Disclosure Statement: This piece is intended to be a personal anecdote sharing my experience with keto and the research I have done that reflect my views. As stated, I do not endorse this diet but I am not a medical professional therefore the following is based on my opinion. There is a large portion of research that advocates for high fat, low carb and sugar diets, I personally believe nutrition and diet must exist on an individual basis and what works for one will not work for all.
Yes, you now have a diet that allows you to dump butter into your coffee… now the question is, should you?
Recently I can’t help but notice the new trend becoming more and more popular among popular people with the migraine and chronic illness community. Here’s the problem… everyone is saying “Go Keto” but no one is explaining the diet, the risks, the benefits, and it has created a very dangerous and misinformed group of advocates that are sharing their progress and giving a vast majority of the population the wrong idea.
Let me start by saying I don’t endorse this diet as a long term solution. However, I do believe that it can benefit those in the migraine community for three reason: weight loss, increased energy, and discovering food related triggers.
What is Keto?
The basis of the Keto diet is change the way you feed your brain. Instead of relying on glucose as an energy source, your body goes into “ketosis” where you’re constantly burning fat and a molecule called a ketone is released as an alternative fuel source for you body.
This works by changing what we eat. In this diet, you eat a much lower amount of carbs and you avoid sugar almost completely. You consume more “fatty” foods and a moderate amount of protein.
Keep in mind, there is good fats and bad fats, and a large amount of controversy surrounding this diet comes from the advocates who primarily advertise being able to eat the “bad fats” and still lose weight.
Keto should not be explored if you are on a medication for diabetes, high blood pressure or if you are nursing.
What Does a Keto Diet Look Like?
In short, if you love that charcuterie platter that your favorite sister always brings to family gatherings, you’re in luck.
Vegetables are a large part of the diet, as they should be in any diet. Under Keto, you want to eat the leafy green vegetables as your primary options. The rule of thumb is that if it’s grown above ground, it’s a good option, those grown below ground have a higher carb content. This means you can enjoy broccoli, carrots are iffy, and you should stay away from beets and potatoes.
Fruit is the next part of this diet, and it’s a part that you’re supposed to avoid. Fruit is a naturally sweeter option, and although it’s healthy it contains sugar and carbs. You are safe to splurge occasionally, but the recommendation is to limit yourself to the berries and limit how often you’re consuming fruit.
When it comes to meat, you pretty much have free range, but fattier meats are preferable. Fatty fish is also an excellent option.
Nuts are an excellent option when it comes to the keto diet. There’s a wide variety of nuts that are recommended, as long as they are low carb.
This is where the charcuterie tray comes in to play. If you’re looking for a snack you can enjoy while on this diet, the best choice include cheeses, olives, nuts, and cold cuts.
In terms of dairy, you should always lean towards options that have the highest fat percentages. Always use real butter and cream instead of margarine.
When it comes to what not to eat, you’re looking at most things you’ve got tucked away in your pantry. From your bread, to your bagels, pasta, rice, and chips… to most sugary items like chocolate and candy. If it’s got an artificial sweetener, you should avoid it. If it’s starchy, you should avoid it.
And now, you’ve got your sweetener options… the “healthy options” are basically what you’d find in a pre-portioned packet at a diner on your table… raw sugar, brown sugar, and even honey are no no’s in this diet. It’s suggested to just avoid all the sugar options and alternatives, as your body will crave sugar if you’re using a substitute.
So, What Are The Benefits?
In general, on a non-migraine related spectrum, the largest benefit is weight loss.
This diet has been proven time and time again to help people shed pounds extremely fast, and even without exercise. My advice, do also exercise while on this diet. Leading a healthy lifestyle starts with exercise and is improved and aided by a healthy diet.
Now, let’s talk migraine…
I’ll be the first to say that as an underweight individual I didn’t last a week on this diet… carbs keep me alive.
But, I’ll also be the first to acknowledge that there is a huge percentage of migraine sufferers who are overweight. Our country has high obesity levels, and to ignore that being overweight could be making your migraines worse is foolish. And that is why this diet has gained traction, sufferers are losing weight and feeling great and their migraines are being reduced.
My theory, either the weight/lack of exercise was exacerbating your migraines, or the foods you were consuming were actually triggers you hadn’t identified.
This diet cuts out a few key ingredients that most people eat regularly and can be healthy. Strawberries, oranges, bread, rice… none of these are bad “unhealthy” foods, but citrus, acidity, gluten, and starches are all well known migraine triggers. So when someone jumps onto this diet and suddenly cuts those foods out… it is no wonder the migraines are decreasing.
So yes, this diet has benefits. I want to be the person to tell you that Keto may help you, but Keto isn’t the long term cure you’ve been looking for. As a migraine patient and advocate, use Keto as a stepping stone to discover food related triggers. Don’t hesitate to add fruit back into your diet for a week to see if your migraines are still improved or if they get worse. To me this is a much more in depth elimination diet that most of us have ever tried.
So, Why Do I Think Keto Is Dangerous?
First, you need to combine Keto with exercise, or you will be at risk for severe muscle loss… although Keto may make you feel like you have all sorts of energy, at the end of the day your muscles are supposed to aid in energy along with provide strength. Us migraine patients spend enough time on the couch that we don’t need something else making our muscles weaker.
Kidney Stone, Diabetes, Dehydration, Nutrient Deficiencies, Bowel Issues, and Period Disruptions…
Whoa, it sounds like I’m making a list of things that could seriously impact your migraines, make them worse, or maybe I’m making a list of what various medications do to us…
For a more in depth list and explanations: click here.
My point is that this diet removes extremely important components that keep our body functioning. Remaining in “ketosis” isn’t healthy and is actually one of our body’s fight or flight responses to not receiving the nutrients needed.
We’re familiar with vitamins and supplements and we’ve taken handful after handful in hopes of helping naturally address our migraines and nutrient deficiencies. So why would you stay on a diet that will require you to take vitamins to address the new deficiencies?
Why advocate for a lifestyle that you aren’t even taking the time to understand? You suffer from migraines and suddenly your period starts and won’t stop for months? How many of us started the approach to migraines as “this is hormonal lets take birth control”, now you’re on a diet that is going to make your hormones go insane.
Imagine passing a kidney stone while also having a migraine.
Many migraine sufferers also have IBS. This is the most common combination of conditions within our community, and you want to rely on a diet that will increase your bowel issues? Make your nausea worse?
Yes, we love a good charcuterie tray, but you expect me to eat cheese, salty thin slices of sausage, and enjoy a glass of red wine? Didn’t I just list off the top reported migraine triggers?
So, I’m not saying to not do keto. But I’m certainly not saying to go keto.
Understand why keto works, and understand what food sources may be contributing to your migraines.
We have migraines. We know we need to live a healthier lifestyle. We eat healthier foods. We do our best to exercise – yoga is best for me. We regulate our sleep. We limit our alcohol consumption. We try and find a balance of medications and vitamins and other treatments to help with the condition. But at the end of the day, we’re a fairly healthy bunch of people.
And to the advocates out there pushing this new lifestyle, I beg of you to stop. Advocate differently. You are one person and as a migraine patient you should be very familiar with the concept of “one size doesn’t fit all” when it comes to our treatments. If you want to talk about Keto, and share your Keto journey, go for it, but do it in a way that isn’t shaming others for not joining in. Be specific in what you’re doing, share your recipes, share what other lifestyle changes you’re making.
I’ve done keto. It isn’t for me.
I mean, more personal note here, telling me I can’t have honey is like a live look in at Winnie the Pooh when he’s run out of honey. Not a pretty site and not a lifestyle I’m interested in.
Can Keto help you migraines? Absolutely. But dig to understand what parts helped and don’t throw away the rest of your health because of some diet fad.