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Sugar-free, paleo, keto, Atkins, Weight Watchers… there have been hundreds of diet names and titles tossed around over the years. Enough to make your head spin! In today’s blog post, we are going to comparing a sugar-free diet to keto and paleo, two of the most popular diets at the moment.

The Paleolitic diet, also named the “caveman diet” is based on the principle of thought that the only foods available to the hunter gatherer were meat, vegetables and minimal amounts of fruit. It is a “eat what you catch and harvest” mentality. The paleo diet emphasizes whole foods and eliminates grains, legumes, dairy and most processed foods. The Paleo diet has gained popularity in recent years for its claims to improve workouts, increase energy, aid weight loss, reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. When we step back and look at the diet as a whole, we can see that this diet is based around the belief of what humans should be eating; foods that they can catch, grow or harvest. The foods they consume are seasonal, meaning fruit appears in the summer months and the starchier vegetables arise in the fall and winter months. This tailored approach to eating helps others connect not only to nature, but with their appetite and intuition as this way of eating often goes hand in hand with intuitive eating. 

The Ketogenic Diet in comparison is similar to the paleo diet, in the regards that it eliminates grains, legumes and processed foods, however they incorporate high fat dairy and focus their attention on consuming less than 5 percent of their energy intake from carbohydrates. This diet is a high-fat, moderte protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Although our bodies and brain prefer to use glucose because of its fast energy converting abilities, when one’s carbohydrate intake is low and glucose is not available for use, the body enters a metabolic state called ketosis, which allows it to break down fat and use it as energy. This process continues up until one returns to eating carbohydrates, at which point their body will return to converting glucose into energy and storing it in our muscles and liver. The ketogenic diet was not designed for the general public, originally is was crafted for patients with epilepsy and seizures. However, there is now research on benefits of the ketogenic diet for individuals with type 2 diabetes, cancer, psychiatric disorders, autism, Alzheimer's, weight loss and more.

In comparison, the paleo diet is about eliminating specific food groups, while the ketogenic diet is about limiting carbohydrates. There is a lifestyle factor associated with the paleo diet that encourages the activies such as exercise, mindfulness, getting enough sleep and for one to fine tune their paleo diet using a macronutrient approach. Keto, on the other hand, requires the individual to adopt strict macronutrient targets, usually 80 percent of daily calories from fat, 15-20 percent of daily calories from protein and 5 percent from carbohydrates. The paleo diet allows for more whole-food sources of carbohydrates, whereas the keto diet encourages a higher fat, lower carbohydrate approach. 

Last but not least, we have the sugar-free diet. A diet that focuses on eliminating one ingredient - sugar. Although sugar can disguise itself as brown sugar, white sugar, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, table sugar, malodextrin and about 45 other names, those who take on a sugar-free diet, also take on the role of a sugar hunter. Sugar lurks is just about every product on the superstore shelf; pasta sauces, salad dressings, yoghurt, dips, cereal, milk and even ketchup. While the keto and paleo diets are focused on reducing overall carbohydrates either by way of what was availabe to hunter gatherers or by means of overall carbohydrate intake, the low sugar diet is focused on eliminating sugar while maintaining their carbohydrate intake. With this different approach, the low-sugar dieters still consume complex carbohydrates such as rice, grains, pasta, potatoes and so on, however they also dramatically reduce their intake of processed foods as a result of their sugar content. Eating a low-sugar diet also requires one to cook the majority of their meals as they choose to be cognisent of the amount of sugar they consume. Even fruits. Low-sugar dieters often opt for the fruits lowest in natural sugars, such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, peaches and oranges. They choose to obtain more of their carbohydrates from vegetables as they offer the same nutritional benefits, without the sugar content found in fruit. 

Low-sugar, keto, paleo - what do they all have in common? All of these diets force the individual to carefully and purposely choose the foods they consume. The bulk of their foods are clean sources of protein, complex fibrous carbohydrates (with the exception of keto!), and healthy sources of fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds and animal fats. So now that you’ve read this blog post and understand the differences between the three diets, which diet should you choose? The one that’s best for you. That could mean one of them, or it could mean none of them. At the end of the day, every individual, their food preferences, palate and body are different. One person’s lifestyle and activity levels can be far different than anothers. As a general rule of thumb, all humans can benefit from reducing their intake of sugar, consuming more plant-based vegetables and fruit and eating healthy sources of fat. This approach sets us up for success by controlling blood sugar, increasing fiber intake and reducing one’s chances of developing inflammation, diabetes and diesease. 

Lindsay Mustard is a Holistic Nutritionist, firefighter-in-training and recipe-wizard with a burning passion for health and fitness. In her nutrition practice, Lindsay works with clients to craft a unique plan that is tailored to their specific health goals using a natural, whole food and supplement approach.

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