Google “weight loss diets,” and you will be inundated by over a million results. With so many people overweight or even obsess, many of us want to know the best way to lose weight fast and keep it off. However, while all that choice can be a good thing, it can also make it hard to know which diet is best. To help you make this critical decision in this article we compare the paleo vs. keto diet.
Both of these diets are very popular, and that popularity is due to the fact that paleo and keto have been around for a long time and have been proven to work. Backed by science and lots of anecdotal evidence, if you want to lose weight, keto and paleo can help.
But which one is right for you? While both diets are similarly effective, they both work differently and involve eating different kinds of foods. Knowing more about these differences will make choosing the right diet much easier.
Thinking about trying keto or the paleo diet? Good for you! But, before you start, make sure you do your research and choose the diet that is best for you.
A Brief Overview Of The Paleo Diet
The paleo diet is based on the idea that many modern foods are unhealthy and fattening. It proposes that the foods our Paleolithic ancestors ate 10,000+ plus years ago were much healthier. According to the paleo diet, cavemen were leaner, fitter, and healthier than their modern counterparts.
While life was often cut short by unavoidable physical dangers, like being eaten by a bear or tiger(!), our ancestors suffered none of the diseases that plague modern humankind, such as diabetes, obesity, or heart disease.
During the paleolithic era, there was no real farming or agriculture, and that meant humankind followed a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. There were no refined grains, no sugar, and no processed foods. Instead, our ancestors ate whatever food they could forage or catch.
The paleo diet is built around natural foods like meat, fish, in-season fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and natural fats. Foods that are not part of the paleo diet include things like bread, pasta, cookies, soda, breakfast cereal, and other processed foods.
In simple terms, if you can’t imagine catching it, picking it, or digging it out the ground, you can’t eat it on the paleo diet. The paleo diet causes weight loss by eliminating all of the foods that are commonly linked to weight gain. From pizza to takeout burgers to candy to soda – all of these foods were not available 10,000 years ago, and so they are not part of the paleo diet.
A Brief Overview Of The Keto Diet
Keto is a very low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet. Initially used for medical purposes over 100 years ago, the keto diet rose to fame because of the Atkins Diet. Dr. Robert Atkins first wrote about the benefits of low-carb dieting back in the 1970s, and it’s been popular ever since.
With most variations of the keto diet, you are limited to just 20-30 grams of carbohydrates per day. Eating next-to-no carbs means that your body has no choice but to use more fat for fuel. However, your brain and muscles cannot use fat directly. Instead, it has to turn that fat into something called ketones, an energy source you can use.
Turning fat into ketones uses a lot of energy, and that inefficiency increases your energy expenditure. It takes a lot of fat to make a relatively small number of ketones. Also, when you are in ketosis, your body becomes very good at burning fat, which further enhances weight loss.
On the keto diet, foods like bread, rice, pasta, some fruit, breakfast cereals, sugar, and potatoes are all off the menu. However, some variations do allow you to consume processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols.
There are several interpretations of the keto diet. Some keep your carb intake the same throughout, while others start off very strict but then gradually reintroduce carbs as you approach your target weight. Other variations involve strict keto dieting for 5-6 days per week, followed by a brief carb “refeed.”
The Differences Between Paleo And Keto
The paleo and keto diets share some similarities. They are both quite strict, and they limit or even ban your consumption of certain foods. For example, bread and pasta are off the menu for both diets. However, there are several important differences between paleo and keto.
The keto diet is higher in fat while the paleo diet is higher in protein – to enter ketosis, your body needs a lot of dietary fat. Without fat, your body will not be able to manufacture ketones. 70-80% of your calorie intake on keto should come from fat. In contrast, with paleo, the emphasis is on protein. Fats feature heavily in paleo, but they are not the main sources of calories.
Keto restricts all carbs while the paleo diet allows whole-food carbs – while both diets ban refined carbohydrates, only the keto restricts all carbs. With paleo, you are allowed to eat some unrefined grains, starchy vegetables, and even some non-commercial grain products. With paleo, you are also permitted to eat natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey. These foods are not part of the keto diet.
The keto diet permits some processed foods while the paleo diet does not – with keto, so long as you keep your carb intake to less than 50 grams per day, you can eat pretty much whatever you want. For example, sugar-free candy, diet soda, processed meats, and carb-free snack bars are all acceptable. With paleo, the emphasis is on natural foods that you could hunt or gather for yourself. The paleo diet has a clear-cut ideology, whereas the keto diet is mainly focused on adhering to a predetermined macro ratio.
The keto diet has very strict macro guidelines while the paleo diet does not – most keto diets specify that you should get 70-80% of your calories from fat, 20-30% from protein, and less than 5% from carbohydrates. These ratios will help you achieve and stay in ketosis. In contrast, paleo does not have such strict macro guidelines and, instead, is based on eating paleo-approved foods.
The paleo is associated with additional lifestyle choices while the keto diet is not – going keto means eating next-to-no carbs and, while exercise is recommended, it’s not compulsory. Paleo dieters don’t just eat like their hunter/gatherer ancestors, they also try to emulate their active lifestyles. This means they engage in regular walking, and brief but intense strength training and sprinting. This is thought to mirror the demands of hunting and gathering food.
Benefits Of The Paleo Diet
Eating like a caveman has many benefits. Some of these benefits are not unique to the paleo diet, but it’s important to list them so that you can see whether this diet is right for you. Those benefits include:
You don’t have to go all paleo, all the time – if you eat carbs on the keto diet, you may derail your progress for several days. However, if you break the paleo diet, you can get right back on track at your very next meal, hardly affecting your progress at all. This means that, in many ways, the paleo diet is more flexible than the keto diet.
High protein consumption – the paleo diet commonly includes a lot of meat, fish, and eggs. After all, these foods would have been a regular part of a hunter’s diet. A high protein consumption can help keep you feeling full, and eating protein also speeds up your metabolism. Eating lots of protein may also be beneficial for exercisers, especially weight lifters.
Clean eating – because all processed foods are banned on the paleo diet, you won’t be eating any food additives like colorings, artificial sweeteners, flavorings, or preservatives. Eliminating these substances from your diet is good for your health. The paleo diet is a very clean eating plan and should, therefore, be very healthy.
No added sugar – the paleo diet does not permit added sugar. Added sugar is a leading cause of weight gain and illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Any diet that bans sugar is beneficial for your health. Eating less sugar will help normalize your blood glucose levels, which helps control both your energy levels, mood, and hunger.
Weight loss – the paleo diet is not designed specifically for weight loss, but most dieters lose weight anyway. This is because unhealthy, fattening foods are all-but banned and replaced with much healthier, lower-calorie alternatives.
High nutrient content – the paleo diet involves eating lots of vegetables and seasonal fruits. This means paleo meals are invariably high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Processed foods are usually devoid of these crucial substances, and eating too few nutrients can harm your health.
Anti-inflammatory – eating healthy fats, vegetables, oils, nuts, and seeds can help reduce systemic inflammation. Inflammation is a leading cause of illness and pain. Processed foods and sugar are triggers for inflammation.
Benefits Of The Keto Diet
The keto diet was originally formulated as a way to control diabetes in children. It stands to reason that a diet backed by medical science will also offer a range of additional benefits. Those benefits include:
Reduced risk of heart disease – cutting carbs and eating more healthy fats may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Keto has been shown to be effective for lowering triglyceride levels, increasing good HDL cholesterol, and lowering total cholesterol.
Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes – eating no sugar or carbs will have a significant effect on your blood glucose levels. Low levels of blood glucose increase insulin sensitivity, which helps diabetics control their blood glucose without the use of medication.
Prevention of neurological conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – high-carb diets are often linked to diseases that affect brain function. Eliminating carbs is thought to have a positive effect on brain health and may help control or even prevent a range of neurological conditions.
Rapid weight loss – when you quit carbs, your body has to use its onboard stores of glycogen for energy. Glycogen is glucose bound to water, and for every gram of glucose your body uses, it releases 3-5 grams of water. This produces rapid weight loss. This initial weight loss is very motivating and encourages diet adherence.
Cancer prevention and treatment – going keto may stop certain cancers growing and spreading, possibly by starving cancer cells of the sugar they need to survive. Low-carb diets may reduce your risk of certain cancers.
Clearer complexion – high-carb diets and eating lots of sugar may increase acne. Going keto may reduce the severity and progression of acne. Teenagers often eat a lot of sugar, and also have severe acne. Cutting carbs and going keto may be especially beneficial for teens.
Disadvantages Of The Paleo Diet
While the paleo diet does offer some very noteworthy benefits, there are some disadvantages you need to consider before you start eating like a caveman.
Cost – with its emphasis on meat and fish, the paleo diet can be expensive. Foods like bread, rice, and pasta are cheap and getting a similar number of calories from foods like quinoa, and other vegetables can add a lot of dollars to your grocery bill. Most paleo diets emphasize organic and free-range food, which is also more expensive.
Low energy levels – while the paleo diet is not a very low carb diet, your carb intake is restricted to vegetables and a few ancient grains such as wild rice and quinoa. This may leave you low on energy, especially if you are a regular exerciser.
No diary – if you enjoy milk in your coffee or ice cream for dessert, the paleo diet is not for you. Except for whole milk and maybe some heavy cream, most commercially-produced dairy products are off the menu. You can, however, still enjoy some cheese made from whole milk.
Not very practical for vegetarians – with an emphasis on meat, fish, and eggs for protein, the paleo diet is not very vegetarian or vegan-friendly. Normal vegetarian alternatives to meat like soya and textured vegetable protein are generally not part of the paleo diet.
Eating out becomes very difficult – eating out on paleo can be a real challenge. Paleo food is generally organic, unprocessed, and contains no added artificial ingredients. This is the opposite of most commercially-prepared food. If you eat out, you are probably going to be limited to eating meat or fish with vegetables. Most other restaurant foods will not qualify as paleo.
Is it paleo? – this is the most common issue with the paleo diet. Many dieters will find themselves asking this question, and the answer is often up for debate. For example, while meat is usually paleo, some meat products may not be, e.g., hotdogs. This can make choosing what to eat tricky. There are paleo food databases, but different diet experts disagree as to what is or isn’t paleo food.
Disadvantages Of The Keto Diet
The keto diet is very effective for weight loss and fat burning. In fact, getting into ketosis is one of the best ways to reach your weight loss goals. However, because the keto diet has such a profound effect on how your body works, it is only to be expected that it may also be associated with a few disadvantages and drawbacks. Those include:
Keto flu – entering ketosis takes time. Your body contains a lot of carbs and, until those carbs are depleted, you may experience some unwanted side effects that are collectively called the keto flu. Those side effects include headaches, nausea, constipation, palpitations, fatigue, insomnia, frequent urination and dehydration, cravings, hunger, and keto rash. These symptoms usually vanish once you have entered ketosis.
No cheating allowed – on most diets, the occasional cheat will not have much of an impact on your progress. With keto, even eating a small portion of carbs will kick you out of ketosis and derail your diet. It may take you several days to get back into ketosis, during which time you won’t be burning fat. Because of this, you’ll need to stay true to your keto diet all the time; you can’t just “try” keto.
Very restrictive – the standard American diet involves eating a lot of carbohydrates. Almost all fast and convenience food is high in carbohydrate, as are many traditional foods and meals. Quitting carbs can be very hard as the food industry is built around high carb foods.
Lack of certain nutrients – eliminating foods like bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes from your diet doesn’t just reduce your carb intake, it also limits your consumption of certain nutrients, especially fiber. Lack of fiber can make keto constipation worse.
It is also possible to lose weight with keto without eating healthily. So-called dirty keto means you can eat processed foods like salami, commercial keto food products, and other nutritionally-incomplete foods and still lose weight. Keto should be a healthy diet, but you can still achieve ketosis by eating unhealthily.
Increased risk of kidney stones – eating a lot of fat and protein may increase your risk of developing kidney stones. However, this only tends to be an issue for people with an underlying kidney problem.
Health concerns over high fat intake – with keto, 70-80% of your calories come from fat. Some medical professionals worry that eating so much fat is bad for your health. This could be the case if you consume a lot of trans fats. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that refined carbs are actually more harmful and unhealthier than fats, but the medical profession are still skeptical.
Both paleo and keto can help you lose weight. Where the paleo diet is not specifically designed for weight loss, most people that try it lose weight anyway, simply because many of the foods that are responsible for weight gain are off the menu.
In contrast, the keto diet is specifically designed for weight loss and offers several health benefits as a happy coincidence.
Which diet is right for you? That’s a hard question to answer. Keto is probably best for weight loss, while paleo has the potential to be the healthier of the two diets. The real answer to this question is which one can you live with?
For any diet to be effective, you need to be able to stick with it for an extended time. This is true for health and weight loss. A week or two won’t do it – especially if you have goals that you are a long way from reaching. Even the best diet is useless if you can’t stick to it. When choosing between paleo and keto, or any other diets for that matter, the most important thing to consider is will you be able to follow it consistently. If the answer is no, you should seek out an alternative.
Of course, at the risk of muddying the waters, you could always combine paleo with keto and eat like a low-carb caveman. This could give you the best of both worlds. At the very least, it would save you from having to make a decision!