Over the course of a year, the average American eats just under 2000 pounds of food. It's worth noting that includes about 40 pounds of cheese alone! Of course, vegetables, fruits and grains make up plenty of that weight. But so does animal protein, with the average person eating about 185 pounds of meat. Naturally, these numbers may shift, especially if you're following a special diet. If you're following a popular diet, you may be wondering what's the pros and cons of diets like Paleo, Keto or Atkins are.
Here's a breakdown.
The Pros and Cons of Paleo, Keto and Atkins
I just heard a dietitian friend say, "The best diet is the one you don't know you're on." For some people it may be a paleo diet, for others it may be keto, and yet for others it may be Atkins. There are actually so many other diets out there, all the information can get a little cloudy.
You may be wondering, What are you talking about? You wrote The Belly Burn Plan, which is 100% awesome and works for every body! Why are you talking about other plans?
Well, The Belly Burn Plan isn't the only thing out there, and chances are you, or someone you know may explore other ways of eating. I thought I'd breakdown the pros and cons of a few of the more popular: paleo, keto and Atkins.
Ideally, the best diet for your body will:
- Be garbage-free. In other words, choose a chemical-free diet that won't do more harm that good. Sound obvious, right? Unfortunately, some diets are laden in artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and plenty of other ingredients that do your body no favors whatsoever.
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels. You know you're following a diet that maintains healthy blood sugar levels if you feel satisfied (more or less) throughout the day. You feel less hungry and more energized. If you feel like you're starving all day long, something is wrong.
- Actually fuel your body with nutrients. Healthy diets don't cut corners or lack nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, that are vital for your body's health. Diets that base success purely on pounds lost on a scale often fall into his category.
- Help cut down on inflammation. Inflammation and its associated diseases, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer make your life miserable. Your diet - whether based on an plan or just on foods you like to eat, should be anti-inflammatory most of the time.
I'm sure there are a few more bullets I could put on this list, but this is a good start.
Moving along, what's the best diet out there? Let's take a look at a few of the most popular. This may help you decide for yourself.
The Paleo Diet: Pros and Cons
If you start drooling at the thought of eating a big piece of steak, but wince at a bowl of rice, a paleo-style diet may be calling your name. The backbone of a paleo-style diet is based on what you should eat and what you should avoid with the principle revolving around eating the way Paleolithic people ate.
It's an "eat like caveman and forage off the earth" kind of a vibe.
Foods You Can Eat on a Paleo Diet:
- Meat: beef, turkey, chicken, lamb, ham, etc.
- Fish, including shellfish
- Healthy Fats: coconut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, etc.
- Nuts (except peanuts)
- Herbs and Spices
Foods You Avoid on a Paleo Diet
- All Grains: breads, pastas, corn, rice, barley, quinoa (technically a berry), oats, etc.
- All Dairy: butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, ice cream, etc.
- Beans and Legumes, including peanuts!
- All refined sugar, including honey and agave nectar
- Processed Foods (most shelf-stable foods)
- Fast Foods
- Soda/ Diet Soda
I think that about covers it. For all intents and purposes, a paleo diet is mostly clean, but quite restrictive. That said, it's easy enough to follow and sustain once you get the hang of it.
As a reminder, the foods that are on the "avoid list" are foods that people didn't resort to when they were caveman roaming the Earth some 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago.
Agriculture began right around the time the Paleo period ended. Grains and such were nowhere to be eaten during the very early years of this period, so they're eliminated in today's modern paleo diet.
Pros of a Paleo Diet
It's clean: As a mentioned above, you may think a paleo diet might be the best diet for you because it's really clean, meaning you're reading the ingredients on everything, avoiding chemicals, fast foods, and all added sugars.
It's not macro-based: Some macro-based diets, or plans that have you counting how many grams of carbohydrates, protein and fat, are extremely hard to comply with 100% for the long haul. You can pretty much eat whatever you want on a paleo diet, provided those foods are in the "can eat" category.
It can be anti-inflammatory: This diet pushes plenty of plant-based foods, but it's not required. If you're inclined to eat many of these vegetables or fruits, then you're in luck! A paleo diet could be the anti-inflammatory answer of your dreams. If you choose to poo poo veggies, begrudgingly eating a handful of spinach every now and then, you could be in trouble.
It's also worth noting that the vegetables and fruits in a paleo diet are the primary source of carbohydrates.
It's soy-free: This is a personal addition to the list. I don't think anyone should eat soy...ever. Soy is mostly GMO (to the tune of 98% of the crops in the US are sprayed with glyphosate), and it's been a part of our food system for barely 100 years. Needless to say, I'm happy that this diet is void of soy.
Cons of a Paleo Diet
It's heavy on meats: If you're not a meat lover, a paleo diet will probably turn you off. Bacon, chicken and steak are everywhere in the paleo world. While I'm not one to scare away from saturated fats (I don't think they're bad), the research behind red meat consumption is something to take note of. There is a strong correlation between pancreas and prostate cancer, and regular consumption of red meat. It's also worth noting that this same study showed a correlation between stomach cancer and processed meats (like hot dogs).Keep that in mind.
It can be expensive: If you're used to buying prepared foods or processed foods, you might need to make a little more room in your wallet for a new paleo way of eating. Unprocessed meats, fresh veggies, fresh fruits and healthy fats are not cheap.
That said, if you're true to a paleo diet and avoid alcohol, cookies, fast food and processed snacks, you could be saving yourself a pretty penny.
It's all in how you look at it and how serious you are about committing.
It's not for vegetarians: This doesn't really need much of an explanation. Vegetarians follow plant-based meals to thrive, relying on legumes and lentils (hopefully not soy) for protein. Meat, even fish, has no place in the world of a vegetarian.
What's more, vegetarians eat dairy, something a paleo follower avoids.
It's based on how humans at from 2.5 million years ago: You're a human. I'm a human. But our darling ancestors from all those years ago were not as evolved as we are now. While I think our agricultural world has seen a fair share of setbacks with the mass-production of genetically-modified crops, our bodies have learned to adapt to grains and such - at least to some extent.
Yes, some people are still sensitive or even allergic to gluten and the like, but many are not. Cutting out these available foods may not be as necessary as this type of diet prescribes.
The Keto Diet: Pros and Cons
Fat. Fat. Fat. More fat - of the dietary kind - is where it's at for keto-style diets.
Keto diets are nothing new and have been around for nearly 100 years. Originally developed by Mayo Clinic doctor, Russell Wilder, a ketogenic diet was something that helped control type 1 diabetes before insulin was available as a treatment. Wilder used this type of diet to better manage the body’s inability to manage blood sugar levels the way the pancreas otherwise could in healthy individuals.
Food is comprised of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. A keto diet is primarily fat-based.
Your body must shift to a state of ketosis to benefit from this diet. The terms “keto” or “ketogenic” come from something called ketones.
Ketones are what your liver creates (and uses as fuel) when fat gets delivered there. Normally, this would be glucose, but since it’s not available, fat (which becomes ketones) is used for energy instead.
Ketosis is what happens when your body burns fat instead of glucose (from carbohydrates) for fuel.
You do not necessarily need to strictly limit carbohydrates to shift to burning fat for fuel. Athletes do it all the time and they eat a wide variety of foods.
The diet itself is extreme, with carbohydrate intake limited to 10 – 35 grams a day, or the equivalent of a handful or two of carrots.
Since the main form of energy is fat, a few examples of a typical meal might include:
- Scrambled eggs + spinach + avocado
- Bacon + cheese + cauliflower
- Smoked salmon + 1/2 tomato + eggs
This diet isn't for everyone, but can be extremely beneficial to people who have uncontrollable seizures - especially children. The Charlie Foundation is one such organization that benefits children with seizure disorders benefit from a keto way of living.
The Pros of a Keto Diet
It's effective for seizure disorders: Anecdotally, I was at a paleo-ish conference a couple years ago and sat at a table across from a woman with a severe stutter and a man with a seizure disorder (both adults). They both told me about how their fat-based keto-style diet helped them tremendously carry on a normal life.
This was wonderful to hear and one of the main ways a high fat diet served this population some 100 years ago when this protocol was first introduced for seizure (and other cognitive) treatments.
It may help with weight loss: A keto-style diet may help with immediate weight loss, but there are no long term studies on the benefits of weight loss long term (5+ years).
It's fat friendly: Finally, fat is not frowned down upon! This is welcome news, especially for people who spent years eating tasteless food on low fat diets. Fat naturally makes food taste better. Unlike a paleo-style diet that restricts dairy, you can grab a chunk of cheese and just enjoy it without a sliver of guilt.
The Cons of a Keto Diet
No veggies = no vitamins or minerals: If you're limiting your diet to a sliver of the carbs you should be getting, you're very seriously depriving your body of much-needed vitamins and nutrients that are nowhere to be found in a fat-based diet. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals only gets you so far as they have limited absorption properties.
It's harder to fight inflammation: Antioxidants are found in plant-based foods. Antioxidants are the powerhouse that help fight inflammation. Without getting antioxidants in your body, it's very difficult to fight off inflammation.
It's difficult to sustain: You're not truly benefiting from a keto diet if you pop in and out of ketosis. You really can't take a vacation from this type of diet without seeing some sort of a rebounding effect. If your goal is weight loss, and you in fact do lose weight following a keto diet, but bounce in and out of it, the consequences ca be very taxing on your body.
It's hard to keep clean: This is super important. Fats don't just vanish from your body when you eat them. They're not like a vitamin you get from a carrot that excretes through your urine. Anything that's underlying in the fat sticks with you and gets stuck in your cells.
If you're eating meats that are not grass fed, free range or organic, you a probably eating unwanted toxins with every slice of bacon or teaspoon of butter. These toxins are fat soluble. I can't stress enough how consequential this is to your body in the long term.
If you choose to follow a keto-style diet to lose weight, buy organic or grass fed or free range. If you can't do that, a plant-based diet might be best for you.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet was written and published in 1972. It gained some popularity then, but exploded in the mid 90s to early 2000s.
Pioneered by the late cardiologist, Dr. Robert Atkins, this is a carb-controlled four-phase diet that initially reduces carbs, then slowly re-introduces them.
The four phases of The Atkins Diet include:
- Induction Phase: A carb-restrictive phase in which carbs are reduced to 20 grams a day (similar to a keto-style diet). This phase lasts about two weeks.
- Balancing Phase: Carbs are slowly addedt back into the diet by about 5 grams a day. For example, day 1 = 25 grams, day 2 = 30 grams, etc. This phase lasts between one to two weeks, or to the tipping point at which weight gain may creep back. Stop adding carbs and maintain the phase at the point your body tolerates best.
- Pre-Maintenance Phase: Add in an additional 10 grams of carbs a week (up to 100 grams), recommended in the form of veggies, fruits or whole grains. This phase could last weeks.
- Maintenance Phase: Keep doing what you're doing, in theory, for life. You've gouda your sweet won in the pre-maintenance phase and you should just keep going.
If you can overlook the commercialization of this diet, there are some real gems that make this diet stand out among the rest.
Foods You Can Eat on The Atkins Diet
Similar to the paleo diet, this plan is largely based on what you can and can't eat.
- Full Fat Dairy: plain full fat yogurt, whole milk, cheese
- Low Carb Veggies: (especially induction phase): leafy greens, tomatoes, etc.
- Low Carb Fruits: (especially induction phase): strawberries, blackberries, raspberries
- Other Veggies: (slowly/limited added in later phases: carrots, zucchini, small amounts of sweet potatoes, etc.)
- Other Fruits: (slowly/limited added in later phases: apple, melon, pineapple, etc.)
- Meats, Poultry and Seafood
Foods You Avoid on The Atkins Diet
- Refined Sugar: juice, soda, candy, and all processed foods with added sugar
- Most Vegetable Oils: corn, canola, soybean oil
- High Carb & Veggies Fruits (in the induction phase only): bananas, potatoes, etc.
- Beans & Legumes (in the induction phase only)
- Diet Soda/Diet Products
Unlike a keto-style diet, the focus of The Atkins Diet is based around limiting carbohydrates initially, then increasing to a tipping point that works for your body. Protein is welcome and the diet is not based around an incredible amount of dietary fat or putting your body into a state of ketosis.
Pros of The Atkins Diet
It is easier to sustain: After you get to the maintenance phase, you can start eating nearly anything, provided you do go over the tipping point for carbohydrates. Again, if you stick to the principles of this diet and stay away from junky foods, it's probably easier to sustain than paleo and definitely easier to sustain than keto.
It can be anti-inflammatory: The Atkins Diet is just as commercialized as paleo and keto - if not more. Commercialization leads to processed foods. If you can steer clear of these processed foods (Atkins bars, prepared meals, crackers, etc.) and focus on the foods that are a part of the third and fourth phases (assuming you make it through the first two okay), you'll be allowed a good amount of vegetables and fruits that can really benefit your body, helping to manage inflammation.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel: Unlike the restrictions of keto-style diets that require a permanent and extremely low carbohydrate maintenance and paleo-style diets that require a permanent omission of a number of foods, you can eat nearly any food on The Atkins Diet after you're through the initial phase.
Cons of The Atkins Diet
The induction phase can be tough: There is a minimum of two weeks of very, very low carbohydrate intake, which can leave you feeling like you want to eat cardboard after a fairly short period of time. After you're through that phase, you move onto phase two, which is still fairly restrictive.
You're counting carbs...a lot: Unless you understand the macronutrients of food very well, you'll need to figure out how much carbohydrate is in everything. After you have your rhythm down, you should be on autopilot, but that could take weeks. At the very least, you'll be more knowledgeable of what you're eating!
You could become constipated: Constipation is a digestive nightmare. No one wants to be constipated, but high protein and low fiber can do that to a person. Get ready!
So there it is! A breakdown of three big diets: Paleo, Keto and Atkins. What do you think?
Have you ever followed one of those diet? Have you had success? Leave a comment below!
More importantly, have you ordered your copy of The Belly Burn Plan? It's four mini plans developed for your body type: Apple, Pear, Hourglass and Inverted Pyramid. Check it out.
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Where does Whole 30 land with these 3?
Think of Whole30 as a stricter version of paleo. They’re fairly similar in their principles, but much more restrictive. Keto and Atkins, in comparison to Whole30, all steer clear of refined sugar (in their true form), with keto carbs in the form of sugar almost entirely. I hope that helps!