What's the Difference between the Keto and Paleo Diets?

Are they as alike as they seem?

Photo by: Premyuda Yospim/iStock

Premyuda Yospim/iStock

If you’re trying to cut carbs and eat more protein, you may wonder how the keto and paleo diets differ. Both the keto diet and the paleo diet are popular low-carb diets, but they differ in what ends up on your plate. Because both diets eliminate whole food groups, dietitians generally don’t recommend either for long-term health, but both can be useful to help get a handle on carb cravings and increase the number of veggies you consume.

Most Americans do not consume enough fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and fish. So learning to make these foods part of your permanent routine can be beneficial to your health. But if you plan to pursue a keto or paleo diet, here’s the breakdown on how they are alike and different.

The Paleo Diet

When planning dinner, picture what a caveman may have eaten. Then put the following on your plate: vegetables, fruits, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils such as coconut oil and olive oil; and lean meats like lamb, venison, chicken and fish on the menu. No bread, rice, corn, beans, grains, potatoes, legumes, dairy foods or added sugars are allowed. Alcohol is prohibited, too.

The Paleo Diet is considered a low-carb, high-protein diet. The focus is on whole foods, or foods in their ‘whole’ state.

The Keto Diet

The Keto Diet is considered a low-carb, high-fat diet in which the intake of carbohydrates is so reduced, the body turns to burning fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. The diet’s so-called success depends on the careful counting and restricting of grams of protein and carbs in order for the body to reach a state of ketosis.

In terms of foods that are allowed on the Keto Diet, but not the Paleo Diet, the list includes some dairy foods, most oils, and a few more convenience foods included in a keto pantry and a keto fridge.

Here’s a helpful rundown of the differences:

Dairy

  • Paleo: No.
  • Keto: Milk and yogurt are usually too high in carbs, although some new low-carb yogurts, like YQ, can fit carb restrictions. Cheese is lower in carbs and provides important nutrients like potassium, which can ease symptoms of the keto flu.

Beans and Legumes

  • Paleo: No.
  • Keto: No.

Vegetables

  • Paleo: Nearly all veggies are fine. Exceptions include corn and potatoes.
  • Keto: Focus on lower-carb veggies, generally these are grown above the ground: spinach, celery, lettuce, arugula, Swiss chard, avocado, asparagus, mushrooms, radishes, cabbage, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, cauliflower, kale, green peppers. Vegetables grown below the ground are generally too high in carbs (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips).

Fruits

  • Paleo: A variety of fruits is encouraged.
  • Keto: Lower-carb fruits are fine, like berries including fresh and frozen raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, along with melon, small stone fruit (plums and apricots), and Clementine oranges.

Oils

  • Paleo: Mainly coconut oil and olive oil.
  • Keto: Most oils are allowed, but focus should be on oils with anti-inflammatory properties, like extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and nut oils.

Bread and Grains

  • Paleo: No.
  • Keto: Not encouraged, though some folks get creative with egg ‘breads.’

Nuts

  • Paleo: Most are fine.
  • Keto: Some nuts like cashews are higher in carbs, but otherwise most nuts like almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pecans are eaten.

Seeds

  • Paleo: Most seeds, like chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, hemp and pumpkin seeds, are eaten.
  • Keto: Seeds are usually eaten.

Meat

  • Paleo: Most meat and seafood is allowed, but the emphasis is on grass-fed, free-range and wild-caught.
  • Keto: Most meat and seafood is allowed.

The Bottom Line

Overall, the paleo diet is generally higher in protein, and the keto diet is higher in fat. Both can be low in fiber, and eating according to the keto diet can be so uncomfortably low in fiber it can cause constipation. Important for gut health, foods containing probiotics should be added to each diet; kimchi and fermented sauerkraut are low-carb for both diets. Both diets can also be deficient in the prebiotics (non-digestible carbohydrates) that help feed good gut bacteria, so a focus should be made to eat vegetables like artichokes, asparagus and berries.

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer, and recipe developer. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.

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