When the Atkins Diet hit the scene in the 1970s, it was a unique fad, emphasizing a low carb, high protein diet in place of traditional calorie reduction. But what was unusual back in 1970 is part of a larger scene now; Atkins is in competition with similar diets like the ketogenic and Paleo diets. What is their appeal, and how should those looking for a weight loss solution differentiate between them?
Atkins: The Old School Option
As noted above, unlike traditional dieting options, Atkins skips the calorie counting associated with dieting, but there’s still some math involved. Instead, you’ll count net carbs (the number of carbs minus the amount of fiber) for a maximum daily intake of 20 grams during phase one and 50 grams during phase two. On top of that, Atkins emphasizes eating protein at every meal and added servings of fat.
Why all the fat if you’re trying to lose weight? The theory behind Atkins is that eating more fat and protein will keep dieters full, preventing mindless snacking, and the foods included are classed as “real foods,” not processed junk, making it fundamentally healthier that artificial low calorie, low sugar products. It can be tricky to get enough fiber on Atkins, but as users move through the phases of the diet, it does become more flexible, with the inclusion of berries, nuts, and seeds.
Ketogenic: Focus On Fat
If you thought there was a lot of fat involved in the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet takes fat consumption to the next level. In fact, it’s so strict that reporter Melia Robinson notes some call it “Atkins on steroids.” But how can eating that much fat possibly be healthy, never mind encourage weight loss?
The secret of the ketogenic diet is that it piggybacks on a natural bodily process, shifting our normal tendency towards glucogenesis (creating fuel from carbs, broken down into glucose) and instead force it into ketogenesis, creating energy from fat. Our bodies regularly do this when they run out of carbs, but by dramatically reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat and protein, we can maintain constant ketogenesis.
Ketogenesis encourages a stable blood sugar level and has anti-inflammatory benefits, and without anything else to fuel it, the ketogenic diet actually pushes the body to burn fat more efficiently. It’s an unexpected, yet natural biological quirk.
Paleo: The Caveman Way
Though not necessarily accurate in its depiction of early human eating habits, the Paleo diet purports to emphasize eating the same way out ancestors ate – no processed foods, legumes, grains, or sugar. Instead, it’s all meats, fats (though not bean, grain, or seed-derived fats), vegetables, and berries. Expect to cut carbs dramatically on the Paleo diet by eliminating the buns on your burgers, replacing potato chips with kale chips, and dropping those peanut butter sandwiches for organic lunchmeats.
The complete carbohydrate ban makes the Paleo diet one of the hardest for modern dieters because most grab-and-go modern staples are off limits. Indeed, it’s so restrictive that many people opt for a “part-time Paleo” approach, or otherwise soften the diet to include organic dairy and sprouted grains. The Paleo diet also has the least scientific backing, though many advocates say it’s the best way to reduce inflammation as you’re eating the foods your body is biologically “meant” to consume.
Low-Carb On The Go
Despite being difficult to adhere to, low-carb diets are in vogue right now, so of course, companies are trying to make it easier for dieters to stay on track. HVMN, for example, purports to be keto in a bottle. In fact, it’s actually bottled ketone ester that users can drink on the go to trigger or maintain ketosis. HVMN is just one of many packaged versions of these low-carb diets, including Atkins bars and drinks, prepackaged Paleo meals, and the items from the many processed products from the Perfect Protein diet.
Ultimately, the Atkins and ketogenic diets offer some real biological benefits, with the metabolic shift produced by the ketogenic diet showing real promise. Still, sustainability is a question that haunts them all. Can anyone who needs to pick up food on the run, who travels a lot, or doesn’t have much time to cook keep up with these diets?
You can get a bulletproof coffee at trendy coffee shops or at Whole Foods, but you won’t find much to eat at your average deli or restaurant. Many will try to stick it out with these diets, but the inability to eat low-carb in a range of settings makes many of these diets more like fads than true nutritional practices for the average diner.