Around the New Year, it seems everyone is “on or off” something. From “Dry January” to clean eating, dairy-free, gluten-free, grain-free, and vegan, it would be an understatement to say there is a lot of information available on diet and nutrition. it’s safe to say, it can be completely overwhelming. A holistic health coach with an integrative approach to a balanced lifestyle, my diet has evolved over time and is varied depending on my goals and how I’m feeling. Sounds sensible right?
Having experienced a lot of confusion around what program to adopt, when I was younger, I often was so frustrated at the conflicting information, I would just do a full stop and hit exasperation. With that said, what I’m seeing more and more with nutrition is a movement towards cooking supportive, nutritious whole foods - i.e. plants and animal protein that you have to cook. This is a wonderful step in the right direction! The other commonality that Keto, Paleo and the Whole 30 all share is they all strive to limit sugar intake and keep blood sugar levels stable to help support the body in fat burning rather than running on glucose .
So, let's dive in and get into the details!
When it comes to nutrition and weight loss programs, one thing is absolutely certain: what works for one person will not work for someone else. Not only is taste subjective, we're all made up differently - in mind, body and spirit. A one size fits all approach to nutrition is not only unrealistic, it ignores the fundamental truth of bio individuality. It also ignores the fact that every day is different. One day might be sedentary at the office and another, really active, demanding a little or a lot from you physically. On those days your body will require different things, nutritionally. When considering any nutrition or weight loss program, the first place to start is with a health assessment (ideally with a doctor, naturopath or health coach). From there, you can work together to determine your goals, discuss any restrictions or contraindications, and put together a realistic plan tailored to you.
What is insulin and why is it so important to weight? Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that regulates blood sugar in the body. Too much sugar is toxic in the body. Over time, a diet too high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (i.e. cakes, cookies, biscuits, pasta, flour, candy, chips, soda, juice) can increase the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and a host of other preventable diseases. When insulin is released, as a protective mechanism to the body, any available excess sugar circulating in the blood stream is immediately stored as fat. Any food or drink that breaks down into sugar spikes insulin in the body and is therefore considered high on the glycemic index (a high GI food), i.e. cakes, cookies, biscuits, pasta, flour, candy, chips, soda and juice, so removing these is a fundamental principle of Keto, Paleo and the Whole 30 programs.
What is Keto?
Hormones are the controlling factor in whether or not a body burns fat.* The hormone that prevents you from losing weight is insulin. Fat burning is greatly enhanced in the absence of insulin. When you’re running on glucose only, you’ll never lose fat. Insulin triggers include carbohydrates, sugars and excessive protein. Every time you eat (even if you eat celery), you trigger insulin – unless you eat fat only. Combining certain foods also spikes insulin, such as combining protein with sugars—so meat with bread, meats with sugary condiments like ketchup, barbecue sauce, sweet chili sauce and chicken fingers—will have a similar effect on the body as if you ate birthday cake.It's also important to note that certain ingredients in fast food really spike insulin, especially MSG. MSG is also commonly disguised as 'natural flavors' in a staggering number of packaged foods (ketchups, barbecue sauces, salad dressing and frozen prepared foods).
In short, when you are eating foods that are high on the GI index and break down into sugar, your body burns glucose (sugar) for fuel (not fat). The alternative is Ketosis: a state in which the body is using ketones as its primary fuel. Ketones are the by-product of burning fats. Our entire lives, we’ve been told that the primary source of energy in the body is carbohydrates or glucose. This has been proven false. Ketones are an alternative fuel source under certain conditions.
According to Dr. Eric Berg, an expert in Keto, "Ketones are produced when the body is burning fats. An average thin person carries around 50,000-70,000 calories of stored fat. If we compare this to the amount of glycogen, which is stored glucose, we’re only talking 1700-2000 calories. Based on this information, our make more sense that our bodies run on fat fuel?"
If you consider the caveman days, if we only had glucose to run our bodies on, we would all have been dead long ago because the glucose reserve would only last 48 hours or less. The goal is to switch our body from sugar fuel to fat fuel.
How to Keto
Eat 7-10 cups of vegetables a day! No one talks about this. Just because you are Keto does not mean you can properly fuel your body with the nutrition it needs eating bacon all day. Vegetables are vital sources of potassium and nutrients essential for life and overall good health.
Eliminate sugars from your diet. Increase your healthy fats (up to 50% of your intake should be fat). Note: fat is the only food that does not spike insulin. Yes, according to the ‘rules’ (who makes these up anyways?) you can have ranch dressing (as long as it doesn't have MSG or natural flavors) on this plan. Increase your protein to 3-6oz each meal (depending on your weight and build)
Limit net carbs to 50 grams a day.
Try intermittent fasting to help regulate blood sugar and experiment with how your body feels. Try 2 meals a day, then 1. Alternate to see what works best for you.
Avoid all hidden sugars (alcohol, packaged and refined carbohydrates).
It's that simple! No counting calories, no need for complicated meal plans. The benefits of this low-carb plan are many, including weight loss.
Paleo / Primal 101
The Paleo movement, like Keto, is also rooted in whole, unprocessed foods as the foundation for good health. The Paleo lifestyle advocates for maintaining several cornerstones to good health, and while a healthy weight is one of them, so are other factors like: spending time outdoors to get a healthy dose of vitamin d, lifting heavy things (like weights), sprinting (on occasion) and spending time with people you care about.
According to the Mayo Clinic, A paleo diet is a dietary plan based on foods similar to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era, which dates from approximately 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. A paleo diet typically includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds — foods that in the past could be obtained by hunting and gathering. A paleo diet limits foods that became common when farming emerged about 10,000 years ago. These foods include dairy products, legumes and grains. An ancestral way of eating, Paleo is a return to eating the way our ancestors did, which is why many refer to it as the 'caveman diet' or a 'hunter-gatherer' diet.
A Paleo (or Primal) lifestyle, like the Whole 30 diet, advocates for limiting grains, gluten and dairy because they are common allergens, create inflammatory effects in the body and in some, create an autoimmune response and more serious health concerns. There is a wealth of information on these foods available, and generally if you suffer from any skin, sinus or autoimmune condition, it is recommended to remove these foods from your diet.
For more information on the Primal / Paleo movement, check out Mark’s Daily Apple, which offers a wealth of information on this lifestyle.
The Whole 30
The Whole 30, like Paleo and Keto, is a lifestyle, not a diet. The program is free to participate, has a vibrant social media following and encourages participants to track non-scale victories over the course of a 30-day program: like better sleep, energy, digestion and mood. Like Paleo and Keto, Whole 30 recommends removing all grains, gluten and dairy from the diet for 30 days, because of their allergenic and inflammatory effects on the body, as well as alcohol, packaged goods and any refined sugars (in most packaged dressings, sauces, pastries, breads, pastries, pasta, crackers and cookies). Other no-no's are refined oils like soy and canola oil, trans-fats found in many packaged and fried foods.
The goal is to investigate how your body responds to certain foods, by first eliminating them and then slowly reinstating them after the 30 days are up. If they still work for you — great! If you find something that helps you feel better in your body, that’s great too. I really like the Whole 30 approach because of its emphasis on lasting lifestyle change and what they call, "food freedom". They don't count calories, and recommend a more intuitive approach to eating, allowing low glycemic fruits like berries and natural fats like coconut and avocado to help keep you full longer.
Potatoes are the one food that were previously omitted from the Whole 30 and are now allowed back, as long as they are not fried with a side of ranch dressing!
Remember, nutrition and diets are as unique as you. Experiment with meals and different foods and see how your body and mind feel over the course of 3-7 days to start. You may find that a lower-carb plan and fasting work for you 1-2 days a week but that after a long run or intense workout, you need more - and that’s ok. The key is finding a foods that work for your body and give (not deplete) your energy.
Need more support? I offer free consultations and personalized, holistic coaching and customized meal planning, part of my Full Meal Plan. Book an appointment here.