Keto, Paleo, and Whole30: Fads or Legit?

The fitness field is flooded with countless fad dieting regimens that claim to be a remedy for everybody's health, bodybuilding, and fat loss ambitions. The truth is that science, specifically health sciences, are topics that don’t permit sweeping assertions like, "The South Beach Diet is the absolute best way to eat if you’re trying to lose weight!" You literally won’t find enough data on any existing fad diet that supports such a grandiose claim.

In other words, there is no (and likely never will be) such thing as the optimal fad diet. Nutrition is not black and white like many health and physical fitness "gurus" make it out to be.

This article will take a look at three of the most popular fad diets: The Whole30, the Paleo, and the Ketogenic Diet.

The Paleo and Whole30 Diets

The Whole30 and Paleo diets are quite similar. Foods permitted during each program consist of meat, poultry, veggies/fruits, raw nuts/seeds, eggs, and fresh seafood. Throughout the Whole30, individuals are recommended not to count calories or to weigh themselves. Those on the Paleo diet do typically count calories/macronutrient intake.

After the Whole30 30-day program is complete, individuals are free to methodically re-incorporate foods that are outside of the backed Whole30 list, record the health ramifications, and identify if the additions are necessary. The program's creators claim that added sugars, dairy, grains, beans/legumes, and beans negatively impact weight, stress, and health.

At the time of this writing, no research studies that directly address the health impacts of the Whole30 have been performed. Nevertheless, nutritionists endorse the program's focus on proteins, veggies and raw foods and the elimination of added sugars and alcohol; however, they also generally see it as too restrictive.

The main thing to note is that the Paleo diet is meant to be a long-term diet protocol where you eat foods that only our human ancestors purportedly ate. The Whole30 takes the Paleo concept and turns it into a 30-day sort of “cleanse”. The position most Paleo followers take is that agricultural development has led humans to eat mainly grain-based diets, which in effect led to many modern diseases.

However, it remains to be elucidated that whole grains are a direct cause of disease. They actually appear to be health-promoting in many ways. Furthermore, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) notes that only one in every 133 people are affected by celiac disease; approximately one in every 22 people are gluten-intolerant. Converting to percentages, that’s 0.75% of people having celiac disease and 4.54% of people being gluten-intolerant.

It is further approximated that only 3% of the U.S. population has an allergy to any food, with the most prevalent allergy being peanuts. It’s hard to argue that Paleo or Whole30 diets are proper ways to eat when you consider such research.

Ironically enough, meat - which is a staple of the Paleo and Whole30 diets - appears to significantly increase the risk of cancer (especially colon cancer). Are these diets really all that healthy? In some aspects: Yes. In other aspects: No. Only you can decide if these fad diets are worthwhile.

We still have one more diet to consider: the ketogenic diet.

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet (aka keto diet) is a very-low-carbohydrate diet that emphasizes intake of moderate, quality protein and high amounts of healthy dietary fat. When carbohydrate intake is negligible, your body starts to break down more fats for energy (since glucose isn’t readily available); this process creates substances known as ketone bodies, which have a variety of physiological roles.

A proper keto diet consists of roughly 5-10% of total daily calories coming from healthy carbohydrates such as fibrous vegetables/fruits; 20-30% of calories coming from quality protein sources such as poultry, fish, meat, eggs, and certain plants; and 65-70% of calories coming from healthy fat sources such as coconut, salmon, avocado, nuts/seeds, butter, cheese, etc.

The ketogenic diet plan is quickly increasing in appeal, specifically in clinical practices and fitness subculture, due to the bounty of scientific research supporting its beneficial properties. These health benefits normally consist of better cognitive function, more steady energy levels, support for weight reduction, healthier cardiovascular function, and more effective blood glucose balance.

Which Fad Diet is Best?

Ultimately, asking which of these diets is “best” is not apropos. As iterated earlier, fad diets are not optimal for everyone. Does this mean they aren’t beneficial? Certainly not.

Based on anecdotes and literature, the ketogenic diet has the most compelling evidence at this time. Nevertheless, the Paleo and Whole30 diets have some merit, but they are based mainly on conjecture.