Now, this will require some experimenting, but the bottom line is everyone should be eating real foods in their most natural state possible (minimal processing). What will vary from person to person will be the macronutrient (carbs, protein, and fat) distribution. Two very popular styles of eating that DO focus on real foods and DO see real health and weight results are the paleo diet and keto diet. These two diets have many similarities but are also quite different from one another. They also each have their own pros and cons. Find out which (if either) is best for you.
What are these diets?
The Paleo diet goes by many names: Stone-Age Diet, Cave Man Diet, Primal Diet, Paleolithic Diet. This diet consists of foods that were available during the Paleolithic era. You know, our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The thought behind this diet is that food has evolved and changed much more rapidly than our bodies can adapt to, which can result in cellular inflammation and an increased risk for chronic diseases. The focus is on foods that were available many many years ago, solely through hunting and gathering alone. This removes foods that are harder to digest, which is therapeutic for gut health and autoimmune conditions.
The Ketogenic (Keto) diet is a low-carb/high-fat diet with an emphasis on rapid weight loss and increased fat burning. The idea is that your caloric intake is sourced primarily from fat as opposed to carbs (yep, almost no carbs are allowed in this diet), with a moderate amount of protein. When glucose is not readily available for energy, your body will burn through your glucose reserves (known as glycogen) and then begin to tap into it’s secondary fuel source, ketones, which comes from fat metabolism. Both dietary fat and stored body fat can be broken down into ketones and used to fuel the body and brain.
Both of these diets prohibit grains, legumes, and refined sugar. They both have an emphasis on non-starchy veggies and leafy greens, healthy fats, and eating quality animal protein.
Keto diet: This diet is more rigorous, targeted, and restrictive. Macros are distributed as such: 70-80% fat, 15-20% protein, and 5% carbs in order for the body to enter ketosis. The goal of this diet is to burn fat instead of carbs- this process manipulates your metabolism and accelerates weight loss.
Paleo diet: This diet is more of a long-term lifestyle choice, as you can loosely use natural sweeteners (restricted in Keto) like maple syrup and raw honey, which contain carbs. You can also eat other sources of carbs, such as fruit and starchy vegetables (sweet potato and squash as examples). You can still achieve weight loss, but your metabolism will still burn carbs primarily for fuel as opposed to fat like in the Keto diet. Let’s not forget that your body burns both carbs and fat through the day, just in different ratios.
Paleo diet: There is improved satiety due to a higher intake of protein and fats. There’s also anti-inflammatory benefits from plant nutrients in fruits, oils, nuts, and vegetables. In addition, this diet is naturally gluten free. With refined sugars and processed foods being eliminated means a focus on whole, clean foods. This diet is potassium rich due to the fruit and vegetables. High potassium levels is important in maintaining healthy kidney and muscle function as well as a healthy blood pressure The emphasis is on healthy, which will leave you feeling light and your body happy.
Keto diet: Insulin is a fat-storing hormone that moves glucose to muscles and tissues for use. It’s also been linked to inflammation. On the keto diet, you have low insulin levels due to a cut from carbs and sugar (glucose). This means reduced inflammation. This also means your metabolism has to adjust to this new way of eating, in which your body now burns fat instead of glucose. One result is a steady supply of energy, which will keep you alert and focused. In addition, you will avoid big blood sugar swings (no spikes in glucose levels). This diet has been shown to help with gut inflammation, insulin sensitivity, mood, energy, fertility, and improved cognitive function. The keto diet also focuses on clean and whole foods, which is good for the body.
Paleo diet: Leaving out whole food groups, such as whole grains, legumes, and dairy, can have its consequences. Whole grains and legumes are good sources of fiber (beneficial to gut health) and vitamins, while dairy products are good sources of protein and calcium. There is also a heavy reliance on meat (meat, seafood, and other animal protein products compromise 19-35% of your diet), and meat is not as lean today as it was in the Paleolithic era. This diet also falls short on calcium and vitamin D.
Keto diet: In the early stages during the metabolic shift, side effects may include mood swings, fatigue, muscle cramps, and nausea, known as the “keto flu”. This is primarily a result of rapid water and electrolyte loss. Supplementing with sodium, potassium, magnesium, and plenty of fluids will help with these symptoms. Also during this transition, you may be hungrier and have a craving for carbs. Some health experts have expressed concern on the emphasis on the high amount of saturated fat, as this may increase your risk for heart disease, but many other experts have shown evidence that saturated fat is actually heart-neutral and the real culprit is inflammation coming from sugar, processed carbs, smoking, and lifestyle. With a high percentage of your diet coming from fats and very little coming from carbs, it is possible to see calcium taken away from your bones, which could increase risk of osteoporosis. In addition, this diet is often low in fiber and in plant-based healthy nutrients, as foods with fiber often contain more carbs than allowed. Lastly, this diet is harder to follow due to its more restrictive nature.
To sum it up, both of these diets eliminate processed foods in an effort to turn towards healthier eating. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Research is always recommended to ensure your body can handle all dietary changes and that any diet is right for you. As always, I recommend you work with an expereinced Nutritionist who can help customize a nutrition plan that matches your health and wellness goals.