The paleo and ketogenic diets often get confused. Both diets eliminate grains and refined sugar, focus on real, whole foods, and are typically lower in carbohydrates than other diets. Yet, there are clear distinctions between the two.
Below, we explain the similarities and differences between paleo vs. keto. We’ll look at what each diet is and is not, plus which food groups to include and which to avoid.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet — also known as the paleolithic diet or caveman diet— is a real food diet where you eat the same foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. To make things simple, you eat two things: plants and animals. To get more specific, you'll focus on these food groups:
- Meat: Including pork, beef, chicken, lamb, goat, seafood, organ meats and bone broth
- Vegetables: Including leafy greens, sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and other veg
- Fruit: Including apples, pears, berries, watermelon, oranges and pineapple
- Nuts and seeds: Including hemp seeds, flax, almonds, Brazil nuts and cashews
- Natural sweeteners: Including honey, maple syrup, fruits and fruit juice
- Healthy fats: Including olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, lard, avocado oil and tallow
You'll avoid all processed foods and foods that existed after the agricultural revolution. Therefore, you'll eliminate grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy products. Specifically, you'll remove these foods from your diet:
- Grains: Including whole grains and gluten-free grains, such as oatmeal, quinoa, rice and porridge
- Legumes: Including peanuts, lentils, black beans and kidney beans
- Dairy: Including hard and soft cheese, milk, double cream and yoghurt
- Vegetable oils: Including canola oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, peanut oil, sesame oil and cottonseed oil
- Refined sugar: Including white sugar, brown sugar, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols
What Is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet, or ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, low-carb diet. The goal of the keto diet is to enter the metabolic state known as ketosis, where your body burns fat — not glucose — for fuel.
To enter ketosis, you should stick to the following macro goals:
- 75% of your calories should come from fat
- 20% from protein
- 5% from carbohydrates
To do this, you'll need to limit your carbohydrate intake to just 20 grams of net carbs per day (for some they may be able to stay in ketosis at under 50g carbs per day). This means eliminating all high-carb foods. Here are some of the foods you’ll want to remove from your diet:
- Starchy vegetables: Including sweet potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips and white potatoes
- Most fruit: Including bananas, oranges, plums, pears, mangos and pineapple (essentially most fruits except berries)
- All grains: Including bread, wheat, rice, quinoa, oatmeal and cereal
- Legumes: Including lentils, peanuts, peas and pea protein, chickpeas, soybeans and black beans
- Sugar: Including natural sugars, such as honey, white sugar, maple syrup, fruit juice and coconut sugar
Similar to the paleo diet, you'll build a plate focused on real, whole foods. However, your meal plan will look a little different, focusing on meat, eggs, low-carbohydrate vegetables, berries, zero-carb sweeteners (we personally prefer no sweeteners when following keto but this is up to you) and plenty of healthy fats.
Paleo vs. Keto: Where the Two Diets Overlap
There are plenty of similarities between paleo and keto — hence why they easily get confused. Here are just a few things the diets have in common:
1. They Focus on Real Foods
In both diets, you'll focus on eating real foods and avoiding processed items. You'll purchase the highest-quality foods you can reasonably afford, focusing on grass-fed meat, free-range eggs and good quality vegetables (ideally locally grown).
2. Both Diets Eliminate Some of the Same Food Groups
Both diets cut out refined sugar, legumes and grains. However, each diet eliminates these foods for different reasons.
The keto diet restricts these foods strictly because of their carb content. The paleo diet eliminates these foods due to their antinutrient content. These compounds, including lectins and phytates, are indigestible. They can also damage the stomach lining, leading to other health ailments such as leaky gut syndrome .
3. Both Diets Can* Be Lower in Carbs
Note the asterisk here, because while keto is low-carb, paleo is not intended to be a low-carb diet. In fact, paleo is not meant to have any macronutrient goals at all.
That being said, due to the nature of the paleo diet, you will likely consume far fewer carbohydrates than on a typical diet. Grains, carbs and refined sugars are incredibly high in carbohydrates. When you cut these foods out — filling up on eggs, nuts, meat and veg instead — you will likely consume fewer carbs than before.
4. Both Come With a Number of Health Benefits
Both diet plans offer a number of health benefits. Studies show that keto and paleo diets can improve your overall health, helping to decrease blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, increase weight loss and decrease your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes . In addition, both diets have been used to help treat a number of autoimmune conditions, such as celiac disease, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis .
Paleo vs. Keto: Key Differences Between the Two Diets
While paleo and keto often get confused, there are several differences you should know about. The most notable differences include:
1. Keto Is a High-Fat Diet
Many people understand they'll have to reduce their carb intake on keto, yet some underestimate just how much fat they'll need to consume. The vast majority (75%) of your dietary intake on keto will come from fat sources.
On paleo, there are no macronutrient goals. It is not intended to be a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet, like the ketogenic diet.
2. Paleo Is Not Usually Associated With Withdrawal Symptoms
When you cut grains and sugar from your diet, you may experience initial sugar cravings. However, beyond that, there are very few short-term side effects associated with switching to a paleo diet.
The keto diet, on the other hand, can cause mild withdrawal symptoms that last up to two weeks. These symptoms — known as keto flu — include headaches, grogginess, lethargy and nausea. These are caused by your body transitioning to the state of ketosis, where you burn ketones (rather than sugar) as your primary energy source.
3. Keto Is Used to Treat Epilepsy
While both keto and paleo have been used to treat a number of health conditions, only keto has been used to treat epilepsy. In fact, the ketogenic diet has been used as an epilepsy treatment since 1921. Studies show that the ketogenic diet is an effective way to reduce seizures in epileptic patients without the use of prescription drugs .
Paleo vs. Keto: Two Real Food Diet Approaches
Paleo and keto are two distinct diets. Both diets focus on real, whole foods, are typically lower in carbohydrates than other diets and eliminate many of the same food groups. However, there are a few key differences between the two.
The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet, while the paleo diet sets no macronutrient goals. In addition, there are some foods that you can eat on paleo (like starchy vegetables, fruit and natural sweeteners) that you can't eat on keto, and some that you can eat on keto (like dairy) that you can’t on paleo. Lastly, while both diets have been used to treat autoimmune conditions, only keto has been shown to be an effective treatment for epilepsy.
If you are interested in seeing whether the paleo or keto diets are right for you, we recommend visiting the recipe library on this site. Use the recipe filters to find paleo and keto options to fit into your weekly meal plan.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.