The Ketogenic Diet vs. the Paleo Diet – What’s The Difference?
If you’re looking to lose weight, burn fat, and live a healthier lifestyle, you’re not alone. With obesity and other health problems like type 2 diabetes skyrocketing, you may be looking for a solution by making changes to what you eat. There’s tons of buzz out there about both the keto and paleo diets, but what’s the difference? And which one is right for you? Read on to find out.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
With the keto diet, your body burns fat rather than glucose. Instead of the low-fat, high-carb diet that has been touted for years, you reverse it and eat high-fat, low-carb. The keto diet has proven benefits for weight loss, health, energy, and performance.
Keto became popular back in the 1920s and 1930s to treat epilepsy, but then fell out of favor as new drugs were developed. Then fat really got a bad rap in the 1960s when Ancel Keys cherry-picked research to convince the entire country that eating fat was the root of our health problems. The idea that ‘fat makes us fat’ sounds sensible, but this premise is entirely false.
Ketones are energy molecules produced by the liver from fat. (This is where the ‘keto’ in ‘ketogenic’ comes from.) When you switch to using fat rather than glucose for energy, your insulin levels decrease and your fat-burning increases, often dramatically. By eating very few carbs, you turn your body into a fat-burning machine.
There are many other benefits to following a ketogenic diet. It can be an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, regulate blood pressure, and even reverse type 2 diabetes. Other more basic benefits include a reduction in gas and bloating, improved focus and alertness, feeling hungry less often, as well as having a steady supply of energy rather than the roller coaster high and crash that happens when you eat sugar.
What is the Paleo Diet?
Often referred to as the ‘Caveman Diet,’ the paleo diet focuses on consuming foods that would have been eaten by early humans.
After decades of research into our Paleolithic ancestors, Dr. Loren Cordain published a book in 2002 called ‘The Paleo Diet.’ He considered farming to be the culprit in our modern-day health problems, turning us sedentary and introducing foods into our diet that we are not equipped to process, especially grains and dairy. Although the diet didn’t really gain traction until 2009, it has since become one of the most popular diets of this century.
Cordain’s idea is that humans experienced the highest rate of development during the Paleolithic era, but not much since. Since people thrived on this diet, so the theory goes, we should eat what they ate. Meat, fish, leafy greens, local vegetables, seeds, nuts, honey; simply put, you can have anything a hunter-gatherer might have eaten 10,000+ years ago.
Similarities Between the Keto Diet and the Paleo Diet
There is plenty of overlap between the two diets:
- No grains.
- No refined carbs (especially sugar).
- No calorie-counting required.
- Both have lower carbs than the standard American diet.
- Both encourage eating healthy fats, quality animal protein, and non-starchy vegetables.
- Both can help you lose weight.
Differences Between Keto and Paleo
Keto and paleo do have a lot in common, but there are plenty of differences too:
- Designed to emulate eating in the Paleolithic era.
- Main focus is on food quality.
- More carbs than keto, but still lower-carb. Picking the best carbs is key.
- Eating healthy fats is important.
- Avoid dairy.
- Higher protein consumption is encouraged. No restrictions, although there are recommendations.
- Eat all the high-quality (grass-fed, free-range, organic, etc.) meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds you want.
- Emulate the ‘Caveman lifestyle.’
Paleo is a diet, but it’s also a lifestyle. Hunter-gatherers didn’t spend their days sitting around and so movement and exercise are key components to this approach. You’re supposed to sync your body clock with the natural rhythm of day and night, going to sleep when it gets dark and getting up early. This idea extends to the seasons as well, taking things slower in winter and being more active in spring and summer. You’re also supposed to slow down more generally, to break the bad habit of the ‘need for speed’ that leaves so many of us exhausted.
- Although food quality is important, the main focus is on keeping your body in ketosis.
- Fewer carbs than Paleo.
- High fat is important.
- Emulates a fasting state.
- Dairy is allowed, in moderation.
- Fruit is not consumed.
- Follows a specific ratio of fats, carbs, and protein.
Macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) are consumed in precise amounts: 75% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs. Your daily intake of carbs should never exceed 50 net grams, and preferably stay below 20 net grams. ‘Net’ carbs are determined by subtracting grams of fiber from your total carbs. As an example, 100 grams of spinach contains 4 grams of carbohydrates, 2 of which are fiber, leaving you with a total of 2 net carbs.
At first, it may sound like fun to eat a bunch of bacon, butter and cheese, but it can be hard to stick to over the long-term. And since it can take a week or more to get into ketosis, slip-ups up will dramatically slow weight loss.
Which Diet Will Work Better for Me?
There is no definitive answer. Both have benefits and both will help you lose weight. A ketogenic diet will put the body in ketosis, which is not guaranteed with the paleo diet. The paleo diet provides the body with more carbs which can be better for weightlifters and other high-intensity athletes. Since the keto diet can more restrictive, you could always start out with paleo, then switch to keto to ease your way in. You can even do both simultaneously.
Everyone wants a quick-fix and no diet works without commitment, but if you’re reading this, chances are you’re feeling motivated to make a change. There are tons of meal plans online and in books for both of these diets. Pick one and stick with it for 30 days. If you make a mistake, that’s okay. Just start again with the next meal. Any day — anything— you eat free of processed food and sugar is a win. If all you do is cut out refined sugar and processed food, that is already a huge improvement and you’re almost guaranteed to feel better and lose weight. It’s also usually enough of an incentive to continue. You have nothing to lose but excess weight. Go for it. You can do this.