There’s so much buzz around the Paleo lifestyle and ketogenic diets that it’s hard to tell which one, if either, is right for you. After all, both diets (as well as others) are said to have benefits that can lead to weight loss, improved energy and increased metabolic health. Take one look at Instagram, and you’ll find people raving about their Paleo and keto experiences, which might inspire you to consider whether one of these diets should be your next move.
Although no diet is right for everyone―each person’s body is different and requires different methods of maintenance―either of these diets may provide a key to healthfulness. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, manage a health condition (diabetes, for example), or simply curb your unhealthy food habits, there’s a lot to learn from these two popular lifestyle choices.
What Is the Paleo Diet All About?
Paleo, according to ThePaleoWay.com, was designed to “guide you as you transition into this wonderfully health benefitting lifestyle that draws on the core principals [sic] of our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors and modern-day knowledge and abilities.”
The Paleo way is about being holistic in your food choices and taking inspiration from our ancestors’ eating habits (a lot of which centered on what could they get their hands on). It also combines mindfulness and movement, unlike other diets that do not have an exercise or mental component.
Many people combine the Paleo diet with the Whole30 diet, and it makes sense. They’re similar in that, like Paleo, Whole30 is all about eating real food—meaning no processed foods are allowed. That’s right: No bags of chips (not even the “healthy” ones!) and nothing made with tons of crazy ingredients with names you can’t pronounce.
The Paleo way is simple: You’ll want to eat loads of leafy greens, pesticide-free veggies, grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish and pastured, free-range poultry and avoid all dairy products. There are entire lists of swaps with this diet. For instance, you can replace sugar with stevia, peanut butter with almond butter, grains and legumes with organic veggies, and alcohol and caffeine with tea and kombucha.
The Paleo lifestyle is also all about getting real movement. When it comes to exercise, proponents suggest “moving your body physically in a way that is enjoyable to you, functional, and not overly strenuous.” This doesn’t mean hitting the gym, either—it means taking to the sidewalks for a walk or jogging with your dog at the park.
Paleo also suggests being mindful: “Paleo lifestyle is about being positive, mindfully aware of where your food comes from and respectful of not only ourselves but of others and our environment. To adopt The Paleo Way is to adopt a holistic approach to life that will help you achieve a healthier and happier life so that you can be the best version of yourself every day!”
The combination of healthy eating, movement and mindfulness is interesting to many—and can certainly contribute to overall wellness. Additionally, eating a whole-foods diet such as that of the Paleo offers some major health benefits, including reducing symptoms associated with chronic diseases such as osteoarthritis, as well as supporting healthy weight loss.
One study found that “The Paleolithic diet resulted in greater short-term improvements in metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets.” Another found that “a Paleolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease.”
As concluded in a 2016 extract from Australian Family Physician, still more research is required: “The Paleolithic diet remains controversial [due to] exaggerated claims for it by wellness bloggers and celebrity chefs, and the contentious evolutionary discordance hypothesis on which it is based. However, a number of underpowered trials have suggested there may be some benefit to the Paleolithic diet, especially in weight loss and the correction of metabolic dysfunction. Further research is warranted to test these early findings.”
The journal also warned that doctors “should caution patients who are on the Paleolithic diet about adequate calcium intake, especially those at higher risk of osteoporosis.” In addition, there still isn’t enough evidence to suggest Paleo works for folks looking to manage an autoimmune disorder, even if it does remove inflammatory foods, which can cause autoimmune symptoms to spike. According to Everyday Health, “Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough scientific evidence to clearly show that following a paleo diet would be helpful for improving symptoms of an autoimmune condition.”
The important thing is to talk with your doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician about whether the Paleo diet is right for you and your needs, especially if you are worried about nutritional deficiencies.
All About the Keto Diet
These days, it’s almost impossible to be unaware of the keto diet. It’s written about in wellness magazines, it’s every celebrity’s favorite fast-track path toward fitness, and it’s being talked about all over social media. And there’s good reason: Dozens of studies have shown that it has a positive effect on health issues such as diabetes, obesity, some forms of cancer, and epilepsy, as well as cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s. That’s a lot of potential benefits, and the appeal is hard to ignore.
Let’s look more closely at what the keto diet really is, though. It’s similar to Atkins and other low-carb diets, but it makes emphasizing high-fat content a top priority. The goal is to attain a state of ketosis in which the body burns fat rather than carbs. The catch? It requires a good amount of effort to get into nutritional ketosis and make the keto diet work for you. Achieving ketosis usually takes a few days or even weeks. The National Institutes of Health says the ketogenic diet “primarily consists of high-fats, moderate-proteins, and very-low carbohydrates. The dietary macronutrients are divided into approximately 55–60% fat, 30–35% protein and 5–10% carbohydrates. Specifically, in a 2000 kcal per day diet, carbohydrates amount up to 20–50 g per day.”
Keto’s focus is reaching nutritional ketosis―not simply to eat fat and reduce carbs. This means that anyone who embarks on the ketogenic diet must be ready and willing to seriously count macronutrients (otherwise known as macros) they consume. Here’s what you can eat: loads of high-protein foods and healthy fats such as grass-fed butter, ghee, eggs, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, grass-fed meat, fish, chia seeds and nuts. Think of this as a low-carb, high-fat diet with loads of veggies and eggs! Here’s what you can’t eat: fruit, grains, root veggies, legumes, sugars, sweeteners, or alcohol. There are whole lists of what you can’t eat out there, and some may contradict others, but generally it looks like this.
But no—you can’t just eat bacon all day, as many joke! In fact, according to Kelly Kennedy, RD, making keto work for you “largely depends on the types of foods you’re eating on a keto diet.” For instance, Kennedy says, “olive oil is a healthier choice than butter; salmon is healthier than bacon.” Even though you technically could eat bacon every single day while doing a keto diet, you should be thinking of healthy fats and smart choices.
Keeping a list of keto-approved foods on hand is a smart choice in the beginning since certain items can be a bit confusing. There are lots of sneaky foods that may disrupt ketosis, such as low-fat dairy products (which contain more carbs than you might suspect).
At this point, you might be thinking that a high-fat diet is a certain road to destruction, but actually it’s not true at all. In fact, studies show monounsaturated fatty acids improve blood cholesterol levels and ward off heart disease. It can also support healthy insulin levels and blood sugar control—which is why some people with type 2 diabetes eat a keto diet. Polyunsaturated fatty acids also help improve blood cholesterol levels, and Omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent coronary artery disease. Another benefit? According to Amy Myers, MD, if you live with an autoimmune disorder, you can adapt the keto diet to your autoimmune protocol: “The good news is, you can enjoy the full benefits of a keto diet with a few easy swaps that make it 100% autoimmune-friendly.”
One thing you should know is that it takes time for the body to adjust to certain dietary and lifestyle changes. One well-documented change that may occur during ketosis is the “Keto Flu.” Symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, sugar cravings, brain fog, difficulty focusing, and more. According to Healthline, “People adapt to ketogenic diets differently. While some may experience weeks of keto-flu symptoms, others may adjust to the new diet with no adverse side effects.” If you’re used to eating a lot of carbs, for example, you may be hit with the effects pretty hard—but it’s all individual. Other risks include ketoacidosis or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA , which occurs when your body produces a dangerous level of ketones during ketosis). This is dangerous for people with diabetes. According to Harvard Health, there are some other general risks, such as kidney and liver issues, nutritional deficiencies, and digestive trouble.
In general, keto isn’t something one would do long-term without stopping. Some people do something called cyclical keto, which means they adhere to a standard keto diet for most days of the week and then, for one or two other days, they add more carbs to the mix.
The Bottom Line: Paleo vs. Keto
Regardless of which side you are on the debate of paleo vs. keto, if you struggle with an autoimmune disorder or hormonal issues, you should talk with your doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician about which diet may be right for you. In both instances, you’ll be eating clean and potentially reducing inflammatory foods, which can help with symptoms, but the long-term effects of keto are not known. While many people do experience short-term benefits, adhering to this diet over time can be very difficult, and failure to employ long-term healthy eating habits can result in weight gain and a harmful yo-yo dieting pattern. Before starting either diet, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider.
A lot of people wonder if they can combine both Paleo and keto. The answer is: Some people do. According to paleohacks.com, “The Paleo-keto diet is becoming one of the most popular hybrid diets because it borrows the best aspects from each diet while eliminating mutually exclusive factors. Basically, a Paleo-keto diet is a low-carb version of Paleo that emphasizes more Paleo-friendly fats.” In this case, you’ll avoid high-carb fruits and veggies, dairy, and sweeteners, and you’ll still eat low-carb produce (such as berries) and paleo-friendly fats.
According to Mandy Enright, R.D.N, making a diet work for you is the goal. Cutting out whole food groups may not work for everyone, so bending the rules of a diet and applying certain principles proven to work best for your needs, especially with Paleo (for example, when it comes to grains), might be the best way to go.
However, before starting a new diet regimen it is important to talk to your healthcare provider to ensure you are about to embark on a journey that is safe and sustainable for you. The expert physicians of the BodyLogicMD network can help you evaluate your current eating habits and work with you to make healthy diet and lifestyle changes. Throughout this process, they can address any underlying health issues, such as hormone imbalances or chronic disease. With this integrative approach, they can help you build a lasting, holistic way of living that fosters in a healthier relationship with food—and takes the mystery away from nutrition for good.