When it comes to losing weight, there are a lot of different diets that can help you reach your goals.
Two of the most popular choices are keto vs. paleo. Both can work well for weight loss and overall health. But which one is best for you?
The ketogenic diet and the paleo diet each have committed followers, and people see success with both diets. It can be hard to know which one to choose.
While keto and paleo have some similarities, they also have a few key differences.
Read on to learn the differences between keto vs. paleo, the overlap between the two, and the goals of each diet, so that you can choose which one best suits your goal of a healthier, happier lifestyle.
What Is the Ketogenic Diet?
Keto is a very low-carb, high-fat diet. The main goal of the keto diet is to enter the metabolic state known as ketosis, where your body burns fat (instead of carbs) for energy.
When your diet is rich in carbohydrates and sugars, your body converts the carbs into glucose, which it then uses as its main source of energy.
On keto, you cut carb sources from your diet, relying instead on fat and protein. When you cut out carbs, your body begins using fat as its main fuel source instead. It burns through dietary fat and your stored body fat to make ketones, little bundles of clean-burning energy that power your cells.
When you’re burning fat for your main fuel source, you’re in ketosis. Ketosis comes with some unique benefits that you won’t find on other diets. You’ll read more about the benefits of ketosis below.
The keto diet places heavy emphasis on controlling your carb intake while increasing your healthy fat intake and, in some cases, your protein intake as well.
This is mainly done by counting macros and focusing on full-fat foods, non-starchy vegetables, and good quality proteins.
Keto Diet Macronutrients
There are three macronutrients: fat, carbohydrates, and protein.
On a ketogenic diet, your macronutrient breakdown will look something like this:
- Consume 0.8-1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
- Reduce your carbs to 20-50 grams per day.
- The remaining calories should be in the form of fats.
To find your exact keto macros, use the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator.
As you can see, you eat very few carbs on a keto diet. The vast majority of your calories come from fat and protein.
Top Keto Foods To Include
- Lots of healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats (like coconut oil and high-fat grass-fed butter or ghee)
- Meats (preferably grass-fed and the fattier cuts)
- Fatty fish
- Egg yolks (preferably pasture-raised)
- Non-starchy and low-carb vegetables
- Fattier nuts like macadamia nuts or almonds
- Full-fat dairy (preferably raw)
- Avocados and very limited amounts of berries
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet — also known as the caveman diet — gets its name from the term “paleolithic.” It is based on the idea that, for optimal health, you should eat what your caveman ancestors from the paleolithic era used to eat.
Paleo followers believe that modern food production and farming practices are creating damaging side effects to your health and that you’re better off reverting to an ancestral form of eating.
Unlike the keto diet, Paleo doesn’t focus on macros. Essentially, you eat lots of unprocessed whole foods. That could mean mostly sweet potatoes, or it could mean lots of steak. Either one is Paleo.
Top Paleo Foods to Include
- Meats (preferably grass-fed)
- Wild fish
- Fowl — chicken, hen, turkey, ducks
- Cage-free eggs
- Natural oils like coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil
- Tubers like yams and sweet potatoes (limited)
- Nuts (limited)
- Some fruits (mostly berries and avocados)
What Do Keto and Paleo Have in Common?
There’s a fair amount of overlap between keto and paleo, which sometimes leads to confusion. Here’s what keto and paleo have in common:
Both Focus on Food Quality
On both keto and paleo, food quality matters. Both diets encourage followers to eat the highest quality foods they can, and to always opt for foods with healthy ingredients.
This includes purchasing:
- Organic produce
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Grass-fed meat
- Wild-caught seafood
If you eat dairy, it should be high-quality, organic, and grass-fed whenever possible.
Both Eliminate Grains, Legumes, and Sugar
On both paleo and keto, you will eliminate grains, legumes, and sugar. The rationales for doing so, however, are completely different for each diet.
The paleo diet does not include grains or legumes because they were not included in early human diets. Farming practices, including crop cultivation and the domestication of animals, did not start until roughly 10,000 years ago[*], which was after the paleolithic hunter-gatherer era.
Legumes also contain compounds called “antinutrients,” including lectins and phytates, that can interfere with digestion in some people[*]. A lot of paleo dieters recommend avoiding them for this reason.
Paleo dieters also avoid refined sugar (like white sugar and brown sugar) because it’s processed food. However, paleo allows for natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
Keto eliminates all three foods (grains, legumes, and sugar) for two simple reasons: they’re all high in carbohydrates, and eating them too often can lead to health issues.
Consuming grains, legumes, and sugar may promote inflammation, blood sugar spikes, insulin resistance, GI distress and more[*][*][*]. In addition, they’ll kick you out of ketosis, sabotaging a keto diet.
So while the rationales are different, both keto and paleo recommend avoiding grains, legumes, and sugar.
Keto and Paleo Can Be Used for Similar Health Goals
While you may start keto or paleo because you want to lose a few pounds, both of these diets have benefits that go beyond simple weight loss.
Keto can help manage:
What’s the Difference Between Keto and Paleo?
The main differences between keto and paleo stem from the intention of each diet.
The intention of the keto diet is to enter the metabolic state of ketosis, which requires a certain macro intake that significantly limits carbs. You reap the most benefits when you switch from running on carbs to running on fat.
Paleo’s intention is to return to how your ancestors ate, which requires cutting out processed food and replacing it with real, whole foods. The rationale behind paleo is that if you eat whole foods, you’ll be healthier and will lose weight.
There are a few differences that stem from these approaches to eating.
Paleo Is Not (Always) a Low-Carb Diet
Paleo is not necessarily a low-carb diet.
When you eliminate grains, legumes, and sugars, you will likely cut down on your carbohydrate intake. However, on paleo, you can still consume high amounts of carbs in the form of sweet potatoes, squash, honey, and fruit.
As long as it’s a whole food — something your ancestors ate since the beginning of civilization — it’s perfectly fine to eat on paleo.
Keto, on the other hand, removes all carb sources, including “healthy” ones like dates, honey, high-sugar fruits, and sweet potatoes.
Keto Allows Some Dairy
While paleo eliminates dairy (your hunter-gatherer ancestors weren’t raising cows), keto allows high-quality dairy in moderation for people who can handle it.
Raw milk, cheese, butter, ghee, and sour cream are all acceptable keto foods, as long as you aren’t lactose-intolerant.
Keto is More Restrictive (Though That’s Not Necessarily Bad)
On keto, it doesn’t matter where your carbs come from — honey and corn syrup are both high in carbs, and even though one is natural and the other one isn’t, you have to cut them both out to stay in fat-burning mode (ketosis).
Paleo is more relaxed. It allows for unrefined sugars, high-sugar fruits, sweet potatoes, and other carb sources that keto restricts.
Some people may find that keto is harder to follow because it’s so strict on carb intake.
On the other hand, studies have found that, in some cases, adherence to a keto diet is actually higher than it is for many other weight loss diets[*].
Many people who struggle with carb cravings find it’s easier to cut carbs entirely (on keto) than it is to simply moderate them (on paleo).
For example, if you have a major sweet tooth, sticking to one serving of paleo brownies may be a challenge, even if they’re sweetened with molasses and dates.
If sugar makes you binge or gives you serious cravings, you may do better with keto. If cutting out carbs entirely feels too restrictive, you may do better with paleo.
Keto vs. Paleo: Picking the Diet That’s Right for You
Choosing between the paleo diet or ketogenic diet will depend on your goals and relationship with food.
Both diet plans can be great for you. Each one has short-term and long-term health benefits, extending far beyond weight loss[*].
On both diets, you will cut grains and processed foods like cereals, bread, granola bars, and packaged sweets, but the main key difference is this:
- On keto: You will cut carbs significantly and increase fat consumption enough to reach ketosis. You’ll need to be more strict with your carb intake, but you’ll also get the additional benefits of keto that you won’t get on a paleo diet.
- On Paleo: You will stick to real whole foods, cut out dairy, and be able to eat more carbs (and a wider variety of foods) than you can on a ketogenic diet — although you’ll miss out on keto’s additional health benefits.
The bottom line is both paleo and keto can help you lose weight, reduce your risk of disease, and live a longer, healthier life.
Nutrition is a personal thing, and which diet is right for you depends on your unique biology and how you feel on each diet.
Want to give keto a try? Our beginner’s guide to keto has everything you need to get started today.
Ad if you’re curious about how keto compares to other types of diets, check out these guides for more helpful information: