February 6, 2018

Moment of Clarity

I’d love to shed some light in what can otherwise feel like dark and scary places. Because… Let’s be honest. Health has a vocabulary of its own.

So my aim for this post is to clear up a little confusion about some of the words that may have left you scratching your head.

For starters, we’ll tackle paleo, keto-anything, and anti-inflammatory. If there are more words you’d like to understand, hit reply and let me know. I’ll address them in a future post.


The word paleo, with regard to diet, was coined before I was born, but it didn’t become popular until the 2002 book “The Paleo Diet.” The original intent, as far as I can tell, was a diet sourced from unrefined/non-processed foods that mimic the ancestral human diet.

Over the years, the term morphed into something that meant grain free, dairy free, and refined-sugar free. And it’s with this last nugget – refined-sugar free – that the term started to lose it’s relevance.

​​Gradually, the internet became ripe with recipes for things like “paleo brownies” made with coconut flour, cacao powder, dates and coconut palm sugar.

Seriously… What kind of ancestral human ate like that!

But in the words of Melissa Hartwig – author of It Starts with Food and The Whole 30 – we’re more interested in health than history. And while I fully support diets that are grain free and dairy free – or at least grain and dairy limited – I think we should be honest about the fact that sugar is sugar is sugar. Refined or not. And the scary thing is that many of the “natural sugars” – think fruit, honey, agave – are super high in fructose, which will cause metabolic damage if consumed regularly in high amounts.

“Keto – anything”

I’ll break this one down in parts. A ketone is a class of chemicals – made by the body or consumed as a supplement – several of which the body can use for energy.

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which ketones are present in the blood (and sometimes in the urine).

Ketogenesis is a metabolic state in which the body is making ketones by burning fat.

Ketogenic diet represents a way of eating that encourages the body to make ketones by burning fat as its fuel source.

I break these down separately because you could be consuming exogenous (from the outside) ketones as a supplement and be in ketosis without making those ketones yourself. While this may be useful in certain neurological diseases/conditions, there’s little that suggests that it helps with the weight loss that attracts many to the keto world.

That’s where keto genesis comes into play. If weight loss and improved energy are your primary goals, you want to be making the ketones, not just having them around. That means that you’ll get more benefit from changing your lifestyle than from swallowing a supplement.

And that brings us to a ketogenic diet. A ketogenic diet is often considered one and the same with an ultra low carb high fat diet. But truth be told, a ketogenic diet could change from person to person. A highly trained endurance athlete might be able to produce ketones even with moderate carb intake. A person with liver inflammation, like the fatty liver condition that can result from years on a high sugar diet, may eat low carb high fat for weeks before their body can produce ketones.

All of this is to say that there is no hard science on what macronutrient ratio defines a ketogenic diet.

There’s another thing that I must point out here. A ketogenic diet is not inherently healthy. Just like the paleo diet has evolved over the years to now include paleo-brownies, many things tagged as keto on the internet will rely heavily on dairy, which not everyone tolerates well, and even more heavily on non-caloric sweeteners, such as stevia, which I would argue causes more metabolic damage than benefit (topic for another day).

And this brings me to our final distinction of the post –

The anti-inflammatory diet.

Inflammation is the body’s response to an irritant. An anti-inflammatory agent is one that either limits the body’s response or limits the irritation so there is less for the body to respond to. When it comes to diets, we’re after the second.

While this is admittedly a vague term, I define an anti-inflammatory diet as one that eliminates or restricts the foods that most commonly irritate the most people – grains, dairy, sweeteners.

An anti-inflammatory diet is not inherently low-carb, paleo, or ketogenic. But for best results, bundle them.

I believe wholeheartedly that when entertaining either a paleo or keto diet, that we will maximize our benefit by coupling those principles with the above listed principles of an anti-inflammatory diet. This is why I encourage you to have a diet/lifestyle guided by principle rather than categories or labels. Because it all comes down to the pursuit of health, and any loopholes that you exploit – intentionally or unintentionally – will only slow down your desired progress.

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