How the keto diet impacts your sleep, anxiety and energy levels

Image: iStock.Source:BodyAndSoul Kate Save is the CEO and co-founder of Be Fit Food . She is also an accredited practising dietitian, diabetes educator and exercise physiologist.

If you haven’t heard by now, the very popular ketogenic diet is quickly becoming the go-to for rapid weight loss. But how many people know that it actually has a long list of physical and emotional benefits , too?

Decreased anxiety levels, increased energy throughout the day and improvements to sleep quality are all proven positive effects of a keto diet. However, if cutting out carbs entirely is a little too extreme for you, you can always opt for a mild-ketogenic diet.

As the name suggests, a mild-keto diet is a less restrictive (yet still effective variation) of the traditional keto diet, meaning you don’t miss out on any of the essential food groups, vitamins or minerals that are required to keep you in optimum health, whilst still getting all the benefits of a full-keto diet.

So, how does it work? Sleep

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul Thanks to our natural sleep cycle – known as our circadian rhythm – you’ll notice that you tend to feel energized and drowsy around the same times every day. What many don’t realise however, is that when and what we eat impacts that natural rhythm and in effect, impacts the quality of our sleep.

Low-carb diets, like mild-keto, are important for improving quality of sleep, although initially some people may experience changes in sleep habits such as shorter duration but better quality. This is thought to result from initially low levels of glucose in the body which impacts the entry of L-tryptophan into the brain and L-tryptophan is essential for the production of serotonin – our happy hormone – which converts into melatonin, our sleep hormone. So some people can experience some insomnia until their body adjusts. But ultimately, cutting out sugar (another feature of a mild-keto diet) improves your quality of sleep because you’re not experiencing intense sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day.

In fact, a study by the International League Against Epilepsy found that while ketogenic diets may decrease total time spent asleep, they drastically improve the quality and promote increase REM sleep – which is important to feel ‘refreshed’ when we wake up. Tips to enhance sleep:

Eat breakfast: Eating in the morning kicks our digestive system into gear, energises our blood flow, and keeps our circadian rhythm in track.

Don’t eat too late: Eating too late can disrupt our sleep because our body spends time digesting food while we sleep, rather than repairing our muscles, re-setting our body and resting our brains.

Avoid the 3pm coffee: When following a mild-keto diet, the need to reach for a coffee at 3pm tends to stop, however if this takes a little while, avoiding the 3pm caffeine hit can help to improve sleep quality.

Anxiety

It’s widely known that 1 in 3 women in Australia will experience anxiety in their lifetime, meaning you or someone you know has probably experienced some form of anxiety challenge.

Two of the main reasons a mild- keto diet can help alleviate anxiety is due to the increase in healthy fats and the decrease in sugar in the body. Foods high in sugar, carbs and salt can make us feel better in the short-term by hitting our pleasure centre in the brain, however the long-term effects of eating these types of food are associated with serious mental health concerns, including anxiety. While our body tends to crave these comfort foods when we’re looking for a quick serotonin boost, they will inevitably lead to an energy crash and can actually worsen the symptoms of anxiety over time.

The first randomised trial to study the effects of mental health (the SMILES trial) was able to show that those who improved their diet with more fruit, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts and fish and limited processed foods experienced greater improvements in their mental health symptoms compared to therapy alone. Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul Foods to integrate into your diet to decrease anxiety levels:

Plant-based foods: Foods such as garlic, leeks, colourful, high fibre vegetables and fruits are high in prebiotics and vitamins that are essential for good brain health.

Fermented foods: Foods in this group including yoghurt, kefir and kombucha are essential for good gut health, which is linked to our mental health.

Polyphenols: Polyphenols are a group of micronutrients that are important for healthy gut microbiome. They can be found in turmeric, cloves, oranges, and berries. Diets high in polyphenols have been associated with lower risk of mental health disorders.

Unsurprisingly, anxiety disorders are also known to be strongly linked to sleep. Therefore, having a good sleep cycle is essential for improving the symptoms of anxiety. Energy

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul The body’s preferred fuel source is glucose which we consume largely in the form of carbohydrates found in breads, cereals, grains, legumes, fruit, starchy vegetables, dairy products and sugar. But if you only consume a very low amount of carbohydrates, your body begins to look elsewhere for fuel.

This is why the first few days of following a keto diet are not much fun as your body is still looking for carbohydrates to burn, and you may find yourself feeling hungry, low in energy and a little bit irritable.

As the days go on though, the body begins burning fat as fuel, you’re no longer short of energy, and your body no longer relies on your dietary intake as its main source of energy – which means it’s no longer screaming at you for its next energy hit. This is because your body has slipped into ketosis, and you’ll find your energy levels are higher than ever. Ways to maintain high-energy on a mild-keto diet:

Drink lots of water: Staying hydrated is an easy way to avoid calories and increase energy levels throughout the day

Choose carbs carefully: Reducing your intake of calorie dense carbs automatically forces your body to burn fat stored around your midsection for energy, rather than the sugars it takes from carbohydrates. Cards found in non-starchy vegetables, salads and fruits should make up 80 per cent of the volume of every meal.

Don’t forget protein: Not consuming enough protein during the day can be a primary reason for fatigue. You can find protein in poultry, fish, lead red meat, nuts and some dairy products.

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