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Keto, Paleo, and Vertical Diets: Are they healthy for everyone?

Mar 27, 2019 By Heather Porter
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We all want to feel great, especially now that it’s National Nutrition Month, and one of the best ways to do that is by eating mindfully. With the huge variety of specific approaches to eating out there — keto, detox, Dubrow, elimination — it’s easy to get caught up in the world of fad diets. If you're thinking of trying one of these diets, here's what's important to know.

You may have heard of some of the latest diets claim to promote a range of health benefits, from helping manage diabetes to clearing your skin. The keto, paleo, and vertical diets are currently some of the most talked about, but what exactly are they? And are they safe?

The Keto Diet

What is the keto diet?

In general, a ketogenic diet is low in carbs and high in fat. Avoiding carbohydrates for an extended period puts your body into ketosis, which is a state of raised levels of ketone bodies (acetone, acetoacetic acid, and beta-hydroxybutyric acid), a byproduct of fat breakdown,in the body’s tissues and blood. Advocates of the keto diet often emphasize its ability to help you lose weight due to the depletion of sugar, which forces the body to focus on fat as an energy source. They also claim the diet has other benefits such as helping to reduce the symptoms of many common health issues including heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and acne.

What can I eat on the keto diet?

The keto diet, like other low-carb diets, requires you to be very careful about what you eat. To get the full benefits of a ketogenic diet, you need to avoid starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods like grains, beans, potatoes, and even alcohol. No more than 50 grams of carbohydrates are allowed per day, which is about the amount of carbs you’ll find in a bagel. Instead of eating the high-in-carbohydrate staples of the standard American diet, the keto diet has you eat foods that are heavy in fats like avocados, butter, healthy oils, and meat.

What are the drawbacks?

While you may think a diet that lets you eat butter and bacon while still promising weight loss sounds great, you’ll want to be careful if you decide to give the keto diet a try. Here are some of the issues that might pop up when trying to follow a ketogenic diet:

  • The keto “flu”: When you eliminate carbohydrates from your diet suddenly, your body can react with flu-like symptoms that can last up to a week after starting the diet.
  • Regaining weight: The keto diet is hard to follow long-term. The restrictions placed on what you can and can’t eat means the risk of indulging in unhealthy, carbohydrate-rich foods when no longer on the diet is high.
  • Kidney stones: Diets with high protein and low in carbohydrates may increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: When strictly following the keto diet, you cut out food groups (like fruits, whole grains, dairy, and starches) that help to provide your body with essential nutrients like potassium, sodium, and magnesium.
  • Not enough fiber: Whole grain carbohydrates are filled with fiber so eliminating them from your diet makes it very difficult to get a sufficient amount of fiber.

The Paleo Diet

What does “paleo” mean?

The paleo diet, also referred to as the “caveman diet,” is a protein-heavy diet that aims to improve health by stabilizing blood sugar levels in the body. Advocates of the paleo lifestyle claim that by mimicking the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, you can lose weight, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

What can I eat if I go paleo?

The paleo diet is actually fairly simple to navigate once you get the hang of it. Grass-fed meats, eggs, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruits and veggies make up the bulk of the diet.

But even though it’s not hard to know what you should eat on the paleo diet, the list of what you shouldn’t eat can be intimidating, since it’s full of foods commonly found in the standard American diet. Grains and starches, refined sugar of any kind, dairy, and processed foods are only some of the things you’ll need to cut out to see the full benefits of going paleo.

It’s also important to keep in mind that eliminating entire food groups, like the whole grains left out of the paleo diet, can lead to a lack of essential nutrients and fiber.

What are the drawbacks?

While you may be eager to eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, you may want to consider these drawbacks beforehand. Here are some of the issues that might pop up when trying to follow a paleo diet:

  • Low energy: After cutting out energy-supplying carbs, you may find it difficult to stay on top our your daily activity at first.
  • Lacking key nutrients: Dairy supplies much of your calcium and Vitamin D levels but without it on the paleo diet, you may run into nutrient deficiency issues like digestion problems, skin disorders, or defective bone growth problems.

The Vertical Diet

What about the vertical diet?

The vertical diet is based around eating only whole foods. It’s called “vertical” because of how it’s structured, with a food chart that looks like an upside-down ‘T’. Milk, some vegetables, eggs, and starches make up the foundation, but the main source of calories comes from the vertical part of the diet, which is rich in red meats and white rice.

Is it healthy?

Many people like the vertical diet because it doesn’t cut out any major food groups the way keto and paleo diets do. That being said, there are still a lot of restrictions on the amount of certain nutrient-dense foods allowed, like beans or cruciferous veggies (the family of vegetables that include broccoli and cauliflower). One of the diet’s major goals is to reduce the build-up of gas in the body, which means even supposedly healthy foods (think brown rice) are off-limits. Critics of the diet say the lack of vitamin-heavy foods could lead to deficiencies down the road.

What are the drawbacks?

Having a diet that only cuts out a limited number of food groups may be the easiest to pursue, but like most fad diets, there are some alarming drawbacks you should know about. Here are some of the issues that might pop up when trying to follow a vertical diet:

  • Red meat and health risk: Diets heavy in red meat have been linked to having a higher risk of developing diabetes and colon cancer.
  • Lack of evidence: This diet is new, and there isn’t scientific evidence to back its health claims.
  • Lack of fiber: Fiber is thought to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, irritable bowel system (IBS), colon cancer, and diabetes.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Like the diets mentioned above, when following a restrictive diet, it increases your risk of nutritional deficiencies.

Should I try one of these diets?

Restrictive diets such as these are hard to sustain and since we don’t yet truly understand the long term benefits and harms, it’s hard to say definitely “do” or “don’t” to these approaches to eating..Before starting one of these or other trendy diets, it’s often helpful to talk with your doctor. As your partner in health, they will be more than happy to help find dietary and healthy lifestyle goals to meet your personal needs.

Schedule an appointment with your doctor today to take a closer look at your diet and talk about the right nutritional balance for you.

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Heather Porter

Heather Porter is a Bay Area writer and editor.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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