If you’re tuned into healthy living, you’ve probably heard a lot about the Whole30 and ketogenic diets.
The diets share similar strong points. For instance, they both eliminate refined sugar — the stuff responsible for much of the global health crisis[*].
But there are stark differences too. The Whole30 diet, as the name suggests, only lasts for 30 days. Keto, on the other hand, has no defined time limit and many people think of it as a sustainable diet long-term. And that’s just one of many disparities between the diets.
In this article, you’ll learn the similarities and differences between the Whole30 and keto diet. Then you can make an informed decision about which diet might work better for you.
Let’s start with the keto diet. The keto diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb eating plan that puts you in a fat-burning state called ketosis.
Carb restriction is the key to ketosis. That’s because limiting this macronutrient (even the carbs from fruits and starchy vegetables) helps keep blood sugar and insulin levels low. This, in turn, signals fat burning and ketone production[*].
On keto, you generally limit carbs to around 10% of calories. This means you gobble keto-friendly foods like meat, fish, nuts, avocados, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats.
It also means you avoid grains, legumes, refined sugar, packaged foods, juices, sodas, fruits, starchy veggies, and anything else with many carbohydrates.
The Whole30 diet plan operates on a simple premise: Eliminate all unhealthy foods for 30 days. It’s a one-month dietary reset.
The Whole30 was created by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig Urban back in 2009. Since then, it’s caught on big time.
The Whole30 is said to help you feel better, lose weight, and boost energy. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting these claims, but unfortunately: not too much science.
Overall, the Whole30 program is fairly restrictive. You can only eat meat, seafood, nuts, seeds, eggs, veggies, healthy fats, and fruits during your 30 day reset.
More importantly, you must eliminate the following food groups:
- Anything in a package
Basically, the Whole30 is a Paleo diet with a few extra rules. On Paleo, for example, honey and natural sweeteners are okay. Not so, however, on the Whole30.
The Whole30 guidelines also advise against weighing yourself or counting calories during the diet. Weight loss, according to the marketing, is not the primary focus of the Whole30.
When your 30 days are up, you’re encouraged to mindfully reintroduce foods one at a time. If you feel good when the food is added back, you keep it. If not, you’re advised to limit that food indefinitely.
There’s a lot to like about Whole30, if you can get over the fact that it’s an extremely temporary diet. The elimination of refined sugar, for instance, is undoubtedly a positive health move.
One problem with the Whole30? All those restrictions can cramp your social life. It’s a huge complaint among Whole30 acolytes.
Both keto and Whole30 emphasize a whole foods diet high in nutrient density and devoid of sugar. Vegetables, meat, nuts, fish, and healthy fats — all these foods are permitted on both regimens.
Technically, you could enter a state of ketosis on a dirty keto diet by eating foods fried in vegetable oil. But for our purposes, we’ll be talking about a clean, whole foods ketogenic diet here.
With that in mind, here’s a list of similarities between Whole30 and keto:
- Processed foods are discouraged.
- Whole grains and legumes are off limits.
- All sugar (especially added sugar) is eliminated.
- Both tend to be low-carb diets. (Keto is low-carb by design, but Whole30 eliminates many carbs too).
- Significant dietary restriction is required.
- Alcohol is discouraged (keto) or outright forbidden (Whole30).
- Moderate protein consumption is recommended.
Now that you’ve learned how these diets are similar, it’s time to review the differences.
Though both keto and Whole30 focus on real foods, there are key differences between the diets. The most fundamental difference, however, is the timeline.
On keto, there is no time limit. In fact, it may take 2 to 4 weeks to fat-adapt before the benefits start kicking in. After that, it’s up to the keto dieter whether or not to continue.
But to be clear, keto needn’t be a permanent diet. You can cycle in and out of ketosis, depending on your health goals. This is called carb cycling (or keto cycling) and many people find it works best for athletic performance, weight loss, and sleep.
Whole30, on the other hand, is a one-shot 30 day regimen. You do your time, then you resume your old diet.
Whole30 does encourage you to reintroduce restricted foods slowly after the reset period. But this isn’t a hard rule, and many folks just resume their old meal plan after the month is up.
Here are the main differences between keto and Whole30:
- Keto restricts ALL carbs so you enter ketosis. Whole30 allows fruits and starchy vegetables.
- Keto means eating lots of healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados. Whole30 allows these foods, but doesn’t prioritize them.
- Keto allows natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit. Whole30 bans all sweeteners.
- Keto allows some alcohol, within carb limits. Whole30 does not.
- Keto allows dairy. Whole30 eliminates it. (Note: Many keto folks eliminate dairy too).
- Keto has no set time limit. The Whole30 program is 30 days.
- The keto diet has hundreds of published studies supporting its health benefits[*][*][*][*][*][*]. Whole30 has no science behind it, though many people report success with the program.
That last bullet is super important. Keto has science behind it, Whole30 does not. Something to keep in mind.
Whole30 or keto? That is the question.
Doing the Whole30 means eliminating refined foods, dairy, alcohol, and sweeteners for 30 days. It’s a short-term Paleo diet with a few more rules.
Like Whole30, keto also focuses on food quality, but the primary imperative is carb restriction. Cutting carbs allows you to access stored body fat for energy, among other benefits.
Keto has more evidence behind it, and multiple studies suggest that keto can promote weight loss, brain health, insulin sensitivity, and more. If you do the Whole30, you’re joining a community—yes—but there’s no real data backing it up.
If you’re feeling ambitious, a third option is to combine keto and Whole30. A keto Whole30 diet would mean no sweeteners, no alcohol, no dairy, no fruit, and no starchy vegetables. Very restrictive, but possibly effective.
Try this. Test a few approaches and see what works best for your body. That’s how you find your optimal diet — not by listening to what worked for someone else.