What is the difference between Keto, Low Carb and Paleo? And how does all of this compare to Weight Watchers? As a nutritionist I am often asked these questions. The answer is that all Keto, Low Carb and Paleo are all a healthy approach to eating. This is in part because all three—when properly done– eliminate foods that are associated with health problems.
PALEO, LOW CARB AND KETO HAVE A LOT IN COMMON
Paleo, Low Carb and Keto all strive to eliminate highly processed foods. Many studies show that processed foods cause a number of health problems, including overeating and weight gain. The three approaches also advocate for changing the fats that we consume. They recommend avoiding what we normally call “vegetable oils” but which are often oils made from things other than vegetables such as soybeans, canola, and safflower. These types of oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids which cause inflammation (a cause of many diseses) and have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
THE DIFFERENCE IS IN THE CARBS
Where the three approaches to healthy eating differ is in the amount of carbohydrate in the diet. Paleo tries to mimic a diet that our pre-historic ancestors would have eaten, using the premise that this is what our bodies evolved to use. Strict paleo often does not include dairy products. Paleo places no limit on fruit and higher carb vegetables, so the carbohydrate content on average is higher than that of a low carb diet. Because of this, people who are not metabolically healthy (such as those with type 2 diabets, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and metabolic syndrome) may do better on a low carb diet. Some people who do not have these conditions still feel better– whether it is energy, sleep, digestive issues or pain– on a lower carb diet than what is normally seen in paleo.
Low Carb diets specifically reduce the amount of carbohydrates eaten each day. This can be beneficial for a number of medical conditions, especially diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes can reverse their disease with a low carb diet. (Google Virta Trials). Low carb is also being recommended by physicians to help reduce inflammation, for weight loss and to help with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
THE DEFINITION OF LOW CARB VARIES
Low Carb is generally accepted to be a diet with 100 grams or less of carbohydrates a day, although some definitions allow for as many as 130 grams of carbs. A low carb diet with 100 grams or so of carbs per day is often called a “liberal low carb diet”, meaning it is less restrictive. One happy side effect of a low carb diet is that most people are a lot less hungry. Studies also show that metabolic rate is maintained or increased. This is the opposite of what happens with calorie restricting diets such as a Weight Watchers diet, which eventually leads to a slower metabolism.
THE GOAL OF KETO IS KETONES- SORT OF
Keto is one type of low carb diet. With a keto diet the number of carbohydrates is more tightly restricted, with most individuals trying to keep at or below 20 grams of net carbs. Some people are able to be more liberal than this while others are more strict. The goal of the keto diet is for the body to make ketones, which are produced when the body burns fat. Interestingly ketones can then be used as a source of fuel by the body, including by the brain. People following a keto diet will often see accelerated decrease in body size (notice I didn’t say weight loss?) as well as a feeling of increased energy and well being. The ketogenic diet is being recommended by doctors for both psychiatric conditions such as depression, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Contrary to what many people believe, measuring ketones is not 100% necessary on a keto diet for most people. Monitoring for the results you are looking for– losing body size, increased energy, better sleep– are all good ways to track if you are doing well.
EXPECT TO SEE A CHANGE IN YOUR MEDS
Medication reductions are very common on low carb, both in keto and liberal low carb, with people often decreasing or stopping drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes, gastric reflux and pain.
Which diet is the best for you? Most people will benefit from choosing a healthy diet with lots of whole foods, avoiding processed foods and vegetable oils. Which diet you choose depends both on your goals, how quickly you wish to reach them, and your lifestyle. With low carb and keto, people often need to reduce their medications quickly. This is a great benefit but needs to be managed properly. It is recommended that you follow the guidance of a physician, nurse practitioner or pharmacist familiar with low carb if you are taking medications for type 2 diabetes, or blood pressure.