Paleo vs. Keto: Which Meal Plan is Right for You?
Low-carb diets come in many different forms, with different rules to follow. All offer a variety of similar benefits: weight loss, blood sugar stabilization, mood regulation, and even a decreased risk of cancer and cognitive decline.
The ketogenic diet and the Paleo diet are among the most popular low-carb plans in practice today. They both focus on clean eating and reducing your intake of carbohydrates; however, they arrive at this approach for different reasons.
While the effects of these diets can look very similar, the practice of each is different. When it comes to choosing Paleo vs. keto, there is a lot to consider. One may be a better fit for your lifestyle, your preferences, and your goals. Let's dive into the key differences between the two diets and what you should consider when choosing one over the other.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The keto diet eschews carbs to guide the body towards ketosis; that is, encouraging it to use fat for fuel instead of sugar. In ketosis, the body breaks down fat into ketones. The ketones then become the primary source of fuel throughout the body. This diet has been effective in treating obesity, epilepsy, and diabetes, and has been shown to decrease the progression of a number of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In one study, more than half the participants on a ketogenic diet reversed their metabolic syndrome; in another study, a keto plan was found to help slow tumor growth in cancer patients.
The keto diet focuses on fats – like coconut oil, avocado, butter, nuts and olives – and disallows grains, fruit, and legumes. The emphasis is on reducing carbohydrate intake to less than ten percent of daily calories and replacing these calories with fat.
What Can You Eat on the Keto Diet?
On a keto plan, you can expect to eat high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb foods. This means:
- Animal proteins, like beef, pork, bacon, chicken, turkey, and fatty fish
- Dairy foods, like milk, cream, butter, and cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils, including olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
- Low-carb plant foods, like avocado, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and fresh herbs
A balanced keto meal plan might include dishes like sun-dried tomato, rosemary and goat cheese frittata muffins; bacon, macadamia and avocado salad; and creamy cilantro chicken skillet.
Foods to Avoid on Keto
Because ketosis only occurs when the body is depleted of carbohydrates, the keto diet does not allow:
- Grains or starches of any kind, whole or processed (this includes baked goods, cereals, rice, quinoa, and pasta)
- Beans and legumes
- Fruit, except for small portions of low-sugar berries or citrus
- Root vegetables, tubers, and high-carb vegetables, like potatoes and carrots
- Sugars and sweet foods, including soda, juice, ice cream, and candy
- Sweeteners, including honey, maple syrup, and agave
- Refined and hydrogenated oils
What is the Paleolithic Diet?
The Paleo diet, also known as the Caveman Diet, cuts out carbs from grains and sugar, as well as all processed foods, with the intention of eating as closely as possible to the way one’s ancestors ate. There was no agrarian system for growing grains in the Paleolithic era, and adherents of the Paleo diet assert that humans have not evolved enough since then to handle the digestion and processing grains require. The theory is that by consuming grains, this invites in “modern” diseases like cancer, neurodegeneration, and diabetes; whlie cutting out carbs on a Paleo diet can lead to weight loss and decreased insulin resistance.
What Can You Eat on the Paleo Diet?
Paleo’s emphasis is on removing carbohydrates from sources that are not available in the wild, as well as dairy, another food not commonly consumed by our ancestors. When following the paleo diet, a variety of whole, unprocessed foods are available to you:
- Animal proteins, including beef, poultry, pork, game meats, fish, and seafood
- Vegetables, including tubers like sweet potatoes
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy fats and oils, with a focus on minimally processed plant-based oils like coconut, olive, and avocado oils
- Fresh herbs and most spices
- Natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey
A Paleo meal plan might include dishes like spice-rubbed chicken with avocado salsa and roasted turkey sausage with tomato and peppers.
Foods to Avoid on the Paleo Diet
Avoiding highly processed, sweetened, grain-based and dairy-based foods is the focus of the Paleo diet. This means cutting out:
- Sugar, natural sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners, plus the foods that contains them; including baked goods, candy, soda, and even sauces like ketchup and barbecue sauce
- Grains of all kinds, including breads, pasta, cereals, rice, quinoa, and corn
- Dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream
- Soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and safflower oil
- Trans fats and hydrogenated oils, like those found in margarine
Paleo vs. Keto: Similarities and Differences
On a basic level, especially when comparing allowed and forbidden foods, Paleo and keto look quite similar. While they do share some elements, there are some important differences that may make one of these diets more appropriate for your needs and preferences.
Similarities Between Paleo and Keto
Both Paleo and keto emphasize clean eating and build their menus around minimally processed, whole foods. This means avoiding highly processed foods, sugar, and certain types of oils.
When it comes to carbohydrates, both plans avoid legumes and grains but include carbohydrates in moderation.
Both plans also incorporate animal protein. Paleo is more specific with the sourcing, emphasizing free-range and wild-caught meats and fish. Keto is less specific about where animal proteins come from but prioritizes fattier cuts of meat and fish.
There is a high-fat component to both diets. Foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and healthy oils are prominent. In keto, this is to maintain ketosis; in Paleo, it has more to do with maintaining satiety and how these fats would have provided valuable nutrition eons ago.
Differences Between Paleo and Keto
The biggest difference when it comes to Paleo vs. keto is the variety of foods permitted on each: Paleo is a little more flexible, focusing on simplifying the types of foods consumed, while the rules of keto are quite rigid.
On a keto plan, the main objective is to limit carbs to keep the body in ketosis. This means cutting out a large swatch of plant foods, including many vegetables and fruits. It is important to ensure balanced nutrition from other sources when these nutrient-rich foods are cut out. Paleo, on the other hand, allows most vegetables and fruits, as the focus is on the quality and relative wholeness of the food, rather than the carbohydrate content.
The keto diet is less concerned with the source of fats, and more focused on the volume of fat coming into the body. This means that dairy and some oils that are not allowed on a Paleo meal plan are permitted.
Choose the Right Meal Plan for You
The most important factors to consider when comparing Paleo vs. keto are your health goals and whether one of these diets may be a better fit for your lifestyle. If you’re looking to lose weight, address a metabolic condition, or reduce your risk of certain diseases, either diet could be a good fit. However, your activity level, how much time you have to food shop and prepare meals, and any pre-existing health conditions might limit which of these plans will work for you. It is also advisable to consult a doctor or registered dietitian before making a major dietary shift, especially if you have a pre-existing health condition.
You can explore a variety of keto meal plans and Paleo meal plans to see which feels like the best fit, and embark on your low-carb eating exploration feeling inspired and prepared.