Keto vs. Paleo: What You Need to Know

Gaining popularity in the diet culture, the paleo and keto diets share some similarities but hold completely different theories. The paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet”, follows the idea that eating unrefined and whole foods– like our Paleolithic ancestors are believed to have consumed– is the healthiest way to eat. Paleo supports a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein from all food groups except grains and legumes. The keto diet, on the other hand, also supports whole food sources but in very specific amounts. Keto (as it’s known in the mainstream diet culture) was essentially created to promote weight loss by “tricking” the body into burning fat for fuel.  

Let’s breakdown the differences between the  two diets.

The paleo diet includes the following in varying amounts:

  • animal protein (meat, poultry, game, eggs, fish)
  • plant carbohydrates ( vegetables except corn * because it’s a grain)
  • healthy fats (nuts and seeds)
  • select/minimally processed fats (avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee, tallow, olive oil, lard)
  • unrefined sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar)

The main principle behind the paleo diet is health over weight loss because it focuses on unrefined, natural food sources. However, weight loss tends to be a byproduct for most paleo eaters as it is generally restrictive and leaves out several food groups. Although you still get the major nutrients the body needs on keto you do  miss out on some B vitamins that are found in grains/legumes. 

The keto diet focuses less on the types of foods you eat and more on the amounts you eat to bring your body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is when the body reaches a physiological “starved” state by using ketones instead of glucose (sugar) as fuel. This leads to the body burning more fat as a fuel source instead of carbohydrates or protein. To propel the body into a state of ketosis, intake of macronutrients looks something like this

  • 60-80% Fats
  • 20-30% protein
  • 5-10% carbohydrates 

The concerns with following the keto diet is that it requires a lot of precision to do it correctly. Measuring the exact amount of macronutrients your body needs to put itself into ketosis is key, but it’s hard to measure without a dietitian. You’re essentially dropping water weight first and then you eventually drop body fat. 

While these diets do come with their own set of rules, they do share a few similarities. They are as follows:

Both avoid grains/legumes. The paleo diet doesn’t include such groups is because they contain gluten (found in wheat) or lectins/saponins (found in legumes and grains). The reason keto avoids these food groups is because they’re mainly all carbohydrates. The idea behind the keto diet is to keep carbohydrates to an absolute minimum so that the body isn’t using glucose for fuel. 

Both emphasize whole foods and healthy fats. When done correctly, both these diets include natural animal sources of fat with unrefined oils/fats. 

Both support avoiding or reducing added sugars. This is more so the case for the keto diet which tries to do away with carbs the most (because carbs turn to sugar). The paleo diet is a little more lenient with these by limiting them to unrefined sources of sugar, but the recommended amount is not specified.  

Both can lead to weight loss. Like any diet that cuts out a specific food or food group, it takes a while to adjust for that absence and make up the calories. This usually leads to weight loss when following either diet. Plus, if the foods you’re consuming on either diet are whole and minimally processed, you’re likely able to eat more and still lose or maintain weight. It is best to keep a diet that is mostly veggies and fruits with appropriate servings of healthy fats and proteins. 

So the million-dollar question is: which diet is healthier? Because diets are unique for each  person, the best thing to do is take some of the good principles out of both diets: Eat real food (not processed), reduce added sugars (be mindful of the types of carbs you’re eating), and don’t forget your veggies. 

Lindsey Gass

Lindsey Gass, RD, LD/N is a registered dietitian in Miami, FL. With a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University, Lindsey has years of experience in clinical, sports, long term care, and community nutrition. Lindsey currently works in critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she provides nutrition support and participates in trauma research. Outside of her career, Lindsey is an avid runner and Nike run club pacer working towards qualifying for a Boston marathon. Follow Lindsey on Instagram at @lin.health for nutrition tips and tricks. Learn more about Youfit’s Registered Dietician