“I lost SO much weight when I was on a very low carb diet but I also lost my period and experienced symptoms of fatigue, crankiness, my skin breaking out and dizziness.”
Does this sound familiar?
Even though going low carb is a great way to lose weight quickly, it is NOT the best for your hormones or your body.
What is a low carb diet?
There is no set definition for a low carb diet, and the amount of carbs allowed per day on this eating style varies widely.
It’s also important to keep in mind that this is going to depend on what type of low carb diet, how long you followed the diet, and the health of the individual following it.
How a low carb diet affects your hormones:
I am all in favor of minimizing sugar and simple carbs while increasing healthy fat and protein intake but some take a low carb diet approach too far. This is because when you cut on carbs, you are also cutting out on high-fiber foods like starchy vegetables, fruits and whole grains (reminder that fiber is only found in foods WITH carbs).
Here are the different ways a low carb diet can affect your hormones and ultimately, your health:
Cortisol: A very low carb diet is a form of stress on the body and can alter hormone production.
Drastically reducing carbs can cause cortisol levels to go up which can cause weight gain or make weight loss very difficult.
Those that cut carbs and still feel like they are not losing weight tend to reduce their intake even MORE thinking that they are just eating too much and that is NOT the case. Reducing your calories lowers your metabolism and causes even more hormonal issues in the long run. It is a cycle that can affect your weight and health so it is important to understand HOW to eat for a healthy weight loss.
Thyroid: Thyroid hormones are essential in maintaining and regulating metabolism (1).
However, glucose, which is the energy you get from the breakdown of carbs is required to fuel the production of thyroid hormones. This is because the parts of the brain responsible for thyroid hormone regulation require glucose to function.
In other words, carbohydrates impact the two main thyroid hormones T3 and T4. These hormones are responsible for regulating metabolism and energy levels. When calorie or carbohydrate intake is too low, studies show that T3 levels can drop and this can reduce thyroid function and can lead to symptoms of weight gain and fatigue.
Endocrine function: A diet too low in carbs can lower blood sugars too low which can throw off normal insulin production.
This can lead to dizziness and irritability. And because the body has systems in place to try and keep things balanced, when blood sugars are low and you are not providing the body with carbs, cortisol takes over and raises blood sugars.
And as you know by now, this is putting the body under more stress. Chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to adrenal fatigue, increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.
Skin health: Your skin health says a lot about what’s going on in your gut and your hormones.
As mentioned earlier, when you reduce the amount of carbs you eat, you are also reducing the fiber you are eating. Fiber is imperative to your gut health because fiber is the FOOD for that healthy gut bacteria. When your gut health is suffering, it shows up in different areas like your skin, bowel movements, energy, and hormone production.
Your gut is considered the second brain for a reason. It plays a major role in your overall health and energy and when you are not feeding it right, it shows!
How to incorporate carbs in a way that supports your hormones
1. Focus on high-fiber carbs from nutrient-dense foods.
What are nutrient-dense foods? Nutrient-dense foods are those that contain a higher level of vitamins and minerals than other foods.
High-fiber nutrient-dense foods are your fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes.
Fiber helps with hormonal balance because it slows down digestion and balances blood sugar levels. It prevents blood sugar levels from spiking and crashing due to its slowed digestion time.
Choosing carbs with at least 5 grams or more fiber per serving is best. However, this won’t always be possible and that’s okay. Take the time to familiarize yourself with high-fiber foods and make a list so next time you go grocery shopping you know you are choosing high-fiber.
Some high-fiber foods:
- Beans and lentils
- Whole Grains
- Dried Fruits
2. Eat them with protein
It’s always wise to compliment your carb choices with protein and healthy fats. This also helps balance blood sugars and keeps insulin from spiking. Although proteins are broken down similarly to carbohydrates, they have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels.
3. Eat them with a healthy fat
Adding a healthy fat to your high-fiber/protein snack or meal is going to help keep you satisfied, curb cravings and again, balance hormones.
Fat has little and sometimes no effect on blood glucose levels. However, this does not mean you can eat as much as you want. It is so easy to over consume fats, even if they are healthy. Fats contain 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram in protein and carbs.
Sources of healthy fats:
- Whole eggs
- Fatty fish
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive, peanut, and canola oils
Carbs are super important for your overall health and wellbeing. This is especially true for women because complex carbs help regulate their hormones so your body can be operating at its best. However, it is also important to keep in mind that there are some people that may benefit from a reduced carbohydrate diet. This is why it’s important to work with a dietitian to find something that fits your unique body and lifestyle and provide professional guidance that is supportive of your body.