Keto vs. Paleo: What's the Difference? – Konscious Keto

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Keto vs. Paleo: What's the Difference?

You’ve likely heard it many times before: diets never work. At Konscious Keto we tend to agree. 

While it’s true that most fad diets end in complete failure (ever tried the grapefruit diet?!), two popular eating plans continue to gain attention—the paleo and ketogenic diets—because they show results.

On the surface, these diets seem somewhat similar. Most people will probably imagine a big plate of eggs, bacon, and butter when they think of both.

Both are low-carb and value high-quality fats. 

Both stress the importance of avoiding sugars, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and processed foods.

Both can bring about some incredibly positive results, including weight loss, mood, energy boosts, and a lowered risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

They both share similar philosophies, but they also differ on some significant points.

So, in the debate over keto vs. paleo, which diet is better for you?

Let’s dig into the thoughts and theories behind both the paleo and keto diets to see what their fundamental differences are and which, in the end, is a better fit for you.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

You may have heard that the ketogenic diet is unrealistic, unproven, unsustainable, and downright unhealthy.

But here’s the thing: the keto diet relies on an essential function in the body that every person can tap into and take advantage of for burning fat.

It’s a natural process with an evolutionary purpose that is entirely healthy—this is what we call ketosis.

Getting into a state of ketosis is the primary goal of a keto diet. Ketosis happens when your body begins to produce ketones steadily.

Ketones are made in the liver when your body breaks down fat—both the fat that you eat and, eventually, the fat stored in your body. But this only happens once you’ve depleted your glucose (sugar) stores.

Typically, your body will use glucose as its primary energy source. This comes from the carbohydrates that we eat.

The thing is, we don’t need that many carbs. Our bodies are set up to work just as well—maybe even better—on a shorter supply of carbs.

This is where ketosis comes in. Once you’ve gone through the glucose, your body will turn to fat to produce ketones, which will be used as fuel.

To get to this place, the keto diet recommends that you cut your carb intake to about 20-50 grams per day.

For those of us used to a high-carb or even moderate-carb diet, this can seem a near impossible task to start—but you have to know how to fill your plate.

When you reduce your carb intake, you’ll need to fill out the rest of your diet with mostly fats and some proteins.

This is the typical ratio that will get most people into ketosis:

  • Fats: 60-80%
  • Proteins: 15-30%
  • Carbohydrates: 5-10%

On the keto diet, you’ll get your fats from meats, fatty fish, dairy, and high-quality oils. 

You’ll find that a diet consisting of mostly fats is one that’s quite satisfying—way more so than any low-calorie or low-fat diet you’ve probably tried before.

Several studies have found the keto diet to be highly effective, especially for weight loss and lowering cardiovascular risk factors including cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels (1, 2).

Many keto dieters have also reported elevated energy and mood levels and an increase in mental clarity and focus.

Do’s and Don’ts on the Keto Diet

The keto diet is not just about stuffing your face with lots of fats and calling it a day. There’s a bit more involved in keeping your body in ketosis and thriving.

You’ll need to watch your calorie count and your macronutrient ratios, especially if your primary goal is to lose weight.

Here are some other important do’s and don’ts when following a keto diet:

Do:

  • Eat a wide range of whole, unprocessed foods: This includes meats, seafood, eggs, cheeses, nuts and seeds, low-starch vegetables, and small amounts of berries.
  • Purchase whole-fat foods: Skip the low-fat, reduced-fat, no-fat, skim, and light versions of your favorite foods. These are less filling, less tasty, and way less nutritious.
  • Eat your vegetables (low-starch ones, that is): Yes, vegetables are technically carbohydrates, but you’ll want to pack them in so you can get plenty of essential vitamins and minerals. Just skip the starchier ones, like potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, and onions.
  • Stay hydrated and replace your electrolytes: Part of ketosis involves increased water excretion and decreased water retention. This means you’ll lose water and electrolytes at a faster pace. So, you’ll want to drink up and also replenish your electrolytes with sea salts, broths, leafy greens, and salty snacks.

Don’t:

  • Eat too few calories: Eating too little will leave you fatigued and may even lead to muscle loss.
  • Overdo your protein intake: If you overeat protein, your body will spend longer digesting those amino acids than focusing on the fat burn. Stick to no more than 1 gram per kg of body weight per day to prevent lean muscle loss.
  • Purchase low-fat or fat-free products: When fat has been purposely removed from food, it’s typically replaced with sugar; it’s also not very tasty!
  • Consume low-quality oils: These include canola, corn, cottonseed, palm, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils, which offer no valuable nutrients and contain high amounts of inflammatory fats.

What is the Paleo Diet?

The essence of the paleo diet comes down to its name. Consider times during the Paleolithic era: no bagged chips, no baked bread, and certainly no frozen dinners.

The foods you will eat on paleo are the same (or similar) to the ones your hunter-gatherer ancestors would have consumed, thousands of years ago.

They likely ate a diet high in protein and fiber, including fresh meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. They also probably suffered much lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

A significant part of the paleo diet is its strict avoidance of whole grains and legumes.

While these natural, plant-based foods have traditionally been deemed “healthy,” many paleo advocates argue that they were not part of our ancestors’ diets.

The traditional form of the paleo diet also prohibits dairy, though some updated versions of the diet do allow for whole-fat and grass-fed butter, cheeses, and yogurts. Some even allow for white rice and potatoes.

Overall, the paleo diet is not so concerned with calories or macronutrient counts, but with natural, high-quality, “clean” whole foods.

Studies have shown that a paleo diet can help promote weight loss and reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and other health markers related to a lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease (3).

Do’s and Don’ts on the Paleo Diet

The key do’s and don’ts for paleo are pretty similar to keto.

Here are some essential points to remember:

Do:

  • Eat a wide range of whole, unprocessed foods: This is similar to keto, including meats, seafood, eggs, nuts and seeds, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables: Any are acceptable, though some paleo followers believe potatoes should be off-limits.
  • Choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic foods whenever possible: This goes for all meats, eggs, and produce.
  • Cook with healthy fats and oils: This includes coconut, avocado, and extra virgin olive oil.

Don’t:

  • Eat dairy: However, some newer versions of paleo do allow for full-fat, grass-fed dairy products including butter, ghee, and even certain cheeses. But if you want to go strict paleo, these are all no-no’s.
  • Consume sugar or artificial sweeteners: Skip on all sugar, soft drinks, fruit juices, candy, and ice cream, as well as the artificial stuff like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin.
  • Consume processed foods: Skip all “diet” or low-fat packaged foods. A general guideline is if you don’t recognize an ingredient, don’t eat it.
  • Cook with low-quality oils: Just like keto, these are processed fats you want to stay far away from if you care about your health. We recommend avocado oil and coconut oil for cooking.

Keto vs. Paleo: Which Low-Carb Diet Is Right for You?

Both keto and paleo have proven to be effective low-carb diets for those looking to lose weight, decrease their risk of chronic disease, and feel better overall—but which is right for you?

Let’s break it down.

Which Diet is More Restrictive?

Both diets can seem somewhat restrictive when you first start on them, but for slightly different reasons.

When it comes to the paleo diet, these are some basic rules about what you can eat and what you should avoid:

EAT on PALEO:

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cold-pressed and extra virgin oils (coconut, olive, avocado)

AVOID on PALEO:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Potatoes (though some paleo advocates say potatoes are okay)
  • Processed foods
  • Fast food
  • Soft drinks
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Salt (for the most rigid paleo followers, this even means sea salt, though most paleo dieters do not follow this) (4)

Now, when it comes to the keto diet, you’ll notice pretty similar lists, but you’ll need to take out all those fresh fruits and some of those fresh vegetables and add in dairy and salts.

EAT on KETO:

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Whole-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Fresh, low-starch vegetables (cruciferous veggies, artichokes, bell peppers, leafy greens, mushrooms, cucumbers, zucchini, etc.)
  • Eggs
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cold-pressed and extra virgin oils (coconut, olive, avocado)

AVOID on KETO:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, onions)
  • Most fruits (except for small servings of berries)
  • Processed foods
  • Fast food
  • Soft drinks
  • Refined vegetable oils

Overall, keto is the more restrictive diet since you will have to track your carbohydrates, proteins, and fats carefully.

Keto can also feel especially limiting for those who like their fruits. Take, for example, a banana, which has approximately 27 grams of carbs.

When you’re restricting your carb intake to 20-50 grams, this is already taking up more than half of your daily maximum.

That said, if you’re a dairy fan, and your body can tolerate it, you may find the keto diet to be a little more to your liking.

Which Diet is Easier to Stick to in the Long Run?

Going paleo or keto is not just about losing 10 pounds and then going back to those donuts and cakes. These diets are about completely rewiring your brain and your body to get the most out of what you eat—for the rest of your life.

So, which is easier to stick to? Since the keto diet is based on maintaining ketosis, you’re going to need to be far more vigilant about what and how much you eat.

Unlike the paleo diet, which doesn’t focus on calorie or carb counts, the keto diet requires you to track your macronutrients so that you don’t keep kicking yourself out of ketosis.

This is probably best suited for those who are especially diligent, but even the most particular dieter may find it hard to stick to day in and day out.

Meanwhile, the paleo diet allows for much more flexibility since it’s more about the type of food you’re eating, not how much of it you can enjoy.

It also allows for a little bit of “cheating,” if you will, because it’s not about keeping your body in ketosis.

In general, a paleo diet is more accessible in the long run; it’s more of a “lifestyle” that you can slowly ease into and then fully adopt, without worrying about how eating one banana could throw you completely off course.

The keto diet is ideal for fast fat loss and for people who wish to lower inflammation and who are at risk of type 2 diabetes and other medical conditions.

However, be sure to chat with your doctor before making any significant dietary changes.

Which Diet has the Most Side Effects?

Anytime you drastically change your diet; you’re going to feel it. This is probably the hardest part of any diet or lifestyle overhaul, and it can lead people to give up far too quickly—sometimes within just a few days.

While both the paleo and keto diet come with side effects, there are some slight yet significant differences.

Short-Term Side Effects

As you work your way into the low-carb protocol of the paleo diet, you’ll start off feeling pretty fatigued. You may also feel some withdrawal, mostly from the sugars your body has long gotten used to.

But these side effects should go away within a few weeks, and once you pass that hurdle, you’ll quickly regain your energy and probably feel better than you have in a long while.

Meanwhile, the short-term side effects of the keto diet can be more extreme, so much so there’s even a term for it: the keto flu. Symptoms include fatigue, headaches, cramping, irritability, brain fog, and sugar cravings.

This is all a result of your body transitioning from its familiar role as a sugar burner to a fat burner. Fortunately, many of these symptoms can be reduced with just a few tweaks.

Try increasing your fat, calorie, water, and electrolyte intake to relieve some of the discomforts. Just like with the paleo diet, these side effects should dissipate within a week or two.

Long-Term Side Effects

When considering the long-term effects of paleo vs. keto, both may have a few drawbacks to keep in mind.

If you’re following a strict paleo plan that avoids dairy, you may end up lacking in vital nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D. This could eventually weaken your bones and immune system.

Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting extra calcium through foods like cruciferous vegetables and vitamin D via fatty fish and pastured eggs.

The keto diet could also cause nutrient deficiencies over time, particularly fiber. Still, it’s possible to avoid this by making sure you’re adding in plenty of high-fiber foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, and avocado.

Overall, to avoid any of these long-term side effects, it’s best to keep your diet as varied as possible. While both paleo and keto have their limitations, they still allow you to eat quite a wide range of whole foods.

Rotate the types of foods that you eat and have fun with experimenting with new flavors by using different oils, vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Which Diet will Help You Lose More Weight?

Anyone making an extreme change from a high-carb, high-sugar, highly processed diet to a paleo or keto diet will likely see some drop in their weight as their body starts to function a little more efficiently.

However, in the long-term, losing weight still comes down to your caloric intake.

If you’re eating too many calories for your body and your activity level, you won’t be burning off enough see any decrease on the scale.

Eating a clean, low-carb paleo diet doesn’t mean you’ll lose weight. This is especially true if you’ve already been eating a reasonably healthy diet in general.

Because paleo focuses more on the quality of food vs. the quantity of it, you are still very capable of overeating.

Just think about how easy it can be to overindulge on tasty paleo foods like nuts, nut butter, butter, and dried fruits. Meanwhile, those on the keto diet tend to eat less.

With its sharp focus on macronutrient counts to keep your body in ketosis, the keto diet will typically have you eating fewer calories overall, which will lead to weight loss.

This partially comes down to one major side effect of ketosis—appetite suppression.

Many people on the keto diet will find that they are eating less and losing weight, not only because their diet is restricted but because they no longer experience cravings.

That said, it’s still very possible to binge on good fats like butter, bacon, and nuts while on the keto diet, so you’ll still need to be careful about how much you’re consuming.

The Verdict: The Keto Diet with a Paleo Outlook is Best

When it comes to the paleo vs. keto battle, there is no clear winner, and both have valuable benefits!

We think the best approach is a combination of the two. What stands out with the paleo diet is its focus on high-quality whole foods. This can give your ketogenic experience a real boost.

There’s an emphasis on grass-fed animal products, pastured eggs, sustainable seafood, and organic produce to ensure you’re consuming the most nutrient-dense foods.

What stands out with the keto diet is its ability to keep you in ketosis, a state that can bring about a slew of benefits, including weight loss, mental clarity, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

Combining these two philosophies is ideal. We recommend following a high-fat keto plan with an all-natural paleo outlook. This means a clear focus on food quality and quantity.

If you are someone who does lazy or dirty keto, you may find that weight loss is not as productive as people on a clean keto diet, who take a whole food approach, so if weight loss is an important goal for you, the paleo outlook might be a real step up for you.

Soon enough, we believe you’ll find this to be both an optimal way of eating and an optimal way of life.

Check out Keto Activate to see how to expedite the fat burning process. 

Resources 

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2716748/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452247/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/5-studies-on-the-paleo-diet
  4. https://thepaleodiet.com/sea-salt-devil-deep-blue-sea/

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