Keto and Paleo diets both enjoy huge popularity and although they are based around different ideas, they can sometimes be one and the same.
Before comparing the similarities and differences of the Paleo and Keto diets, it’s helpful to know why a person may choose to follow each one.
The Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet is a lifestyle choice focused in eating the foods humans evolved to eat. The diet emphasizes quality foods that support digestive health.
By removing foods that may be difficult to digest (including grains, legumes, sugars, processed foods, vegetable oils and dairy), the Paleo diet helps promote gut health, autoimmune conditions, blood sugar balance, and weight loss.
Of course, the original human diet differed by geography and season and also changed over hundreds of thousands of years. Hence, there is neither the one paleo diet nor is it possible to mimic such a diet in today’s world accurately. As a compromise, the modern approach to the Paleo diet tries to eliminate any modern foods with significant evidence of harm to the human physiology that did not exist for the majority of human evolution.
The Keto Diet
The Keto diet is also used to manage overall health and cognitive function, however, it is best known as a weight loss and fat-burning strategy.
The ketogenic state is achieved by a specific distribution of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Most importantly, carbohydrate intake has to be kept to a minimum, around < 5-10% of caloric intake whilst fat and protein proportions are traditionally, 70-80% of calories come and 20-30% respectively.
In theory, it does not matter how to get and stay into ketosis. People following a ketogenic diet may choose any ketogenic friendly foods as long as the ration of macronutrient is maintained.
What do Paleo and Keto diets have in common, how do they differ and what is the best option for you?
The keto and paleo diet also both avoid typical processed foods. These kinds of foods always contain plenty of refined grains and seed oils. These foods are generally are high in carbohydrate (the Keto approach) and not an ancient food (the Paleo approach).
However, the keto diet is less focussed on avoiding food processing. There are numerous processed ‘agricultural’ foods in the form of protein bars and treats that are sweetened with sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners. As long as they do not excessively raise blood sugar and insulin levels, they are not a threat to ketosis.
- Eliminate grains
- Eliminate legumes
- Eliminate refined sugar
- Emphasize healthy fats (nuts, seeds, animal fats, coconut oil)
- Encourage eating quality animal protein (grass-fed, organic)
- Encourage eating plenty of non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens
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The Keto diet is well known for its restriction of dietary carbohydrate. Many consider the Paleo diet as more of a lifestyle choice.
Some other key differences include:
- The fundamental rationale behind the Keto diet is that it must be a low carb, moderate-to-low protein approach. The Paleo diet, on the other hand, encourages you to eat unlimited amounts of fruit and vegetables.
- The Paleo diet allows for natural sweeteners such as raw honey, where the Keto diet eliminates all sugar.
- The Keto diet includes high-fat dairy products, where the Paleo diet restricts dairy in the interest of promoting better gut health.
- The Keto diet revolves around the percentage of food groups you eat in relation to each other. For example, carbs should be kept to between 5 – 10%, fats to between 70 – 75%, and proteins to around 20 – 25%. The Paleo diet does not require specific ratios.
Because the Paleo and Keto diets agree on many things they can be easily fused to a keto paleo diet – you get the best from both worlds. A Paleo-Keto diet would exclude milk products, fruits, and sweeteners (stevia is optional) and includes vegetables (non-starchy, leafy-greens preferred), all kinds of meat, fish, eggs, and nuts.
Which Approach Is Better?
The Paleo and Ketogenic diets have their foundation in different concepts. In one sense, the Paleo diet can be typically ketogenic, and the modern ketogenic diet has been popularized to include many Paleo foods like steak, bacon and avocado.
Although, both diets are far superior over the traditional western diet, what you eat requires a little more nuance than simply the impact on your ketone levels or what you ancient ancestors ate. What is best for you to eat is dependent on many aspects including your preferences, personal goals, and medical history as well as where you live and the lifestyle you lead.
Certain health conditions can be impacted by either dietary choice:
Both Paleo and Keto approaches work very well for fat loss. The lower the inflammatory load and carbohydrate content (both achieved by removing grains and sugar), the easier the fat loss. Paleo can be seen as a low carbohydrate diet and carbohydrate consumption can be modified to achieve Ketogenic goals.
Low carbohydrate diets keep blood sugar and insulin levels relatively stable, and support appetite regulation. Ketones are known to suppress appetite and thus contribute the diet’s success for fat loss.
Refined carbs and sugar cause chronically high insulin levels, which in turn leads to insulin resistance, resulting in type 2 diabetes. Low carbohydrate diets are an effective approach in in diabetes management. The lower the carbohydrate content, the better the blood sugar control and the sooner pathological insulin resistance disappears.
Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk for many modern diseases, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and allergies.
High sugar intake is known to cause inflammation, and low carbohydrate diets support reducing inflammation. In this case, the ketogenic diet has an additional advantage as ketones themselves have anti-inflammatory effects.
Optimizing the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio also supports reducing inflammation. Too much omega-6 can be a driver of inflammation. Seed oils contain vast amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, and are best avoided. Both the Paleo and Keto diets encourage eliminating these oils. Ensuring an adequate omega-3 intake, you can further shift the omega-6/omega-3 ratio to your advantage. Omega three rich fatty fish and meat from ruminant animals are centerpiece foods for both diets.
In an autoimmune disease, the immune cells begin to attack the body’s own tissues. Autoimmune diseases are characterized by an overactive immune system and high levels of chronic inflammation. Ultimately, a diet that reduces inflammation is likely beneficial for people suffering from an autoimmune disease.
The Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) is a rigorous elimination diet. It’s based on the idea that certain compounds which are found in high concentrations in modern versions of a Paleo diet and have the potential to cause and exacerbate health issues. AIP may be better suited to lowering the overall burden of chronic inflammation and immune reactivity by removing the foods highest in these compounds.
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A carnivore diet takes the elimination a step further and is arguably much simpler to implement.
Despite minimal scientific evidence, there is much anecdotal confirmation that the AIP diet might be beneficial for managing autoimmune conditions.
A ketogenic diet does reduce inflammation, and, because autoimmune diseases are characterized by high levels of inflammation, a reduction can only be beneficial. There is growing evidence that the ketogenic diet can improve certain conditions like MS.
Your Best Diet
Both Paleo and Ketogenic diets have huge advantages over the traditional Western diets. It can be challenging to say which is better as they are defined by different aspects of diet in general.
Your best diet should be based on your goals and general health principles and probably falls within the scope of both approaches; eating evolutionary appropriate foods and nutritional ketosis (or at the least maintaining an appropriate carbohydrate load) are very important concepts embodied by Paleo and Keto diets, respectively.
Keto may be superior for certain health conditions and is a more powerful tool when trying to reverse obesity. The Paleo diet does not imply that is old is good and new bad but rather, is a demonstration that the complex human physiology is best adapted to foods with certain properties humans relied upon during the long evolutionary history of the species.
It is possible, and often very successful to follow Paleo principles and enter ketosis, and the other way around. The Keto diet is more restrictive, and may be challenging (but not impossible) to incorporate into busy lifestyles. The Paleo diet is less restrictive. Try eating both ways to see which diet helps you feel your best!