By Alethea Jackson

Keto, Vegan, Low-Carb, High-Protein? What does it all mean and is this even scientific? 

We all know the looming myth that when thinking about achieving a healthy lifestyle, exercise should make up 25% while diet takes a thwacking 75%. We live in the age of the catered diet and most of our friends are on one kind of restricted diet or another or are always trying to lose weight or gain muscle and boy does it get confusing. The advice is contradictory, overwhelming and just scary sometimes.

So I have been wondering, what is the science behind all these diets and how do I know how I should be handling my food? The most basic breakdown of this is into two major types of diet.

The first category of diet is based on the reduction of one of three core macronutrients: fat, protein or carbohydrates. The popular Keto and Atkins decrease carbs and jack up fat or protein. These are popular ones so let’s explore. What’s going on here on a physiological level? Why on God’s green earth are people choosing to forgo the delights of pasta and bread?! Science!

When you consume carbohydrates the body’s mechanism for making energy is called glycolysis and it uses these very effective, quick to process carbohydrates as it’s main fuel source. In absence of carbohydrates the body kicks it into a state of ketosis (the body’s alternate mechanism for energy production). In ketosis the body heads to your plump and ready fat cells for its fuel – fat is energy dense but harder to break down. It’s called ketosis because the fat breaks down into these little guys called ketones.

Fasting for an extended period (about half a full day without food) will also put the body into a state of ketosis. People engaging in intermittent fasting are purposely putting their bodies into ketosis everyday. The ketonic state coupled with a low insulin response in high fat/protein, low carbohydrate diets make for increased fat burning, while retaining muscle. The benefits of this kind of diet go beyond weight loss – reduced inflammation in the body and insulin resistance are some of the big claims. It’s really important to not just decrease carbohydrates but also increase fat/protein. Otherwise your calorie-deprived body will be very mad at you.

In the second category falls diets such as veganism and paleo, these diets exclude particular foods groups across the macronutrients scale. For example, animal products or ‘the foods of recent times’ in the cases of vegan and paleo diets respectively. These diets tend to claim the benefits, of course and necessarily, of weight loss as well as an increased micronutrient intake, so, your vitamins, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium and fibre.

In the case of veganism, another claim is the decreased indirect consumption of body altering chemicals – antibiotics and hormones – used in animal farming. The philosophy of the paleo diet has a similar disdain for modern food processing and calls for a reconnect to days gone by. The science goes like this: the more processed the food is the more nutrients have been lost along the way.

The body craves these micronutrients as much as it does the macronutrients. If a food is poor in micronutrients it’s what we in the business call ‘empty calories’. These foods provide the body with fuel but if eaten in as a large portion of ones diet, deprive it of other essential chemicals resulting in increased appetite, general malnutrition or weight gain.

At the end of the day, a move away from processed foods is always a healthy option. We have a better natural gauge of what we need when we eat unprocessed foodies.