Tips & Advice

Paleo Diet vs Keto: What’s the Difference?

Paleo diet vs keto – which is better for you? That’s a common question and the best way to answer it is to contrast and compare both diets. Both diets are popular amongst those trying to lose weight or to address underlying health issues, such as diabetes, allergies/intolerances, 

Before we start, let’s have a quick overview of both diets.

Paleo diet vs Keto: a paleo diet overview

Also known as the “caveman diet”, the paleo diet’s principles are rooted in eating the way our ancestors ate. Followers of the paleo diet believe that the foods that were available to early civilization – before large-scale food production – is what is healthiest for us. Those on the paleo diet generally believe that modern methods of food production is harmful to our health.

Paleo eliminates the following: grains (by eliminating grain, paleo is essentially a gluten-free diet), legumes, processed sugar and most dairy products.

Paleo permits the following foods:

  1. Meat, poultry and fish
  2. Eggs
  3. Fruits
  4. Vegetables
  5. Nuts and seeds
  6. Some fats (e.g. coconut oil, avocado oil, lard, butter, olive oil)
  7. Minimally processed natural sweeteners, e.g. honey, stevia, maple syrup, cane sugar

With the paleo diet, there is also a strong emphasis on overall well-being including exercise.

Paleo diet vs Keto: a keto diet overview

The keto diet’s “goal” is to trigger ketosis in your body. Ketosis is the process where you body goes from burning carbs (sugar) for fuel and burns fat instead. (The fat is in the form of what is called “ketone bodies” – or just “ketones”, hence the diet’s name).

Ketosis is brought about by managing the ratio of the main macronutrients (for the purpose of the keto diet macronutrients are fat, protein and carbohydrates). On the keto diet, your calories come from these macronutrients in the following proportions:

  • Fat: 60–80%
  • Protein: 20–30%
  • Carbohydrates: 5–10%

It’s vital that anyone on the keto diet follows these proportions – failure to do so will likely mean you’ll not attain ketosis and the diet will not work for you.

So, for example, if you set the goal of limiting yourself to 2,000 daily calories per day, you will consume those calories in the following amounts:

  • Fat: 1,200-1,600 calories
  • Protein: 400-600 calories
  • Carbs: 100-200 calories

And whilst the keto diet is not a calorie-restriction diet, an element of calorie tracking will produce faster weight-loss results.

What sets keto apart from many diets is its high-fat content. Keto is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. (Note the moderate-protein content. Excess protein (amino acids) are turned into glucose through a process called turns into sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis – so too much protein can take you out of fat-burning ketosis).

The keto diet is gaining popularity because of its remarkable fat-loss effect – as well as improving a range of other health benefits.

So, that’s an overview of the paleo diet vs keto. Next, paleo and keto share several common principles  – let’s look at each in turn.

Paleo Diet vs Keto #1: Both recommend eating “real food”

When it comes to paleo diet vs keto, both emphasise the importance of eating “real food” – food that has undergone minimal processing, from the land to your plate. It’s the food our ancestors would have eaten when more farmed the land. 

Both the paleo diet and keto advocate eliminating foods that have been heavily processed with a high number of additives and chemicals, processed oils and sugars. Instead, they focus on fresh foods: meat, fish, vegetables  and nuts – as nature intended.

Paleo Diet vs Keto #2: Both diets eliminate grains and legumes

Both the paleo diet and keto diet require you to avoid grains and legumes – but for different reasons. The paleo crowd believes grains and legumes contain “anti-nutrients” that cause digestive irritation when eaten in large quantities – as well as interfering with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and minerals.

The keto diet eliminates grains and legumes for a different reason, i.e. their carbohydrate content. When you eat these, it’s easy to exceed your daily keto carb allowance of 20g a day.

Paleo Diet vs Keto #3: Both agree no sugar

Both paleo and keto shun added sugar. For paleo followers, sugar falls into the undesirable group, “highly-processed foods”. For keto followers, sugar is a near sure-fire way to come out of ketosis, sabotaging your diet attempts.

Paleo Diet vs Keto #4: Both agree healthy fat is good for you

In the paleo diet vs keto discussion, it’s comforting to know that both diets encourage eating unprocessed, healthy fats and oils. Both paleo and keto are not afraid of good fats and encourage its regular consumption. And both diets agree to steer clear of unhealthy fats – processed oils, trans fat, margarine…) which are harmful to health when eaten regularly.

For keto, fat is not just a “can have” (as it is under paleo) – it’s a “must have”. Eating a large amount of healthy fats is a cornerstone of the keto diet.

Paleo Diet vs Keto #5: They disagree on carb intake

While it’s possible to have a low-carb paleo diet, low carb is not a principle of paleo, as it is in the keto diet. It’s easy to have a high-carb paleo diet. There are plenty of high-carb foods permitted under paleo: yams, onions, beets, squashes, parsnips, unrefined sugars… the list goes on. So, paleo believes there are many healthy, whole food carbs that you can eat – for paleo followers it’s less that carbs are bad but rather the source of those carbs, e.g. is it from a paleo-permitted food group?

Keto on the other hand strictly controls carb intake. Carbs bring the body out of the fat-burning state of ketosis – the whole reason why the keto diet works. And so, carbs are strictly limited. There’s no such thing as a good carb in keto (OK, we’re exaggerating here, but we’re not far off) Ideally, under the standard ketogenic diet, carb intake should be limited to no more than 20g a day (this can go up to 100g, max, for those who struggle to acclimatise to such a low-carb diet to begin with).

Paleo Diet vs Keto #6: They disagree on dairy products

The keto diet encourages eating many healthy, high-fat dairy products such as butter, cream, unsweetened full-fat yoghurt. Soy is permitted under keto – but not paleo as it is classified as a legume. Milk is generally discouraged because of its low fat-to-carb ratio.

Paleo however eliminates almost all dairy product. Grass-fed butter – which is arguably a mainstay of the keto diet – is permitted but many followers of the keto diet feel it goes against the paleo ideology. This leads us to the next point…

Paleo Diet vs Keto #7: The role of ideology

Paleo has a lifestyle component, advocating bursts of intense exercise as well as stress-relief/meditation practise. It takes a more holistic view – seeking to improve both body and mind. Indeed, the paleo diet has not escaped controversy with many saying it’s a vehicle for personal beliefs as oppose to being solely a diet.

Keto has no ideological baggage – other than the firm belief that traditional nutrition advice is absolutely wrong. But beyond recommending what you eat, keto does not concern itself with whether you do Crossfit, practise mindfulness meditation, or any other lifestyle change that is not part of the diet itself. 

Paleo Diet vs Keto #8: They both work for weight loss but their approaches differs

In the pale0 diet vs keto discussion, the conclusion is: they both work for weight loss. However, how they approach that weight loss is drastically different. They both get similar results but through a different methodology. This is a recurring theme when you compare paleo and keto: they both have a lot in common but for different reasons.

One important difference to note is how diets approach macronutrients. Paleo does not concern itself with macronutrients. You can eat as much (healthy) protein, fat and carbs as you want. So long as your food is coming from the paleo permitted group of foods, you’re fine. 

Keto is all about the macros. You need to track your macronutrients carefully as that is the only way you can enter and maintain ketosis – the state where your body burns fat rather than carbs (sugar) for fuel. 

Paleo Diet vs Keto #9: Sustainability?

Some feel that keto is the more restrictive diet and therefore harder to follow than paleo. But, of course, there are others who say the exact opposite!

One thing to note is that keto’s high-fat content makes it a very satiating diet – a little fat goes a long way to making you feel full. And so, many people who try keto find that they do not suffer hunger pangs. Furthermore, keto advocates having clearly-defined windows of time when you eat. More often than not however, a lunch high in fat leaves you still feeling full when it comes to dinner and so you skip that meal. This helps aid weight loss even more.

With paleo, the lower fat content may make feeling fuller, longer more difficult. But many feel paleo is easier to follow as it does not restrict the amount of good carbs (primarily vegetables) that you can eat. Keto, with its stringent 20g carbs a day, can be difficult for some. Keto also discourages snacking through the day.

Paleo diet vs keto: Summary

  1. Both paleo and keto can be effective for weight loss and blood sugar balance.
  2. Both diets have potential positive health effects if followed.
  3. Keto focuses on tracking macronutrients. Paleo does not.
  4. The origins of the keto diet is based around triggering and maintaining ketosis. Paleo is based around the belief that the diet from the Paleolithic era is healthier for us and it’s how humans should eat.
  5. The keto diet is characterised by high-fat, moderate protein and low-carb. The paleo diet is characterised by moderate-fat, moderate/high protein and low-carb.
  6. Some people believe the paleo diet is easier to follow as it’s less restrictive. However, many others feel keto is easier as its high-fat content makes it more satiating.

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