When it comes to the paleo vs keto diet, which is better? It’s an understatement to say that the popularity of these diets has exploded in recent years. Many people are enamored with their impressive health benefits and want to try them. But, it can be quite difficult to decide which of these approaches may be the most beneficial to your health.
At a glance, both the paleo diet and the keto diet seem quite similar. Both diets claim to be more in tune with the needs of the human body than the classic Western diet. Both promise quick and easy weight loss and better health results. However, a closer look reveals several important differences that you may need to consider before making a decision. The paleo and keto diets are not comparable when it comes to nutritional value, flexibility, or potential side effects.
In this article, we’ll explain their key principles as well as the similarities and differences between paleo and keto to help you decide if either diet might be right for you.
What is a paleo diet?
The term “paleo diet” was first used in 2002 by Dr. Loren Cordain to describe a diet that reflects the habits and cooking practices of hunter-gatherers in the pre-agricultural Paleolithic era. It is also referred to as the “Stone Age diet”, “Caveman diet” or “Primary diet”.
Although we don’t know much about what our ancestors actually ate on a daily basis, it is assumed that their diet was largely based on lean meat, fish, seafood, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts. Foods such as grains, grains, dairy, and refined oils were introduced much later, and as such are generally not included in paleo diets.
According to a study published in the Total Environmental Science, paleo diets tend to be low in carbohydrates (about 25% of total energy intake) and high in protein (about 30% of total energy intake), cholesterol and polyunsaturated fatty acids (about 15% of total energy intake). The Diet Quality Score drops to 260, putting the Paleo diet well above the recommended value.
What is a keto diet?
It has been demonstrated that the the keto diet helps prevent seizures, which is why it was first introduced as a treatment for epilepsy in the 1920s. As people with epileptic seizures tend to respond well to fasting diets, doctors wanted to find a way to mimic the metabolic effect of fasting without depriving their patients of food. This strategy was used successfully for nearly two decades, until the introduction of antiepileptic drugs into medical practice. When nutritionists noticed that the ketogenic diet could produce rapid weight loss results, it quickly entered the mainstream.
Ketogenic diets are very high in dietary fat and extremely low in carbohydrates, making them similar to the Atkins diet. The difference is that when you’ve been taking Atkins for a while, you’re allowed to gradually reintroduce carbs to your meals. Whereas with a ketogenic diet, you maintain a low carbohydrate intake at all times. The goal of this approach is to achieve a state of ketosis – a metabolic condition in which the body turns to burning fat stores instead of glucose. Ketosis is characterized by low insulin levels and high ketone levels. Ketones are compounds produced by the liver from fatty acids and used as fuel by muscles and other tissues.
Nutritionally, ketogenic diets are about 75% dietary fat, about 15-20% protein, and up to 10% carbohydrates. The amount of net carbs (total carbs minus dietary fiber) in a single food should not exceed 25g. To achieve this, ketogenic diets rely heavily on meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils, and fatty foods as well as certain vegetables (such as low-carb leafy greens, onions or tomatoes). Fruits, grains, beans, legumes and root vegetables are not included.
Paleo vs Keto Diet: Similarities
The key principles
The paleo and keto diets share many key principles. They both emphasize the importance of eating whole foods, while reducing the consumption of highly processed foods, especially those that contain high amounts of added sugars. They also agree when it comes to avoiding multiple food groups. For example, both diets eliminate grains, beans, and legumes. With paleo diets, it’s because of the simple fact that grains and legumes weren’t present in early human diets. The keto diet excludes them due to their high carb content.
Paleo and keto diets promote a high intake of dietary fat, ideally in the form of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids from sources such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fish. Similarly, they both discourage the consumption of highly processed products and trans fat because of their detrimental impact on cardiovascular health.
Paleo and keto diets can have a fairly comparable impact on our health and body composition. A study published in Nutrients revealed that the keto diet can lead to rapid weight loss and help reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several types of cancer. It may also have a beneficial effect on gut health and appetite control.
Similarly, many studies, including one published in Advances in Nutritionreported that the paleo diet can significantly reduce body weight and waist circumference, while improving blood pressure, lipid profile, and systemic inflammation.
Additionally, new evidence published in Psychiatric research suggests that both of these diets may have a positive effect on our mood and mental health, although more rigorous research is needed to confirm these findings.
Paleo vs Keto Diet: Differences
One of the biggest differences between paleo and keto diets is ideology — or lack thereof. The keto diet is all about changing your eating habits, while the paleo diet is seen more as a way of life. Paleo diet fans strongly encourage the practice of HIIT (high-intensity interval training), yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.
Additionally, there are significant differences when it comes to food components. While keto explicitly restricts carbs, paleo allows them, as long as they come from whole-food sources. Keto encourages the consumption of many dairy products, such as whole milk, butter, and natural yogurts. Since they weren’t present in Paleolithic times, you won’t find them in any Paleo guidelines. Additionally, the consumption of soy foods like tofu, tempeh, and soy is supported by the keto diet. On the other hand, paleo does not allow any soy because it belongs to the category of legumes.
Risk for the health
Following a keto diet may have some benefits, but it also comes with a degree of risk. Over the years, many questions have been raised about its safety and long-term effects. For example, an article published by Harvard Medical School suggests that the high fat content of keto may contribute to an increased risk of developing heart disease, liver problems, and kidney stones, especially in people with certain genetic predispositions. Additionally, the low fiber content can trigger digestive issues.
Additionally, many have reported that the the keto diet causes temporary flu-like symptoms, which has given rise to the now popular term “keto flu”. These symptoms may include headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, “brain fog”, gastrointestinal discomfort, decreased energy, feeling faint, and heart rhythm changes. If you suffer from low blood pressure, keto may not be the right choice for you.
Following a paleo diet can also come with some risks. Since it excludes many food groups, it could contribute to certain micronutrient deficiencies. Calcium and vitamin D in particular, which are essential for bone health, can be in short supply.
Paleo vs keto diet: which is better?
Paleo and keto diets have pros and cons. If you don’t have any chronic conditions, the final verdict may come down to issues of cost, maintenance, and flexibility. The paleo diet offers more food choices, but it can also be quite expensive. At the same time, keto is much more restrictive and can be difficult to maintain in social situations. Overall, paleo may be a slightly safer, healthier, and more flexible diet choice.
Arab, A., Mehrabani, S., Moradi, S. and Amani, R. (2019). The association between diet and mood: a systematic review of the current literature. Research in Psychiatry, 271, 428–437. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2018.12.014
Cambeses-Franco, C., González-García, S., Feijoo, G., & Moreira, MT (2021). Is the paleo diet safe for health and the environment? Total Environmental Science, 781, 146717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146717
Dowis, K., & Banga, S. (2021). The potential health benefits of the ketogenic diet: a narrative review. Nutrients, 13(5), 1654. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13051654
Ghaedi, E., Mohammadi, M., Mohammadi, H., Ramezani-Jolfaie, N., Malekzadeh, J., Hosseinzadeh, M., & Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2019). Effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Advances in Nutrition, 10(4), 634–646. https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz007
Harvard Health. (2020, August 31). Should you try the keto diet? Retrieved April 22, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-try-the-keto-diet