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Keto vs Plant-Based: Comparing apples to butter

Keto vs Plant-Based: Comparing apples to butter

No, the ketogenic diet isn’t all about butter and a plant — based diet probably isn’t centered around apples.

The proverbial dietary camp has split and the pitchforks are out. Ketogenic supporters spit their meat over a roaring fire topping it with lard; while the plant-based vegans huddle together sharing a plentiful harvest of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Research for each diet is lacking controlled environmental studies, however, there is still plenty of observational and animal model research to give the debate fuel. The extensive propaganda for these two diets on social media begs the question: are either of these diets good for us? And if so, which one and how?

The basis of the ketogenic diet is to deprive your body of carbohydrates so it uses fat as its primary energy source. Your body prefers to use glycogen (sugar created from carbohydrates) as its main source of energy, however, it can also use ketones created by the breaking down of adipose tissue (fat) called ketosis.

In the 1920s the ketogenic diet was designed to relieve seizures in epilepsy patients (Mandal, n.d.) and was far different than the ketogenic diet we know today. In 1971, Peter Huttenlocher changed the calorie content of the ketogenic diet to contain 60% of the calories from MCT oil (1); paving the way for the infamous bulletproof coffee (Staff, 2016).

The ketogenic diet is heavy on fat (MCT oil) and animal products. The goal is to obtain 60–75% of your calories from fat (or more), 15–30% of your calories should be from protein, and just 5–10% of calories should be from carbs.

In contrast, a vegan, plant-based diet focuses on the quality and micronutrients of the food you eat. While it’s still a viable option for a weight loss diet, literature focuses on the impact on the environment, animals, and your health. For this article, I will only be focusing on the health aspect.

It’s been known for thousands of years that a plant-based diet has some pretty spectacular benefits. As far back as the Greek Olympics athletes were eating plant-based meals (Campbell). Joel Fuhrman and Michael Greger continue to spread the word through social media, videos, and print.

The plant-based diet is the umbrella term for multiple diet theories that are all based on centering your diet around vegetables and fruit. Dr. Michael Greger shares his daily dozen; 12 foods you need to eat for optimal health (Greger, 2015). Similarly, Dr. Joel Fuhrman focuses on the micronutrients in our diet (Fuhram, 2011). Another well respected medical professional, Dr. John McDougall has a slightly different approach by creating a diet that is predominantly starch centered (McDougall & McDougall, 2012). However, they all agree that oil should be left out of your diet completely.

A huge difference between a ketogenic diet and a plant-based diet is the focus on macro vs micro-nutrients.

The ketogenic diet and plant-based diets are all over the media with followers from every walk of life. Mass quantities of success stories can be found on Instagram and Pinterest making information readily available for the ketosis and plant-based wannabe. But how reliable is the information?

There is a lot of wishful thinking and exaggeration going on for EVERY diet out there. So let me break it down for you; any nutrition based research is limited. There are hardly any randomized control trials in nutrition because of 1. They are expensive, and 2. To get accurate, beneficial information the study should be decades long.

The studies that are typically cited are:

These clinical study designs are not useless but, when researching nutrition, it is important to weigh the authors claim with the method of study used.

A study was done by multiple questionnaires with a physical and follow-ups suggested that a high-fat diet was not associated with cardiovascular diseases and mortality. It found that a high carbohydrate intake was a risk factor of mortality and cardiovascular disease. This study was done over a 4–7 year period (Dehghan, 2017).

However, that study was overshadowed by multiple sources that shared a mixed view. One source believed that the elimination of processed carbohydrates could have a positive impact on the gut and the high fat of the ketogenic diet could help maintain gut lining. But they also lamented the loss of fiber, constipation, and the inflammation that comes along with eating a high-fat low carbohydrate diet (Leiva, 2018).

Others are concerned that the diet, while successful in the short-term, could cause long-term issues including kidney damage, higher cholesterol levels, unintentional weight loss, bone loss, and certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies (Fischer, 2018). You could be missing a lot of the micronutrients needed for healthy bodily functions.

While the jury is still out on the long-term benefits of a ketogenic diet for the majority of the population it’s important to remember that the ketogenic diet is fairly new in the nutrition game. But as Dr. Seltzer, a weight loss and fitness expert, says:

“There are certain circumstances in which a ketogenic diet may be helpful, like in epilepsy, but for the vast majority of people who want to lose weight and be healthier, I really think you should look elsewhere.” (Seltzer, n.d.)

Vegans and plant-based cultures have been around for a while and this has offered an opportunity for nutritional researchers. There are innumerable observational opportunities offering a wide selection of populations with different lifestyles to compare. An overall analysis of cross-sectional studies found that vegetarians and vegans have significantly lower BMI, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and glucose levels when compared to a typical diet (Dinu, 2016).

Another study found that eating fruits and vegetables was associated with decreased mortality (Oyebode, 2014). This could be because a plant-based diet is higher in fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamins, and phytochemicals than most other diets.

Society worries that a lack of meat will somehow make you nutritionally deficient. There is concern that your bones will become brittle (studies show this isn’t the case) and you will become deficient in long chain omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, Zinc, Collagen, and vitamin B-12 (Craig, 2009). Most of these nutrients can be found in fruits and vegetables. Plant-based dieters can maintain optimal nutrition if the appropriate food choices are made (Craig, 2009). However, vitamin B-12 should be taken daily as it is only found in animal products (and bacteria in dirt).

Research on the ketogenic and plant-based diets are less than adequate. Both diets can assist with weight loss but so far only a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can give you the micronutrients you need for health and longevity.

The ketogenic diet may encourage fast weight loss, but it is a hard diet to follow. Since it is heavy on red meat and fatty processed foods that are unhealthy a dieter should be observed by a doctor (Campos, 2017), and the diet shouldn’t last longer than 12 months (Paoli, 2014).A plant-based diet is naturally low in calories and fat and contains the majority of micronutrients needed to function. Studies have shown that a diet high in fruits and vegetables have a protective effect on the body; decreasing inflammation and cancers. However, a diet that is this restrictive can also be hard to stick to. Limiting processed foods in an overly processed world can suck.

Typically doctors and nutritionists will advocate a well-rounded diet with limited processed foods. It’s important to note for those of you who are weight-loss focused that any diet that reduces calories will result in weight loss if you are consistent (Sacks, 2009). And I know that sounds like no fun.

The majority of health professionals suggest a plant-based diet with minimal white meat is the healthiest diet option. Keep your diet heavy on the greens, light on the meat, and avoid all processed foods.

Campbell, C. T. (n.d.). The China Study: the most comprehensive study of nutirion ever conducted and the startling implications for diet, weight loss, and long-term health. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, Inc.

Campos, M. M. (2017, July 27). Ketogenic diet: Is the ultimate low-carb diet good for you? Retrieved from Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/ketogenic-diet-is-the-ultimate-low-carb-diet-good-for-you-2017072712089

Clinton, C. M. (2015). Whole-foods, plant-based diet alleviates the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Arthritis. Retrieved 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4359818/

Craig, W. J. (2009, May 1). Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), pp. 1627s-1633s. Retrieved 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/89/5/1627S/4596952

Dehghan, M. P. (2017, November 4). Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective conhort study. The Lancet, 390(10107), pp. 2050–2062.

Dinu, M. e. (2016, February 6). Vegetarian, vegan diets and multiple health outcomes: A systematic review with meta-analysis of observational studies. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, pp. 3640–3649. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2016.1138447

Fischer, K. (2018, October 5). Can the Keto diet help fight cancer? Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/can-the-keto-diet-help-fight-cancer

Fuhram, J. M. (2011). Eat to live: the amazing nutrientrich program for fast and sustained weight loss.

Gainer, H. (2018, September 18). Ketogenic diet reduces body fat in women with ovarian or endometrial cancer. Retrieved from The University of Alabama at Birmingham News: https://www.uab.edu/news/research/item/9763-ketogenic-diet-reduces-body-fat-in-women-with-ovarian-or-endometrial-cancer

Greger, M. M. (2015). How not to die: discover the foods scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. New York: Flatiron.

Leiva, C. (2018, July 18). 7 ways the keto diet can affect your digestion. Retrieved from Insider: https://www.thisisinsider.com/keto-diet-gut-and-digestion-2018-7

Mandal, A. M. (n.d.). History of the Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved from News. Medical. Life Science: https://www.news-medical.net/health/History-of-the-Ketogenic-Diet.aspx

McDougall, J. A., & McDougall, M. (2012). The starch solution: eat the foods you love, regain your health, and lose the weight for good! New York: Rodale.

Oyebode, O. e. (2014, March 31). Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. 68(9), 856–862. Retrieved 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4145465/

Paoli, A. (2014, Feb 19). Ketogenic Diet for Obesity: Friend or Foe? Retrieved from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/

Sacks, F. M. (2009, Feb 26). Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Retrieved 2018, from US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763382/

Seltzer, C. D. (n.d.). Ketogenic Diets and Gut Health- Featured on Insider. Retrieved from Dr. Seltzer Weightloss: https://www.drseltzerweightloss.com/ketogenic-diets-and-gut-health-featured-on-insider/

Staff, B. (2016, April 3). How to make bulletproof coffee… and make your morning bulletproof. Retrieved from Bulletproof: https://blog.bulletproof.com/how-to-make-your-coffee-bulletproof-and-your-morning-too/

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