Keto diet, mood and your brain

What goes on in your brain when your diet turns 'keto'?

The keto diet has been hailed as the ultimate health kick – helping you lose weight, get fit and burn excess body fat. But did you know that the keto diet was developed over a hundred years ago to help with brain conditions such as epilepsy?

The amazing thing is that we may even be able to tap into these brain effects ourselves. Read on to find out how the keto diet may affect your brain health.

What is the keto diet and what does it do in our bodies?

The keto diet or ketogenic diet is similar to the Atkins diet, which is low in carbohydrates but high in fat.

The fascinating thing about the keto diet is that it changes the way our body metabolises food. Metabolism refers to the breakdown of food in our bodies. Simply put, if you change what you put into your body, you change what you get out.

Our body cells ideally want to use glucose as a fuel for energy. Glucose can come in the form of carbohydrates (bread, pasta, chips…) but also includes sugars.

If we do not give our cells glucose, they will adapt to use other fuel sources as a backup energy source, namely fat and protein.

How do our cells use fuel?

Your body cells will usually use fuel in the order of carbohydrate > fat > protein.

This is because your body will try to preserve your important body proteins (such as muscle) - these are only broken down in real emergencies (such as in long-term starvation).

So, if we do not give our bodies glucose, it will turn to burning fat instead. The crucial thing is, when fat breaks down in our liver it produces ketones, which our bodies can use for fuel. Hence the name: the ketogenic diet.

Keto diet, mood and your brain

The effects of the keto diet on the brain

Our brains use about 20% of our total body energy. If our bodies fall short of a glucose supply, our brains will use ketones instead.

The amazing thing about ketones is that they can have nerve-relaxing effects – our cells become less excitable than when they use glucose (the reasons behind this are not yet fully understood) [1,2].

Due to the effects of the keto diet on epilepsy, some scientists are interested to see how it affects other brain conditions. Some experts have suggested that the keto diet could have mood-stabilising effects [3] and could improve symptoms of depression [5] but more research is needed. Other effects include improvement of sleep disorders [4], and some even suggest it could prevent and treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease [4].

Four suggested benefits of keto on brain health:

  1. Mood-stabilising
  2. Improve symptoms of depression
  3. Improve sleep
  4. Reduce the risk of some cognitive and functional impairments

There isn’t enough evidence yet to say for sure. More research is necessary before experts recommend the keto diet as a treatment for any of these conditions and we do not know for sure whether the ketogenic diet benefits healthy individuals [6].

The difficulties of the keto diet

It all sounds promising, so what’s the catch?

Firstly, most people find the keto diet extremely difficult to follow. We naturally crave carbohydrates and sugars because they are the most efficient energy source for our bodies to use. You will likely find that cutting your carb intake down leads to huge cravings - and this means you could eat more sugary treats than before!

Some people even find that a drastic change in your diet can cause dizziness, headaches, weakness, nausea, and tiredness [7] as your body attempts to adapt – people frequently call this keto flu. So, any dietary changes should be made slowly.

A strict ketogenic diet also involves consuming high levels of fat, which can raise bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol) [7] - this is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke.

 test finder product banner

Is a keto diet essential for good health?

Cutting carbohydrates out of your diet could lead to missing essential nutrients in your diet, which could lead to deficiencies in the long term.

Many carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread and pasta can provide us with essential nutrients such as fibre, calcium, and iron. Also, on a strict keto diet you would need to cut out many health-promoting, carbohydrate-containing vegetables – and we all know that cutting out vegetables is never a good thing.

Medical experts currently recommend a balanced diet that contains about one-third of starchy carbohydrates, over one-third fruit and vegetables and about 10% protein, along with some healthy fats and dairy or alternatives. 

Most importantly, if you are experiencing low mood or symptoms of depression, you should always seek support. There are many causes of low mood, from stress to overworking - but sometimes a medical condition could be behind it. We explain more about this and places where you can get support in our blog on five medical causes of low mood



  1. Rahul Jandial - Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon: The New Science and Stories of the Brain.
  2. Lutas, A. and Yellen, G., 2013. The ketogenic diet: metabolic influences on brain excitability and epilepsy. Trends in neurosciences, 36(1), pp.32-40.
  3. El-Mallakh, R.S. and Paskitti, M.E., 2001. The ketogenic diet may have mood-stabilizing properties. Medical hypotheses, 57(6), pp.724-726.
  4. Rho, J.M. and Stafstrom, C.E., 2012. The ketogenic diet as a treatment paradigm for diverse neurological disorders. Frontiers in pharmacology, 3, p.59.
  5. Włodarczyk, A., Cubała, W.J. and Stawicki, M., 2021. Ketogenic diet for depression: A potential dietary regimen to maintain euthymia?. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, p.110257. 
  6. Iacovides, S., Goble, D., Paterson, B. and Meiring, R.M., 2019. Three consecutive weeks of nutritional ketosis has no effect on cognitive function, sleep, and mood compared with a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy individuals: a randomized, crossover, controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 110(2), pp.349-357.
  7. Masood, W., Annamaraju, P. and Uppaluri, K.R., 2020. Ketogenic diet. StatPearls [Internet].

Related tests

Fitness Blood Test

Understand your fitness starting point and track improvements as you make gains with our simple home finger-prick blood test

  • Results estimated in 4 working days
  • 15 biomarkers
Advanced Fitness Blood Test

Take your fitness to the next level with a detailed look at the biomarkers which can help you optimise your training and performance

  • Results estimated in 4 working days
  • 29 biomarkers
Ultimate Performance Blood Test

Our ultimate blood test for men and women gives you our most comprehensive health check, including advanced profiles for your hormone health, thyroid function, and sports nutrition

  • Results estimated in 3 working days
  • 56 biomarkers
Optimal Health Blood Test

Get detailed insights into your current and future wellbeing with our most comprehensive panel, covering 58 biomarkers — the ultimate test for anyone dedicated to living longer in better health

  • Results estimated in 6 working days
  • 58 biomarkers