Comparing the Paleo & Keto Diets

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is basically a way of eating that takes out modern convenience/processed foods in favor of whole, nutrient-dense foods that were eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Dr. Loren Cordain, who is most often credited with founding the modern Paleo movement, wrote The Paleo Diet in 2002. This is a great reference on the Paleo Diet.  Dr. Cordain wrote an article entitled, “A Brief History of the Contemporary Paleo Diet Movement”.

If you are interested in a deeper look into the Paleo Movement this is a great resource.  However, below you will find a summary of the do’s and do not’s while implementing a Paleo lifestyle.

The Paleo diet continues to be one of the most popular eating plans year after year, with a huge community of people standing behind the Paleo lifestyle.

Foods that are included on the Paleo diet:

  • Grass-fed beef and other meats, like lamb, venison, etc.
  • Seafood
  • Poultry (ideally pastured-raised)
  • Fresh fruits
  • All types of fresh, non-starchy vegetables
  • Starchy vegetables, like potatoes, butternut squash, beets, etc.
  • Eggs (ideally organic and cage-free)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Unrefined oils, such as olive, coconut, flaxseed, walnut and avocado oil
  • Natural sweeteners, including raw honey, maple syrup, in some cases coconut sugar, molasses, and raw stevia

Foods/food groups that are avoided while following a Paleo diet:

  • All cereal grains (even whole grains) and products made with grain flours
  • Legumes (including beans and peanuts)
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Processed/junk food
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • In some cases, white potatoes (depending on the person)

For the most part, Paleo is a lower carb diet, especially when you compare it to the typical Standard American Diet (SAD).   The Paleo diet eliminates many processed foods made with added sugar, grains and dairy.  This means that a lot of high-carb foods are off limits. However, the Paleo diet isn’t as low carb as the keto diet since it allows foods like fruit, and starchy vegetables like potatoes and beets, in moderation.  It also allows for natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

What are the benefits of following a Paleo diet? The Paleo diet has been associated with a number of health perks, including:

  • Reduced cardiovascular disease risk factors.
  • Better blood sugar management reduced insulin resistance and protection against metabolic syndrome.
  • Reduced inflammation, all-cause mortality and autoimmune disease symptoms.
  • Help with weight loss, both because it cuts out many empty calories from the diet and also because it’s high in protein and fat which increase satiety/fullness.
  • Improved weight circumference and blood pressure.
  • Lower risk for nutrient deficiencies, since the diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods including quality meats, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet has been used by doctors as a medical treatment for conditions like epilepsy since the 1920s. However, it has recently gained a lot of ground in the mainstream.  The keto diet (ketogenic diet) is a high-fat, moderate protein, low-carb diet that puts your body into the metabolic state called nutritional ketosis. While in ketosis, your body creates compounds called ketones and burns fat, both your own body fat and fat from your diet, for energy rather than glucose.

In order to get into ketosis and stay there, you need to strictly and drastically reduce your carbohydrate intake, emphasizing healthy fats, some protein, and low-carb veggies instead.

The benefits of the ketogenic diet:

  • Help with weight loss/fat loss, often in a relatively short period of time.
  • Protection against common diseases, including obesity, insulin resistance/type 2 diabetes, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Increased energy and mental clarity, leading to less “brain fog.”
  • Reduced inflammation, including your joints, brain, and heart.
  • Enhanced protection of the brain against degeneration and cognitive decline.
  • Reduced hunger and cravings, thanks to the natural hunger-curbing effects of ketones.

Foods that are included in the keto diet?

  • Grass-fed beef and other meats, like lamb, venison, etc.
  • Seafood
  • Poultry
  • Full-fat, low-carb dairy products like cheeses, butter, cream
  • All non-starchy vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds (up to 1/4 cup per day)
  • Unrefined oils, such as olive, coconut, flaxseed, walnut and avocado oil

Below are foods/food groups that are avoided while following the keto diet:

  • All types of sugar (natural or refined)
  • All cereal grains (even whole grains) and products made with grain flours
  • Fruit (some choose to include about 1/4 cup of berries per day at most)
  • Legumes (including beans and peanuts)
  • Sweetened, low-fat dairy (like most yogurts and all ice cream)
  • Processed/junk foods, usually including those made with refined vegetable oils
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Starchy vegetables, like all potatoes, corn, etc.

Is Whole30 keto? In many ways, Whole30 is similar to the keto diet because it cuts out sugar and processed grain foods while emphasizing produce, protein, and healthy fats. But like the Paleo diet, the point of Whole30 is not to get into ketosis. Whole30 is still a low-carb diet (actually it’s not meant to be a “diet” like we usually think of diets, but rather a “short-term nutrition reset”) but it isn’t as low-carb at the keto diet.

What Paleo & Keto Have in Common

Both Paleo and keto are overall low-carb, low-sugar diets that tend to be nutrient-dense. Because both eliminate the majority of sources of “empty calories” in the typical Western diet, they can lead to weight loss, better blood sugar management and much more.

It’s possible to do a combination keto/Paleo diet. Because you eat mostly Paleo-approved foods, (like meat, fish, vegetables, quality oils, nuts, and seeds) on the keto diet anyway.

What would a “Paleo keto diet” look like? Here’s a keto Paleo food list that includes food groups that are acceptable on both diets:

  • Oils including coconut, olive, palm, avocado, hemp, and flax oil
  • Grass-fed meat and pasture raised poultry
  • Pastured eggs
  • All types of wild-caught fish
  • All types of nuts/nut butters and seeds (some choose to avoid peanuts that are technically legumes, while some include peanuts and treat them more like nuts)
  • All nonstarchy vegetables
  • Avocados

To combine Paleo and keto, you essentially need to:

  • Keep carbohydrate intake to 20–30 net grams per day.
  • Avoid all types of added sugar, all grains, all dairy products (including cheese, even if it’s low carb), all legumes/beans, all fruit (you may be able to have small amounts of low-sugar berries) and nearly all processed foods.
  • Get 75 percent or more of your daily calories from fat, which means monitoring your protein intake and keeping it “moderate.”

The Differences: Paleo vs. Keto

The major differences between the Paleo diet and keto diet are that:

  • The keto diet is higher in fat, while the Paleo diet tends to be higher in protein. While the Paleo diet still includes a variety of healthy fats, the keto diet is very high-fat, since fats provide about 75 percent or more of daily calories.
  • One concern about the paleo diet is that it puts a heavy emphasis on meat products, which means it’s not a good choice for mostly plant-based eaters, vegetarians or vegans. While meat in moderation is perfectly healthy, excessive meat consumption may not be. For example, certain studies show a high intake of processed meat and red meat has been linked to an increased risk of mortality and colorectal cancer.
  • The paleo diet eliminates added sugar, grains, beans/legumes, and dairy.
  • The keto diet eliminates basically all sources of sugar (both natural and added sugar), fruit, grains/legumes, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, and conventional dairy products that are low-fat and sweetened.
  • The keto diet is very specific about the number of carbs that should be consumed each day (about 20–30 grams of net carbs daily) since this is important for getting into nutritional ketosis.
  • On the Paleo diet, the goal is not to get into ketosis but simply to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Most people on the Paleo diet are not aiming to eat a very specific amount of carbs unless they are also “counting macros” (the number of carbs, fat, and protein in the diet).

Here are answers to common questions that many people have regarding the Paleo diet vs keto:

Is Paleo better than keto for weight loss?

It’s unlikely. The keto diet seems to be more effective in terms of promoting fat and weight loss since ketosis causes fat to be used for energy. That being said, the Paleo diet can also lead to weight loss since it cuts out processed foods and empty calories while increasing intake of both protein and fat that are satiating.

What about Paleo vs keto for inflammation?

Both diets can have anti-inflammatory effects. The Paleo diet is popular among people with autoimmune conditions because it eliminates many common allergens, such as dairy and gluten. Ketones (produced during ketosis) also have anti-inflammatory effects, which is why the keto diet has been associated with protection against chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, diabetes and even cancer.

Which do you choose?

When it comes to the Paleo diet vs keto diet is the bottom line is this: Both are healthy diets that have loads of benefits, including for weight loss/maintenance, metabolic health, immunity and more.

To lose weight faster you will find that putting your body into ketosis will definitely work. However, for the long-term, sustainable way to eat, the Paleo diet is best, especially after ending the keto diet or if you find keto to be too difficult or restrictive.