DIETARY SHOWDOWN! PALEO VS. KETO VS. ATKINS!
Hey there Fit Farmers! As you know, our approach to nutrition and eating here on the farm is all about real food for the real world. Most dieting scenarios end in disaster due to the inability to keep up the restrictive measure of calories or carbs or some other ingredient involved, which is why our approach differs from most most of the mainstream nutritional plans and lifestyles. But what if your specific body chemistry actually responds really well to a particular nutritional plan? Today we’re going to talk specifically about Keto, Atkins and Paleo. Often lumped together under the heading of “low carb fad diets”, these eating methodologies actually have very significant differences. Is one superior? Is one right for your body chemistry? Can they be used as short term “boost measures” to kickstart better health, rest and weight loss? In today’s post we’ll take a deeper dive into each of these diet types and see if we can come up with some answers, so hang on tight!
THE PALEO DIET
The name of this diet is taken from the Paleolithic period of human development, in which cavemen first began to use stone tools and sharpened points to hunt with, and also began to control and use fire. Regardless of your views on history and anthropology, the theme of the diet is to only eat what foods were available to these ‘Paleolithic peoples’ as they roamed about hunting and gathering — primarily meat, eggs, fish, and fresh fruits and vegetables. This is done in the belief that these are the food sources that humans are best adapted to rather than the agricultural products and processed foods that came much later in our evolutionary span.
Critics point out that (if you buy into the historical basis here) human digestive abilities and preferences have likely changed quite a bit in the ‘50,000 years’ since the Paleo period, and that there is also evidence that these people ate legumes and grains, which modern Paleo advocates tend to swear off of. Nevertheless, Paleo adherents have come forward with many anecdotal examples of improvements to their health and fitness after taking up the diet. Some devotees cite increased energy, the ability to stay up later and get up earlier, even relief from some inflammatory conditions (such as eczema), and of course, weight loss.
One quality that really differentiates the Paleo diet from the other two we’re examining today is that it isn’t all “carb Nazi” about it. Carbs are fine in the Paleo diet, so long as they are coming from fresh fruits and vegetables. To be sure, that’s more in line with the FDA’s conventional dietary advice, which still says that people should get the majority of their food intake each day in the form of carbs, but with Paleo it’s a bit different. For starters, you’re never going to take in the daily amount of carbs from carrots, celery, apples and even bananas that you will by scarfing bread and cheese all day,… in an apples-to-apples (or maybe we should say an apples-to-bread) comparison. Secondly, you’re not allowed unlimited carbs on Paleo. The key is really the “taming of the sugar dragon”, meaning that if you have lots of sugary cravings, you should eat maybe one or two pieces of fruit (like an apple) and that’s it. Don’t go hog wild and eat 99 bananas and then claim Paleo status because that likely won’t help your waistline. Paleo also discourages dairy, with some notable exceptions, and due to the lack of dairy, Paleo diets can be low in calcium. You can technically cheat this effect with supplementation, or eat a whole lot of kale and collard greens regularly to compensate. If you’re unsure as to what foods you should banish from your fridge while on Paleo, have a look at this handy guide below:
THE KETOGENIC DIET
The Ketogenic diet is aimed at keeping the body in a state of ketosis for as long as possible. That’s the state where it is relying primarily on fat (and fat stores) for fuel. As such, this is a diet primarily recommended more for dropping a lot of weight rather than maintaining a healthy weight, though it can work as a regular diet if food intake is carefully balanced along the way. At Fit Farm we don’t necessarily recommend doing this unless there’s a compelling or medical case to support it, but nonetheless we wanted to make sure all options were presented in this overview.
The key to the ketogenic diet is basically that fat consumption almost entirely replaces carb consumption, while protein consumption stays the same (at about FDA recommended levels). It’s actually inducing the body into a state that it generally only goes into during starvation; since the body relies heavily on carbs for immediate and regular energy, these prolonged periods without carbs can trigger ketosis. The biggest issue with the diet is that ketosis can also prompt the body to break down muscle tissue for energy, making it inappropriate for those looking to put on muscle mass. Long-term carb restriction has also shown the potential to damage vital organs such as the heart and liver so this is definitely a surgical nutritional tool to be used sparingly, and not for long periods of time (say beyond 90 days at a time). One way to offset some of the negative reactions that your body might fall victim too during Keto (e.g. – cravings, low energy, etc.), is by increasing your consumption of Avocado. Avocados (surprisingly) have more potassium than bananas, and while they have a healthy dose of fiber for your system, they also have been proven to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. For some more great Avocado fit facts, check out our nifty infographic below:
THE ATKINS DIET
The Atkins diet was seemingly everywhere a little over a decade ago, kicking off the “carbs are The Devil” trend in dieting circles. After a couple of years it started waning in popularity, however, as evidence mounted that it really wasn’t all that effective in the long term, or even safe for some people.
As with the Ketogenic diet, it centered on triggering ketosis through extreme carbohydrate restriction. Early versions of the diet basically advised followers to not eat carbs at all and to go nuts with protein and fats. Over time, as it became clear this wasn’t a workable approach, the diet revised its terms to fall more in line with a traditional Ketogenic diet, setting specific consumption limits for each type of macronutrient. An emphasis on low carb intake remains, however. Though it never got back to the dizzying heights of popularity it enjoyed when it was first introduced, the diet has remained popular enough to maintain a food line and come out with annual revisions. At present, it’s probably safe enough, certainly more so than it was at first. It’s very questionable in terms of efficacy in long term weight loss when stacked up next to other dietary approaches, however.
WHO WINS THE SHOWDOWN?
There isn’t really a “one size fits all” answer here. Remember that all three of these approaches aren’t necessarily meant to work for life, and that our nutritionists here at Fit Farm espouse Real Food For Real Life (RFRL), because we know that in the long run, most people will be able to stick with an eating lifestyle that tastes good and doesn’t necessarily restrict what you can eat across the board, as long as you’re doing it properly. Ketogenic diets, and even Atkins, can work for those looking to drop a lot of weight as quickly as possible, but you need to be mindful of the potential long-term risks. Paleo appears to be a much safer long term eating lifestyle, provided you’re ensuring you get all your vitamins and minerals, and it also meshes well if you’re doing a Tabata program or other high intensity training. Short term usage, Paleo certainly has claimed its spot of efficacy among those in both the athletic and training community, and that’s why in this showdown, Paleo is probably the one that’s best to maintain on a long-term basis (if you’re looking to try something new for a kick start in nutrition).
Always remember, the combination of regular exercise and dietary choices tailored to your specific body type (check out our post on Endomorphs versus Mesomorphs versus Ectomorphs) will ensure that you will lose excess weight, prevent chronic illness, and have plenty of energy. In everything you do, Challenge Your Limits! 😉