The Diet Wars: Keto vs. Vegan

Chances are you’ve watched a documentary on Netflix, or read a few magazine articles.  It doesn’t take long to discover that there’s a diet war going on in the popular media.

On one side, you have the “carbs are evil” hypothesis.  Proponents of very-low-carb diets (e.g. Keto diets) often cite population-health studies showing a correlation between sugar intake and metabolic diseases like diabetes, fatty liver disease, obesity and heart disease.   In 2013, a meta-analysis of thirteen clinical trials examining the Keto diet versus low-fat diets found that people assigned to a Keto diet experienced greater weight loss over a twelve month follow-up period.1  For people who have medical clearance & support from a health professional to adopt a Keto diet, the very-low-carb approach appears to yield significant weight loss over the short-term.

However, it’s interesting to note that the Keto diet is actually ranked #39 out of 40 in the U.S. News Best Diet Rankings.  Key concerns are that this diet is known to negatively impact your body’s metabolism when used long-term.  Patients who stop the Keto diet – even after several months of dieting – often experience rapid weight regain.  Long-term adherence to a Keto diet can also result in muscle loss, fatigue, electrolyte imbalances and GI symptoms.  Since very-low-carb diets appear to reduce insulin resistance and fat storage, people sensitive to carbohydrate overload or weight gain might benefit from this approach.

It may seem paradoxical, but a high-carbohydrate vegan diet is an equally popular approach to modern dieting.  The “animal fats are evil” hypothesis maintains that people who adhere to a vegan diet – eliminate animal fat and proteins, but increase plant-based foods – have better health outcomes, including lower rates of heart disease and obesity.  A two-year clinical trial comparing a vegan diet to a conventional LFD found that weight loss outcomes were superior among those assigned to the vegan group. 2  While this study reported a large effect size, its overall sample size was quite limited (n=62).  So, evidence for a vegan diet is compelling, but not as robust as that for a very-low-carb (Keto) approach.

Vegan diets are also quite restrictive, and require professional advice to carry out safely.  While a Keto diet is well-studied with disease states (like diabetes), vegan diets have not always shown superiority to other diets in lowering blood sugars.  The power of a vegan diet, therefore, appears to reduce heart disease incidence with a high nutrient, blood pressure and cholesterol lowering approach to food consumption.  Much like the Keto diet, veganism has its’ limitations.

The Verdict

You may have noticed that both Keto and Vegan diets are difficult to sustain, and tend not to be the “go to” approach recommended by health professionals.  While not discussed here, there are much more sustainable diets (like the Mediterranean diet) that are a better fit for most people.  In some contexts, either a Vegan or Keto diet can be recommended after a medical and nutritional assessment.  Neither diet should be started “on a whim”, and would benefit from advice from professionals like a Registered Dietitian.

Interestingly, many other powerful diets within the research literature (e.g. the DASH diet) incorporate the best features of both Vegan and Keto diets with a higher margin of safety.  Many clinical diet regimens will encourage a reduction in carb and saturated fat portion size, alongside more nutrient-dense (less processed) food choices.  Even for these diets, however, consultation with a dietitian or health professional is recommended.

Questions?

Residents of Alberta can access a Registered Dietitian for free through their Primary Care Network, usually by asking their family doctor for a referral.  In many cases, you will be referred to a Registered Nurse for lifestyle review & coaching prior to your dietitian appointment.

Also, as part of the Weight-PG™ Method, you can analyse key metabolic factors to design a diet that is customized to your needs.

 


1 Bueno, N. B., de Melo, I. S. V., de Oliveira, S. L., & da Rocha Ataide, T. (2013). Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. British Journal of Nutrition, 110(7), 1178–1187.

 2 Turner‐McGrievy, G. M., Barnard, N. D. and Scialli, A. R. (2007), A Two‐Year Randomized Weight Loss Trial Comparing a Vegan Diet to a More Moderate Low‐Fat Diet. Obesity, 15: 2276-2281. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.270

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