Is the Keto Diet Right for You?

The Atkins diet introduced back in the 80’s by Robert Atkins was the first ketogenic eating plan intended as a weight loss diet. It was (and is) essentially a meat and fat diet broken ever so slightly by a few green leafy carbohydrate vegetables. It pretty much guaranteed weight loss and the absence of hunger.

Atkins ideas were before their time and he was heavily criticized. In recent years, however, much of the value in his diet premise has become quite mainstream. It was the absence of hunger that made it initially successful. However, it was boring and frequently abandoned once the desired weight was achieved – the problem with most weight loss diets.

Here is how Atkins worked. You cut your carbohydrate levels to almost nothing. Then when you lost most of the weight you wanted, you started adding back more carbs until weight loss stopped and then you were supposed to stop and eat that forever. This is where the trouble usually started. We Americans tend to revert back to the SAD diet.

The word “Keto” comes from the liver process that converts body fat into “ketone bodies.” The ketones are then used by the body for energy in lieu of the carbohydrate sugar that isn’t allowed.  When fasting (as in while sleeping or other long periods of not eating) body fat is converted to ketones for energy.  A steady maintenance of low carbohydrate over longer periods of time allows a person to achieve an ongoing production of ketones and weight loss.

Carbs and fat are the two primary energy sources for the body and they have to be balanced. The lower the carbs in the diet, the higher the fat in the diet and vice versa. The calories from fat are supposed to be adjusted downward (lower) as the carbs are allowed to go higher. What frequently happened with Atkins diet folks is they added carbohydrates back into their diet but didn’t change the higher fat consumption.  Oops!

The pattern of percentages allocated to carbs, protein, and fat is referred to by Keto geeks as macros.

From the voice of experience I suggest that counting macros is every bit as hard as counting calories. And in fact you really can’t calculate your macros without first determining how many calories you should be eating. Lots of counting going on.

An intense Ketogenic diet frequently has body composition and health treatment applications beyond any issues of weight loss. At its most intense, the diet usually includes a very small number of vegetable carbohydrates, like maybe 20-30 carbs per day, and LOTS of fat. There will be no fruit, no potatoes, no grains (processed or otherwise.), no beans.

At the grand level, the differences between Paleo and Keto are minor and those differences tend to be “intent” oriented. Paleo intends to prescribe what you can eat based solely on what the paleolithic folks ate. Keto prescribes what you can eat based on the amount of insulin the diet requires for energy digestion and storage.

The minimization of insulin creates the opportunity for body fat to burn and ketones to be created.  Paleo also minimizes insulin but usually doesn’t talk about it. If you need to understand this insulin thing better, read an earlier blog of mine,  The Human Body Design is Magical – Plan B, providing a pretty simple explanation.

Thus Paleo does not do cheese but does allow fruit. Keto is fine for cheese but would really restrict fruit. Otherwise both limit and allow the same foods, just for different reasons. For example, both instruct avoiding commercial grain oils and focusing on olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.

It is important to remember that an intense ketogenic diet can be very nutrient deficient due to the very low levels of vegetables. Managing those deficiencies needs to be met with supplements. The trick is knowing which supplements. For this reason, an intense ketogenic diet is rarely required; the best idea is eating a lot of non-starchy vegetables and eliminating processed foods which contribute minimal nutrition and require a lot of insulin.

In its simplest form most people can have great Keto success without worrying about macros, calories, fat or nutrient deficiency. I have had conversations with eight people in the last week that simply eliminated sugar and processed food and starches including pasta, bread, all things sweet, minimizing starchy foods like potatoes and rice and eating lots of vegetables.  They report that the weight just seems to melt away with essentially no effort.

A friend just said yesterday that he had figured out that the pasta he had formerly eaten as a base for a shrimp stir-fry was just filler. The part that tastes fabulous is the stir-fry.

Pasta, rice, and potatoes have essentially no flavor of their own. Cauliflower can become faux mashed potatoes or rice. Zucchini can become “zoodles” for faux noodles and meatballs or sauce. A tad of creativity can work a miracle. In other words, use whole food vegetables in your diet instead of processed foods. It is within those vegetables that nutrient density resides.

Several things happen with this simple Keto change. The weight starts to come off in a reasonable, paced way. The goal is not quick loss; the goal is losing slowly but surely. Symptoms (aches, bloating, joint pain, etc.) start to disappear. Energy is restored.

Diet change will be easier if you can recruit somebody else to join in the effort. Between the two of you a lot of good recipes can be created and enjoyed. Everyone else will be pretty convinced that life cannot go on without chips, pasta, and French fries.

When your body reaches the right body fat threshold for YOU, you simply stop losing weight. Your body is really pretty smart. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t adjust your diet. Just continue eating a healthy, nutritious diet for the rest of your life.

Interestingly, the top two foods likely to cause autoimmune reactions are grains and dairy. Grain is the biggie. Paleo precludes both of those; Keto precludes only grain. So depending on your personal food reactions, either might be protective. Read more about autoimmune disease here.

The foods included in a simple Keto diet are nutrient dense and minimize hunger. One could comfortably eat a simple Keto diet for the rest of their life.

My next post in this diet round up will be the Mediterranean diet.

Pat Smith is the author of “It’s All about the Food,” a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Pat is a resident of Montgomery County, AR, president of Ouachita Village, Inc. board of directors (Montgomery County Food Pantry); chairman of the Tasty Acre project; and member of the Mount Ida Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.  Her website is http://allaboutthefood.org/

Is the Paleo Diet for You?

The Paleo diet created by Loren Cordain is designed on the premise that we should only be eating foods that our Paleolithic ancestors could hunt and gather from nature. It isn’t entirely clear that we humans really know what the cavemen ate; after all we weren’t there at the time. But there is general and reasonable consensus that they ate animal meat and plants they could find in the area where they lived.

There has been much hybridization and genetic modification in animals and plants over recent years. It is unlikely we could actually match the diet of the cavemen. For example, the fruit we eat today did not exist in its current form 10,000 years ago. Modifications have made the fruit much sweeter (and much more attractive) than nature apparently intended.

In its strictest form, the Paleo diet includes meat/fish/eggs, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, olive, and coconut. Most fruit has minimal fat but note that these fats are extracted from fruit.

Absent in this strict version are dairy, all grain, legumes (beans) and commercial oils made from grain (such as corn, canola, soybean, etc). Our Paleolithic forbearers didn’t have cows to milk, cookbooks to read, someone to somehow extract/process grain into oil. They got all the fat they needed in the meat. Also excluded are all processed foods, sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

The foods excluded in a strict Paleo diet tend to be those that many folks have difficulty digesting and cause autoimmune or allergic reactions.  In the typical autoimmune “elimination” diet, these are definitely the foods on the first elimination list.You can read about autoimmunity on my website, www.allaboutthefood.org.

The Paleo diet can be and frequently is modified although Loren Cordain will not approve. For example, if dairy is not a digestive issue for you, then some will add in dairy. Legumes contain anti-nutrients that impact digestion and reduce the availability of minerals. However, there are ways to prepare beans to minimize those issues. My book has a chapter, “What the Heck is Phytic Acid”, that describes the way to prepare legumes.

A good case can be made for a Paleo diet, particularly if you have digestive issues or autoimmune disease(s). Absent are the high carbohydrate (and by extension, calorie) processed foods that generate hunger and are a primary cause of overeating.

While information you read on the Paleo diet doesn’t mention “ketones,” the mark of a Ketogenic diet, the elimination of processed foods is absolutely going to result in the burning of body fat. That “burning” creates the ketones you will read about in the discussion of a Ketogenic diet.

Following the Paleo diet with reasonable care eliminates a need to count calories. Foods can be made to look and taste good. Whole foods included are nutrient dense. Paleo is touted as a healthy diet but it will inevitably be a weight loss diet if you are carrying extra weight. Weight can be be lost and kept off because adherence to the diet is easy. One can comfortably eat a Paleo diet long term.

Next week we will examine the Keto diet.