Before we compare the similarities and differences of the Paleo vs Keto diets, it’s helpful to know why a person may choose to follow each one.
When it comes to the Paleo diet — which is based on eliminating grains and legumes due to their phytic acid content — it’s more of a lifestyle choice to focus on eating quality foods that support digestive health (1). Most dairy products are also off limits on the Paleo diet because they contain lactose, which is hard for most people to digest (although some people do include ghee or grass-fed butter).
On the other hand, the Keto diet is targeted primarily towards those who want to experience dramatic weight loss. However, the Keto diet can also help improve medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (4). In fact, the initial purpose of the Keto diet was to prevent and treat seizures, when it was first discovered in the 1920s (5). But today, the Keto diet is best known as a rapid weight loss and fat burning strategy.
The reason the Keto diet promotes accelerated weight loss more effectively than most diets is because it teaches your body to burn fat more efficiently by entering a metabolic state called ketosis (6).
Ketosis is the state your body enters when glucose — your body’s preferred fuel source — isn’t readily available for energy. So, as a back-up energy source, your body will begin to burn fatty acids instead, which produces ketones (7).
Now, in order for your body to burn fat instead of glucose, you must heavily restrict carbs from your diet (reducing the amount of carbs you eat down to roughly 5% of your diet), while simultaneously increasing your fat intake up to 75% of your diet. The lack of carbs leaves your body with no choice but to burn fatty acids in your fat stores as fuel. This is how fat loss and weight loss occurs.
Now, let’s move on to the similarities and differences of the Paleo vs Keto diets and why they matter.
The Keto and Paleo diets are often grouped together because they’re similar in these ways:
But the Paleo and Keto diets have more differences than they do similarities. Let’s take a look at what those are.
While both the Paleo and Keto diets can be used to achieve a certain outcome, the Keto diet is more rigorous and targeted, while the Paleo diet is more of a long-term lifestyle choice that can produce certain health benefits — including weight loss — but isn’t as restrictive or intense as the Keto diet. Here are the main differences between the Paleo and the Keto diet.
1. The Paleo Diet Isn’t Necessarily Low-Carb, High-Fat.
The Paleo diet may restrict grains, legumes, and refined sugar, but there’s no real limit to the amount of carbs you can eat when it comes to fruit and starchy vegetables, such as squash, sweet potato, and pumpkin. You can also use natural sweeteners liberally on the Paleo diet, such as raw honey, coconut nectar and pure maple syrup, which are higher in carbs.
The fact that the Paleo diet has no emphasis on carb consumption means your body will almost certainly continue burning glucose as energy, unless you intentionally restrict carbs to a low enough percentage (around 5%) to enter ketosis.
The Paleo diet also encourages healthy fats like the keto diet does, but again, a person can easily consume carbs from fruit and starchy vegetables as 60% of their diet and fats as 10% of their diet and still be following a Paleo diet correctly.
2. The Keto Diet Doesn’t Restrict Dairy.
Full-fat dairy products are permitted on the Keto diet (although depending on who you ask, they’re not always encouraged).
As we covered above, the Paleo diet removes foods that are hard for the body to break down and can wreak havoc on gut health — dairy products are one of them. Dairy is a common food intolerance because most of us stop producing an adequate amount of lactase, which is the enzyme needed to digest the milk sugar lactose found in dairy, around age 4 (once breastfeeding has stopped)(8).
3. The Keto Diet Measures Fat, Protein, and Carb Percentage.
In order for the Keto diet to work, there’s a specific macronutrient percentage you must follow — otherwise your body can’t enter ketosis. On the Standard Keto Diet (SKD), the percentages usually fall around 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.
On the other hand, you don’t have to abide by macronutrient percentages when it comes to following a Paleo diet.
4. The Keto Diet Requires Testing for Ketosis.
Since the goal of the keto diet is to enter ketosis, how do you know you’ve achieved it? By testing for it, of course. The keto diet has several testing methods to detect ketone bodies in your blood, which indicate your body has successfully begun to burn fatty acids for energy.
Since the Paleo diet doesn’t have a specific metabolic goal, there’s no testing method for being Paleo — you ‘just know’ you’re Paleo if you cut dairy, grains, legumes and refined sugar from your diet.
5. The Keto Diet Focuses on a Specific Outcome: Burning Fat instead of Carbs.
The biggest difference between the Keto and Paleo diets is the desired outcome: burning fat instead of carbs.
As you now understand, following the keto diet is a way to manipulate your metabolism and accelerate fat loss. The Paleo diet can still promote weight loss, especially by cutting out refined sugar and grains, which trigger fat storage and weight gain, but your metabolism will most likely remain in the default state which is burning carbs for energy (unless of course, you decide to drastically reduce your carbs down to 5% while eating Paleo — which would essentially be following both diets at the same time.)
Which brings us to our next point…
If you want to burn fat more efficiently, and you already follow (or are considering following) a Paleo diet, you can enter ketosis while eating Paleo, and vice versa. All you’d need to do is:
When it comes to meal-planning and grocery shopping, here’s a quick glance at the similarities and differences in food groups on the Paleo vs Keto diets:
So, when it comes to Paleo vs Keto — which diet is right for you?
With the keto diet being more restrictive, it may be difficult (but not impossible) to incorporate into busy lifestyles, but it can produce the most dramatic results for weight and fat loss. The Paleo diet is less restrictive, and can produce gradual weight loss results, as well as benefits for gut and digestive health. Or, you can try both to see which diet helps you feel your best!