Can a Low Carb Diet Cause Depression?

Low carb diets such as the Keto diet have a whole slew of benefits for both our minds and our bodies. They can help with weight loss, improve energy levels and even help treat and prevent heart disease and diabetes. However, there have been some conflicting reports over the years that people who follow a low carb diet increase their risk of depression. The following article will help you understand the positive and negative effects that a low carb diet can have on your mood as well as what steps you can take if you’re experiencing depression while on Keto.

The role carbs play in your mood

The studies surrounding high-carb and low-carb diets that looked specifically at moods have mixed results. Dr.Judith Wurtman believes that a diet that is high in carbs and very low in protein and fats is the only way to increase the levels of serotonin in your body because fats and proteins prevent the amino acid tryptophan from entering your brain. Tryptophan is responsible for the production of serotonin which is a brain chemical that’s responsible for helping to regulate your mood, sleep, temperature, appetite and pain responses. If your serotonin levels are too low you’ll feel depressed, moody and grumpy. 

Dr. Emily Deans, on the other hand, believes that the key to a better mood lies in a mixed diet. A diet that is neither too high in carbohydrates nor too low in fats and protein appears to her to be the path to mental stability. Her reasoning for this is that a diet too high in carbs tends to lead to energy crashes; however, she believes that some carbohydrates are necessary for keeping your energy and mood at a healthy level.

While the connection between a high-carb, low-fat, low-protein diet and higher levels of tryptophan and serotonin is still being debated by scientists, one thing that pretty much everyone can agree on is that carbs do impact your mood. If you’ve ever eaten a donut, pancakes or waffles in the morning on an empty stomach you’ll probably have experienced this for yourself. There’s a burst of energy shortly after eating the carbohydrate-rich meal because the sugar in the carbs is turned quickly into glucose in your body. However, that glucose is quickly depleted leaving you feeling draggy, tired and foggy.

Ways that the Keto diet improves your mental health

The Keto diet has been shown to improve the mental health of a lot of the people who undertake it. When your body starts burning ketones as fuel instead of glucose there’s a shift in your energy levels. Glucose is a very fast source of energy for your body, but it’s also burned through quickly and needs to be replenished every few hours. Ketones on the other hand are sourced from your stored fat cells. They take longer to convert into energy than glucose; however, the energy they provide also lasts longer. This means that the sugar spikes and dips that you used to get with carbohydrates are replaced by a constant supply of energy.

In addition to stabilizing your energy levels, the Keto diet also helps decrease mental fog and it allows you to complete tasks through the day with a clear head and improved focus. This clear head leads to a more fulfilled life where you feel a sense of accomplishment because you can complete tasks quicker and with less struggle than you used to. Having more energy will naturally help boost your physical activity levels and you’ll find yourself moving more just because you can. Increased physical activity and a sense of satisfaction in your work both lead to an improved mood.

 Because the Keto diet focuses on healthy fats, lean protein and fish you’re going to see some other mood-boosting benefits as well. For starters, the fish that you eat is loaded with omega 3’s which is important for brain health. Studies have shown that there’s a link between higher levels of omega 3’s and higher levels of serotonin in the brain. If you remember from above, serotonin is responsible for helping to regulate your mood.

The clean foods that you eat on Keto also help contribute to a reduced amount of inflammation throughout the body because your gut is healthier. A 2009 British study found that there’s a link between healthy whole foods and lowered levels of inflammation and depression. This only applies if you follow a clean Keto diet because processed foods labelled as Keto friendly will not help you reduce inflammation and depression.

Neurogenesis is the rate that your brain creates new brain cells. The Keto diet has been shown to help speed up neurogenesis while a high carb (and high sugar) diet has been shown to slow this process down. There is a link between a faster level of neurogenesis and decreased levels of depression. This was tested on rats who ate a high sugar diet that was full of damaged fats. The result was that the rats experienced a drop in their cognition after eating this diet for several months. 

The Keto diet can also help your sleep better at night. Improved sleep has long been associated with an improved mood. When you’ve been following a Keto diet for a long time you tend to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and spend more time in restorative sleep which leads to you waking up feeling refreshed and happier.

Can a low carb diet cause depression?

Even though the Keto diet has been shown by scientists to help improve your mood, there are a few reasons that you might end up feeling depressed. If this happens you should always talk to your doctor. 

Reasons you might be depressed on Keto

The first reason you might feel depressed while following a Keto diet is that you simply haven’t been doing it for long enough. The first few weeks to a month after beginning Keto you might experience what’s known as the “Keto flu”. The Keto flu is when your body is trying to adjust to the decrease in glucose and it causes you to experience a variety of flu-like symptoms. You might have more trouble sleeping, feel confused and tired, you might have muscle aches and gastrointestinal issues and you may feel depressed. The good news is, this should go away over time. However, you should still talk to your doctor just in case there’s more going on than the Keto flu.

If you’re not eating clean Keto you might be setting yourself up for a low mood or depression. Clean Keto ensures that the food you eat is coming from whole sources that don’t contain preservatives or chemicals. Whole foods have the vitamins and micronutrients that your body needs to function properly. It may seem like a little thing but being deficient in vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can lead to depression. This is why you need to take into account the nutrients that your food provides, not just whether you’re sticking to the proper number of carbs, fat and protein.

You might also feel depressed on Keto because you feel like you’re the only one in your family and social circle that’s doing it. If Keto is relatively new to you then you might find it tough to be surrounded by people who can eat bread and potatoes any time they like it. It can also be challenging to deal with the questions that come with a diet such as Keto because very few people who aren’t doing it understand what the diet really means which can lead to you face skepticism and negativity. Standing up for your food choices and being the only one who has to make them can be tough and it can even lead to depression.

What you can do to improve your mood

If you’re experiencing depression or any unpleasant mood changes while following a Keto diet the first thing you should do is talk to your doctor. They’re the only ones who are qualified to tell you whether what you’re experiencing is food-related, or whether there’s something more serious going on. They can also help you through your depression by making suggestions for tweaks that you can make to your diet, or referring you on to talk with a specialist in mood disorders if need be.

Having a support group that you can go to for help is also important. Find some like-minded people who also do Keto through online forums and groups so that you can talk with people who know what you’re experiencing. 

Be sure that your diet is full of nutrient-rich foods and that you’re getting the proper amount of sleep, exercise and water. These are all essential to keeping your body functioning at its best so that your mood remains stable.

If you’re still having trouble and your doctor has ruled out any other issues you might need to consider switching to a less intense form of Keto such as cyclical Keto where you only follow a Keto diet for 6 days of the week and on the 7th you enjoy a carb-rich diet. Although the majority of people don’t have any trouble removing carbohydrates from their diet, and many benefit from it, it’s possible that your body needs more carbohydrates than most people. If this happens to you, don’t worry, your body knows what it needs so it’s important to listen to it.


Low carb diets such as Keto can be great for helping to improve your energy levels, reduce brain fog and boost your mood. However, there are a few things that can lead to depression while you’re on Keto. If you treat your body with respect and give it the nutrients and sleep that it needs you should see the mood-boosting benefits that Keto can offer. If you do experience depression speak to your doctor as they’re trained to help you keep your mood stable.

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