Over the last few years, the keto and paleo diets have become some of the most popular eating plans today, with thousands of food and fitness blogs about both, millions of hash-tagged posts on Instagram, and with stories of their the benefits shared by those who have found personal success with either diet.
In this quick guide we cover what both diets are, what makes them similar and different, and which foods you can and can’t eat on each eating plan. So, whether you’re in the decision process of starting a new diet or want to learn more about these styles of eating, it’s critical to cut through the hype and dive into the truth about which diets you’re considering. Here are the basics.
What are the paleo and keto diets?
Paleo and keto are two words you hear thrown around a lot on social media and in health news. Both diets have been extensively studied for their health benefits (and drawbacks), and both have become mainstays in wellness culture.
Paleo Diet Overview
You may have heard people refer to the paleo diet as the Stone Age diet or the caveman diet. That’s because the backbone of the paleo diet is the manner in which our hunter-gatherer ancestors from the Paleolithic era ate. The paleo diet strives to remove as many modern, processed foods as possible, though the list of what’s acceptable and what’s not varies greatly between people.
The paleo diet is rooted in a belief that humans aren’t adapted to eat many of the food in today’s modern diets — most notably grains and legumes. The paleo diet isn’t inherently associated with nutritional protocols like eating low carb or cutting out sugar; it’s largely centered on which foods are providing those nutrients in your diet.
Keto Diet Overview
The keto diet focuses on drastically cutting carbohydrate consumption to put your body in ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates because it doesn’t have enough carbs to burn. When you’re in ketosis, your liver produces something called ketones (also known as ketone bodies), which become your body’s main source of energy.
To achieve true ketosis, most people need to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, or less than 10 percent of their daily calorie intake. The rest of your calories should come from high-quality protein sources and healthy fats rich in omega-3s and omega-6s.
Paleo vs. Keto: How They’re Similar
- General healthy lifestyle: Both the paleo and keto diets emphasize some eating habits that, overall, support a healthy lifestyle. For example, paleo and keto diets both encourage you to choose whole foods whenever possible and limit your intake of packaged, processed foods.
- Effect on carbohydrate intake: Although eating low carb is fundamental to the keto diet, it often becomes a byproduct of the paleo diet as a result of removing carb-rich foods like grains and legumes from the diet.
- Health boosting foods: On keto or paleo, you’ll consume hearty portions of nuts, seeds, healthy oils, unprocessed meat, seafood, eggs, avocados, leafy greens, and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli.
- Personalization: Neither diet requires you to adhere to an eating schedule nor does either one specify an acceptable calorie budget — rather, both the paleo and keto diets emphasize that if you focus on eating whole foods, weight loss and other health goals will manifest.
Paleo vs. Keto: What’s the Difference?
While the paleo and keto diets do have some significant similarities, the diets are based on different ideals and goals and they also have different benefits and drawbacks.
- Restriction: The keto diet is more restrictive than the paleo diet regarding which food groups are permitted. On the keto diet, you can’t eat any grains, legumes, starchy vegetables, natural sweeteners, or processed foods such as chips, crackers, pretzels, and cereals. The paleo diet doesn’t cut out fruits, starchy vegetables, or natural sweeteners such as agave and honey. Some advocates of a strict paleo diet won’t allow for any dairy or grains, but many paleo dieters see the benefit in moderate consumption of both, especially ancient grains (like quinoa and amaranth) and grass-fed, full-fat dairy.
- Personalization: The keto diet focuses heavily on macronutrient breakdown — a challenging one as well, whereas the paleo diet may offer more flexibility for intuitive eating. On paleo, there is no designated carb, protein, and fat ratio.
- Lifestyle: The other main difference between the paleo and keto diets are the ideologies behind them. Most followers of the paleo diet don’t just follow the diet — it’s more of a lifestyle, and one that includes regular physical activity, time in nature, and a strong social circle (all things our Paleolithic ancestors would’ve had). The keto diet, on the other hand, doesn’t emphasize any lifestyle components other than eating whole foods: It’s up to the dieter to add those other elements in at their own will.
|Grains||No||Usually no, with some exceptions|
|Dairy||Very limited choices, e.g., full-fat butter||Usually no, with some exceptions (e.g., grass-fed butter)|
|Artificial (zero-calorie) sweeteners||Yes||No|
|White and brown sugar||No||No|
|Alcohol||Yes, liquor or low-carb beer||No|
|Coffee||Yes, with low-carb or zero-sugar cream||Yes, black or with nut-based cream only|
|Processed, packaged food||No||No|
|Nuts and seeds||Yes||Yes|
|Oils||Yes||Some (minimally refined)|
Choosing What’s Right For You
If you’re in the process of considering either of these diets, here are a few important questions to ask yourself:
- Are looking for a diet that’s sustainable for the long term?
- How much food variety and flexibility do you want?
- Are you comfortable focusing on macronutrient ratios?
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