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Ancestral Health Symposium includes ketogenic cancer diets and Paleo fitness

Athletes' diets controversy.
Athletes' diets controversy.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

If you think grains are an essential part of your diet and steer clear of steak, the experts at the Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS) have some tasty tidbits to help you learn how and why to give up grains and go for grass-fed beef. The 2014 AHS concluded August 9 after covering topics ranging from how ketogenic diets can help with certain forms of cancer to why Paleo low carb diets provide an effective way to lose weight and fuel fitness.

Search on Google for "best diet for athletes," and you'll find about 27,600,000 results, with Paleo and ketogenic plans recently added to the variety. Sports nutritionist Caryn Zinn discussed the benefits and challenges of ketogenic diets in athletes. It's become an increasingly popular practice as a result of Professor Tim Noakes, who champions high fat low carb diets for weight loss as well as athletics.

In an exclusive interview on August 11, fitness and lifestyle performance coach Ben Greenfield noted that athletes on ketogenic diets can achieve their optimal levels of fitness only after six months on the high fat low carb plan. "If you've been in ketosis for more than six months, it’s at that point that you gradually begin to build enough mitochondrial density to be able to churn out adequate ATP via fat oxidation to support higher levels of both intensity and physical activity," he clarified.

Until that point, athletes can feel challenged to perform at their highest levels of intensity, said Ben. "Even after that point, it can still be important for hormonal support, joint integrity, mucus production, etc. to include some carb refeeds in your post workout insulin-sensitive window," he said.

While not all experts agree that ketogenic diets are the most effective plan for athletes, an increasing number of physicians are using these types of plans to treat disease. A group of physicians and scientists discussed using the ketogenic diet for cancer during the AHS as well, including Dr. Colin Champ and Dominic D'Agostino.

While ketogenic diets have been used to control seizures in children with epilepsy for decades, only recently have they been utilized for other conditions, including certain types of cancer. The concept stems from the discovery that cancer cells use glucose for energy. By using a ketogenic diet, patients can "starve" cancer cells.

The AHS lectures also covered Paleo diets for health and weight loss. Taking a different approach, Dr. Cate Shanahan spoke on redefining the original human diet. She is known as the physician who helped the Los Angeles Lakers improve their performance by using an extremely low-carbohydrate weight loss plan with Paleo diet principles.

The Paleo diet requires eliminating all grains, sugar and processed foods. Dr. Shanahan advocates following that approach, with an emphasis on organic meat (no grain-fed animal food sources allowed), healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables.

But some dietitians disagree that it's the right approach. They are concerned that the elimination of grains and high levels of red meat are not healthy, reported Yahoo Health on August 9.

"Paleo has a lot of very good things going for it," admitted Heather Mangieri, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "We know diets rich in fruits and vegetables fight heart disease and certain cancers."

But she disagrees with the exclusion of grains and legumes, both of which are included in the highly regarded Mediterranean-style diet. And Heather's not alone in expressing concern about the lack of carbohydrates in the Paleo diet.

Joe Friel, M.S., an endurance coach and coauthor of "The Paleo Diet for Athletes," advocates "cheating" in some cases to supplement the low carb diet basis of the Paleo plan.

"These foods are just too low on the glycemic index to replace glycogen mid- and postrun as quickly as most athletes would like," he said. In one such example, ultrarunner Timothy Olson follows the Paleo diet but added dates and dried fruit to the plan to help him win the 2012 Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run.