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Paleo vs Keto: Differences & What They Have in Common

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Paleo vs keto - Dr. Axe

Health magazine called 2018 the year of “high-fat fads, meat-only meals, and Bible-inspired eating.” What are were two of the most popular diets that contributed to this reputation? The ketogenic diet and the “Carnivore diet” (aka the Paleo diet).

Given the fact that millions of people are now proponents for these two low-carb diets, let’s talk about Paleo vs keto: which of these massively popular eating plans is best, and is it possible to do both Paleo and keto at the same time?


What Is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is essentially a way of eating that seeks to ditch modern convenience/processed foods in favor of natural, nutrient-dense foods that were eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. What we call the “Paleo diet” today first originated in 1975 when gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin wrote about the benefits of eating like our paleolithic ancestors in his book The Stone Age Diet. Dr. Loren Cordain, who is most often credited with founding the modern Paleo movement, went on to make the diet famous when he wrote The Paleo Diet in 2002.

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

What foods are included in 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

And here are the 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)

Is Paleo low-carb? Generally, yes — especially compared to “typical Western diets.” Because 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 the table. However, the Paleo diet isn’t as low carb as the keto diet because it still includes fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes and beets, and in moderation, natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup.

What types of benefits does the Paleo diet offer? The Paleo diet has been associated with a number of health perks, including:


What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet might seem like a recent fad, but it’s actually been used by doctors as a medical treatment for conditions like epilepsy since the 1920s. The keto diet (ketogenic diet) is a very high-fat, very low-carb diet that’s unique among other low-carb diets because it 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.

What benefits does the ketogenic diet have to offer? These include:

  • 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 of 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.

What foods 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” as Women’s Health describes it) 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.

Can you do Paleo on keto? It’s definitely possible to do a combination keto/Paleo diet. That’s 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 non starchy 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 amount 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 amount 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.

Is keto or Paleo better for athletes/bodybuilders?

In terms of keto vs Paleo for bodybuilding (or building muscle), both diets can work to help enhance athletic performance, to promote growth of lean muscle mass (or at least prevent muscle wasting) and to accelerate fat loss. It’s a common misconception that you can’t build muscle on keto; a number of studies have found that ketosis has not only fat-burning abilities, but the tendency to preserve lean muscle mass even during weight loss. With some resistance-training, it’s definitely possible to stay muscular, lean and fit while on either the Paleo or keto diet.

Athletes may prefer the Paleo diet because it’s a bit higher in carbs that can fuel workouts and help with muscle recovery, but on the other hand, once someone is “fat adapted” (or keto-adapated), they tend to experience increased endurance and power output.


Which Diet Works Better? Depends On You!

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

There isn’t a clear “winner” in terms of keto vs Paleo, although you’re likely to experience faster weight loss results from being in ketosis. However, long term, the Paleo diet is a solid, sustainable way to eat — especially after ending the keto diet or if you find keto to be too difficult or restrictive.

Read Next: Tips for Building Muscle on Keto (Yes, It’s Possible!)


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