Both the ketogenic (keto) diet and the paleo diet have become very popular among health-conscious individuals and people who want to lose weight. Since they’re both so popular and they do have some overlapping principles, many people actually get the two confused and think they are the same type of diet.
However, the two diets have some key differences, and while one isn’t necessarily better than the other, different diets work for different people. It’s important to be aware of their similarities and differences when you’re trying to choose the right diet for your weight loss or weight maintenance needs.
Both of these diets may offer benefits beyond aiding in weight loss, including boosting immunity, improving energy levels, lowering levels of inflammation, and decreasing the risk of chronic disease like heart disease and diabetes. Here’s a closer look at both diets that will help you learn about their key principles, what’s included in both diets, and the key differences between them.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet focuses on keep carbs very low, and it was first designed by Johns Hopkins Medical Center to help treat epilepsy patients in the 1920s. Researchers found that avoiding carbs for brief periods helped not only reduce the number of seizures, but also helped lower blood sugar, cholesterol, and body fat.
When people follow the keto diet, the body goes into a metabolic state of ketosis, which takes place when most of the body’s energy is coming from ketone bodies found in the blood instead of from glucose found in the blood. The very low-carb diet forces your body to burn fat as energy instead of using carbs for energy. During this process, people often lose a lot of fat, even though they’re consuming a lot of fat and calories.
What’s Included in the Keto Diet?
So what’s included in the ketogenic diet? This diet is extremely low in carbs and include moderate amounts of protein and high amounts of fat. The macronutrient breakdown for the diet is approximately:
- 5-10% of calories from carbs
- 20-25% of calories from protein
- 70-75% of calories from fat
Foods you can eat while on the keto diet include:
- Saturated fats
- Monounsaturated fats
- Full-fat dairy products
- Dark leafy greens
- Low-carb seeds and nuts
- Natural low-carb sweeteners (such as Stevia)
- Low-carb drinks
- Low-carb veggies
- Spices and herbs
Foods you shouldn’t eat on the keto diet include:
- Refined vegetable oils
- Trans fats
- High-carb seeds and nuts
- High-carb drinks
- Low-fat dairy products and milk
- Sugar, maple syrup, honey, high-fructose corn syrup
- Fruit other than berries
- Starchy vegetables
- Processed foods
Benefits of the Keto Diet
While you’ll often see dramatic photos of the weight loss people have achieved with the keto diet, the benefits of the keto diet go far beyond just weight loss. Along with burning more fat, several studies show that eating this low-carb, high fat diet also helps improve lipid profiles, and reducing weight and improve lipid profiles significantly lower the risk of several disease, such as heart disease.
An academic paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points out many other benefits of the ketogenic diet as well. It pointed out that studies show that people eating this diet are able to cut calories while still feeling satiated, and feeling less-hungry improves weight loss results. Other studies looking at the long-term effects of eating a keto diet have found that it’s effective at reducing problems with migraines, depression, inflammatory diseases, and many other types of illnesses.
What is the Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is a modern attempt to focus on eating a diet that only includes foods that gatherer and hunter would have eaten back in the Paleolithic time. While the diet seems new, the concept has been around for some time.
According to The Atlantic, it can be traced all the way back to the research of Weston A. Price, a Cleveland dentist who toured the world to observe local health and diets in the early 1930s. He wrote a book about those findings, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. While the book fell into obscurity for many years, many of today’s best-selling diet books, including The Paleo Cure and the Perfect Health Diet refer to Price and his findings.
Since the Paleo diet went mainstream, other similar diets to hit the market have included the Primal Diet, Caveman Diet, and Ancestral Diet. All of these diets are very similar with a few different tweaks.
What’s Included in the Paleo Diet?
The macronutrient profile of the Paleo diet can vary significantly, and general ranges include:
- 22-40% of calories from carbohydrates
- 19-35% of calories from protein
- 28-47% of calories from fat
Foods that are allowed on the paleo diet include:
- seeds and nuts
- lean meats (particular emphasis on wild-game or grass fed meats)
- moderate amounts of fruit
- non-starchy vegetables
- healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil
- sweet veggies and tubers
- maple syrup or honey in very small amounts
- tea and coffee
- spices and herbs
Foods to be avoided on the paleo diet include:
- Dairy products
- Legumes and beans
- Processed foods
- Some vegetables, such as corn and potatoes
- Artificial sweeteners and refined sugars
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
The paleo diet offers several benefits, and dieters enjoy these benefits because they are cutting out foods like processed foods and those including added sugar. It focuses on consuming healthy fats and plenty of fruits and veggies, which can help with blood sugar regulation and lower blood pressure.
One study found that glycemic control was improved in patients following a paleo diet while reducing certain cardiovascular risk factors. The emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids not only improves heart health, but a study done by the University of Maryland Medical Center shows that consuming omega-3s can reduce inflammation as well. Other benefits often include improved energy, improved digestion, and weight loss.
What are the Differences Between the Keto and Paleo Diets?
Although the two diets have quite a bit in common, there are some key differences. The main difference between the keto and paleo diets include:
Difference #1 – Paleo Isn’t Necessarily Low in Carbs
While the main theory behind the paleo diet is to eat the way our ancient ancestors ate, it allows more carbs than the keto diet allows. While it focuses on getting protein and fat for energy, it allows root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Certain sugars are even paleo-approved, such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, and honey. The goal of the keto diet is to keep insulin levels low and ketone levels high, so it means that even healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and many fruits must be avoided.
Difference #2 – Paleo Knocks Out Dairy Products
Since ancient peoples probably didn’t have access to the type of dairy and processing we have today, they probably didn’t drink cow’s milk, so the paleo diet knocks dairy products off the list. While the paleo diet encourages dieters to avoid dairy products, the keto diet encourages eating dairy, since it offers a healthy dose of proteins and fats. Dairy products actually offer some great health benefits, since they are packed with calcium and other important nutrients, and with the keto diet, you’re allowed to consume plenty of dairy as long as it doesn’t have added sugar.
Difference #3 – The Keto Diet Focuses on Ketosis
The main goal of the keto diet is to raise ketone levels and put your body into ketosis, which makes it very different from the paleo diet. Going into nutritional ketosis offers a number of great health benefits. According to the American Physiological Society, it helps to lower blood pressure, and lower blood pressure can reduce your risk for other health problems, such as heart attack and stroke.
Getting into the state of ketosis also helps you lose weight while on this diet, and following a ketogenic diet has been proven to aid in weight loss in obese patients. Being in a state of nutritional ketosis can even improve cholesterol levels, stabilize your blood sugar, improve focus, and reduce problems with brain fog.
Difference #4 – The Keto Diet is Usually Higher in Fat
While both the keto and paleo diets involve eating healthy fats, the keto diet usually encourages a higher fat intake. The paleo diets recommend the consumption of health fats, such as coconut oil, avocado oil, tallow, ghee, and lard, yet most dieters keep their fat intake fairly reasonable. Keto dieters usually increase their fat intake significantly and get around 70-75% of their calories from fats.
Difference #5 – Paleo Adds in Exercise
Since our ancient ancestors were very active people, the Paleo diet also talks about getting plenty of natural movement and exercise in your diet to boost weight loss efforts and health benefits. However, the keto diet doesn’t really mention exercise. If you’re following the keto diet, you can take a page from the paleo diet and begin adding more exercise and movement to your day to boost the weight loss benefits of eating the keto diet. No matter what diet you’re eating, exercise is always key to a healthy lifestyle.
Which Diet is Best for You?
Should you try the keto diet or give the paleo diet a try? Both diets actually have health benefits, but they both have their own restrictions and limitations as well. Many people find that it’s difficult to stick with a paleo diet long-term, since it involves a complete lifestyle change. Choose the one that best fits into your lifestyle, or take some ideas from both and come up with your own personalized diet plan. Remember, it’s always important to talk to your doctor before you start a new diet, especially if you’re choosing a diet that restricts carbohydrates.
About the Author Nate Arnold
I started this website because it was hard to find trustworthy, evidence-based information about the ketogenic diet. Information that was published and peer reviewed by respected scientific journals. After years of research, I'm sure you'll achieve great results in a healthy way following my advice. I do my best to translate scientific research jargon into plain English. Remember, it's always a good idea to consult a doctor before starting a new diet!