Have you been shopping around for a healthful change only to find yourself lost in a sea of unfamiliar words? Join the club.
In recent years, terms like paleo, keto and Whole 30 have been up-front-and-center in the long list of potential solutions promising a “new you.” But what are they and do they work?
Registered dieticians Mary Rudroff, from St. Luke’s Hospital, and Debbie Roth, from Missouri Baptist Medical Center, offered professional insight into these diet plans. Both work with outpatient nutrition wellness and diabetes management.
The keto diet
The keto diet, also known as the ketogenic diet and nutritional ketosis, was introduced in the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy but has resurfaced as a viable diet option in recent years. Keto is a high-fat, moderate-protein and low-carbohydrate diet that uses your body’s ketones, instead of carbohydrates, as fuel. Ketones are a type of acid that is made by your liver from fat. Eating a diet that is very low in carbs can put your body into a metabolic state known as ketosis and potentially make it more efficient at burning fat.
Approved foods in a keto diet include meat, poultry, fatty fish and shellfish, eggs, cheese, specific vegetables, nuts and seeds. Foods not approved include grains, pasta and rice, legumes and most fruits [some berries are on the approved list].
Generally, people on the keto diet consume the following ranges of macronutrients [caloric intake]:
• 60 to 75 percent of calories from fat, possibly more
• 15 to 30 percent of calories from protein
• 5 to 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates
According to Roth, people following the keto diet are likely to see rapid weight loss but also some potentially dangerous side effects.
During the process of breaking down fat, ketones are eliminated from the body through frequent and increased urination, which can induce “keto flu” resulting from dehydration and causing everything from headaches and weakness to constipation, nausea and vomiting.
“[Ketones] going through the kidneys [at an accelerated rate] can overload the kidney proteins and cause kidney stones,” Roth said. “Gallbladder complications are also another risk factor.”
The paleo diet
The paleo diet gets its name from the “Paleolithic” period in human history and also is referred to as the “caveman diet.” People on this diet are encouraged to eat the way the cavemen ate over 2.5 million years ago.
Like the keto diet, this eating plan is higher in protein and lower in carbs with moderate amounts of fiber. The paleo diet includes lean meats, fish, fruits and vegetables but eliminates dairy and processed foods and restricts grains and refined sugar. Certain alcohol is permitted on this diet.
The diet works because high protein foods are more filling and have fewer calories. Additionally, reducing the intake of processed foods has direct health benefits. Still, the experts urge exercising caution.
“Any time you are eliminating entire food groups, it is a concern that you are not going to get the balanced nutrients your body needs to be healthy,” Rudroff said.
Roth added that, while this is a healthier approach than the keto diet, once those restricted items are added back into your diet, the weight will return.
“It’s really more of a whole foods approach to food and removing processed foods and additives. In that respect it has its pros,” Roth said.
The Whole 30
The Whole 30 diet is very similar to paleo but with greater restrictions. For 30 days, you eat moderate portions of meat, seafood and eggs along with generous portions of vegetables. The list of foods to avoid includes dairy, grains, legumes, all forms of sugar and alcohol as well as processed foods and cooking oils. Very small amounts of fruit are permitted.
Paleo is typically considered more of a long-term, lifestyle change, while Whole 30 is more of a jumping off point and is designed to be short term. Therefore, Whole 30’s “rules” are more restrictive.
Roth said her concern for the Whole 30 diet is its lack of fiber and the restrictiveness of its meal plan. It’s not sustainable long-term, she said, which means weight will return once you add in food groups at the end of the 30 days.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know what long-term health risks are associated with these diets,” Roth said. “To keep your metabolism working at maximum efficiency, I recommend three meals a day with healthy snacks in-between. It’s counterintuitive, but you have to eat to lose weight.”
Rudroff suggested a better-balanced approach to weight loss is to adopt long-term changes that are sustainable, track those changes in a food log or journal and exercise daily.
“Weight loss should be slow and steady, perhaps one or two pounds per week,” Roth said. “You didn’t gain the weight in a week or a month, so don’t expect it to come off that fast.”