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When it comes to fast weight loss, there are plenty of fads that claim to be the solution. The ketogenic diet has gained popularity as a quick solution for weight loss but is anything but a passing fad. It’s frequently confused with three similar low-carb diets: Paleo, Atkins, and Whole30. So let’s take a look at the differences among these four diets and how effective they are for sustainable weight loss.
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The Paleo diet is appealing because it doesn’t ask followers to worry about eating too much fat or to count calories. Furthermore, it’s based on biology. As the premise goes, our bodies have become dysregulated with the environment. That’s why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes. Humans have existed for 200,000 years, but our current food supply — processed junk food — has only been around for about 50 years. Soft drinks, donuts, candy, potato chips, sugary cereals, and foot-long sandwiches are new. Paleo calls for returning to how our ancestors ate – meats and vegetables. Absolutely nothing processed and no refined sugars.
“Many Paleo dieters find themselves losing weight initially when they ‘clean up’ their diet and shed a lot of water weight, but typically hit a plateau with the steady level of carb consumption in their diet,” says Registered Dietitian Molly Devine. “They must restrict calories to continue seeing weight loss, which is hard when you continue to have carb cravings and associated hunger. Keto dieters, on the other hand, continue to see weight loss, even after the initial water weight loss, because their bodies can now burn body fat stores for fuel. Plus, their fat consumption reduces hunger and increases the feeling of fullness, so they eat less while still feeling satiated.”
Also based on biology, specifically the biology of human metabolism, the Ketogenic diet (“Keto” for short) takes things a step further. Some people think of it as Paleo 2.0. Keto followers believe that most Paleo followers eat too many carbohydrates and not enough fat. A popular source of fat is full-fat dairy products such as butter, heavy whipping cream and cheese, which are not permitted on Paleo. Another main difference: Paleo avoids sugar substitutes and allows sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, while Keto shuns all carb-filled sweeteners in favor of sugar-free substitutes, such as Stevia and erythritol.
Keto is all about getting into ketosis so your body is burning fat for fuel instead of sugar. Ketosis works on a spectrum. When you’re Paleo, you probably achieve ketosis from time to time – maybe for a few hours or a few days. But those living a Ketogenic lifestyle try to stay in ketosis for as long as possible — sometimes weeks or even months at a time. For many Keto followers, being in a state of ketosis improves both their physical and mental performance.
Compared to the Atkins diet, Keto is lower in protein and carbs and higher in fat. If you compare the macro breakdown, Keto is 75% fat / 20% protein / 5% carbs while Atkins is about 60% fat / 30% protein / 10% carbs (in its maintenance phases). Most Atkins dieters consume too much protein to achieve or maintain ketosis. The other big difference is that Keto macros don’t change over time, while Atkins has four phases, with each phase allowing for more carbs. The Atkins diet is more of a short-term weight loss effort while the Ketogenic diet is a lifestyle change. Many Atkins dieters discover that when they add carbs back, they tend to regain the weight they lost.
“Our bodies can convert excess protein (above 30%-40% for most people) into glucose, resulting in continued carbohydrate/glucose cravings. So Atkins dieters find themselves avoiding carbs, but thinking about them all day long, thus inevitably ‘falling off the wagon’ and regaining lost weight when they reintroduce carbs into their lives,” says Devine. “Keto dieters, on the other hand, replace the carbs with increased fat consumption, thus allowing their bodies to utilize an alternative source of fuel (fat and ketones) and avoiding carb cravings in the long-term.”
The Whole30 diet is basically a more restrictive version of Paleo. It’s a 30-day elimination diet that is better described as a nutrition reset than a weight loss strategy.
Created in 2009, Whole30 cuts out sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy. It also bans natural and artificial sweeteners (including honey and maple syrup allowed on Paleo), alcohol, all baked goods, and junk food. Like Paleo, it focuses on whole, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, including starchy ones, which are banned on Keto. But unlike Paleo, Whole30 stays away from all packaged foods and recipes that mimic foods e.g. Paleo Pancakes. After the 30 days, you’re directed to slowly reintroduce food groups in an effort to pinpoint any foods or ingredients that may be causing certain issues, such as bloating, stomach discomfort, and acne.
Unlike Keto, Whole30 does not provide guidelines on macros. It doesn’t specify what your fat, protein, and carb ratios should be, but instead specifies which types of foods you can eat. Due to the elimination of grain and legumes, Whole30 is low-carb, but it’s not as low-carb as Keto is.
Weight loss isn’t a primary goal of Whole30, but due to the severe restriction on what you can eat during the 30 days, it’s common to lose weight. It’s also common to gain the weight back when you reintroduce your body to your regular diet.
Regardless of which diet you choose, it’s safe to say cutting back on sugar and refined carbohydrates is beneficial for your health and will result in weight loss. Find what works best for you, taking into consideration your health issues, health goals, and lifestyle. And always consult your doctor before beginning a new diet.
“Any diet that cuts out refined sugars and carbohydrates will result in weight loss and health benefits,” says Devine. “The trick is finding a diet that can be sustained in the long-term and that’s where the keto diet is superior to Paleo, Atkins, and Whole30.”