Keto vs. Paleo: which diet is right for you?

Let me start by saying that I am an advocate of both the ketogenic diet and the paleo diet. But there can be a lot of confusion out there on what the differences between them are, and why you would choose one over the other. Some people think they are practically the same, but I disagree! I wanted to write this blog post to discuss this and help others understand the key differences in order to help them make the right choice.

TLDR; the ketogenic diet is an extremely effective diet for weight loss, but it’s generally not a well-balanced diet and is better used as a weight-loss tool in your eating habit arsenal. The paleo diet can be a lifestyle choice, returning the foods you eat to a more natural origin. More natural means foods that generally are not overly processed, especially foods that made up the human diet prior to the agricultural revolution.

Brief Keto Overview

The ketogenic diet is an ultra low carbohydrate diet that consists mostly of healthy fat and modest protein. It has been studied extensively, and has been used clinically to treat people with certain forms of drug resistant epilepsy. Carbohydrates rank very high on the body’s “use first” energy scale, followed by fat, and then protein. When you stop providing large quantities of Ketogenic macronutrient pie chartcarbohydrates, your body switches over to burning fat for fuel, which creates a metabolic byproduct called ketones. This is where the name “ketogenic” comes from! In a ketogenic state, your body will burn dietary fat first, and then begin tapping into your stored fat.

 

Many “fad diets” either start with a ketogenic inspired phase, or cycle ketogenic phases throughout the diet. But this isn’t necessary, especially if you’re just starting. Instead of buying into the hype of new Hollywood diets, why not just do the original? Besides, some of those fad diets can be harmful! On the topic of harm, it’s important to know that the ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet. Because of this, you should take a multi-vitamin and perhaps a fiber supplement if you find you’re not having bowel movements as much as you should.

Brief Paleo Overview

The paleo diet focuses on eating natural, easily digestible foods, especially those that existed prior to the agricultural revolution. The main reason for that is because those foods were the ones we could find and eat without advanced technology. The research behind paleo thinking suggests that foods like wheat, beans, dairy, etc. cause harmful inflammation, wrecks havoc on gut flora, and simply represents a macronutrient profile that isn’t optimal for our bodies. (i.e. too many carbs!) We evolved with a multitude of environmental factors in play over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, so one thought is that our bodies haven’t been able to catch up to things domesticated and invented more recently.
In general, eating paleo is really just trying to eat cleaner! Definitely optimize your food sources for organic and local, skip out on those overly abundant carb sources, but still allow fruits and veggies. Eat quality meat, and stick to water, occasional juices, etc. Many people go “strict” paleo for awhile, especially if they’re attempting to address allergy or inflammation issues, and then slowly add certain foods back in: such as some dairy, rice, potatoes, etc. (These are known as the “gray area” foods.)

Direct Comparison: the face-off!

Keto Paleo
General fat intake Eat tons of fat, about 70% or more of your calories should come from “good” fats. What is considered “good” on keto is not necessarily “good” on paleo: for example, keto allows vegetable and nut oils, while paleo does not. Not concerned about how much fat you eat, but definitely emphasizes that dietary fat is good for you as long as it’s natural.
General carb intake You must dramatically reduce your carbohydrate intake. While the exact reduction will be person-dependent, generally speaking the number is less than 40 grams of carbs per day. (e.g. all fruits, and most veggies, are not allowed.) No explicit restriction on carbohydrate intake, as long as it’s coming from “paleo” food sources. (e.g. fruits and veggies are allowed!)
General protein intake You must be careful with your protein intake while doing keto. This is because if you go above 20-30% of your caloric intake from protein, your body will start to use it for fuel kicking off a process called gluconeogenesis. This will take you out of ketosis! Have at it! As long as the protein is from “natural” sources (e.g. meats) you’re good to go.
Balanced diet? Definitely NOT! You must supplement at minimum a multivitamin while on the keto diet as you won’t be getting critical nutrients and minerals from fruits, vegetables, and fortified foods. Generally, yes, but you still need to ensure that you eat a variety of foods, and include foods from all the available food groups like meats, veggies, fruits, etc.
Is dairy allowed? Depends: milk, yogurt, and ‘soft’ cheeses are generally not allowed. Hard cheeses and butter, on the other hand, have had most or all of the sugar/lactose removed, and what is left is a solid fat/protein powerhouse food! Grey-area, some people allow butter, but nothing else. Strict paleo would not allow any dairy whatsoever, backed by well documented cases of dairy allergens like lactose.

These are just a handful of markers to compare the two diets. Remember, both of them have their merits! Do you have any other stand-out markers I should add to this table? Feel free to write me a comment and I’ll consider it!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, both diets are excellent in my book. I use the keto diet for rapid weight loss, and consider the paleo diet a “long term” lifestyle change. At the moment, I’ve been following the ketogenic diet for over 9 months now. I’ve attained a body fat percentage that I would have never thought possible. (Under 10% body fat, which for me is insane!) I of course advocate others to consider approaching these two diets the way I do, and incorporate them into their lives. Once satisfied with my progress using the keto diet, I will switch over to the paleo diet in order to maintain my hard earned physique for the long run.