Keto vs. Paleo – Here’s What Science Says About Which Low Carb Diet Is Best
By Anna Hunt
There will always be some type of low carb diet that gets the wellness community excited. Remember when Atkins and South Beach diets were the talk of the town? Pretty much most of these fad diets focus on decreasing intake sugar and carbohydrates. Today, two most popular low carb diets are the ketogenic diet and the paleo, or caveman, diet.
I’ve written quite a bit lately about the ketogenic diet because I’ve been inspired by this free keto diet cookbook. When I compared it to the paleo diet, I found that they are actually quite similar. So, does it matter which one you choose? Here are some comments from the scientific community that may help you decide which one (if either) is best for you.
A study published in Experimental & Clinical Cardiology examined the effects of a 24-week ketogenic diet. Researchers conducted the study on obese participants. The diet consisted of 30 g carbohydrate, 1 g/kg body weight protein, 20% saturated fat, and 80% polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Here are the results:
The weight and body mass index of the patients decreased significantly (P<0.0001). The level of total cholesterol decreased from week 1 to week 24. HDL cholesterol levels significantly increased, whereas LDL cholesterol levels significantly decreased after treatment. The level of triglycerides decreased significantly following 24 weeks of treatment. The level of blood glucose significantly decreased.
We have solid evidence showing that a ketogenic diet reduces seizures in children, sometimes as effectively as medication. Because of these neuroprotective effects, questions have been raised about the possible benefits for other brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, sleep disorders, autism, and even brain cancer.
He does add that the keto diet can be heavy on red meat and fatty, high-sodium, processed foods. Going keto doesn’t mean you can gorge on sausage and bacon! Be aware of where you’re getting your protein, and try to eat red meat in moderation. Also, get your healthy fats from live foods such as oils, nuts, seeds, fish, and avocados.
Animal studies offer additional insights. One study evaluated the effects of a ketogenic diet on mice. The researchers published their finding in the journal Cell Metabolism. Here’s their conclusion:
A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet extends longevity in adult male mice.
Motor function, memory, and muscle mass are preserved in aged ketogenic mice.
Furthermore, Scientific American reports:
Emerging evidence from animal models and clinical trials suggest keto may be therapeutically used in many other neurological disorders, including head ache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and brain cancer. With no apparent side effects.
A study in Nutrition Research examined if the paleo diet had a favorable effect on adults with high blood cholesterol levels. They compared it with the effects of the grain-based heart-healthy diet that the American Heart Association recommends.
Twenty volunteers who were not taking any cholesterol-lowering medications, participated. They adhered to a traditional heart-healthy diet for 4 months, followed by a Paleolithic diet for 4 months. The researchers concluded:
Paleolithic nutrition offers promising potential for nutritional management of hyperlipidemia in adults whose lipid profiles have not improved after following more traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations.
Another study took to understanding if the paleo diet has any effect on the risk of colon cancer. Researchers compared paleo to DASH (Mediterranean) diet, which many scientists believe can mitigate the risk of colon cancer. The researchers published their study in American Journal of Epidemiology. Here’s their conclusion:
These findings suggest that greater adherence to the Paleolithic diet pattern and greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet pattern may be similarly associated with lower risk of incident, sporadic colorectal adenomas.
Finally, the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology published a review of several studies researching the effects of the paleo diet on Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Here are some of the research findings:
The effect of a Paleolithic diet on a variety of metabolic risk factors for cardiovascular disease in an uncontrolled trial was reported in August 2009 in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Compared with the usual diet, nine sedentary subjects receiving the intervention diet experienced (a) significant reductions in blood pressure, (b) improved arterial distensibility, (c) significant reduction in plasma insulin versus time in the area under the curve during oral glucose tolerance testing, and (d) significant reductions in total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, and triglycerides.
In terms of Type 2 diabetes, here is what one study revealed:
The Paleolithic diet compared to the diabetes diet resulted in a higher percentage of protein intake as a percentage of total daily calories. Therefore, the greater protein intake during a Paleolithic diet might confer an additional benefit (beyond weight reduction) in its favorable effects on risk reduction for metabolic disease.
Keto vs Paleo – What You Can & Can’t Eat
Below is a table that highlights the different foods you can and can’t eat when following the paleo and ketogenic dietary protocols.
I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about the ketogenic diet because I personally used it as a detox method for the new year. The goal is to help people realize that we do not need 50% to 80% of our diet to be made up of carbs.
Many readers have taken offense to the idea that I would suggest people eat “so much meat.” Some have claimed that meat causes cancer. Then, there are the issues that factory farms are inhumane and a resource drain on the planet.
These are important issues. Yes, processed foods and overcooked red meat have been shown to be carcinogenic. I have written about this topic here.
The quality of the foods that you buy is very important. I would highly recommend growing as much as you can in your garden, including raising chickens. If you don’t have a back yard, then support local farms. Many of such farms raise their animals humanely and organically. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, these diets are clearly not for you.
In addition, people love to assert their beliefs that fats are only going to make you gain weight. Although there are now many studies showing the benefits of eating healthy fats, it’s a proven fact that people don’t easily let go of their old beliefs.
I know from personal experience that one can eat high-fat whole foods and still lose weight. This may not work for everyone, but it does work for some especially if you have an active lifestyle.
The real culprits in obesity are sugar and processed foods. With processed foods, people end up consuming many poor-quality fats. If you eat lots of greasy fries as part of your keto diet, then no, you probably won’t be any lighter or healthier.
If a person stopped eating high-fat processed foods, like cookies, chips and fried fast foods, the changes in their health and body would be quite noticeable. Eliminate sugary drinks and alcohol to boot, and you have yourself a very healthy diet. Even if you eat spaghetti once in a while.
What I’m getting at is that it doesn’t really matter what low carb diet, or no carb or some carb diet you choose. If you replace processed, fast and dead foods with nutrient-dense, live, real foods, your health will benefit.
Picking What Works for You
My goal here is not to talk you into going on any type of diet. Yet, many people find themselves unhealthy and overweight. Therefore, it is important to understand that there are many dietary options that have worked for others in terms of helping them improve their overall health and lose weight.
If you’re considering any dietary change, it is vital that you listen to your body. You are the primary person that will know if something is working or not. If you are taking medication or currently have an illness, you may want to discuss your dietary plan with your current medical provider.
Paleo, keto and even Whole 30 diets are a great way to reset the body. They all adhere to the idea that we need to stop eating so much sugar, processed foods, fried foods and grains (i.e. wheat products). Even if you eliminate these foods for a period of 4 to 8 weeks, your digestive system gets an opportunity to heal and reboot.
Finally, I want to congratulate anyone who has made the changes in their life and eats a keto or a paleo diet. It is a difficult process to let go of poor eating habits, and the Western culture does not make it easy. Please share with us your experiences, and any health benefits that you’ve observed.
Read more articles by Anna Hunt.
Anna Hunt is writer, yoga instructor, mother of three, and lover of healthy food. She’s the founder of Awareness Junkie, an online community paving the way for better health and personal transformation. She’s also the co-editor at Waking Times, where she writes about optimal health and wellness. Anna spent 6 years in Costa Rica as a teacher of Hatha and therapeutic yoga. She now teaches at Asheville Yoga Center and is pursuing her Yoga Therapy certification. During her free time, you’ll find her on the mat or in the kitchen, creating new kid-friendly superfood recipes.
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