You’ve heard them all – you may have even tried them all. Keto, paleo, vegan, carb cycling, and others. All of them get results for other women, but you’re left to wonder… What is the BEST Diet for you and your needs?
And moreover, which of these diets actually work. Let’s talk about what the SCIENCE says…
Paleo, Keto, Vegan, Carb Cycling. What is THE BEST Diet?
You know, as a coach for women from around the globe, I’ve had my fair share of questions when it pertains to diet.
In more specifics, I always have clients who wonder which diet is best. But more importantly, which is best FOR THEM.
As you saw in the video above, I really go by what the bulk of what most science says matters…
Calories in and calories out.
Everything else is better left to the dietary preference, adherence, and consistency of the client.
But, what I want to do in today’s article is breakdown for you what the differences are between these diets, and give you a better view into which one might possibly be right for you.
So let’s breakdown Paleo, Keto, Vegan, and Carb Cycling Diets.
What is The Paleo Diet?
In short, the paleo diet came into popularity in the mid 2010’s. More like it EXPLODED onto the scene, and like most dietary fads and tactics, it gained a TON of popularity. I swear, everyone and their grandmother was on it.
By design, the paleo diet is one based on the hunter/gatherer lifestyle of early man. The diet touted that modern day humans often suffer from diseases that earlier humans simply didn’t.
The diet is primarily based upon consuming only unprocessed animals and plants, including meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
However that’s not it. There are some other rules.
The paleo diet restricts all processed foods, sugar, dairy and grains.
Although , there are some more modern iterations/variations of paleo that do allow foods like dairy and rice.
What Does The Science Say About Paleo?
There have been several studies that have been done over the last decade or so on the paleo diet.
One diet study showed that the paleo diet did a better job at producing weight loss than the “Mediterranean” diet.
In a few other findings, increased weight loss was seen, decreased waist circumference, and improvement in blood triglycerides and glucose levels.
Here’s the thing…
None of the studies showed a SIGNIFICANT difference in paleo being BETTER. It was simply successful in producing a result.
Particularly when strict dietary adherence, and the elimination of the above mentioned food groups were present.
What is a Ketogenic (Keto) Diet?
The ketogenic (keto) diet is basically a diet that is SUPER low carb, and high fat, in structure.
The main focus of keto diets is to bring the body into a ketogenic state. When in the throes of this diet, the body releases ketones into the blood to be used for energy.
To go deeper into this, keep in mind that the body’s preferred source of energy is glycogen (broken down carbohydrates stored in the muscle tissue and liver). In absence of carbs in the diet, the body will burn through your glycogen stores like jet fuel!
Once those stores are depleted, the body then turns to fatty tissue to rely on them as an energy source.
When the breakdown of these fatty stores occurs, ketones are released into the blood and used as the body’s MAIN source of energy.
Keep in mind that this is NOT an easy process. It takes the body about 2 to 4 days of eating between 20 to 50g of carbohydrates per day before it enters into ketosis – depending on the individual.
What Does The Science Say About Keto?
Surprisingly, the ketogenic diet has been found to greatly reduce seizures for those who have epilepsy and other brain diseases.
Now, as you’ve likely heard, a person adhering to a ketogenic diet will often see a large amount of weight loss. Particularly in the beginning phases of the diet.
What you need to understand though is that this initial weight loss can often be more water than fat.
This is true of any low carbohydrate diet.
And although, this diet set up does have some promising initial results for weight loss, long term loss seems to be at a pretty insignificant pace.
So once again, we’re faced with the fact keto is NOT superior to other diets in the long-run. Thus it’s up to the person embarking on the program whether this is the right match for them, and their lifestyle.
What is the Vegan Diet?
Think of veganism as vegetarian’s SUPER STRICT cousin.
A vegan diet is one based on consuming absolutely no animal products. However, it is packed with varying plants, legumes, and fruits of all kinds.
By nature of elimination, vegan diets tend to be lower in calories, protein, and fats than conventional diets. And this can attribute to a great deal of weight loss, PROVIDED THAT the dieter adheres to a strict caloric intake.
What Does The Science Say About Vegan Diets?
Interestingly, in one study, dieters lost on average about 9 pounds MORE on a vegan diet than those who followed a regular diet. Moreover, they didn’t even have to include exercise in the equation as a part of weight loss.
But the greater metadata shows that regardless of dietary set up, if a dieter goes back to old habits after experiencing weight loss, she will gain the weight back.
Regardless of the set up.
What is the Carb Cycling Diet?
Carb cycling has been a part of the dieting landscape for quite some time.
It can be defined as a dietary set up where you manipulate (or cycle) carbohydrate intake on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Most people take an approach of cycling low, medium, and high carbohydrate days.
In most cases with this type of set up, carbs are lowered on days in which glycogen is less needed to go about day to day tasks (like on off days from training). And are raised again strategically when higher to moderate carb days are required.
A carb cycling set up can be determined by a number of factors.
- High carb days can be set up during specific scheduled refeeds.
- High to moderate carb days are typically set on training days.
- Low carb days, alternatively are set on off days or cardio focused training days.
- Carb cycling is often set up based upon body composition goals.
- And they can be instrumental for being the main dietary approach for those in competitions or special events.
What Does The Science Say About Carb Cycling?
Enough of the research on carb cycling has shown that this approach CAN INDEED be quite effective in producing weight loss for many.
Some of that likely has to do with the ease of adherence since carb cycling allows for a little more variety than stricter dietary protocols.
Also, the body’s utilization of glucose, how it burns fat for fuel during low carb days, and the hormonal impact that high carb refeeds can have on the body have shown a great deal of promise, and results in weight loss for many on this plan.
But as with any diet, carb cycling set alongside a typical caloric deficit produced good weight loss in most participants.
So, We’re Back to the MAIN Question… Which Diet is BEST for Results?
As you can see from the above snippets, each of the diets mentioned DO produce positive results in the area of weight loss for compliant participants.
But I think the BEST answer to this question can be found in the conclusion to this 2009 study:
Reduced-calorie diets result in clinically meaningful weight loss regardless of which macronutrients they emphasize.
So basically, PICK ONE, stick to it, stay compliant, train hard, and more importantly…
Keep in mind that it’s your habits, your patterns and behavior in the area of nutrition that will determine whether the weight you lose STAYS OFF for good.
Sacks, F. M., Bray, G. A., Carey, V. J., Smith, S. R., Ryan, D. H., Anton, S. D., … Williamson, D. A. (2009). Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The New England journal of medicine, 360(9), 859–873. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa0804748
Gunnars, BSc, K. (2014). 5 Studies on The Paleo Diet – Does it Actually Work?. [online] Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-studies-on-the-paleo-diet [Accessed 22 Oct. 2019].
Campos MD, M. (2019). Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? – Harvard Health Blog. [online] Harvard Health Blog. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089 [Accessed 23 Oct. 2019].
Wright, N., Wilson, L., Smith, M., Duncan, B., & McHugh, P. (2017). The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes. Nutrition & diabetes, 7(3), e256. doi:10.1038/nutd.2017.3