Keto, Vegan, Paleo – What’s the Low Down on These Trendy Diets?

It might not come as much of a surprise to hear that Americans seem to have a problem with food.

According to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of Americans have obesity, including more than 12 million children.

At the same time, research suggests that the rates of “chronic, diet-related diseases” have been rising in the US. In fact, per recent government reports, roughly 117 million individuals—that’s about half of all American adults—have “one or more preventable chronic diseases,” including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and poor bone health. These conditions, and many others, can be closely connected to “poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity.”

As a result, there has been a growing trend in this country—one that encourages people to make a change by adopting a fresh approach to how they eat. In some cases, these plans mean simply watching what you eat and drink. But some go beyond that, and involve making choices that allow you to focus on adopting a healthier, more conscientious lifestyle in many aspect of life.

If you’re looking to get started transforming the way you prepare, eat, and think about food, you might have heard of a few of these popular plans or ways of eating, and found yourself stuck or confused. Paleo? Keto? Vegan? What do these buzzwords really mean when you put them into practice? And can they be of help to you?

Let’s break down some of the biggest food movements going on today, so you can be in the know. Maybe learning about these diet regimens can help you make a more informed decision about what choices might work for you!

The Paleo Diet

Founded by Loren Cordain, the Paleo (short for “Paleolithic”) diet emphasizes, as its creator once put it, “eating foods you were designed to eat.” That means focusing on the types of foods that our ancestors ate as hunter-gatherers, before the rise of farming (and, much later, processed and refined foods).

Also called the “ancestral” diet, going Paleo means cutting out large swaths of processed and junk foods, while emphasizing other food sources, particularly a diverse array of proteins and nutrient-dense, all-natural fruits and veggies.

Many people who commit to Paleo tend to avoid genetically modified foods and opt for organic or local sources (as that’s much more in line with how early humans would have eaten). It’s also a lifestyle that emphasizes lots of movement and activity.

What you should eat, per the Paleo Diet:

  • Meat
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Fats from healthy oils (avocado, coconut, walnut)
  • Fruits
  • Non-starchy vegetables

What you should avoid:

  • Processed foods
  • Refined sugar
  • Legumes
  • Potatoes
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • “Cereal” grains (like wheat or oats)
  • Artificial, processed fats (like shortening and trans fats)

More resources to check out:

The Ketogenic Diet

Ketogenic dieting (often shortened to “Keto”) is a method for weight loss and bodybuilding that has become quite popular recently, but it’s also rooted in a lot of long-standing ideas about health.

The Keto diet has been called “the ultimate low-carb diet.” In essence, it’s about lowering your intake of carbohydrates, and replacing them with natural fats. In addition, Keto is also about controlling when and how you eat. The ultimate goal is to restrict your consumption of carbohydrates to such a level that your body switches over from processing sugars and carbs, to targeting your own stored fat for energy (a state known as “ketosis”).

Even fans of this diet have said that it can be difficult to get started and sustain, particularly since it tends to bring on some common side effects, including headaches, fatigue, and lethargy. At the same time, other proponents of the diet argue that attaining a state of ketosis actually comes with an energy boost, and the diet has been shown to help achieve quick weight loss, lower bad cholesterol levels, and improve blood sugar control for those with diabetes.

What you should eat, per the Ketogenic diet:

  • Seafood
  • Low-carb vegetables (such as squash or cauliflower)
  • Meat and poultry
  • Avocados
  • Eggs

What you should avoid:

  • Processed vegetable and seed oils
  • Processed foods and artificial sweeteners
  • Soy products
  • Foods containing gluten
  • Alcohols and sugars
  • Grains
  • Some high-carbohydrate fruits, such as apples and mangos

More resources to check out:

The Mediterranean Diet

Did you know that people in countries around the Mediterranean Sea—including Italy, Israel, Spain, and Greece—tend to live longer, and with fewer chronic illnesses, than people in other parts of the world?

Research suggests that part of the reason for these individuals’ health and longevity has to do with their diet, and proponents of the “Mediterranean Diet” believe in adopting those healthy eating habits as their own—no sea-views required!

And diet experts tend to believe that adopting the Mediterranean diet can come with a number of health benefits. U.S. News & World Report, for instance, has named it one of the best overall diets, and also called it one of the “easiest diets to follow.”

So, what goes into the Mediterranean diet? For one thing, it emphasizes using certain ingredients, such as olive oil, fish, nuts, and legumes, (which all contain monounsatured fats that can help lower inflammation and fight disease). Like other diets, it also suggests rethinking how you approach food. For example, people who follow the Mediterranean diet tend to base their meals around plant-based sources, like fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.

What you should eat, per the Mediterranean diet:

  • Seafood
  • Olive oil
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains

What you should avoid:

  • Red meat
  • Refined grains
  • Artificial sugars
  • Refined oils
  • Processed foods

More resources to check out:

The Vegan Diet

Veganism is a special type of vegetarian eating, which eschews all animal-based products entirely. Basically, if any part of the food or drink came from an animal in any way, it’s not allowed. That includes dairy products, butter, eggs, honey, and all animal fats and proteins.

For some people, going vegan is more about the lifestyle than it is about the diet. Many vegans argue that switching to an entirely plant-based diet is one way to help treat animals more humanely, or to help curb the environmental waste and pollution that come from our current system of factory-farming.

But for others, eating vegan is seen more as a way to stay healthy. Going vegan has been shown to help dieters lose weight, boost their cardiovascular health, and offer some protection against certain cancers.

What you should eat, per the vegan diet:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Lentils, legumes, and beans
  • Soy products (such as tofu)
  • Natural plant fats

What you should avoid:

  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Gelatin
  • Honey
  • Lard
  • Stocks and broth made from animal products

More resources to check out:

The Carnivore Diet

What would a so-called “zero-carb” diet look like if taken to the next level? It might be a lot like the Carnivore diet, a growing trend in some fitness and nutrition circles.

While related to the Paleo and Keto diets, proponents of the carnivore lifestyle – including one of its major influencers, Dr. Shawn Baker – tend to argue that the optimum diet avoids carbohydrates from plant sources entirely. Instead, this new class of health-conscious “carnivores” argues that our bodies can get all they need for peak performance from animal sources, such as red meat, eggs, cheese, and seafood.

What you should eat, per the Carnivore diet:

  • Beef (especially fattier cuts, which help keep up calorie levels)
  • Dairy
  • Animal fats (such as lard, tallow)
  • Fish
  • Bone broth

What to avoid:

  • Breads and grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Supplements

More resources to check out:

Finding What Works for You

Ultimately, remember that no diet is foolproof, and a lot of your future success will come down to understanding what works for you. What plans for eating, shopping, and cooking can you realistically commit to? What health needs do you have to take into consideration before starting a new lifestyle plan? It’s important to be honest about these matters, before you start experimenting with every diet plan under the sun.

As physician and researcher David Katz put it for NPR: “No single diet is the best for all of us. Ultimately, a ‘best’ diet is one that can be adopted, managed, and sustained over time.”

Finally, remember that you may want to consult with your family doctor, or a licensed dietitian or nutritionist, before adopting any sweeping changes to your lifestyle. The guidance of a health professional may help set you down the path to success—while also empowering you to avoid any potential pitfalls along the way.

And if you’re looking for the right health and life insurance policy to cover you along the way, the Enrollment Specialists can help! Drop us a line today to talk all things health insurance, including Medigap plans, group plans, critical illness and accident insurance, and more!

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