their endurance and energy levels.

Keto Flu

The keto flu is a collection of symptoms17 that some individuals, including women, may experience during the initial stages of transitioning to a ketogenic diet. Symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, irritability, and dizziness, but are often temporary.

Adequate hydration, electrolyte supplementation, and gradual adaptation strategies can help mitigate the severity and duration of the keto flu.

Who Should Avoid the Keto Diet?

Like any other diet, the keto diet is not for everyone, and some women population should not jump into it without seeking medical advice to prevent any complications and malnutrition possibilities. These include:

  • Pregnant and Lactating Women – These women need increased nutritional intake to support their growing or nursing child, and they should not be in any form of restricted diet.
  • People with Digestive Issues – The keto diet often alters the gut microbiome,22 so women with digestive issues should consult medical advice and supervision before getting into the keto diet.
  • People with Diabetes – The keto diet has numerous benefits for people with diabetes, but you should not do it without medical supervision, as regular blood sugar and ketone checks are necessary.
  • People with Eating Disorders – Eating disorders are more common among females,23 and doing a keto diet without medical supervision may end up worsening these issues.
  • Those with familial hypercholesterolemia – People with naturally elevated cholesterol levels should be more careful with high-fat diets and should consult their healthcare providers first.

How To Start Keto for Women

Starting keto as a woman may be a little more challenging than when men do it, but here are 6 easy tips that you can follow to make your journey easier and prevent as many drawbacks as possible.

women cooking keto foods

1. Maintain a Nutrient-Dense Diet

Before diving into keto, women must establish a foundation of nutrient-dense foods. Emphasize whole, unprocessed foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This helps ensure the body receives essential nutrients and sets the stage for a healthy ketogenic transition.

Here are some of the food options that are beneficial for women:

  • Healthy Fats: Avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds (like almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds), and fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines).
  • Protein: Chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fatty fish, eggs, dairy products (Greek yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese), tofu, and poultry (like duck and quail).
  • Carbohydrates: Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and zucchini), berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), avocado, bell peppers, tomatoes, and asparagus.

2. Allow Transition Time

As mentioned earlier, rapid weight loss causes estrogen levels to drop, which may affect menstrual cycles. The best way to combat this is by starting slow.

Women should allow a gradual transition, incorporating minor adjustments over several weeks. This will also ensure that you won’t experience keto flu symptoms simultaneously.

3. Limit Carbs Slowly

To start slow means to cut down on carbs at a gradual pace rather than at one time. This allows the body to adjust slowly and prevent sudden hormonal changes.

Start by progressively lowering daily carb consumption while increasing healthy fats. The ideal carbohydrate intake during keto is 5-10%, while the regular intake is about 40-50%.

Jumping from 50% to 5% is risky, so you should start by cutting it down to 40% during the first week, 30% during the second week, 20% during the third week, and 15% during week 4.

In the same way, you should add more fat while reducing the carb and protein intake.

4. Manage PMS Cravings

Managing cravings, especially during premenstrual syndrome (PMS), is a common concern for women.

Strategies to address PMS cravings on keto include incorporating satisfying keto-friendly snacks, prioritizing meals rich in healthy fats and protein, and staying hydrated.

5. Add Resistance Training

Incorporating resistance training into a ketogenic lifestyle offers numerous benefits for women. Resistance training24 helps preserve lean muscle mass, supports metabolic health, and complements the fat-burning aspects of keto.

Engaging in strength training exercises two to three times per week can contribute to overall well-being and enhance the effectiveness of the ketogenic approach.

6. Consider Keto Supplements

While obtaining nutrients from whole foods is ideal, some women may consider incorporating keto-friendly supplements to address potential deficiencies.

Common keto supplements include electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium), omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, vitamin A, fiber, MCT oil, and exogenous ketones.

Top Keto Supplements for Women

Electrolytes

Maintaining electrolyte balance is crucial in the ketogenic diet, especially during the initial stages. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium are essential electrolytes25 that may be depleted as the body adjusts to reduced carbohydrate intake.

Supplementing electrolytes helps prevent imbalances, minimizing symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, and headaches.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids,26 primarily found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, offer anti-inflammatory benefits.

Omega-3 supplements, such as fish oil capsules, can support heart and joint health, reduce inflammation, and contribute to overall well-being, complementing the ketogenic lifestyle.

Iron

Women are prone to being iron-deficient27 due to their menstrual cycles. While some of the highest sources of iron are keto-friendly, some have deficiencies that may require supplementation.

Visiting your healthcare provider and doing necessary tests is recommended before taking iron supplements, as too much iron in the body may cause tissue depositions.28

Vitamin D

Adequate vitamin D29 is vital for bone health, immune function, and hormonal balance. Since vitamin D is found in limited food sources, supplementation becomes essential, especially for individuals with limited sun exposure.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A30 is crucial in vision, immune function, and skin health. Some of the richest sources of vitamin A are starchy vegetables, so supplementation during the keto diet is recommended.

Fiber

While the ketogenic diet is low in carbohydrates, it’s essential to prioritize fiber intake31 for digestive health.

Fiber supplements, such as psyllium husk or flaxseed, can help prevent constipation and support a healthy gut microbiome, providing necessary fiber without compromising ketosis.

These substitutes often craft low-carb versions of your favorite foods, like keto breakfast ideas.

MCT Oil

Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs)32 are fats that the body can quickly convert into ketones, making MCT oil a popular supplement for individuals on the ketogenic diet.

MCT oil can enhance ketone production, providing a readily available energy source and supporting cognitive function.

Exogenous Ketones

Exogenous ketones come in various forms, including ketone salts and ketone esters. These supplements provide an immediate source of ketones,33 potentially aiding individuals during the adaptation phase or providing an energy boost.

Keto and Menopause

Hormonal Balance

The keto diet may help balance menopausal hormones by elevating estrogen levels. Menopausal women have decreased estrogen levels, causing symptoms such as hot flashes, mood changes, and sleep problems.

While there are limited studies on menopausal women and the keto diet, there is evidence that a high-fat diet increases estrone34 levels among menopausal women.

Weight Management

Weight gain is very common during the menopausal stage, mainly due to a decrease in estrogen levels, reduced metabolism, and lack of exercise.

The keto diet may aid weight management during menopause. Studies on menopausal women suggest that a reduced-carbohydrate diet reduces the risk of postmenopausal weight gain35, and a low-fat diet increases the risk of it. 

Maintain Muscle Mass

A ketogenic diet (KD) may positively impact body composition during menopause. Studies suggest that KDs can decrease fat mass and maintain fat-free mass, potentially benefiting muscle preservation.36

Inflammation Reduction

The decrease in estrogen causes a rise in inflammation,37 putting menopausal women at risk for it. This is why menopausal women are prone to developing arthritis, osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia, and other inflammatory diseases.

However, the keto diet has been shown to reduce inflammatory responses38 in females, including those in menopause. This is mainly due to β-hydroxybutyrate’s ability39 to block immune system receptors.

Cognitive Health

One of the crucial benefits of the keto diet is its ability to enhance cognitive health, especially during menopause, where early-onset dementia is common.40

While the cure for dementia is limited, the keto diet shows promise in maintaining cognitive health and preventing the progression of dementia.41

The Bottom Line

The keto diet affects men and women differently due to different body compositions, but both genders benefit from doing the keto diet. From weight loss to cognition, women of all stages, including those in menopause, can benefit from keto.

However, specific populations, especially pregnant and lactating mothers, should avoid keto due to their increased nutritional needs. As always, those with underlying medical conditions must consult their healthcare provider before getting into any form of diet.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does keto do to the female body?

Keto shows promising results in weight loss, hormonal balance, reducing inflammation, maintaining energy levels, and cognitive health among women. Even menopausal women can gain these benefits with the keto diet.

Is keto good for women over 40?

Yes, the keto diet is an excellent diet plan for women over 40, including those in their menopause. The keto diet will allow hormonal balance and a healthier metabolic and cognitive health.

Does keto mess with estrogen?

The keto diet causes rapid weight loss, which may affect estrogen levels. To avoid this, a gradual decrease in carbohydrate intake should be observed.

Will keto fix my hormones?

Yes, keto has been shown to balance hormones among women, especially those with PCOS, as it is effective in increasing insulin sensitivity and balancing estrogen levels.

References

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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.

Click on the links above to visit his author and about me pages.

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