The benefits of adopting a paleo lifestyle go way beyond weight loss and maintaining a healthy physique. This ‘low carb’ diet, that generally avoids dairy, grains, processed foods, preservatives and added chemicals, has numerous other health benefits including aiding in balancing blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation within the body, clearing the skin, regulating sleeping patterns and balancing energy output throughout the day.
Recently another diet has become increasingly popular, that combines the two different views on food and health from the paleolithic and the ketogenic diets. Though they are similar in some ways, both low carb diets that focus on optimizing health and well-being, they have some distinct differences too.
So just how does combining them together stack up against the individual diets? And what exactly would this diet entail?
In order to understand exactly what the keto paleo diet is, it is first important to take a closer look at exactly what is meant by ‘keto’, or the ‘ketogenic diet’.
The Keto Diet
The Keto diet is one that stimulates the production of an alternate energy source produced in the body, known as ‘ketones’. Generally speaking, the body predominantly runs off glucose, as it is the quickest to metabolize, and sometimes taps into fat stores. The fat stores being excess glucose that wasn’t used and therefore gets stored as fat for future use. Ketones, a third energy source, is what is used if glucose is in short supply. These ketones are created in the liver through the breakdown of fat.This fat can either come from what was recently eaten, or stores within the body.
After following a Ketogenic diet for a short period, your body actually switches its energy source over from glucose and starts to work predominantly from the breakdown of fat. This happens as you follow a diet that is not only very low in carbohydrates but also has a restricted protein intake too. The restriction of protein is required because excess protein consumption results in the conversion of protein into glucose. In order to maintain the energy required, a diet rich in good fats is consumed.
As the body adjusts to this low carb and reduced protein diet, it stimulates the production of ketones in the liver to ensure your body, especially your brain, has a ready supply of energy. When this occurs the body is said to be in a state of ‘ketosis’. Your insulin levels drop and you are able to access your fat stores for energy production.
Essentially your body becomes an efficient fat burning machine.
This state of ketosis is only achievable through either following a ketogenic diet or fasting. Obviously, fasting will help you achieve this state of ketosis sooner, however, it is not only unsustainable (you cannot fast forever!), you are also then starving your body of the nutrients and fuel it needs to build and maintain your muscles.
This is why the keto diet is becoming increasingly popular in the world of weight loss and body sculpting.
Looking at how the two might work together is interesting because there are both similarities and distinct differences when it comes to both the paleo and the keto diet:
Paleo – This diet approach looks at consuming food similar to what was available to humans in the paleolithic period, or ‘cave men’. It focuses on a high protein and low carb diet that includes meats and avoids grains. This diet also avoids dairy, refined sugars and table salt. The paleo diet is not specifically about weight loss (though this is, of course, a happy byproduct of it), instead it is about general health and wellbeing. There are many more diseases that plague us now, then there were in the paleolithic era, so by reverting back to a simplified diet, free from foods that cause inflammation including preservatives and chemicals, we can help promote inner health.
Keto – This diet focuses on putting the body into the state of ketosis, by manipulating the three main macronutrients, carbs, proteins and fats. It works by sticking to a low carb diet with restricted protein intake. This diet was originally used as a health tool, as it has been shown to lower LCD (bad cholesterol) levels and increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels, promoting a healthy cardiovascular system. Implementing a state of ketosis has also been used with some success in helping treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as the treatment of epilepsy. Yet has also been found to be an incredibly effective weight loss tool.
The problem is that there are risks involved in reaching a state of ketosis for people with specific illnesses, such as metabolic diseases including; porphyria and pyruvate carboxylase deficiency, and also type 1 diabetes where the insulin levels are an important consideration.
So this is a serious consideration for anyone who may be contemplating incorporating the keto aspect into their existing paleo diet plan.
The Bottom Line
The main differences between the two diets is the simple fact that paleo looks at food choices, whereas the keto diet is about macronutrient manipulation. With paleo you eliminate grains, dairy and avoid alcohol and processed foods, however, you can balance the three main macronutrients in any way you like. Keto requires a much more strict ratio between the macronutrients and allows for some raw, full-fat dairy.
So in order to balance both diets, and still achieve ketosis, there are going to be a lot of restrictions. A reduced protein intake will need to be compensated with fats, and in sticking with the paleo diet, this will mean more coconut fats/oils, nuts, avocados, eggs and even lard and tallow.
So is it possible? Yes. Is it healthy? If you maintain vigilance when overlooking your diet to ensure you are getting enough nutrients, then it can be healthy (assuming you have no underlying illness that would contraindicate attempting the keto diet) and could, in fact, be a beneficial tool for helping burn fat more effectively.
As I mentioned before fasting is another way of reaching ketosis, and though you cannot completely fast all the time, intermittent fasting is also an effective tool when coupled with the low carb intake involved in the paleo diet. In fact athlete, Ben Greenfield talks about how he uses this approach in this interview.
At the end of the day, both diets will promote good health (when practiced safely) and both will promote weight loss. The keto diet may promote weight loss at a slightly faster rate, however, this will come at the cost of a further restricted diet. So it really comes down to personal preference and what works best for you.
Remember to always thoroughly research any diet or change that will impact on your health, so that you can make your decisions from a well-informed place.