Paleo vs Keto: Similarities, Differences, and Which Is Best for Weight Loss

If you tell a random stranger that you’re keto or paleo, you’ll probably get a knowing look. Unless they’ve been marooned without WiFi for several years, they’ve heard of these lifestyles. 

But does that stranger know the basics of paleo, keto, and—if they’re really keen on nutrition—paleo vs keto for weight loss? 

Maybe. But they probably need a refresher. Just forward them this article.

Before you do that, though, how about refreshing your knowledge on paleo, keto, and everything in between? 

What Is the Paleo Diet?

nuts and seeds

The paleo diet (or Paleolithic diet) revolves around eating like our ancestors. 

Not like our great grandparents. Not those ancestors. But like early homo sapiens who stalked the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. 

These hunter gatherers couldn’t hit the supermarket for bread, cereal, and soda. Instead they lived off the land, hunting and foraging for sustenance. 

When you eat a paleo diet, you eat foods our distant relatives would have eaten. If a caveman didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either. That’s the central dogma of paleo. 

Approved paleo diet foods include:

  • Meat, fish, shellfish, and offal
  • Eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Starchy vegetables, potatoes, and tubers

And foods to avoid on paleo include:

  • Anything with refined sugar
  • Most packaged foods
  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy (usually)
  • Vegetable oils 

Because it disallows grains, sugar, and beans, a paleo diet is often (but not always) a low-carb diet. More on this later, after we cover the granddaddy of low-carb diets: The ketogenic diet.  

What Is the Keto Diet?

avocados with cheese and tomatoes

The keto diet (or ketogenic diet) is a very low-carb diet in which you eat 60 to 70 percent of your calories from fat, 20 to 30 percent from protein, and under 10 percent from carbohydrates. Simply put: Keto is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet.  

Keeping carbs low is the key to ketosis, a unique metabolic state in which you burn fat for energy. This is distinct from our default sugar-burning state. 

When sugar (carbohydrate) is around, your body will burn it. But when you restrict carbs, your cells adapt to using another form of energy: body fat.

This is called fat-adapting—or keto-adapting—and it’s why most people go keto. It’s been shown that becoming fat-adapted on keto curbs hunger hormones and can lead to weight loss. 

What can you eat on keto? Almost anything, as long as it doesn’t contain significant carbs. 

To eat a clean keto diet, however, focus on low-carb whole foods like meat, fish, eggs, healthy fats, nuts, and non-starchy veggies. Sounds similar to paleo, doesn’t it? 

Paleo vs Keto: Similarities

Many people combine paleo and keto into a hybrid, “paleo-keto diet”. This is possible because the two diets have fundamental similarities. 

keto produce

#1: Whole foods focus

The modern paleo dieter is a whole foods devotee. Plants, meats, and fats are the foods we have evolved to eat. 

The “clean” keto dieter also favors whole foods like meats and vegetables. Not always (as here are lots of keto-friendly treats to be enjoyed), but most of the time. 

The perfect paleo-keto meal? Some form of protein on a bed of low-carb vegetables drizzled in olive oil. This keto pizza would also qualify. Yum. 

#2: Low-carb orientation

The fare abundant in 20,000 BC was mostly keto-friendly. The meat and fat from an animal, a small handful of berries, the green leaves of an edible plant—all of these paleo foods promote ketosis. 

Still, not all paleo foods are low-carb keto foods. We’ll cover that in a sec.  

#3: No refined sugar

High sugar intakes have been linked to nearly every chronic disease in the book. Most of this sugar is in liquid form as high fructose corn syrup. 

On both keto and paleo, it's best to avoid consuming sugar.

Paleo vs Keto: Differences

We just covered what keto and paleo have in common. Here’s where they don’t align: 

#1: Carb rules

Although paleo is generally low-carb, carb restriction isn’t mandatory. In fact, you could eat a high-carb paleo diet of apples, bananas, yams, and other such plant matter. 

Not so much on keto. On keto, you keep carbs under 10% of calories—around 20 to 30 grams per day. Fruit and sweet potatoes are usually too carby to keep you in ketosis.  

Remember: Carb restriction is the #1 principle of keto. That’s how you activate fat-burning mode. 

#2: Dairy


Most (but not all) paleo guidelines call for the elimination of dairy. The logic is: Our ancestors didn’t drink milk beyond infancy, so we shouldn’t either. 

The keto diet, however, is dairy-friendly—provided that dairy is whole fat and free of added sugar. 

So, should you eat dairy? That depends. If you can tolerate milk products, go for it. Dairy contains many beneficial nutrients like calcium, vitamin A, and CLA. 

But if dairy gives you digestive trouble, it probably means you have issues with lactose or casein (milk sugar and milk protein). If that’s the case, consider saying goodbye to milk products in the name of comfort.  

Paleo vs Keto for Weight Loss

Both paleo and keto are popular weight loss diets. Let’s review the evidence behind each. 

The keto diet has been shown in multiple controlled studies (in both adults and adolescents) to promote weight loss. In another study, a low-carb diet stimulated greater calorie burn during weight loss maintenance. 

Keto-induced weight loss is likely driven by the following three factors:

  1. Low-carb diets reduce hunger hormones like ghrelin and neuropeptide Y. Less hunger, less overeating, less weight gain. 
  2. Insulin levels stay low on keto, allowing your cells to more easily burn body fat.
  3. Higher calorie burn due to gluconeogenesis—the process of converting protein and other substances to glucose

What about paleo for losing weight? It’s not a crazy idea. Eliminating grains, sugar, and refined junk should be part of any weight loss strategy. But unlike keto, randomized controlled trials are lacking on paleo for weight loss.  

The Bottom Line

Paleo and keto have much in common. Whole foods are in, sugar is out. 

Paleo is typically low-carb, while keto is low-carb by design. And the amount of carbs you eat governs your ability to burn fat and produce ketones. 

There’s a lot to like about both lifestyles, which is why many folks combine them. To do so, just remove fruits and starchy vegetables from the paleo diet, and add dairy if tolerated.

Bottom line? Whether you’re paleo, keto, or some combination, you’re on your way to a healthier life! Keep it up!


Author: Brian Stanton
Brian Stanton is the author of Keto Intermittent Fasting, a certified health coach, and an expert in the keto diet, fasting, and gut health. Follow Brian’s work by visiting his website at

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