When I talk to people about the ketogenic diet and lifestyle, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “Is that like paleo?” My usual response is something along the lines of, “It’s like a modified paleo.” And I will typically leave it at that. However, I think it’s important for you to be able to identify the differences between the two, not because one is inherently better than the other, but because I think everyone should be aware of their options.
While there are many similarities between paleo and keto, there are at least three major differences.
- Paleo isn’t necessarily low carb
- Paleo isn’t necessarily high fat
In theory, the idea behind paleo is to tap into the ancient ways of eating, the ways that our ancestors ate. Because several thousand years ago, there were no such things as processed foods and sugar wasn’t readily or widely accessible, people didn’t eat those things. Because people also didn’t have the ability to go buy their food, they had to find it for themselves. That meant hunting and gathering. For pure energy, nothing beats eating fat. It has more energy per gram than carbs or protein. So that means finding and eating fatty animals. So a paleo diet, just like a keto diet, focuses on getting fat and protein as a primary source of energy. However, the big difference is paleo doesn’t avoid potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other tubers and root vegetables. These particular vegetables fit completely within the paleo framework, but they should be avoided in a keto diet. Paleo’s focus is on tapping into the ancient ways. Keto’s focus is on keeping insulin levels very low and ketone levels really high. So avoiding foods like potatoes and the like is a big difference for keto folks.
Wait, didn’t I just say that paleo IS high fat? Well, yes. But let me explain what I mean here. Paleo, in its purest form, is high-fat. However, as the paleo community continues to grow and change, the list of acceptable foods changes. One of the problems with a popular dietary movement like paleo is that nobody owns it. Since nobody owns it, anyone can commandeer the brand and make claims that might contradict the original idea. We find this in paleo. Some paleo advocates don’t like the idea of eating high-fat foods. Some are actually vegetarians. So just because someone says they eat paleo doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “orthodox” paleo.
Paleo folks make a big deal about dairy. Their thinking is that ancient folks didn’t have access to the kinds of dairy and processing that we do, so they didn’t eat those things in abundance. Cows milk was typically used for cow babies. So drinking milk would potentially prevent the livestock from growing up strong. Dairy as a food industry is a relatively recent occurrence. Hardcore paleo folks will expound upon the dietary problems associated with dairy consumption, and other paleo folks will eat all the dairy they want. Keto, however, isn’t as hardline about dairy. For keto, dairy is a great way to add fat to your diet. But, if you don’t eat dairy, that’s okay, too. You can be keto with or without dairy.
There are not as many variations of keto as there are of paleo. Keto is high-fat and low-carb, and anything else isn’t keto. That’s the kind of simplicity I like. The paleo community has done an excellent job of marketing, but the repercussions for that marketing is the influx of paleo foods that are really just processed crap. The more successful the marketing, the more likely the dilution of the original idea. It’s an unfortunate reality. Atkins is a similar story. It started out very close to keto, and has devolved into candy bars and cookies. It’s crazy.
But keto is keto and it will remain keto.