Paleo vs Keto: Understanding the Key Differences and Benefits

In recent years, both the paleo and keto diets have gained popularity as effective ways to improve health and lose weight. While these two diets may seem similar on the surface, they have distinct differences in terms of their guidelines and overall effects on the body.

The paleo diet, often referred to as the “caveman diet,” focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods similar to what our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic era. This includes lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, while eliminating grains, legumes, and most processed foods. On the other hand, the keto diet emphasizes a dramatic reduction in carbohydrate intake and a sharp increase in healthy fats, with the goal of pushing the body into a state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.

As we delve into a comparison of the paleo and keto diets, it’s important to understand their key principles, similarities, and differences in order to make an informed decision about which diet may be the best fit for your individual goals and lifestyle.

Paleo Diet Fundamentals

The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is based on the concept of eating like our ancestors did during the hunter-gatherer era. We aim to replicate the dietary habits of our prehistoric counterparts, focusing on whole foods that were available to them. The diet emphasizes the consumption of meat, fish, seeds, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, and healthy fats, while avoiding grains, legumes, dairy, processed foods, added sugar, and artificial sweeteners.

We choose high-quality protein sources, such as grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish, which are packed with essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Meat and fish provide essential amino acids, which are crucial for muscle growth, tissue repair, and overall bodily functions. Healthy fats like those found in avocado, coconut oil, and olive oil offer an array of benefits, including promoting brain health and reducing inflammation.

Abundant in the Paleo diet are vegetables and fruits, which serve as our primary source of carbohydrates. These nutrient-dense foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that support overall health. We opt for leafy greens, seasonal fruits, and colorful vegetables to ensure a well-rounded intake of these essential nutrients.

Nuts and seeds are also an important part of the Paleo diet, providing healthy fats, nutrients, and fiber. They make great snacks and can be enjoyed in moderation. Eggs, another versatile food in the Paleo diet, are a perfect way to start the day, providing both protein and important nutrients.

By eliminating grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods from our diet, we avoid many potential allergens and irritants that can cause inflammation, digestive issues, and other health problems. As a result, many people who follow the Paleo diet experience improvements in digestion, energy levels, and overall well-being.

The Paleo diet is not only nutritious but also flexible, allowing for the occasional addition of a non-Paleo food to keep us satisfied and help us stick to our healthy eating habits. By focusing on whole foods and avoiding modern dietary pitfalls, we can fuel our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive and maintain optimal health.

Keto Diet Fundamentals

The ketogenic diet, or keto diet for short, is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate protein dietary approach designed to put our bodies into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis occurs when our liver breaks down fat into molecules called ketones, which are then used as the primary source of energy for our body, instead of glucose. This process allows us to burn fat more efficiently while still providing the necessary energy for our daily activities.

When following the keto diet, our macronutrient intake should consist of approximately 60-75% fats, 15-30% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates. By significantly reducing our carbohydrate consumption, we can effectively deprive our bodies of glucose and thus transition into using ketones for fuel.

To achieve these ratios, we should focus on consuming healthy fats and proteins from sources like meats, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Some popular options include bacon, chicken, fish, and grass-fed butter. Additionally, we should also incorporate healthy oils into our meals such as avocado oil, olive oil, and coconut oil.

It’s equally important to consume low-carb vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and bell peppers to ensure we’re obtaining essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Processed foods and sugar, including added sugars, should be entirely avoided on the keto diet. To satisfy a sweet tooth, we can opt for natural sweeteners like stevia or coconut sugar over their chemically synthesized counterparts.

While some people might be concerned about the keto diet’s restriction on carbohydrates, it’s essential to remember that the goal is to achieve and maintain ketosis. As a result, consuming high-carb foods like pasta, bread, legumes, and most fruits would be counterproductive.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that alcohol should be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether on the keto diet as it can disrupt ketosis. If choosing to consume alcohol, it’s best to opt for low-carb options like dry wine or spirits mixed with non-sweetened mixers.

In summary, the keto diet fundamentally revolves around high-fat, low-carb, and moderate protein intake to achieve and maintain ketosis. By doing so, we can effectively burn fat and sustain our energy levels with minimal reliance on carbohydrates. Following this dietary plan will involve consuming a wide variety of healthy food sources, including meats, seafood, eggs, dairy, healthy oils, and low-carb vegetables while excluding sugars and high-carb options.

Nutritional Differences

Carbohydrates and Sugars

In the paleo diet, we focus on consuming natural sources of carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Grains, legumes, and sugars are generally avoided. This allows us to obtain enough carbohydrates for energy without the negative effects associated with refined sugars and processed grains.

On the other hand, in the keto diet, we drastically reduce our carbohydrate intake (less than 50 grams per day) to prompt our bodies to enter a state called ketosis. In ketosis, we burn ketones from fats for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates. Keto mainly eliminates most sources of carbohydrates, including grains, legumes, fruits, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes.


Both paleo and keto diets emphasize the importance of high-quality proteins. In these diets, we obtain proteins from sources like:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Nuts and seeds

However, the paleo diet is more lenient in terms of protein intake as long as the food sources are of good quality (grass-fed, pasture-raised, etc.). In contrast, the keto diet is more restrictive and maintains a higher consumption of fat, which means that excessive protein intake could potentially kick us out of ketosis.


The paleo diet encourages us to consume healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and certain oils such as olive oil and coconut oil. In this diet, we avoid processed fats and trans-fats found in processed foods and some vegetable oils.

In the keto diet, fats are the primary source of energy. As a result, we consume a higher proportion of healthy fats from various sources, including oils (such as coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil), nuts, seeds, and even fatty cuts of meat and fish. It is crucial to prioritize healthy fats to provide the necessary energy for our bodies in the absence of carbohydrates.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Health Benefits

Both the paleo and keto diets share some health benefits due to their focus on whole foods and elimination of processed foods, sugar, and refined carbohydrates. By emphasizing the consumption of vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, these diets can potentially help reduce inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase overall nutrient intake.

The paleo diet eliminates grains, legumes, and dairy while promoting a well-rounded intake of proteins, fruits, and vegetables. This can lead to improvements in digestion and a reduction in food intolerances.

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb approach that focuses on consuming healthy fats, lean proteins, and minimal carbs, typically from non-starchy vegetables. This diet can lead to improvements in mental clarity and focus, as well as increased energy levels.

Weight Loss

Both diets have shown potential for aiding in weight loss. They achieve this through different methods:

  • Paleo: By eliminating grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods, the paleo diet can aid weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake and promoting a more balanced macronutrient distribution.
  • Keto: The primary goal of the keto diet is to reach ketosis, a metabolic state where the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs. This can lead to rapid weight loss, as the body taps into its stored fat for energy. Keto may provide an added benefit of increased satiety and decreased hunger between meals.

Side Effects

It is essential to be aware of potential side effects when following a new diet. On the keto diet, the initial phase, called the “keto flu,” can cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. These symptoms typically subside after a few days, but it is crucial to stay hydrated and monitor electrolyte balance.

The paleo diet may lead to increased food sensitivities if certain eliminated food groups are reintroduced after a long absence. It is essential to reintroduce foods gradually to minimize any adverse reactions.


There are some risks associated with both the paleo and keto diets. Since both diets exclude specific food groups, they may lead to nutrient deficiencies if not carefully planned. It is crucial to ensure adequate micronutrient intake by incorporating a variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds, and other nutrient-dense foods into the diet.

The keto diet can potentially raise cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease, especially when saturated fats are predominantly consumed. Additionally, the long-term effects of ketosis on the body remain unclear. The paleo diet’s exclusion of dairy products can lead to insufficient calcium intake, putting individuals at risk for reduced bone health.

In conclusion, both the paleo and keto diets can potentially offer health benefits and weight loss opportunities, but they also come with their share of side effects and risks. It is crucial to consult with a healthcare practitioner before starting either diet to ensure appropriate planning and monitoring of individual needs.

Paleo and Keto Lifestyle Choices


When following both the Paleo and Keto diets, it’s important to incorporate an exercise regimen that supports overall health. For the Paleo lifestyle, a focus on functional fitness and natural movements is encouraged. Activities such as walking, hiking, swimming, and bodyweight exercises are ideal. On the other hand, with the Keto diet, one may initially experience a decrease in energy levels due to the drastic reduction in carbohydrates. However, as the body adjusts to using ketones for energy, many find they can engage in both low and high-intensity exercises effectively.

Stress Management

The management of stress plays a crucial role in maintaining one’s health, regardless of the diet being followed. For both Paleo and Keto lifestyles, emphasis is placed on practicing stress management techniques. Incorporating relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can be beneficial. Additionally, getting enough sleep and engaging in regular leisure activities can help in keeping stress levels under control.

In summary, both Paleo and Keto diets prioritize certain lifestyle choices to improve health and well-being. Although the specifics of each diet are different, the importance of regular exercise and effective stress management techniques remains constant. By adhering to these guidelines, individuals following either diet can experience a wealth of health benefits.

Special Considerations and Accessibility

When comparing the paleo and keto diets, there are several special considerations and factors related to accessibility that we should be aware of. Both diets have unique aspects that may make them suitable or challenging for different individuals.

In terms of sweeteners, the paleo diet allows for the use of natural options such as honey and maple syrup, while the keto diet restricts most sweeteners due to their high carb content. However, keto-friendly sweeteners like stevia and erythritol can be used in moderation.

Accessibility to grass-fed and organic foods is essential for the paleo diet, as it focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods. On the other hand, the keto diet does not strictly require grass-fed or organic options, but it does emphasize high-quality fats, such as those found in grass-fed meats and fatty fish.

While seafood plays a vital role in both diets, the paleo diet is especially keen on incorporating wild-caught and sustainably sourced fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. These nutrients are essential in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and maintaining healthy blood pressure.

Dairy products are another area where the two diets differ. The paleo diet typically excludes dairy, as it was not consumed during the Paleolithic era. Meanwhile, the keto diet allows for dairy products, particularly full-fat options like cheese, cream, and butter, as they provide good sources of fat and help maintain ketosis.

Speaking to a nutritionist or doctor for guidance is highly recommended before starting either the paleo or keto diet, especially for individuals with health concerns like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or a history of seizures. These medical professionals can provide personalized advice and help identify potential risks and benefits associated with each diet.

One common issue that people face when transitioning to the keto diet is the ‘keto flu,’ which consists of flu-like symptoms and constipation. To mitigate these side effects, it’s essential to stay hydrated, consume electrolytes, and include fiber-rich, low-carb vegetables in the diet. The paleo diet generally does not cause the ‘keto flu’ as it allows for a more flexible carbohydrate intake, making it easier to maintain balanced electrolytes and hydration levels.

Both diets can be effective for losing weight and tapping into fat stores when done correctly. However, it’s important to keep in mind that individual results will vary, and what might work well for one person may not be the best choice for another. Always prioritize personal health goals and work with a healthcare professional to achieve them.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between the paleo and keto diets?

The paleo diet emphasizes consuming foods available to early humans, like lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. It avoids processed foods, grains, legumes, and dairy. On the other hand, the keto diet focuses on high-fat, low-carb food intake. It aims to keep the body in a state of ketosis by restricting carbohydrates to about 5-10%.

Which diet is more effective for weight loss, paleo or keto?

Weight loss effectiveness varies for individuals based on factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and consistency in following the diet. Studies have shown that both paleo and keto diets can help achieve weight loss. Keto may lead to faster initial weight loss due to ketosis, but long-term results depend on adherence to the chosen diet.

Are there major health benefits to choosing one diet over the other?

Both paleo and keto diets offer potential health benefits, such as improved glucose control, reduced inflammation, and healthier heart function. However, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional to determine which diet is more suitable for your specific health needs and goals.

How do the food restrictions compare between paleo and keto diets?

Paleo restricts grains, legumes, and dairy while emphasizing whole, unprocessed foods. Keto focuses more on macronutrient ratios, targeting high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb food intake. Some foods allowed on a paleo diet, like fruits, might not be suitable for the keto diet due to their carb content.

Can both paleo and keto diets be followed long-term?

It depends on the individual. Some people find long-term success with paleo or keto diets, while others may struggle with the restricted food options. It is crucial to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if considering a long-term switch to either diet.

What are the potential drawbacks of paleo and keto diets?

For paleo, drawbacks may include nutrient deficiencies due to exclusion of some healthy food groups, such as legumes, grains, and dairy. As for keto, potential downsides are nutrient deficiencies and the risk of developing the “keto flu” – a group of symptoms experienced by some individuals transitioning to ketosis. Both diets may be challenging to adhere to in social situations and for individuals who prefer a more varied diet.