Is Ketosis better than Paleo?
This question is common and actually doesn’t help. Paleo and Keto aren’t mutually exclusive!
Starting Paleo was the biggest improvement to my health and I felt wonderful. However, us being human we’re always striving for more; incorporating keto can have us feeling energized, lose weight quicker, and become mentally clearer.
Our body has two options when it comes to fuel.
The first source is glucose which is burned before fat; this prevents a buildup of glucose in our bloodstream, avoiding the damaging process of glycation.
The issue with this fuel is that our bodies can only store around 270 grams; any more and it’s stored as fat.
Fat is the second fuel source we can use and has a near limitless capacity compared to glucose.
When we have no glucose in our bloodstream our body begins transitioning to burning our stored fat in a processes known as ketogenesis.
We are in ketosis when our bodies are run out of glucose to supply us with energy.
What is a ketogenic diet?
Entering into ketosis if you remember, requires us to have no or very little carbs (glucose). Ketogenic diets make up for the loss of carbohydrates by replacing it with fat instead.
These diets keep you in ketosis by limiting the number of carbs you eat, typically to less than 50 grams. This 50-gram limit isn’t perfect, some people can tolerate more and some less.
Adjusting to ketosis takes time, especially considering we have spent most of our lives dependant on carbs. Depending on your current diet and health, this process can take between one to four weeks to become fat adapted.
Often paleo and keto diets are pitted against one another to see which is the best. This is a poor way to look at these diets as they aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, you can have paleo diets that aren’t keto and vice versa, however, these two can certainly be paired.
Historically speaking, a paleo and ketogenic diet are very natural.
During our evolution, our brain size increased while our second most expensive organ, the gut decreased in size. This smaller gut made us prioritize energy-dense foods such as fats over carbohydrates.
“Without the abundance of calories afforded by meat-eating, the human brain simply could not have evolved to its current form.” – Briana Pobiner PhD in anthropology
Weight Loss on keto
The main selling point of ketosis for many is its effectiveness in reducing weight while providing many health benefits (1, 2, 3).
This effect has also been compared with typical low-fat diets and consistently beats them (4, 5, 6, 7). Even the UK’s recommended diet for treating type 2 diabetes fails to match the effectiveness of ketosis (8).
Why ketosis is so effective can be explained by it’s higher fat and protein count compared to typical low-fat diets (5, 9). High-fat diets like keto lead to feeling fuller and don’t require unnatural, ineffective calorie counting (7, 10).
Furthermore, this success can be attributed to the improved insulin sensitivity from the increased ketones and lowered blood sugar levels (11).
Drastic improvement in diabetes
Diabetes occurs from continual exposure to high blood sugar which increases insulin resistance leading to impaired insulin function. What this means is that diabetics can’t produce enough insulin on their own to remove the glucose from their blood.
As ketogenic diets are low in carbohydrates, they have almost no effect on blood sugar. This is crucial for diabetics; a study found that 7 of the 21 diabetic participants were able to stop all medication (12). Additionally, 95.2% of participants in another study were able to stop or reduce diabetes medication compared to 62% on a higher carb diet (4).
Another study found that ketogenic diets improved insulin sensitivity by a massive 75% (13). This is promising as reversing insulin sensitivity is key to preventing diabetes.
Other health benefits of ketosis
The benefits of a ketogenic diet have been known for almost a century, being a common tool for treating epilepsy. Despite the transition to drugs, this natural cure for epilepsy is still used, with research showing benefits for other conditions:
- Heart Disease: Ketosis has been shown to improve risk factors such as body fat, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar (14, 15).
- Cancer: Certain type of cancers can be treated with ketosis while slowing tumor growth (16, 17, 18, 19).
- Alzheimer’s disease: Ketosis may reduce symptoms of Alzheimer’s while slowing the progression of the disease (20, 21, 22).
- Epilepsy: The keto diet has been and still is an effective treatment to reduce seizures (23).
- Parkinson’s disease: Researchers found improved symptoms when on a ketogenic diet (24).
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: As ketosis doesn’t cause an insulin spike, it has been noted it can help with polycystic ovary syndrome (35).
- Brain Injuries: A link has been made between ketones and recovery from brain injury and concussions (37).
- Acne: consuming less sugar and processed foods possibly improves acne (38).
Entering Ketosis on Paleo
Starting from a paleo diet gives us a huge advantage entering into ketosis and makes the transition much easier. We don’t have access to a lot of carbs in the first place, especially low-fibrous processed carbs like pasta.
If you haven’t started paleo yet, I strongly suggest easing into it and checking out what it is. Then you’ll be able to follow the advice below to supercharge the diet and gain the benefits from above!
Lower your carb intake
The single most important factor in entering ketosis and achieving fat adaption is how many carbs you consume. Many ketogenic diets focus on limiting this number to 50 grams or less.
Coming from a paleo diet this can be hard, we aren’t used to having to strictly monitor what we eat. This carb counting, however, can be limited by cutting rice, potatoes, and other starchy vegetables from your diet.
This will help to prevent a meal drastically spiking your glucose levels kicking you out of ketosis.
Testing Ketone Levels
Entering and remaining in ketosis, like most nutrition, varies from person to person. Testing your ketone levels during this transition can be very useful for hitting your targets.
The body has three different types of ketones, these are, beta-hydroxybutyrate, acetone and acetoacetate; these can be measured in your blood, breath, and urine.
The ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate is found in the blood and can be measured with a blood ketone meter. Similar to how glucose meters work, a drop of blood is placed on a strip and inserted into the meter.
The next method of measuring your ketone levels is by measuring the acetone in your breath. After breathing into the meter, a color is displayed representing the level of ketosis you are in.
Lastly is the urine test method which is the most common and inexpensive option for dieters. The ketone, acetoacetate is measured by dipping a ketone strip into urine and seeing it change color.
Kickstart your transition with a fast! Yes, fasting is perfectly safe and we’ve covered it here before along with its many benefits. Fasting in practice is going without eating for an extended period of time, this could be hours or days.
Besides its benefits, extended fasts should be considered if you wish to enter ketosis quicker. Children with epilepsy fast for 24-48 hours before starting a keto diet to enter ketosis quicker and reduce seizures.
If going without food for several days doesn’t appeal to you, there is a more common alternative. Intermittent fasting is an approach that has you fasting for most of the day and often breaking it at dinner. This method will help to induce ketosis just like an extended fast, most likely at a reduced rate.
Time restricted eating is the easiest form of fasting you can implement and won’t impact your day to day much. Time restricted eating involves you restricting when you eat to a time window of each day.
A common example of this is to eat between 9 am and 9 pm, translating to a 12 hour fast. To see better results from this style of fasting, simply reduce your eating window to a smaller slot (11 am to 8 pm).
Foods to avoid
These foods are high in carbohydrates and can slip past on a Paleo diet:
- Sugary drinks: fruit juice & smoothies.
- Grains (Rice): High in carbohydrates.
- Fruit: All fruit, except small portions of berries like strawberries & raspberries.
- Beans or legumes: Peas, kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
- Root vegetables and tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc.
- Low-fat or diet products: highly processed and often high in carbs.
- Condiments or sauces: Often highly processed and full of sugar, Try homemade.
- Unhealthy fat: Limit your intake of processed vegetable oils.
- Alcohol: Alcohol tends to be high in carbs which will kick you out of ketosis.
Foods to eat
Sticking with and basing your meals around these primal staples will make keto a much easier task:
- Meat: Red, white and game meat are all great auditions.
- Fatty fish: Such as salmon, trout, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.
- Eggs: preferably free ranged.
- Butter and cream: be sure to buy full fat and preferably grass fed.
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheese (cheddar, goat, cream, blue or mozzarella).
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.
- Healthy oils: Primarily extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, and lard
- Avocados: Whole avocados or freshly made guacamole.
- Low-carb veggies: Most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, peppers, etc.
- Condiments: You can use salt, pepper and various healthy herbs and spices.
Having these foods around the house will be a lifesaver when you get hungry between meals:
- Fatty meat or fish (tinned sardines, tuna, anchovies, etc)
- Selection of cheese.
- A handful of nuts or seeds.
- Cheese with olives.
- 1–2 hard-boiled eggs.
- 90+% dark chocolate (in moderation)
- Full-fat yogurt mixed with berries and cream.
- Strawberries and cream.
- Celery with almond butter
- Smaller portions of leftover meals.
Exercise during ketosis
Many people jump into ketosis without being fully aware of the benefits and negatives of exercise that comes with it.
Exercise is broken down into two camps, the first being aerobic, which is endurance based; ketosis benefits this the most, allowing the body to access its vast fat stores allowing you to continue for longer.
The issue that rears its head is during anaerobic exercise, this is intense workouts like weight lifting and sprints. During these, it’s likely to see a decrease in performance and we have covered this hear in another post.
Staying in ketosis forever?
After venturing on this journey to become fat adapted, a question that pops up is how long you should stay in ketosis.
If you’re doing this because of a health condition such as epilepsy than by all means stick with it. A five-year study showed no major negatives for staying in ketosis while keeping the benefits (39).
For those of you taking this journey to lose weight, congratulations, you’ve chosen an extremely effective tool. Though, if you’ve achieved your ideal weight and body composition than this question becomes more difficult.
Fasting & Exercise
We have several options for increasing our ketone levels besides sticking with a ketogenic diet. In many ways, these are easier to implement and don’t require restricting the paleo diet even further. Leading us to fasting and exercise, both reliable ways for increasing beneficial ketones, namely beta-hydroxybutyrate.
- Fasting places your body, just like a ketogenic diet, into a full-blown state of ketosis. When fasting for two days you can experience an 11-fold increase in BHB and an 18-fold increase beyond that (40).
- Exercising also induces an increase of BHB, with a higher body fat correlated with a higher level of ketones (41).
Striving after ketosis by limiting your carb intake, restricts the amount of nutrient-dense vegetables at your disposal. This gives me the impression that constant ketosis is unnecessary and may even be undesirable when at the correct weight.
Personally, happy with my weight and fitness, I eat a moderate amount of carbs allowed through paleo. Combining this with regular exercise and occasional fasts I’m able to enter into ketosis semi-regularly.