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The Diet series: Paleo Diet vs Ketogenic Diet

The next set of articles will focus on different diets. I will explain the characteristics of each one and also why some may be better than others.

Paleo Diet

Paleo diet is based on the idea that humans are genetically mismatched with the diet we have; not everything, but just the food derived from farming. This idea is called the “Discordance Hypothesis”.  Farming practices (that started later compared to the presence of humans on the planet) brought into human diet new foods like dairy, grains, legumes and other staples. This “late” change (late considered from humans onset on the planet, and late because adaptive changes take a long time to occur in our genes), outpaced our body’s capability of adaptation, and it is believed to be the origin of obesity, diabetes and many other diseases known today. Paleo diet is based on the diet from the Palaeolithic era.

So, what would you typically eat in a Paleo diet? Below what you would be allowed to eat:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Lean meats, especially grass-fed animals
  • Fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel and tuna
  • Oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive oil or walnut oil

Food you need to avoid if following a Paleo diet:

  • Grains, such as wheat, oats and barley
  • Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peanuts and peas
  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugar
  • Salt
  • Potatoes
  • Highly processed foods in general
  • Salt

Paleo diet emphasises also the necessity of drinking plenty of water and being physically active.

It has been demonstrated that there are a lot of health benefits deriving from a Paleo diet, but long term studies are not available yet. One big limitation of the Paleo diet is the cost. Most of the food this type of diet cuts out are the most affordable ones, so this diet could be too expensive for some people. Of course, there are a lot of benefits including weight loss, improved cardiovascular health, improved glucose tolerance (due to the absence of sugar and refined/processed food), better blood pressure control. On the other hand, some of the hypothesis behind the paleo diet might not be true. The paleo diet does not consider the difference in the diet amongst different geographical locations. Moreover, archaeological research has demonstrated that early human diets may already have included wild grains as early as 30,000 years ago — well before the introduction of farming.

Genetic research then, has shown that notable evolutionary changes in humans continued after the Paleolithic era, this including diet-related changes, such for example, an increase in the number of genes related to the breakdown/digestion of dietary starches.

So probably, Paleo diet could be good for you, but it is always better to have a balanced nutrition and plenty of physical exercise.

The Ketogenic Diet (Keto Diet)

Ketogenic diet is analysed compared to the Paleo diet, because both allow a very low carbs intake. The main difference is that Ketogenic diet puts you in a state of ketosis, which Paleo diet doesn’t. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process, encouraged in your body when there is not enough glucose, therefore your body burn fat in order to produce energy. When your body enters in a state of ketosis, fat travels to the liver and makes an acid called ketones, which enter your bloodstream and is converted into energy.

For your body to enter a ketosis state, a good percentage of your calories (usually, somewhere between 60-80%, according to keto experts) needs to come from fats. The idea is that all that fat-burning will help you lose weight, in the end. The problem with keto diet, is that, to maintain a state of ketosis you should never go over 25-30g of carbs per day. Which means if you eat a banana or a small cup of oatmeal you have already covered your daily intake of carbs. Also you cannot indulge even on nuts: they will get your carbs intake very high and you will fail in remain in ketosis. So, ketogenic diet is a low carb high fat diet, which is similar to the Atkins diet. Ketogenic diet massively reduces blood sugars and insulin levels. It has numerous health benefits, even though it creates ketones which are not dangerous per se, but if they build up in your bloodstream they can lead to dehydration and change the chemical balance in your blood which would become more acidic and it can be dangerous.

There are several versions of the ketogenic diet, including:

  • Standard ketogenic diet (SKD): a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat diet. It contains something like 75% fat, 20% protein and only 5% carbs
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): This diet involves periods of higher-carb refeeds, such as 5 ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): This diet allows you to add carbs around workouts.
  • High-protein ketogenic diet: This is similar to a standard ketogenic diet, but it allows more protein intake. The ratio is often 60% fat, 35% protein and 5% carbs.

There are side effects that could occur with the ketogenic diet, since the metabolism of your body will be forcibly changed. This “feeling” is often referred to as KETO FLU, but it will be over in a few days after the initiation of the diet. Keto flu includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance. To minimize this, you can try a regular low-carb diet for the first few weeks. This may teach your body to burn more fat before you completely eliminate carbs. A ketogenic diet can also change the water and mineral balance of your body, so adding extra amount of salt to your meals or taking mineral supplements can for sure help. For minerals, you can try taking 3,000–4,000 mg of sodium, 1,000mg of potassium and 300 mg of magnesium per day to minimise side effects (experts of this diet suggest). Especially in the beginning it is really important to eat until you feel full, therefore avoiding restricting calories too much. Usually a ketogenic diet causes weight loss without a real intentional calorie restriction.

The real difference between the two diets is what you are more likely to maintain in the long run. It appears that Paleo diet it is easily better tolerated, both mentally and physically, and also slightly more flexible in terms of the ingredients chosen. Moreover, high fat diets like the Ketogenic diet, need for sure time-breaks in which you are allowed to eat carbs again. Downfalls of going back to the starting point are very easy with diets that are so restrictive.

Whichever of the two diet you perhaps would like to try, bear in mind that both lack some of the nutrients necessary to our body, therefore you should always be followed by a specialist. Additionally you can also take a vitamin supplement to keep your minerals and vitamin levels in a healthy state. With everything in life, balance is also the best when it comes to diet.

By Ornella Cappellari