Should Women Eat More Carbs?

Eating a ketogenic diet is an excellent option regardless of gender, but there are distinct guidelines when it comes to the best approach to a low-carb, high-fat diet for women.

From elevating carbohydrate macros during and post-pregnancy to following more of a higher carb cyclical diet and timing carb consumption around periods of high-intensity exercise (e.g., HIIT or CrossFit, etc.), there are instances when it's wise to eat more carbs as a woman on keto.

Some women limit their daily carb intake to less than 20 net carbs when attempting to achieve metabolic ketosis. Others, like those in menopause, may find eating closer to 50g of net carbs is what keeps them satiated and feeling their best.

A standard ketogenic diet advises eating mostly healthy fats (80% of diet), moderate protein (15%), and low carbs (5%). However, there are many variations of keto; it operates on a bit of a spectrum. 

How Many Carbs Do Women Need? 

Each person's carbohydrate sweet spot is different. It's a good idea to get a baseline for your macros using a free online tool like that found via MyFitnessPal and then define your program as you go.

There are many factors to consider as you work to determine how many carbs to consume. Age, current health, or whether you're pregnant or nursing, can all affect your ideal carb target.

Start with a general idea for your keto macros, monitor your results, and then modify your intake if you fail to see the numbers on the scale go down.

Starting a Keto Diet 

There are a few primary factors to consider when starting a ketogenic diet. The process of getting into ketosis is simple; mainly, ramp up the fat and ditch the carbs.

But there are some noteworthy points to touch on related to the low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic diet. Here are some common elements to know about when starting keto:

Prevent Keto Flu:

Some experience intense symptoms when transitioning to keto, and we get why. Those on a Standard American Diet are likely accustomed to running on glucose (sugar), and a lot of it, for fuel and will need to adjust to getting energy from fat. 

Although you will likely find many reasons to celebrate your choice to go keto in the long run, at the beginning of starting on the plan may bring with it headaches, irritability, foggy brain, fatigue, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and constipation, among other symptoms.

Fortunately, this phase is usually short-lived, and if you continue with the program, you'll find it gets easier to maintain or achieve nutritional ketosis with time, preventing or lessening the impact of this phase in the future.

Here are some essential steps to take to avoid or lessen the intensity of the keto flu:

Stay hydrated:

Our body releases increased amounts of fluid when we say goodbye to carbs and refined sugar. As the body releases more water weight, it also releases essential vitamins and minerals. 

It's vital to replenish the body frequently and keep a bottle of plain and coconut water close by at all times.

Increase Electrolytes:

Again, the absence of carbs in the body causes us to lose more water weight and nutrients than when running on glucose for fuel. So, add accessible food-based options like bone broth, filled with electrolytes, to your roster to replenish the system throughout the day.

Avoid Processed (Keto) Junk Food:

A ketogenic diet may make some more aware of macros, but it's also essential to consume quality forms of your micronutrients.

Focus on eating whole, organic foods with rich nutrient profiles to make sure you're consuming high-quality, dense nutrition to maximize vitality.

Avoid High-Intensity Exercise:

We know the notion of limiting or avoiding exercise when starting a diet seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom; however, it's advisable with a low-carb, high-fat, diet to prevent the keto flu.

Rather than activities like sprinting or intense circuit training, lean more toward low-impact activities like yoga or taking a long, moderate-paced walk to get your blood pumping without too vigorous an exercise.

Remember, the journey to ketosis poses a significant change in the body by completely switching fuel sources. Take it easy on yourself in the gym and center your thoughts on eating healthy fats and high-quality proteins instead.

Once fat-adapted, which occurs for most within the first couple of weeks on keto, you'll likely notice an increase in energy and endurance that will make your return to the gym more epic, anyway, no rush.

Get Your Rest:

Getting quality sleep is vital on any diet because a lack of rest can cause hormonal imbalances or flood the body with fat-storing hormones, like cortisol, which makes it harder to lose weight.

Plus, adequate rest will help boost the benefits of mental sharpness that many note experiencing when fat-adapted and in a state of nutritional ketosis. 

Eat Enough Fats and Carbs:

Free online calculators like that found on the MyFitnessPal site are fantastic to determine an initial macronutrient outline, and as you ease into the lifestyle, you can adjust the targets as needed to achieve your goals.

Although healthy fat like a creamy ripe avocado or some fuel-rich MCT oil makes for excellent food options on keto, including high-quality carbs to your plan—especially dark leafy greens—is equally essential. 

Now, we're not saying all carbs are created equal in the eyes of the keto diet. It's crucial to enjoy low-glycemic carbs exclusively; avoid options that may be nutrient-rich but also contain a lot of unwanted sugars.

Here are some carb options perfect for anyone on keto:

  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Asparagus
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions (limit if you notice slowed weight loss)
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., almonds, pecans, chia seeds, etc.)

As we mentioned, moderate protein is ideal when doing a standard ketogenic diet, and there are so many choices that are lower on the glycemic scale to enjoy. Here are some perfect protein options to add to your keto diet:

  • Chicken (preferably dark meat)
  • Turkey (preferably dark meat)
  • Grass-fed Beef (80/20)
  • Fish and Seafood (e.g., monkfish, salmon, shrimp, crab meat, et al.)
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chlorella or Spirulina
  • Oxtail
  • Lamb
  • Wild Game Meat (e.g., duck, goose, deer, etc.)

Fat plays the most significant role in any keto meal plan, but as is the case with carbs, not all fats are equally suitable on keto—or any healthy diet.

We've dedicated an article to share unhealthy oils to avoid on keto to help you choose your fat sources wisely. Click here to learn more about which harmful oils to omit on keto.

Also, here are some excellent fat sources that work well if following a ketogenic diet:

  • Bacon
  • Ghee or Grass-fed Butter
  • MCT Oil
  • Avocado
  • Grapeseed Oil
  • Hemp Oil
  • Fish Oil (omega-3)
  • Tallow or Lard (e.g., duck, pork, etc.)
  • Pili Nuts

In Ketosis  

Experiencing the many health benefits of ketosis is a fantastic gauge of whether you're in ketosis, but fat-adaptation is a different matter. 

Fat-adaption is the metabolic state your body is in once you've been in ketosis long enough to switch fuel sources from glucose to fat efficiently.

But deep levels of adaptation don't occur as soon as you enter ketosis, especially if you're new to the low-carb, high-fat diet. 

Once in ketosis, your body has fully transitioned from burning carbs or sugar as its primary source of energy to burning healthy fats or ketones from your food, supplements, body-generated fats, or your stored body-fat reserves for energy.

Also, there are so many benefits of metabolic ketosis aside from weight loss. Here are some additional fantastic benefits of following a low-carb, high-fat diet:

  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Lessens epileptic seizures in children
  • Supports hormone health
  • Natural appetite suppression
  • A higher proportion of body fat loss about the abdomen
  • A significant decrease in triglyceride levels
  • Higher levels of HDL (a.k.a., good) cholesterol
  • Aids in lowering blood pressure

Also, it’s worth mentioning again that many within our online KK community report feeling satiated and having a significantly reduced appetite within the first few weeks of slashing carb macros. Before long, losing weight becomes a breeze.

When Fat Adapted   

Living in a fat-adapted state provides many perks, and here are some of the most common benefits of the metabolic state:

  • Fewer cravings between meals as fat adaptation curbs your hunger hormones
  • Improved energy levels, whereas a high-carb diet tends to cause post-meal fatigue
  • Running on healthy fat makes you feel satiated, for longer, and with less food
  • Enhanced mental acuity
  • Accelerated fat loss
  • Improved sleep
  • Improved physical endurance

Fat adaptation is a blessing to those who've found it especially hard to lose weight in the past and keep it off long-term.

Once running on fat for fuel, there may be times that you need to remind yourself to eat because fat and protein are so satiating and make up the bulk of any keto diet.  

Keto And Thyroid Hormone Production

Drastically reducing carbs can significantly affect the T3 and T4 metabolic hormone regulators in the body.

And an imbalance in levels between this symbiotic pair of hormones can cause the onset of metabolic conditions, like hypothyroidism, where the slowing of thyroid gland function makes it considerably harder to lose weight. 

Reducing carb intake can reduce some metabolic hormone levels and elevate others. A reduction in T3 causes an increase in T4, causing the hypothalamus to release Thyrotropin Releasing Hormone (TRH) to promote the release of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) from the pituitary gland, which can promote metabolic dysfunction. 

However, although a low-carb, high-fat diet will lower T3 levels when carbs are virtually eliminated, the hormone-regulating effect of the ketogenic diet appears to offset any adverse impact on the body.

This neutralizing effect is similar to how HDL (good cholesterol) can mitigate any adverse effect of having elevated LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. 

The Quality of Carbs Matter  

It's probably possible to do a 'dirty' version of any eating protocol. Some vegans eat highly-processed faux meats and fries as their dietary staples with few veggies on the menu, and others focus on eating whole foods for dense nutrition, instead. 

Going keto doesn't suddenly turn you into a saint—nor do you need to be—and each morsel you eat will not miraculously be perfectly balanced at all times because you've ditched the carbs. But perfection aside, there are still clean and dirty ways to follow keto. 

It's best to focus on a balanced whole foods meal plan, and we'll share more about why below. 

The creativity and ingenuity of the keto-centric companies making delicious low-carb fare place those on keto in this day and age at an advantage. But, despite being great for treats and special occasions, focusing on eating whole foods is ideal.

Eat loads of dark leafy greens, like a savory stewed side of collard greens, and experiment with the wonderous and cruciferous cauliflower that can remake almost any high-carb food without the need to sacrifice texture or flavor.

Eating lots of fatty fish, and other proteins like chicken thighs or 80/20 grass-fed beef, are fantastic food options to include in a keto meal plan. But make no mistake, a rustic side of roasted asparagus is a tasty addition to any platter, as well.

Also, adding high-quality fats like avocado oil or grass-fed butter to a few bunches of sauteéd kale is an excellent combination as the healthy fat facilitates better absorption of the vitamins found in dark leafy greens.

Some may focus solely on animal products on keto, but organic, low-glycemic, vegetables add such a greater depth of taste to foods while boosting nutrient-density.

Plus, vegetarian dishes, like eggplant parmesan, or a seared, pudding-like side of roasted eggplant in place of hash browns, with some eggs is a tasty and easy-to-make, keto-friendly dish.  

When to Increase Your Carbs on a Keto Diet  

Keeping carbs low is a tenet of any keto diet, but there are times when increasing carb macros may work in your favor. Here are some instances where it's advisable to consider increasing your carb intake on keto:

You're Pregnant:

You're eating for yourself and your growing baby during pregnancy, and an increase in overall caloric intake and macro limits is common. Consult your physician and adjust your diet accordingly.

You're Breastfeeding:

During pregnancy and postpartum, when likely acting as your newborn's primary source of food, you'll probably want to consume more carbs and calories (approximately 300 more calories a day) in total.

Forgo a focus on weight loss while pregnant or breastfeeding. Consuming dense nutrition and eating whole foods is most vital at this time. We can tackle losing the baby weight later, together.

Nutrition surrounding the childbirth process (e.g., pre-pregnancy, during pregnancy, postpartum) on keto is a unique and broad topic.  We have dedicated several articles covering the best way to approach keto during this time. 

We focused one article on Nutrient-Dense Keto Foods for Pregnancy and another on Breastfeeding on a Keto Diet.

Plus, aside from snapping ourselves back into shape in a flash after welcoming a baby, we wanted to touch on Self-Love in Pregnancy Ketosis, as a reminder to be gentle with yourself and let how your body feels be your guide.   

During Your Cycle 

Only women understand the cravings that can surface during our monthly cycle. Not only is overall appetite often elevated around this time, but the things we're craving also tend to be other than 'clean keto.' 

I mean honestly, are we reaching for a decadent pint of Halo Top ice cream, without plans of sharing any, or do we covet the celery sticks in the fridge as we seek refuge under the covers and binge-watch our favorite shows at ‘that time’ every month? Exactly.

When it's 'that time of the month,' we want to live in sweat pants and eat all the carb-like foods due to a food-mood emotional tie to a time before carbs were a no-go, combined with an often ravenous appetite.

Listen, we know how challenging it can be to control cravings when you're emotional and maybe even a bit cranky—especially if just starting a keto diet. No need to worry, you deserve a little comfort, and keto has you covered.

There are so many ways to remake your favorite pre-keto indulgent dishes without added carbs and sugar.

If you feel food cravings creeping up more intensely during your cycle, consider increasing your carb intake slightly during this time. Start by adding in carbs in 20g increments until you find your ideal macro target. 

Also, it's helpful to meal prep some keto comfort foods, like low-carb mac & cheese or creamy spinach and artichoke dip with parmesan chips, so you can cheat clean and guilt-free when temptation strikes.

Also, keeping it all together when you have little ones can be challenging. We recently shared our top picks for seven easy and family-friendly meals you can prep and keep the entire family satisfied, whether they're following a keto or another diet. Click here to read the full article.  

During Muscle-Training  

As we mentioned, there are several versions of a ketogenic diet. For instance, those who are physically active or athletes often lean toward a cyclical or high-protein ketogenic diet. 

The cyclical approach strategically times carb consumption right before a high-intensity exercise to improve energy and power—especially for activities like powerlifting, where short bursts of energy are needed. 

Get creative with which low-glycemic carbs you add to your program and remember that this increase in carbs is a chance to add more nutrition to your meal plan as opposed to a pass to eat highly-processed or packaged keto foods that provide fewer nutrients.

Remember, the quality of carbs matters on keto, and it's essential to focus on this point with more considerable attention when increasing carbs.

Here are some moderate-glycemic foods to eat when seeking to mindfully boost carb intake:

  • Sweet Potato, (GI score of 44)
  • Brown Rice (if you can't limit to one serving a day, maybe avoid it), (GI score of 44)
  • Popcorn, (GI score of 55)
  • Beets, (GI score of 64)
  • Green Peas, (GI score of 48)
  • Apples, (GI score of 38)
  • Cherries, (GI score of 22)

Increasing carbs can prove helpful, but monitor the quality of your choices, and make a great effort to control portions to avoid weight gain due to a caloric surplus.

During Menopause  

A woman experiences a series of changes during menopause, a time marked by the cessation of menstruation for 12 consecutive months, and nutritional needs shift as well.

Increasing carbs during menopause can be helpful for several reasons, from helping with increased feelings of pleasure or well-being, because of an expanded range of food options, and also as it may help support hormonal health—especially crucial during menopause.

Doing a keto diet during menopause and postmenopause is a unique undertaking that warrants special considerations.

Click here to read our recent post dedicated to the best tips and practices for women over 50 who are venturing into the low-carb, high-fat lifestyle. 

Summary: The Verdict  

Eating more carbs on keto isn't something contingent solely on gender; several factors may determine whether it's time to adjust your macros.

Consider your current health status, activity level, your goals, and whether you're experiencing a major life change, like pregnancy, to decide your carb limit. 

Sites that offer macronutrient calculators outlining your ideal carb target for the day are useful; the challenge for some is what to eat.

The expansive options available on keto are exciting but could feel overwhelming at first, leaving you unsure of the best foods for you to eat to achieve rapid results. 

A meal plan customized to you and your nutritional needs is such a powerful tool in the battle of the bulge because it removes all the guesswork and immediately sets you up for success, with little room for error.

Luckily, we've put together a short but valuable quiz to access a personalized keto meal plan to assist you in reaching your goals and fast!

We're already moving into the second quarter of a new year and decade, and yet it feels like we toasted the coming of 2020 just yesterday—it's so true that time waits for no one. 

If you're ready to take a step in a new and positive direction to reclaim control of your health and vitality, take our 30-second quiz, access your customized plan, plug into our online community, and start writing your keto success story today. 

Sources

  1. Slomski, A. (2019). Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss. Jama, 321(4), 335. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.22031 
  2. Lomangino, K. (2008). ADA Recommends Low-Carb Diets for Weight Loss. Clinical Nutrition INSIGHT, 34(2), 7–9. doi: 10.1097/01.nmd.0000311965.01818.f8
  3. Xu, K., Lamanna, J. C., & Puchowicz, M. A. (2016). Ketogenic Diet, Aging, and Neurodegeneration. Oxford Medicine Online. doi: 10.1093/med/9780190497996.003.0024
  4. Lennon, K. W. (2016). Replacing Saturated Fat, Refined Carbs With Healthy Fats Could Ease Global CHD Burden. Caring for the Ages, 17(3), 12. doi: 10.1016/j.carage.2016.02.013
  5. Greiner, D. S. (2005). Good Carbs, Bad Carbs. Family & Community Health, 28(1), 100–101. doi: 10.1097/00003727-200501000-00018

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