There’s no escaping the fact that 2020 has been a stressful year.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to understand how a keto diet affects your stress levels and the stress hormones in your body.
Keto and stress hormones
When it comes to stress hormones, the keto diet is often considered “a stressor”.
It’s said to put the body in “starvation mode” and to increase the levels of stress hormones.
When you start a ketogenic diet, it can be stressful for your body to deal with symptoms of carbohydrate withdrawal. This is why some people get “keto flu”.
Your body is deprived of glucose, its usual source of energy, but your body has forgotten how to use fat as fuel. The system uses stress hormones to rev up your body’s ability to process fat (lipolysis).
So, during the early days, a keto diet does increase stress hormones. But this is a healthy physiological response that happens in a low-insulin context.
Studies suggest it takes just a few weeks to become keto-adapted and for stress hormones to return to normal.
In the early stages of becoming keto-adapted the body loses essential salts and other electrolytes. This can cause an additional stress response, so it’s essential to remember to take supplementation.
Keto and cortisol
Cortisol is the main hormone involved in our stress response. When we experience a stressor, cortisol pumps glucose into the bloodstream for fast fuel in readiness for fight or flight.
The stress response exists to help us outrun predators and avoid starvation – not to handle the pressures of a global pandemic.
Ordinarily, this system is fine-tuned by feedback loops so that the reaction to stress is temporary. Our bodies aren’t supposed to have permanently elevated levels of cortisol, which increases the risk of certain diseases.
Does a keto diet raise cortisol levels? In the early stages, as explained earlier, the keto diet leads to increased loss of water, electrolytes and salts. If sodium levels in the body drop too low, the brain sends signals to our adrenal glands to increase levels of hormones that regulate fluid balance.
Cortisol is released with these hormones. So, in the early stages of a keto diet, cortisol levels may increase. But a well-formulated keto diet containing adequate sodium won’t alter cortisol levels to a significant extent.
How calorie restriction affects stress hormones
Many people start a keto diet because they want to lose weight. You start a keto diet and – at the same time – restrict kilojoules.
You lack energy and feel stressed. In reality, you’re simply not eating enough, which explains the low energy levels.
Depriving yourself of kilojoules involves physiological adaptations that are stress triggers. There’s a temporary drop in blood glucose. In response, cortisol, adrenaline and glucagon are released to increase blood glucose.
The keto diet, through changes in what you eat (swapping high-kilojoule bread and pasta for low-kilojoule veggies), can naturally result in reduced kilojoule consumption.
This is why so many people on keto diets lose weight without consciously trying. Consciously restricting kilojoules on a keto diet may be stressful but unconsciously restricting them is not.
The other way around: how stress affects ketosis
Stress hormones are a potential threat to ketosis – the metabolic state where ketones in the blood are elevated – because they cause an increase in blood glucose. This, in turn, leads to the release of insulin.
Ketosis is a natural physiological response to low energy availability that happens daily. In the early hours, growth hormones, cortisol, glucagon and adrenaline are secreted to increase blood sugar levels.
In healthy people, this increase in blood sugar triggers insulin release to control the rise in blood sugar. This amount of insulin is not a threat to ketosis.
Ketoacidosis is an unhealthy state that occurs when both blood sugar levels and ketones are elevated. In diabetics who fail to produce enough insulin, blood sugar can’t be taken up by muscles.
At the same time, insulin, the signal for the body to stop breaking down and releasing fat, is absent. This leads to increased ketone production in the liver while glucose is also high.
10 stress-busting keto foods and snacks
These foods and snacks contain nutrients that help reduce stress.
Almonds and walnuts
Almonds and walnuts boost your immune system with zinc and vitamins A and E. A deficiency in vitamin E has been linked to mood disorders.
The king of keto is rich in potassium, which helps protect muscle and nerve activity.
Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are high in antioxidants that protect against free radicals.
Our crunchy keto cheese puffs snacks are made from nothing but Gouda cheese, which is high in tryptophan. This amino acid is converted into serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s known as the happy hormone.
Our keto seed crackers are packed full of nourishing sunflower seeds and chia seeds that contain mood-boosting tryptophan.
This meat is high in B vitamins and mood-stabilising nutrients zinc and iron.
Imbalances of gut bacteria have been linked with anxiety. Raw sauerkraut and kimchi help maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Swiss chard (and other dark green vegetables)
The magnesium in green leafy vegetables balances cortisol and helps your muscles and nerves relax.
Wild caught salmon
This fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that manage adrenaline levels to help control mood swings and depression.
BenBanter’s online shop offers delicious low-carb food products and convenient keto snacks. Our products don’t contain any unhealthy ingredients such as vegetable oils or unnecessary sugars.
Visit our online shop to order your crackers, desserts, drinks and other keto snacks – ideal as part of your strategy for keto weight loss.