Paleo Diet vs. Keto Diet: Whats the Difference?

It is no secret that the Paleolithic Diet and the Ketogenic Diet are enormously popular these days. You can’t walk into a fitness center, read a health journal, or visit a healthy foods market without seeing something relating to Paleo or Keto diets.

Many people follow one of these diets for health reasons, including weight loss. But, what are these diets, and how do they differ? Let’s explore the Paleo Diet and the Keto Diet and look at their similarities and differences.

Paleolithic Diet Basics

The premise of the Paleo diet is to eat much the same way that our Paleolithic ancestors ate. Early humans were hunters and gatherers. They were not agriculturally savvy.

Farming was not really a thing 10,000 years ago. Typically, the diet includes lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Grains, legumes, and processed foods are not included.

It is believed by the creators of the diet that the human body is not designed properly to digest grasses, grains, dairy, and processed foods. Think about it, a cow as four chambers in their stomach so that they can digest grasses. We have one stomach with a single chamber. It is thought that consuming these foods can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and inflammation.

The diet also encourages eating free-range and organic foods. Pesticides, antibiotics, and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are considered unsafe to consume. That is not just the opinion of Paleo advocates.

paleo diet graph

Here is a list of what is excluded from the diet:

  • Grains and grasses
  • Gluten-containing foods: wheat, rye, barley, many flours, and pasta
  • Processed, packaged, and artificial foods
  • Most sugars and sweeteners
  • Beans and legumes
  • Starchy vegetables and fruits
  • Commercially raised animals and seafood
  • Dairy (some meal plans allow for yogurt)

So, what can you eat?

  • Free-range animal proteins: beef, pork, lamb, poultry, offal, bone broth
  • Wild-caught seafood and sustainably sourced shellfish
  • Eggs from pastured birds
  • Fresh, non-starchy vegetables
  • Fresh, non-starchy fruits
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats: ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, tallow
  • Pure maple syrup
  • Lacto-fermented vegetables

Here is a complete list of Paleo foods to include and to avoid.

Ketogenic Diet Basics

The idea behind the keto diet is to aid your body in producing ketones.

Ketones are chemicals that are made by your liver to support your body when you don’t have enough stored glucose to use for energy. Your body is able to transform fat into ketones when it senses that you need an alternative to sugar for energy.

Basically, when you are in a state of ketosis, your body is breaking down fat stores because your carbohydrate or sugar intake is extremely low.

keto diet foods

While in a state of ketosis, your body will break down excess fat and ingested fats into fuel. So it makes sense that a Ketogenic diet is pretty high in fat and very low in carbohydrates. Eliminating carbohydrate consumption will create a metabolic shift enabling the body to tap into fat stores. It has been shown that using your body fat for energy can lead to weight loss and possibly an increase in lean muscle mass. This is what the proponents of the keto movement believe.

As with the Paleolithic diet, some claim the Ketogenic diet may help individuals with type 2 diabetes by lowering blood glucose levels and may improve cardiovascular health. It is also been said that keto followers achieve better mental clarity, improved mood, and reduced inflammation.

The Ketogenic diet is made up of a prescribed ratio of fat to protein to carbohydrate macronutrients. Fat is at the bottom of the Keto pyramid at approximately 70% of each meal. The next layer is protein at 25%. Carbohydrates are at the top at 5% intake.

keto food pyramidHere is a list of what is excluded from the diet:

  • Grains and grasses
  • Gluten-containing foods: wheat, rye, barley, many flours, and pasta
  • Processed, packaged, and alternative foods
  • Sugars and sweeteners
  • Beans and legumes
  • Starchy vegetables and fruits
  • Pasteurized milk
  • Commercially raised animals and seafood

So, what can you eat?

  • Free-range animal proteins: beef, pork, lamb, poultry, offal, bone broth
  • Wild-caught seafood and sustainably sourced shellfish
  • Eggs from pastured birds
  • Fresh, non-starchy vegetables
  • Fresh, non-starchy fruits
  • Healthy fats: pastured butter, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, tallow
  • Various cheeses and yogurt
  • Nuts and seeds in moderation
  • Soy in moderation

Here is a complete list of Paleo foods to include from

Similarities of Paleo and Keto

good fats bad fatsAs you can see from the basic outlines of each plan, there is much overlap on the two diets.

Both call for the elimination of processed foods, grains and gluten, starchy fruits and vegetables, most sugars and artificial sweeteners, and legumes. What the diets have in common is the inclusion of high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

The promoters of both diets encourage followers to eat whole foods that are responsibly produced. That means meat and eggs should be sourced from farms where the animals are treated humanely and are not administered hormones or antibiotics. Fish is best when wild-caught. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts should be organic and non-GMO, if available.

Paleo and Keto both promote healthy fats as key components of their diets. These include items such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and ghee. Consumption of vegetable oils and margarine are discouraged, as they are overly processed. Fat is considered a better fuel source for energy production than carbohydrates and simple sugars.

Consumption of carbohydrates is drastically reduced on both plans. They cannot be avoided completely because they occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables. That said, the starchier fruits and vegetables are not included, such as white potatoes.

The main philosophies of both diets are that eating this way will help achieve better health. They both targeted weight loss, reduced inflammation, cardiovascular health, and reduced spikes in insulin. It appears that these diets can also correct sluggish metabolisms.

Differences between Paleo and Keto

While many of the food choices and health goals overlap with both diets, there are a few dietary differences. As well, the philosophy and science surrounding each diet are uniquely different.

The Paleolithic diet is rooted in the belief that we should be eating the same way as our ancestors did because our bodies are not designed to subsist on the modern Standard American Diet (SAD). The Ketogenic diet uses the science behind ketosis to help our bodies to burn more fat for sustenance and energy.

While both diets strongly restrict the intake of carbohydrates, there are some fine points as to why. Paleo allows some carbohydrate consumption in the form of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes. The elimination of carbohydrates in the form of grains and legumes on this diet is because they were not available to our ancestors during Paleolithic times. And, these foods contain the anti-nutrient phytic acid that can make proteins, fat, and starches less digestible, impairing mineral absorption.

The Ketogenic diet aims to eliminate all carbohydrate foods, including starchy fruits and vegetables. It is believed that all carbohydrates can spike insulin levels and raise blood glucose levels. These foods can take the body out of a state of fat-burning ketosis.

Both diets discourage the intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners. The Paleo food list does include natural sugars, such as pure maple syrup. It is assumed that our ancestors did have access to tree sap and honey. However, the Keto food list does not allow for even natural sugar.

A strict Paleolithic diet does not include dairy, except for clarified butter or ghee. On the other hand, Ketogenics encourages consuming certain cheeses, cream, yogurt, and grass-fed butter. These are considered high in fat and protein and low in carbohydrates.

Healthy fats are included on both diet plans, but for different reasons. Simply put, fats were an abundantly available food source for Paleolithic age humans. Keto dieters use healthy fats as the primary fuel source.

Is One Diet Better than the Other?

If you are considering adopting a Paleo or Keto lifestyle, you should do a little research and soul searching as to which is better suited for you.

The diets are similar on many levels, but for different reasons.

The pros of the Paleo approach is that it is based on the diet of our ancestors and the way our bodies are naturally designed to digest, metabolize, and use food. Cross-Fit athletes prefer the Paleo way for better athletic performance and endurance from consuming mostly vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. The cons might be that you could feel deprived by restricting grains and legumes. You will need to eat plenty of vegetables to get enough dietary fiber. Dining out could be challenging.

The pros of Keto are that it is a science-based approach that aims to place your body in a state of ketosis where fat is burned to supply energy. Being able to enjoy certain dairy foods may be a plus for many on this diet. Those on the keto plan often claim to have lost weight and gained lean muscle mass. As with Paleo, the total elimination of carbohydrates could take some getting used to. And, eating off of a restaurant menu will take some research and effort.

Both diets lay claims to improving health, as described above. To be clear, dedicated Paleo and Keto experts and followers do not see either diet as a short-term plan. They are both considered to be lifestyle choices that also include incorporating a sensible exercise program and good sleep hygiene.