It’s a low-carb diet that doesn’t allow you to eat grains or legumes. It also “bans” processed and packaged foods, lets you eat lots of fatty protein that’s a no-no on most weight loss eating plans, and restricts fats to healthy choices like olive oil.
Of course, we’re talking about the keto diet.
Or…maybe we’re actually talking about the paleo diet.
In fact, there are many versions of low-carb diets which share the same basic eating guidelines. Keto and paleo are just the two best known of those diets, with each having its own turn in the spotlight in recent years as the “fad diet of the year.”
However, paleo and keto do have many differences. One excludes all processed meats, while the other allows you to eat some of them. One excludes all starchy vegetables and most fruits, the other does not. One allows you to eat some dairy products, the other bans them completely.
But most importantly, one is part of a complete philosophy and lifestyle. The other has no philosophy behind it; it’s just a set of macronutrient (fat, carb and protein) guidelines crafted to induce specific responses in the body.
Both keto and paleo can help most people lose weight, though. Here’s a deeper look at each, to help you decide which might be a better choice.
The Keto Diet
At this point, it would be virtually impossible for anyone to be unaware of the ketogenic diet and its basic principles. On keto, you eat lots of fat and substantial amounts of protein while keeping your carb intake (actually, your net carb intake) to just 5% of your daily diet.
The sharp reduction in carbs is designed to put your body into a metabolic state called ketosis, which means the body is using stored fat for energy, instead of the carbs you would normally eat. Once you’re in ketosis, weight loss is usually fast and impressive.
Following a keto diet, according to Diet Hive, requires giving up a lot of the foods that most of us love.
- You can’t eat grains – which means no bread, no pasta and no rice.
- You can’t eat sugary foods – which means none of the soda, desserts and snacks that we usually look forward to, or the smoothies so common on most diets.
- On keto you can’t eat legumes or starchy vegetables like beans and potatoes.
- Most fruits are off-limits.
- Processed foods are banned because they’re usually high in carbs, and the same goes for most forms of alcohol.
- Processed fats and oils are also not allowed on keto.
With all of that eliminated, what can you eat? Lots of meat, poultry and fatty fish; cheese, butter and cream; eggs; most vegetables; oils like olive, coconut and avocado; nuts and seeds – and of course, lots of water. The higher the quality of food, the better, so organic, grass-fed and free-range foods are highly encouraged.
It can be challenging to ditch the bread, pasta, cake, soda, baked potatoes, fast food and packaged meals you have to give up on the keto diet. On the other hand, many people have dreamed of being able to eat all the steak, bacon, cheese and butter they could handle, especially if the “side effect” is weight loss.
The Paleo Diet
This is the diet we referred to earlier as being based on a “philosophy.” The basic idea behind the paleo diet is that our bodies were never meant to consume all of the food that we regularly eat in the 21st century, and that we’d all be a lot healthier if we ate like our hunter-gatherer ancestors back in the Paleolithic era. Hence, the name “paleo” for this diet; it’s also known as the “caveman diet.”
Paleo requires you to base your diet on whole foods, because that’s what the ancient humans subsisted on (they certainly didn’t have access to processed foods back then). Some were primarily meat eaters and some lived mostly on plants, so both types of food are allowed in the paleo diet. The “lifestyle” component of paleo also requires regular exercise, since our ancestors obviously had to be physically active.
Many of the foods that are forbidden on the keto diet are also not allowed on paleo, but for different reasons. Can you imagine cavemen eating bread, pasta, sugar, cookies, ice cream, low-fat products, trans fats and artificial sweeteners? Neither could the people who conceived of the paleo diet, and that’s why grains, sugar and non-natural products are all strictly banned.
There are other foods which are also on the no-go list, such as beans and legumes, most dairy products and some vegetable oils. Those are supposed to be avoided primarily because of the dietary harm they could do on such a restrictive diet, rather than the fact that our ancestors didn’t have access to beans or milk. Some versions of the paleo diet do allow substitutes like unsweetened nut or coconut milk, however.
That leaves most (but not all) of the same foods that you can also eat on the keto diet: meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, healthy oils and fats, nuts and seeds. As mentioned, you may also be able have some dairy and beans/legumes depending on your specific diet’s guidelines.
Like keto, paleo has pros and cons as far as variety is concerned, but also is associated with significant weight loss in most who follow the eating plan. And if you believe the philosophy behind paleo (as well as the limited number of studies which have been done in research settings), you’ll be healthier and feel better as well.
The Difference between Keto and Paleo Diets
You’ve probably already understood the key similarities and differences of the ketogenic and Paleolithic diets:
Similarities: Both diets emphasize healthy, unprocessed ingredients. Meat, fish and eggs are the key proteins, and healthy fats are integral to each diet. Each also relies heavily on non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds, while prohibiting grains, sugar, legumes and processed foods.
Differences: There are few big ones, and they can be the key to which diet you end up choosing.
- Meats: Some processed meats like bacon are allowed on keto if they don’t contain added sugar or carbs; they’re not allowed on paleo.
- Starchy vegetables: They’re fine in moderation on paleo (although non-starchy ones are preferable), but banned on keto.
- Dairy: Cavemen didn’t have access to dairy products, nor should people on the paleo diet. On keto, high-fat dairy (without added sugar) is fine.
- Sweeteners: On paleo, you can use natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey but they’re not allowed on keto. On the flip side, some artificial sweeteners are OK on paleo but not on keto.
- Fruit: Only small amounts of low-carb fruit (like berries and peaches) are permitted on keto, because most fruits are high in carbs and can easily knock you right out of ketosis. On paleo, you can go to town on fruits, although the ones high in sugar are less-preferable.
Which diet would be harder to follow? Most find paleo to be even more restrictive than keto, but your personal choice may certainly be different.
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