Vegan Vs. Ketogenic Diet
Should I live almost entirely on meat and eat virtually no carbohydrate? Or should I eat no products from animals at all but enjoy all the grains, fruits and vegetables I like? Or should I follow any of the other diet plans that scientists have shown to be effective in reducing incidence of various illnesses. For example, Mediterranean, Paleo, Ornish or Japanese. Spoiler alert, the answer probably lies somewhere in between these two and is probably specific to the individual. Much of the information in this article comes from the book Metabolical by Dr.Robert Lustig, whose mantra - “protect the liver, feed the gut”, echoes in my head every meal time.
The ketogenic or keto (pronounced key-toe) diet is a high-fat low-carbohydrate diet consisting mainly of high fat dairy, red meat and green vegetables. Research in 1911 found that a keto diet reduced seizures in epileptics and it remains recommended for treating some epileptics today. The Icelandic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson became a huge proponent of the keto diet after living for 4 years in the Canadian arctic on the Inuit diet of 90% meat and fish. After this Stefansson and fellow explorer Karsten Anderson lived at New York’s Bellevue Hospital where they ate an entirely meat diet for a study funded by American Meat Institute. At the researchers’ request Steffanson ate lean meat; however, after developing nausea and diarrhea he switched to his preferred fattier meat and recovered in 2 days. The two continued the diet for a year and remained totally healthy.
The low levels of carbohydrate and insulin in the keto diet cause the body to use any dangerous fat stored in the liver and reduce stored insulin and insulin resistance. A reduction in insulin improves resistance to leptin which reduces appetite. The keto diet also works through increasing beta-hydroxide (produced naturally by the body when sugar is low). Beta-hydroxide protects against dementia, Alzeihmer’s and Parkinson’s by stimulating neural growth and is considered to possibly aid physical performance. However keto adherents are often low on nutrients such as magnesium, selenium and vitamins B and C. I guess the high-fat bacon is easier to fill up on than the nutrient filled spinach and other leafy greens.
The vegan diet has roots in the Indus Valley (across modern-day India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) and was present in ancient Greece. Modern vegans have advocated the diet as it often supports cleaner farming practices without antibiotics, hormones or greenhouse gas emission. The movie What The Health claims that one egg is as harmful as five cigarettes, which is entirely unsupported by scientific evidence.
Fruits and vegetables are filled with nutrients and fibre, however a standard vegan diet is often low in iron, omega 3 and particularly vitamin B12 which is only present in foods from animal sources. Many vegans eat foods fortified with B12 or supplements to make up the gap. In the UK, many breakfast cereals, almond milks, vegan spreads and nutritional yeasts come fortified with vitamin B12. Supplementary B12 comes from a bacterial fermentation process so no animals are required to produce it.
Overall, the main problem with any diet is that most people don’t stick to it. Doctors usually find a person lasts two months before old habits return and any novelty of a total change of diet has worn off. And, of course, stressing excessively about choosing what to eat will be bad for any person all round. My advice is to listen to your body and eat whatever looks good whenever you are hungry. Both vegan and keto diets can be unhealthy, especially as the food industry makes more processed meats and carbohydrates. Ignore the packaging, even that little colourful label that tells you what’s inside a product - 30% of the calories in almonds are not absorbed by the body - and not all carbohydrates, fibres, fats and proteins work in a similar fashion.