Rewind a couple of years and a certain celebrity chef had every second person trying out the Paleo diet. Now there’s Paleo cafes serving bacon and eggs cooked in coconut oil, almond milk lattes and raw protein balls (as if the cavemen thought up all of those concoctions).
Nowadays, you’re sure to have noticed more and more people trying out a new low-carb fad: the infamous Keto diet.
If you’re like me, you’re probably rolling your eyes – what on earth is going to be next? But if you are contemplating either, there’s a few key things to consider, first.
The Paleo diet is sold as the hunter-gatherer style diet of our cavemen ancestors – it’s high in protein, thanks to the focus on meat, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds (and thankfully for Paleo fanatics, not the traditional bison, ostrich and insects that the cavemen were accustomed to). Plus, fruit and veg are on high rotation, and there’s a focus on fats like avocado and coconut oil.
While not strictly low-carb, most carb-rich foods like grains (think: bread, rolled oats and rice), legumes and dairy (milk and yoghurt) are off the menu.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the gist of the keto diet by now. In a nutshell, it’s a very low carbohydrate diet that’s high in fat and moderate in protein. If you say goodbye to most grains, starchy veg, fruit and dairy, you’ve got the basics down-pat. So, it seems pretty similar to the Paleo diet, but there’s a few key differences.
Yes, it’s another diet that shuns the dreaded ‘c’ word (carbohydrates, guys) – but the carbohydrate content is so low that it forces your body to enter a state of ‘ketosis’. That means your body stops using carbohydrate as its primary source of fuel, and instead uses fat, which produces ‘ketone bodies’ (that’s where the name comes from).
What’s more, in contrast to the moderate fat content of the Paleo diet, the Ketogenic diet is high in fat.
Let’s start with the positives. The Paleo diet shuns lots of highly processed foods, which I’m all for, because more often than not, these foods are energy-dense and brimming with kilojoules, fat, sugar or sodium (or some combination of the four). It also has a focus on lots of fruit and vegetables, which earns itself another tick in my books. Similarly, the ketogenic diet also has non-starchy veg on the menu – but unfortunately, that’s where the buck stops in terms of my positive review.
With either diet, there’s the risk of several nutrient deficiencies. Fibre for a healthy gut is one example, as the majority of grain foods are on the ‘forbidden foods’ list. Super healthy legumes are also not allowed, and these are chock-full of gut-loving fibre, too (plus, they come with a range of health benefits). Another point of contention is the possible lack of calcium – with dairy foods off-limits, there’s a risk the health of your bones and teeth may suffer. What’s more, the focus on a high fat intake could pose a risk for heart health, especially if the diet is rich in the unhealthy saturated kind (like coconut oil, for example).
So, while clever marketing tricks can make you believe these diets will cure all of your health woes – I’ve got some serious concerns. If I had to choose, I’d recommend starting with some of the principles of the paleo diet (read: more fruit and veg, less processed foods) – and integrating them into a more balanced approach to eating.
Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.