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4 Popular Diets Explained

Is one of Them Right for You?

by Travis Clifford

While there are currently many diets that people can choose from, the four most popular are the Ketogenic (Keto), Paleo, Whole30, and intermittent fasting diets. To help understand which one may be best for you, continue reading for a description of each.

The Keto diet has become extremely popular and for good reason. As obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related issues become more prevalent, many individuals have turned to the Ketogenic diet for a potential remedy to these issues with great success. The goal of Keto is to put one’s body into a state of ketosis.  

Ketosis is when the body uses ketones as its primary fuel source. When your body doesn’t have enough blood sugar (glucose), it turns to fat for energy. Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose, so when you eliminate them, or only ingest a very small amount, you force the body into ketosis. However, it’s important not to get caught up in the low carb part while ignoring the high fat part. Keto is as much about ingesting high amounts of healthy fats as it is about maintaining a low daily intake of carbohydrates. While following the Keto diet, you want to keep your insulin response very low because insulin is the body’s primary fat-making hormone. Under stimulation by insulin, fatty acids are made into fat molecules and stored as fat droplets.

The macro ratios for the Ketogenic diet are prescribed as such: 60-80 percent of your daily calories should come from fat. Fifteen to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from protein. Five percent or less of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Your total amount of daily carbohydrates should always be less than fifty grams, and it’s recommended that you stay closer to 25 grams, but this depends on the individual response to carbs, which varies.

Many Keto dieters purchase ketone strips to test their level of ketones to ensure that they are in ketosis. This is not necessary if you are following the prescribed percentages, but it can be a useful tool if you want to see how your body is responding.  

The premise of the Paleo diet is to nourish your body like your hunter-gatherer ancestors did. The Paleo diet includes meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. Excluded from the Paleo diet are processed foods, grains, refined sugar, flour, and dairy. Whereas the Ketogenic diet follows prescribed percentages of macronutrients, there are not any percentages involved in the Paleo diet. In general, you want to eat plenty of protein, which is usually recommended as one gram per pound of body weight, or sometimes as one gram per pound of lean body mass.

Studies have shown remarkable improvements in one’s health when processed foods are eliminated while on the Paleo diet because we are supplying our bodies with more nutrient-dense foods, and these nutrients are much more bioavailable (more easily absorbed). This is very important; just because a nutrient is there doesn’t mean it can be absorbed.  

As far as weight loss is concerned, your satiety while eating whole foods with ample protein should come from less calories than what would be required from processed food. A meal of meat and vegetables with some avocado will be far more “filling” not only in the moment of the meal but for several hours to follow than an equal number of calories taken in from eating chips, pizza, pastries, cereal, etc.

Research indicates that many chronic health conditions are linked to inflammation. These conditions include diseases of the digestive tract, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, cancer, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, periodontal disease, psoriasis, and depression. Whole30 is based on the belief that processed foods, sugar, grains, etc. cause inflammation in the body and therefore focuses on allowing your body a chance to heal and recover from any effects these foods may be causing.   

Whole30 is a more restrictive form of Paleo. The Whole30 plan does not allow for sugar or any type of artificial sweetener. It does not allow for alcohol, grains, legumes, or dairy. Ideally, the foods you eat while on Whole30 should not have any added ingredients; they should all be whole and unprocessed. To quote one of the points made on the Whole30 website, “A pancake is still a pancake, even if it is made with coconut flour.”

Whole30 is derived from the founder’s ideology that if you give their system 30 days, then your life will be changed. Their website states, “The next 30 days will change your life. It will change the way you think about food. It will change your tastes. It will change your habits and your cravings. It will restore a healthy emotional relationship with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life.” They also add that there is absolutely no room for cheating in this 30 days — not even a lick of a cake batter spoon.  

Intermittent Fasting
As mentioned earlier, insulin leads to fat storage. Eating causes the body to raise circulating levels of insulin. In the “fed” state, insulin promotes an increase in the storage of glycogen and fat to be used for energy. By contrast, in the “fasting” state, low insulin concentrations contribute to lipolysis. Lipolysis is the breakdown of fats and other lipids. This encourages the body to use these lipids for energy instead of glucose.  

Due to American diets, many people have become insulin resistant because they are overstimulated by the high amounts of sugar and processed foods in the typical American diet. Intermittent fasting allows the body a break from producing insulin, which helps our bodies reverse their insulin-resistant state and become more insulin sensitive.

It’s important to note that intermittent fasting is not cutting calories. If you are following its prescribed protocols, you’ll still consume your calorie goal for the day. However, those calories are consumed in a smaller window than what is considered the norm. A popular form of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 window, so each day, you schedule 16 hours of fasting and consume all your calories in an 8-hour window.  

As far as weight loss is concerned, the results seem to vary by individual, as they should. Intermittent fasting still ultimately depends on a caloric deficit to produce weight loss. However, the more interesting aspect is the effects that fasting has on the body’s cells. Fasting is a type of stress, and healthy cells can adapt to this stress and survive. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells cannot undergo this adaptation and survive the stress imposed upon them.  

Recent research has concluded that short-term starvation conditions, or modified diets that promote similar changes, have the potential to enhance standard cancer therapies. This information seems to suggest that fasting could provide an alternative to chemotherapy for very early-stage cancer patients who may not be sufficiently at risk to receive chemotherapy. In patients with advanced malignancies, fasting cycles in combination with chemotherapy could extend the survival of patients by both retarding tumor progression and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.  

While most people who undertake one of these eating styles are concerned with weight loss, it should be noted that in this regard, the main mechanism behind fat loss is a calorie deficit, as in eating fewer calories than your body burns over a prolonged period. A great tool for anyone looking to change how they eat is an app called MyFitnessPal. The only other tool needed is a food scale, which can be purchased very inexpensively. Track your food intake for at least one week, and you may be surprised how quickly the calories add up.  

The best advice for weight loss is to decide on your daily caloric goal. Consume that number of calories while also weighing yourself first thing in the morning each day before eating or drinking. If after a few days you notice you are either maintaining or gaining on average, then you know that you need to lower your calorie intake in order to lose weight. Try lowering your goal by 300-500 calories each day. You will hardly notice this slight shift, which could be as simple as cutting back on the amount of creamer in your coffee and substituting water for a soft drink. The key to success is to remain consistent, as is suggested in these “tough love” quotes found on the Whole30 website:

“This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard. You’ve done harder things than this.”

“Don’t even consider the possibility of a ‘slip.’ Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a pizza, there is no ‘slip.’ You make a choice to eat something unhealthy.”

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