Keto vs. Paleo: Which Diet Is Better?

Food: Nutrition

By: // March 19, 2018

Diet trends come and go, but there are two eating styles that have grabbed hold of the fitness community with vigor. The ketogenic diet, also known as a “keto” diet, and the Paleo diet, often referred to as the “caveman” diet. But if you’re looking to clean up your kitchen, which one is better: keto or paleo? Unfortunately, there is no single answer that works for everyone. The best eating program for you is the one you can stick to for life! So if you want to find out which is better for you, read on to explore the main differences between keto and Paleo to choose for yourself.

What is a Keto Diet?

woman scooping avocado out of its shell

A keto—or ketogenic—diet is one made up primarily of fat. Yep, that’s right…fat. If you follow a keto meal plan you’ll consume roughly 70-90 percent of your calories from fat. According to most keto diet plans, you’ll divide the other 10-30 percent of your calories between carbohydrates and protein.


Fat loss occurs on a ketogenic diet when your body is forced to burn fat for fuel. When you eliminate most carbohydrates from your diet, your body doesn’t have access to its preferred energy source: glucose. In the absence of glucose, you burn fat for energy and produce ketones, or ketone bodies, as a byproduct. Many keto dieters test for the presence of ketones by using urine strips. When ketone levels are high enough, you are in state of “ketosis.”

Will a Keto Diet Help You Lose Weight?

While it might seem counterintuitive to eat fat for improved fitness, health or weight loss, the diet generally produces results if you can stay on it. And there is scientific evidence that it works. The eating plan was first developed in the 1920s to help patients with seizure disorders. Researchers found that not only did it help patients reduce symptoms, but many of those patients also lost weight. Now, some physicians prescribe a keto diet for conditions like epilepsy and occasionally for weight loss.

Related: 7 Healthy Fats To Eat For Weight Loss

But the diet has downsides. While it might seem like a dream come true to eat a diet full of fat, the eating plan is more limiting than you might imagine. Most of the foods that typical eaters crave are prohibited on the plan. For example, fatty comfort foods like French fries, ice cream, and more are nearly impossible to eat on the plan because of the carb count. And many healthy foods like certain fruits and vegetables are almost eliminated as well.

Lastly, this diet comes with some significant side effects. Many dieters experience extreme fatigue, mood swings and a foggy brain in the early stages of the eating plan. And health experts often express concern over the high consumption of saturated fat, which may increase the dieter’s risk for medical conditions including heart disease.

What Is a Paleo Diet?

The paleo eating plan is often referred to as the caveman diet because some say that it mimics the eating style of our prehistoric ancestors. That claim has been debunked repeatedly, but the catchy name remains. The Paleo diet is popular among the hard-core CrossFit community and in other fitness circles as well. What can you eat on the Paleo diet? The eating plan focuses on unprocessed or whole foods. A Paleo dieter consumes foods that our hunter-gather ancestors might have eaten: grass-fed meat, seafood, nuts, eggs, non-starchy vegetables and fruit. What’s not on the Paleo food list? Most notably some vegetable oils, potatoes, legumes, and grains. You also avoid salt on the Paleo diet.

Fans of the caveman diet say that it provides a healthy macronutrient balance. By some estimates, the nutritional intake of a Paleo diet results in a 35 percent fat, 35 percent carbohydrate and 30 percent protein macronutrient balance. They also believe that by eliminating processed foods, refined carbohydrates and dairy you naturally reduce your salt and sugar intake to boost overall health.

But critics of the plan say that it is not based on any legitimate science and that it is too hard to follow. They point out that our prehistoric ancestors lived a very different kind of life and had access to different types of meat, seafood and vegetables than we have today. Some health experts also express concern over the elimination of calcium-rich dairy and fiber-rich grains. And foodies often express concern over the expense of this program. Grass-fed meats and meals built around fresh seafood can be costly.

The Main Differences Between Keto and Paleo

While Paleo and keto diets are similar, there are a few distinctions. Paleo is much more restrictive on fruit and starchy vegetable intake, and as discussed above, the ketogenic diet is focused more on eating enough healthy fats that your body is in a state of ketosis, burning stored fat for fuel. Serious kept followers can test whether or not their body is in a state of ketosis using urine testing strips. The Paleo diet, however, is more concerned with eating ample protein and getting rid of processed foods and refined carbohydrates. Here’s a quick graphic that breaks down the differences:

Learn the difference between the keto and paleo diet.

Keto vs Paleo: Which Diet Is Better?

There is no single diet that is perfect for everyone. The diet that is best for you is the one you can stick to for lifelong health and wellness. Your medical history may also play a role in the foods you should include or eliminate from your diet. Both ketogenic and Paleo food plans can include nutritious foods but both plans are definitely restrictive. Many dieters start the plans only to quit in frustration when boredom or fatigue overwhelms them, they can’t manage cravings or when they aren’t able to find “allowed” foods on the road.

If you are curious about either diet, first discuss it with your primary care provider or registered dietitian. If you have a history of heart disease, for example, your doctor may recommend that you avoid the ketogenic diet. Or a sports nutritionist may recommend that you include grains in your diet if you participate in endurance activities. And remember that any diet can be modified to meet your own personal needs.

How To Be Keto And Paleo At The Same Time

If you’re already following a Paleo diet, it’s not too much harder to also be keto at the same time. Take these simple steps to be both kept and paleo simultaneously:

  • Make sure any animal products you’re consuming are grass-fed, organic
  • Make sure you’re tracking your macros to allow your body to be in ketosis; a keto calculator can help you figure this out.
  • Don’t eat any dairy except for butter or ghee

You may choose to increase your healthy fat consumption to take advantage of the satisfaction many keto dieters feel after mealtime. Or you may choose to eliminate starchy processed foods to take advantage of the clean-eating lifestyle of Paleo eaters. Just be certain that the food plan you choose is a plan that you can stick to for the long-term. Everyone is individual, and what works best for one individual might not be the best plan for someone else.

READ THIS NEXT: A Beginner’s Guide To Going Dairy Free

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on March 16, 2018 at 1:29 AM Reply

Very true.. all my health parameters r normal but i just wanted to reduce 10 kgs.. my doc told that my kidneys and liver will fail if i get into paleo.. how do we take advice from them.. it wd be nice if we hv keto doctors 🙂

on December 3, 2017 at 7:07 PM Reply

Your advice to consult with your primary doctor or conventionally trained nutritionist is, frankly, ridiculous. These people know far less about dietary impact on health than those reading this post.

on November 29, 2017 at 5:05 PM Reply

Snacking on the road is easy, if you like nuts. Almonds are my favorite. Works for both diets, but the macros in almonds are almost ideal for keto.

on July 21, 2017 at 10:19 PM Reply

Thanks for all the good info. I'm on the 10th day of my keto experiment, learning on the fly. So far, I find keto much more attractive than paleo, esp since I can indulge in the many excellent artisan cheeses, plus other 'processed' foods like MCT oil, almond milk, dark-chocolate covered coconut fat bombs, and HaloTop's low-carb ICE CREAM!! But it all requires counting grams, at least while learning... hidden carbs can add up quick and sabotage the whole effort. Same thing with some fats: some have too much protein, which the body will raid and turn into glucose!! Keto definitely requires dedication...

on July 2, 2017 at 11:27 AM Reply

Part of your information regarding the Keto diet is not entirely correct. Keto restricts all fruit except for berries which you must eat only in moderation, cheese is not only allowed but encouraged as long as it doesn't push you over your ~20% macros of protein per day, and starchy veggies are not recommended at all. The daily macro levels are a personal decision usually adjusted after you start the program, but usually it is recommended that you start with only 5% of your daily calories coming from carbs, or 20g net carbs per day, and fruit and starchy veggies would push you over the macro count very quickly (1 pear has, on average, 24g of carbs!) which is why these items are not included in the Keto diet. I hope this helps.

    on July 10, 2017 at 2:24 PM Reply

    Thanks, Ginger! We've altered our information accordingly.

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