What are the Keto & Paleo Diets? What are the Differences?
A number of emerging dietary trends include the complete removal of grains from daily consumption. The research is still growing but there are indications that removing grains has a number of significant benefits. Beyond just going grain-free there are more restrictive diets that remove other foods as well, such as the Paleolithic and the Ketogenic diets. Let’s have a closer look at each of these diets, starting with the simplest which is grain-free.
A grain-free diet means just that, no grains of any kind, not just gluten grains. Quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat are allowed in small quantities on a grain-free diet since they are not technically grains. This type of eating is not necessarily low carb since potatoes, legumes, squash and sugar are allowed.
The reason for removal of grains is multifaceted but here are some of the potential benefits:
- Improve Leaky Gut Symptoms
- Wheat, in particular, and other gluten grains can cause varying degrees of intestinal inflammation leading to something called “leaky gut”. A sign of leaky gut is multiple food sensitivities. Leaky gut refers to proteins and fat (partially digested) that pass through a compromised intestinal lining and get into the blood stream causing an allergic response. In addition to digestive symptoms, leaky gut can also cause a variety of other symptoms including fatigue, headaches, joint pain, acne, rosacea, thyroid conditions and weight gain.
- Improve Mental Health
- Surprisingly, gluten antibodies have been shown to impact mental health. These antibodies have been shown to attack an enzyme involved in the production of the neurotransmitter GABA. Reduced GABA levels are associated with anxiety and depression. If the intestinal lining in compromised, more of these gluten antibodies can enter the blood stream and reach the brain, thereby affecting GABA levels.
- Reduce Food Cravings and Balance Blood Sugar
- Many grains, particularly more processed versions are considered to be high on the glycemic index. These foods tend to cause more dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar which triggers food cravings. Removing these high glycemic index foods consequently can balance blood sugar and reduce cravings.
- Improve Cardiovascular Health
- There is some evidence that a grain-free diet lowers cholesterol levels leading to decreased risk of heart disease.
The term Ketogenic Diet was coined in 1923 by Dr. Russell Wilder at the Mayo Clinic. The keto diet was first introduced as a treatment for epilepsy. This diet was effectively used as a mainstay of epilepsy treatment for two decades until the introduction of antiepileptic drugs.
The Keto diet is high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbs.
70-80% calories from fat
20-25% calories from protein
5-10% calories from carbohydrates
The following foods are removed in a keto diet:
- All grains and grain-like seeds
- Tubers (vegetables that grown below the ground)
- Sugar and other high carb sweeteners
- Most fruit
Foods that are allowed include:
- Meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs
- High fat dairy
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetables that grow above the ground
- Avocado and berries
- Low carb sweeteners ex. Stevia, monk fruit
- Healthy oils and fats
What does “keto” mean?
The term “keto” refers to the called ketones that are produced by the body when very few carbohydrates are eaten. Ketones are an alternative fuel source for our bodies to use when our blood sugar/ glucose is low. When ketones are released, this is called ketosis. Ketosis mimics the effects of fasting without actually fasting. Ketones are produced in the liver from fat cells and are used as fuel throughout the body when carbohydrate consumption is very low. With a ketogenic diet, our bodies switch from relying on glucose from carbohydrates to relying on fat as fuel. This means that fat burning increases dramatically. It actually becomes easier to access your fat stores to burn fat off.
Keto Diet Benefits
In addition to improving fat metabolism, ketone production may help reduce overall inflammation and oxidative stress that contributes to a number of chronic diseases. Some of the demonstrated benefits of a ketogenic diet include:
- Regulating Appetite
- One weigh loss study showed that the hunger hormone called ghrelin was lower in those dieting using the keto diet vs those who were including some carbohydrates. Those who remained in ketosis were less hungry.
- Losing Weight
- The keto diet has been shown to be effective for weight loss because it suppresses the appetite, decreases insulin levels and increases fat burning.
- Managing seizures
- There are ongoing studies supporting the keto diet for those with epilepsy. Many studies have shown that children and adolescents following ketogenic diets have reduced their seizure frequency by 50%. Although the pathways involved in the keto diet remain unclear, it is thought that the ketone effects include neurotransmitter modulation and antioxidant effects on the brain.
- Alzheimer’ Disease
- A mouse study in 2013 showed that the keto diet improved motor performance but not cognitive function. More studies are required.
- Reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches
- A case report of two twin sisters who no longer experienced chronic migraines when following the keto diet has prompted a number of clinical trials that are in the works.
- Heart disease
- The keto diet can help improve cardiovascular risk factors including good cholesterol (HDL), blood pressure and obesity.
Keto Diet Uncertainties
- Possible increased risk of insulin resistance leading to type II Diabetes
- A recent rat study in the Journal of Physiology found that the keto diet was associated with increased insulin resistance in the liver, that is, the liver failed to reduce glucose production in response to insulin. Although the rats appeared healthy, they exhibited decreased glucose tolerance. These findings contradict the assumptions made until now that the keto diet improved insulin resistance and diabetes. A human trial is required to clarify these initial findings.
On the Paleo Diet food choices are restricted to what would have been eaten during the Paleolithic Era which was 10,000 to 2.5 million years ago. The idea is to return to a way of eating that is more in keeping with what early humans ate. These include foods that would have been obtained by hunting and gathering.
Proponents reason that the human body is mismatched with foods produced by current farming practices. Farming changed what we eat and added dairy, grains and legumes to our diet. The mismatch is thought to be the reason behind the obesity epidemic along with the high rates of heart disease and diabetes.
Foods that are allowed on a Paleo diet:
- Vegetables (except white potatoes)
- Nuts, seeds
- Meat , poultry, fish, seafood, eggs
- Oils from fruit and nuts
Foods that removed on a Paleo diet:
- Grains and seed-like grains
- All dairy
- Sugar and high fructose corn syrup
- Vegetable oils and trans fats
- Artificial sweeteners
- Food additives
- White potatoes
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
- Improving glucose tolerance
- A study in 2007 studied men with heart disease and elevated glucose levels or Type II Diabetes. They compared the Mediterranean diet to the Paleo diet and found that the Paleo diet was superior for improving glycemic control and waist circumference.
- Improving blood pressure
- A study in 2008 found that in addition to weight loss, the paleo diet improved waist circumference and systolic blood pressure.
- Improving cardiovascular risk factors
- A 2009 study compared the effects of the Paleo diet vs the standard Diabetes diet on cardiovascular risk factors in those with Type II Diabetes. They found that the Paleo diet was superior in improving blood sugar control, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides – all important cardiovascular risk factors.
The Paleo, Keto and Grain-Free diets all seem to have significant health benefits. At the moment there are few studies comparing them against each other. The common thread is that they are all cereal grain-free. Perhaps grain remove is worth considering, particularly given the potential negative impact of gluten on the intestinal lining that can lead to leaky gut. More research is required to compare the effects of these three diets. Is it worth doing Keto or Paleo? Or is grain-free adequate to obtain the health benefits.
Consider seeing a Naturopath to find out which dietary approach is best for you.
There are so many dietary options and protocols out there. A Naturopath will do a full assessment of your health concerns and develop an individualized treatment plan including dietary recommendations that will have a therapeutic effect.
If you would like to find out more, book a FREE 15 min Naturopath consultation with Dr. Tara Andresen today at one her NDcare clinics in Toronto.