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Ketogenic, Paleo Diet® and Whole30®: Are These Diets Heart Healthy?

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Ketogenic, Paleo Diet® and Whole30®: Are These Diets Heart Healthy?

Turn on the news or scroll through your social media feed and you’ll likely see a story on fad diets. Popular ones such as ketogenic, Paleo Diet® and Whole30® seem to get a lot of attention, but are they a fad or favorable for your long-term health? 

Our Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services team takes a look at the pros and cons of each diet and whether or not the restrictions of each can have consequences when it comes to heart health.  


Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein and extremely low-carbohydrate diet. The daily calorie breakdown looks like this:

  • 75-80 percent total calories from fat
  • 15-20 percent calories from protein
  • 5-10 percent calories from carbohydrates


  • Possible improvements in cardiovascular risk factors such as weight loss, HDL (good) cholesterol, triglycerides and A1C


  • Possible weight gain after stopping the diet due to its restrictive nature
  • May increase LDL (bad) cholesterol due to high saturated fat intake
  • Vitamin/mineral deficiencies with long-term use; meets only ¼ to ½ of the Daily Recommended Intake of nutrients
  • Most individuals consume too many poor-quality fats and very few fruits and vegetables while adhering to this diet pattern 

Bottom line: The ketogenic diet may accelerate weight loss, but it’s difficult to follow and can include an abundance of red meat and fatty, high-processed sodium foods. There is no conclusive evidence on the long-term effects or the benefit for blood pressure. 

Paleo Diet® 

The Paleo Diet® allows dieters to consume foods our Paleolithic ancestors ate prior to agriculture and animal breeding. The diet emphasizes “whole” foods, such as lean meat, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. Foods eliminated consist of all dairy, grains and legumes. 


  • High in fiber and antioxidants, if enough fruits/vegetables are consumed
  • Lower sodium compared to a typical American diet, due to limited inclusion of processed foods
  • Satiety (feeling fuller, longer) from increased fat and protein intake
  • Possible weight loss, usually due to limited food choices


  • Excludes good sources of fiber and vitamins in whole grains and legumes, which have been shown to improve blood lipids, control blood sugar, reduce inflammation and reduce risk of stroke and coronary heart disease
  • Excludes good sources of protein, calcium and vitamin D from dairy products
  • Higher intakes of saturated fat, including tropical oils such as palm and coconut
  • Restrictive and time consuming, leading to possible weight gain after stopping the diet

Bottom line: The Paleo Diet® may help with weight loss or maintenance, but there is no evidence to support the long-term benefits or risks of the diet related to heart health. When too many foods are restricted, nutrient imbalances can occur. 

Whole30® Diet

The Whole30® Diet is a 30-day plan that emphasizes meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. It excludes grains, legumes, dairy, added sugars and alcohol. No research studies have been conducted on cardiovascular health while following Whole30®. 


  • Cuts added sugars, which may help control glucose and weight loss/maintenance
  • Focuses on heart-healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocados), fruits and vegetables


  • Excludes good sources of fiber and vitamins in whole grains and legumes, which have been shown to reduce blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Excludes good sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D in dairy sources
  • May contain too much saturated fat
  • Time consuming and restrictive, leading to possible weight gain when ceasing the diet

Bottom line: The Whole30® diet may result in quick weight loss or maintenance, but many experience yo-yo dieting with rapid weight loss and weight gain during and after the 30-day plan. 

Rapid weight loss can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances and can cause changes in blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat. It can also increase your risk of heart attack. 

Which Diet is the Best for Heart Health? 

Instead of a fad diet or a diet that eliminates entire food groups, embrace sustainable changes. American Heart Association has laid out some helpful guidelines, many of which are included in Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s 8 Steps to Get Cooperized™

1. Follow a balanced diet that incorporates: 

  • Colorful produce from fruits and vegetables
  • Lean meats, including poultry (skinless chicken or turkey breast) and omega-3 rich fish (salmon, trout)
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains and legumes
  • Non-tropical vegetable oils (olive and canola oil), nuts and seeds

2. Limit foods high in saturated fat (high-fat meat, full-fat dairy and tropical oils)

  • Do not consume more than 6 percent of your total calories from saturated fat. For example, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, you shouldn’t consume more than 13 grams of saturated fat.

3. Cut back on added sugars in sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. 

  • Men: No more than 36 g of added sugar daily
  • Women: No more than 25 g of added sugar daily

4. Choose foods lower in sodium. 

  • Limit sodium to no more than 2,400 mg a day

5. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. 

  • No more than 10 drinks/week for men
  • No more than 6 drinks/week for women

6. Consume adequate calories every day. 

  • Control portion sizes to help you reach or maintain a healthy weight

7. Include regular exercise for a heart-healthy lifestyle. 

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (or a combination of both) per week

Are you interested in a heart-healthy weight loss program? Try Cooper Weight Loss. The six-month comprehensive, medically-supervised weight loss program includes nutrition, exercise and behavior change support. Referrals are accepted daily. 


Article provided by Elana Paddock, RDN, LD, CDE, Janae Mitchell, TWU Student and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.