There are really no set definitions so a lot of these terms mean different things to different people. Instead of thinking about “diets”…think of choosing your foods as a lifelong lifestyle.
Look at the bottom of this page for a Brief History of Food and also see this page on macronutrients for more details on proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Low Carb (LC) – restricts starches and sugars. There is not firm cut off but for a lot of people this is around 70-100 grams of carbs per day.
Very Low Carb (VLC) – eliminates almost all starches and sugars. Many consider this to be less than 50 grams of carbs per day. An Atkins induction phase diet is < 20 grams.
Low Carb/High Fat (LCHF) – is variation that emphasizes low carb, moderate protein, and high fat. The modern approach to this diet (should) focus on high quality, nutrient dense whole foods.
Low Carb/Ketogenic Diet (LCKD) – basically the same as VLC or LCHF with the goal of using ketones (fats) as the major fuel source in place of glucose (sugar).
Paleo – Focuses on low processed / high quality food that would have theoretically been available to man living hundreds of thousands of years ago. Typically: Meats, Fish, Eggs, Vegetables, Nuts, Berries. Generally considered LC but some versions include “safe starches” such as sweet potatoes, white rice, yams, taro. (True paleo diets would be varied by region and to the foods available at the time.)
Primal – Same as Paleo but allows full fat dairy in those who tolerate it. Employs a “carb curve” to determine carbohydrate needs.
Real Food – Fits in the spectrum of all of the above depending on the persons metabolic needs but always focuses nutrient density and food quality first.
Vegetarian – Eliminates animal products. May or may not focus on food quality. A poor quality vegetarian diet can be quite nutrient low. See this link for ideas to increase quality.
“Heart Healthy” (Low Fat, High Grain/Carb) – Designed to lower LDL-C cholesterol and to lower obesity, diabetes and CHD…..how do you think it’s working? Unfortunately many people trying to follow this diet still end up eating tons of processed foods.
Standard American Diet (SAD) – full of processed foods, refined grains, trans fats, sugary drinks and snacks. Typically nutrient low.
There may not be one perfect diet for all people and genetic make ups but I do believe the prescription for everyone’s near optimal diet does start with nutrient dense REAL FOOD and I feel confident in saying the following two things:
1. For people with diabetes or any metabolic dysfunction LOWERING THE CARBS significantly makes a lot of sense and many studies show that. (Note: when you lower the carbs; fat and possibly protein have to go up — this is a good thing as long as quality is good.)
2. Anyone who continues to combine poor quality HIGH CARB with HIGH FAT is most likely heading toward serious trouble. I think you have to pick a side!
Here’s a little more on the Paleo diet paraphrased from Loren Cordain’s book Paleo Answer:
Modern Paleo diets try to replicate the nutritional qualities in our ancestral hunter-gatherer diets by consuming food groups they ate. (Obviously we cannot duplicate the exact foods they had access to.) He advocates this isn’t an all or nothing proposition and supports an “85/15” rule where 85% of your meals are “Paleo” allowing for about 3 meals per week off plan. He says by reducing or eliminating refined sugars, processed foods, dairy products, cereal grains, and legumes (except for the occasional 85/15 rule), we can go a long way toward getting close the nutrient characteristics of hunter-gather diets. Modern Paleo diets are composed of meats (grass-produced, preferably), fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and healthful oils (and fats).
Food Revolution (LCHF):
From YouTube: Do you want to improve your weight and health by eating real food? With no calorie counting, no diet products, no hunger? This talk from Ancestral Health Symposium 2011 shows you how to do it the natural way. The epidemics of obesity and diabetes are continuing to spread across the western world. Now we know why. Modern science has revealed our mistake. The unnecessary fear of natural food has inadvertently caused us to eat more of the new food that can make us hungrier, make us eat more, make us fat.
Here’s a good blog post from Dr. Jeffery Gerber’s blog – denverdietdoctor.com discussing nutrient quality as well as some differences between Paleo and LC:
Food for thought: A look at the term “Nutrient Density”
….there is quite a bit of overlap between the two lifestyles, but a few key differences are as follows:
- Paleo is not necessarily low-carb. On a Paleo diet, for those who do not have insulin resistance or weight issues, carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and fruit are considered healthy and encouraged.
- The jury is out on dairy in a Paleo world. It can be a very healthy addition if well tolerated by your body, and is a great source of fat for the low-carbers. However, some folks just don’t digest it well, and some consider it an inflammatory food, so there is some question about it in Paleo-land.
- Food quality is of utmost importance in the Paleo world. As great as low-carb can be for your health (especially if you are losing weight on it! Go you!), there are some questionable ingredients in some of the low-carb books out there. I was reading through one that suggested using “Low-carb bake mix” to which I replied, “What the heck is IN that?” Personally, if it’s not ACTUAL food, I don’t want to eat it (okay, most of the time).
This last bit about food quality is what I want to discuss today, specifically the concept of “Nutrient Density.” Wikipedia (which we all know is always reliable!) defines nutrient density as “the ratio of nutrient content to total energy content” in a food. Generally, nutrient dense foods have a lot of good stuff in them but are not often high calorie foods. What does this mean? More bang for your buck, basically! Granted, not all nutrient dense foods are low-calorie, but that’s okay! These foods are often self-limiting: you receive so much nutrition from a nutrient dense food that you don’t have to eat a ton of it to feel satisfied! A Paleo diet consists primarily of meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. When it comes down to it, ALL of these foods are nutrient dense compared to the standard American fare that most of us were raised on.
So wouldn’t it make sense, then, that if we were constantly eating empty, nutrient-poor foods, such as refined grains, sugar, and processed seed oils, we’d be hungry? There are no nutrients in these foods, just calories, and more calories, and then some more calories! So you eat these foods, you feel energetic for a short period of time, you start to digest your food, your body secretes some insulin to help store the “nutrients” you’re giving it, and then only junk gets stored minus all of the vitamins, minerals, and other substances your body needs to function. Your cells are waiting for these key building blocks your body needs to function, and you’re not providing them. And then how do you feel, pretty soon after you ate? You feel HANGRY. That’s right, hungry and angry. Who wouldn’t feel angered by spending your hard-earned money on food that provides you no benefit whatsoever?
Several members of the Paleo clan out in cyber space have coined the term “Nutrient Seeker.” This concept is too cool. Think about it: You wake up every day, energized from your restful night’s sleep. You brush your teeth, comb your hair, start prepping your eggs cooked in coconut oil. You think, “Today I will save the world! I will fight crime! I will SEEK NUTRIENTS!!!” Okay, maybe you’re not this gung-ho, but think about how great it would be to fuel your body with the most nutrient-rich foods available!
Dr. Gerber and I both attended the PaleoFX conference this spring (…). At the conference, there was a panel of experts that specifically discussed nutrient dense foods and what this means for your overall health. At the end of the panel, the experts were asked to list which foods they felt were the most nutrient dense. Together, they compiled the following list:
Liver, Bone broth, Fish/shellfish, Grass fed beef, Kale, Eggs, Coconut oil, Fermented Foods
Now I realize that to some of you, liver and bone broth may not be the most appealing sounding foods. But remember, you are nutrient seekers now! And these foods are SO good for you. To break it down, these are the most prominent nutrients in each of these super foods:
Liver: Loaded with fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), Vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, and copper
Bone broth: Gelatin/collagen (great for digestion, bones/joints, and skin- think about all of those expensive collagen-based skin treatments, ladies! Drink some yummy broth instead!), calcium/magnesium (helps prevent osteoporosis), sulfur, trace minerals (instructions on how to make bone broth here).
Seafood: Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin B12, selenium (supports the thyroid!), vitamin D, zinc (especially high in oysters!), iron
Grass fed beef: Omega 3 fatty acids, amino acids (what make up protein), B vitamins, Vitamin E
Kale: Vitamins C, A, K, antioxidants, and calcium (your green leafy things are higher in available calcium than (gasp) dairy!)
Eggs: Vitamins A and D, choline (for a sharper mind so you can impress all your friends with your quick wit and ridiculously good memory!), selenium, lutein (for healthy vision)
Coconut oil: helps absorption of other foods, which is why it’s important to eat your veggies with fat for the best absorption.
Fermented foods (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha)- the bacteria aid in digestion, which in turn aids in absorption of nutrients. Having a small spoonful before meals is great! Thanks, little buggers!
I feel dairy deserves an honorable mention here as well, as many of our low-carb, high fat patients eat dairy as a regular part of their diet. Dairy is high in Omega 3 fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).
By no means is this list complete- several other honorable mentions as far as nutrient dense foods are ALL green leafy vegetables, berries, bacon (…) and chocolate.
Remember, food quality is important. If your budget allows it, eating grass-fed beef over conventionally raised, pastured eggs over regular, organic produce (especially things without a peel that you remove), and grass-fed, organic dairy, do it! Because as you’ve heard before, you are what you eat (and what you ate ate).
So, fellow cavemen and women, I challenge you when you’re hunting, gathering, and foraging for your next meal, to do something nice for yourself and your family: Be a nutrient seeker!
Click to see –> Illustrated History of Heart Disease.
A Brief History of Food
2.5 million years ago: the Paleolithic era began according to anthropologists
1.8 millions years ago: anthropologists have data suggesting meat is first roasted with fire
500,000 years ago: homo sapiens
(Neolithic hunter-gatherers likely sustained on: insects, grubs, roots, leaves, meat (land animals, reptiles, birds, small fish, shellfish), some berries or seasonal fruit, nuts, and occasional eggs)
30,000 years ago: evidence found for simple baked flat breads. Dried and pealed fern & cattails roots, pounded, mixed with water & baked on heated stones. Crude mortars and pestles found at sites in modern-day Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic.
12,000 years ago: agricultural revolution
9000 years ago: beer
8700 years ago: corn tortillas
7400 years ago: wine
7000 years ago: cheese
6500 years ago: olive oil
4400 years ago: pickled foods
3900 years ago: chocolate
3500 years ago: bacon (salting was one of the earliest forms of preservation)
2500 years ago: early sugar (wasn’t granulated for easy transport until 1000 years later, was still expensive though)
2300 years ago: commercial yeast
1000 years ago: salted fish (cod)
500 years ago: peanut butter and coffee
200 years ago: widespread availability of CHEAP sugar and flour (in early 1800’s Napoleon encouraged food research which lead to wide spread affordable sugar beet sugar that reached the masses)
150-120 years ago: first ready-to-eat cold breakfast cereal (Granula 1863, Whetena 1879), not popularized until John Kellogg patented Corn Flakes in 1895 and started heavy advertising in 1906.
100 years ago: refined seed/“vegetable” oils – which had been considered industrial waste products up to that time. Procter & Gamble started selling cottonseed oil as shortening (Crisco) in 1911. Early soybean research in the 1930s from China, as well as Henry Ford with the auto industry — by 1935 sixty pounds of soybeans went into each Ford car (plastics) and the Drackett Company/BMS (Windex/sponges) spurred interest in commercialized soybean oil. By 1960 soybean oil had become the most popular vegetable oil in the US. Rapeseed oil (Canola) was approved by FDA for US food consumption in 1985.
65 years ago: Swanson popularized frozen TV dinners in 1950s.
45 years ago: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) introduced into US food system (1970).
[If the time from the first believed use of fire for cooking to today was a 100-yard football field, the agricultural revolution began in the last 2 feet, widespread cheap sugar the last 1/2 inch, and widespread use of industrial seed/”vegetable” oils in processed foods the last 1/4 inch]
Sugar Consumption in the US has skyrocketed in the past 160 years
A steady decline in natural fats and rise in vegetable oils
US Soybean Consumption exploded in the the 1960s
Source Authority Nutrition
See how “healthy” refined vegetable oil is made
Listen for the following words and phrases:
- chemical extraction process,
- solvent (hexane),
- sodium hydroxide wash (caustic lye, Drano),
- impurities sold as soap,
- washed with bleach (sodium hypochlorite),
- steam heated to deodorize (the odor, by the way, is due to oxidation during the heating and refining process — oxidizing oils is not a good thing).
This sounds more like industrial waste than food. Contrast this to the cold pressing process used to create extra virgin olive oil — edible through the entire process.
History of bread:
FLAT BREADS: 30,000 years ago early single ingredient root flour FLAT breads (cattail roots or fern roots). Essentially baked gruel from water and grains or ground roots.
AGRICULTURE: Supplied consistent ancient grains. 10,000-12,000 years ago
LARGER MILLING PROCESSES: early bread grains were ground crudely by hand with rocks. Grain refining updated this process 2800 years ago with larger milling processes to create refined flour.
LEAVENING: First light and fluffy loaf bread made via LEAVENING process. Yeast added to gruel excretes carbon dioxide bubbles that cause bread to rise (sourdough). Commercial yeast production dates back to ancient Egypt around 2300 years ago. (Tortillas and Pita’s are “unleavened breads”)
MECHANIZED SLICING invented in 1917 and responsible for 90% of store bought breads by 1928.
Basic, traditional rustic bread recipe might include only flour, salt, yeast, and water. Now nearly 100% of typical grocery store bread has high fructose corn syrup or sugar added. Sugar makes bread rise faster, softer texture, and lengthen general shelf life (but is more prone to mold).
“Traditional French” Bread does not have sugar added.
As an aside, here is a graph of Cigarette use in America, 1900-2012:
Finally, this simulated conversation answers a lot of practical questions. This is from Mark Sisson’s Blog “Mark’s Daily Apple” which I highly recommend.
Read his Primal Blueprint 101 here: