Nutritional Psychiatry and the Benefits of a Modified Ketogenic Diet



Nutritional psychiatry is a rapidly growing field that explores how our diet impacts our mental health. It’s all about understanding that what we eat doesn’t just affect our bodies—it also has profound effects on our brains and mood.  There are a few diets that have been studied for their impact on mental health, including a Modified Mediterranean Diet. However, in this blog I will address the Modified Ketogenic Diet which I have found to have the most benefit in practice.

Benefits of a Modified Ketogenic Diet

One dietary approach that has shown promise in nutritional psychiatry is the modified ketogenic diet. Unlike the traditional high-fat ketogenic diet, the modified version balances fat intake with adequate proteins and lower, but sufficient, carbohydrates. I have found this approach to be more sustainable for the long term.

What are the potential benefits?

Neurotransmitter Regulation: Even modified ketogenic diets, with their slightly higher intake of carbohydrates, can still induce mild ketosis. Mild ketosis can produce sufficient ketone bodies like beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) that influence brain function positively. Studies have shown that BHB can enhance the conversion of glutamate to GABA, thus increasing GABA levels in the brain which  positively impacts mood.  The diet can work similarly with regards to levels of other neurotransmitters partly due to improved mitochondrial function and energy production in the brain.

Reduced Inflammation: Chronic inflammation is linked to various mental health disorders. The anti-inflammatory properties of the modified ketogenic diet, because of the high intake of “good” fats, can help reduce systemic inflammation, potentially alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety​

Stabilizing Blood Sugar Levels: Reducing carbohydrate intake in modified ketogenic diets helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels prevent the highs and lows that can contribute to mood swings and anxiety, leading to more consistent energy levels and a calmer, more balanced mental state. This is something to really be cognisant of. I can immediately feel the impact on my mood if my fat and protein intake has been low.

Promoting Good Gut Health: A ketogenic diet can promote a healthy gut microbiome by increasing the diversity of beneficial bacteria. This is crucial for overall health, as a diverse microbiome supports better digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function​. Additionally, a modified ketogenic diet can enhance gut-brain communication via the vagus nerve. This connection plays a critical role in managing stress responses and maintaining mental health. Improved gut health can positively influence mood and cognitive function through this pathway.

The gut also produces a significant portion of the body’s serotonin. A healthier gut microbiome fostered by a modified ketogenic diet can lead to increased production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that affect mood and cognitive functions.

What is Key is Biological Individuality

Understanding that each person responds differently to dietary changes is essential. Factors such as genetics, metabolic rate, and pre-existing health conditions influence how effective a modified ketogenic diet will be for any individual. Personalized nutrition, which tailors dietary recommendations to an individual’s unique biological makeup, is crucial for optimizing the benefits of dietary interventions on mental health​.

Please get in touch with me if you’d like to know more.