Keto Vs Paleo Diets: What’s The Difference + Which Is Best For You?


Like the keto diet, the Paleo diet is rich in meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and other healthy oils. 

However, there are also notable differences between paleo and keto that are important to know when deciding which diet is the best for your lifestyle and specific health needs.

So, which diet is healthier? What are the differences between keto vs paleo? Keep reading to find out!

In this guide, we will cover: 

  • What Is the Paleo Diet?
  • What Is the Keto Diet?
  • The Difference Between Paleo and Keto
  • Which Is Better: Keto or Paleo?

Let’s get started!

A cutting board with a fork and knife in them middle, surrounded by foods such as cheese, vegetables, and meats.

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is so named because the diet is intended to replicate the eating habits of people during the Paleolithic, or Stone Age. It is sometimes called a “caveman” diet.

The principle behind the Paleo diet is that the dietary practices of hunters and gatherers must be inherently healthier than modern eating practices because lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension, cancers, and insulin resistance or diabetes were virtually unheard of (or at least undocumented) during that era.

A typical paleo diet contains only whole, natural, unprocessed foods since all of the highly processed, manufactured food products that are otherwise common in the modern Western diet were not available during the Paleolithic era.

The Paleo diet eliminates all grains, including whole grains, as well as legumes, dairy products, vegetable oils, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and many processed foods.

The breakdown of the keto diet on a cutting board: 10% carbs, 20% protein and 70% fat.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet, or ketogenic diet, is a high-fat, very low-carb diet initially developed in the 1920s to help treat epilepsy. However, it is now a popular weight loss diet and is used to help manage blood sugar, and insulin levels and reduce inflammation.

It is meant to put the body in a state of metabolic ketosis, in which you are burning ketones for fuel due to a lack of available carbohydrates.

Although there is some flexibility and variations in the specific macronutrient ratios on the keto diet, experts suggest that the keto diet should involve consuming 70–75% of your calories from fat, 20-25% of your calories from protein, and 5–10% of your calories from carbohydrates. 

So, for example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you could eat 100-200 calories from carbohydrates, which works out to just 25-50 grams of carbohydrates per day on the ketogenic diet.

Other health experts suggest you can also just limit your daily carbohydrate intake to 50 grams rather than focusing on a relative percentage of your total daily caloric intake.

Keto diet meals are built around healthy fats and typically animal proteins, including foods like fatty fish, meat, nuts, cheese, avocados, coconut, seeds, and oils. 

A salad comprised of eggs, cucumbers, strawberries, avocado, and cherries.

The Difference Between Paleo and Keto

The Paleo diet isn’t necessarily a “high-fat diet” in the way that the keto diet is specifically intended to be.

In fact, the Paleo diet does not dictate specific macronutrient ratios or percentages of calories that should be coming from fats, proteins, or carbohydrates. There are also no limits on the total number of grams of carbohydrates per day.

Although the foods that you can eat on the Paleo diet tend to naturally lend themselves to being a fairly high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, it tends to be much higher in carbohydrates than the keto diet. 

Additionally, because people following the paleo diet are not given restrictions in terms of how they divvy up caloric intake among fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, there can be quite a range in the Paleo diet meal plans between any two dieters, and the resultant amount of each macronutrient consumed.

Fresh and dried fruits are actually one of the types of foods highly encouraged on the Paleo diet. 

A sign that says Paleo is surrounded by foods such as vegetables, meats, and eggs.

Dates are often used to sweeten Paleo snack foods, bars, and other Paleo diet-compliant foods sold in grocery stores. Although dates are natural forms of sugar, they are very high in carbohydrates and sugar and are therefore not consumed on the keto diet.

You can also eat starchy vegetables on the Paleo diet. Sweet potatoes and yams are particularly common. 

Although tubers and starchy vegetables aren’t necessarily banned from the keto diet, they are rarely, if ever, consumed by dieters on keto because the carbohydrate content is just too high to be workable within the daily carbohydrate limitations.

Another difference between keto vs paleo diet is that the Paleo diet unilaterally prohibits all grains and legumes. These foods are not technically banned on the keto diet. 

Rather, if you can work them into your daily carbohydrate limitations, you can technically consume grains, beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas. 

A salad with avocado, greens and rolled up vegetables.

However, since these are high-carbohydrate foods, they do tend to be naturally excluded from the keto diet because they just cannot fit within the 50 grams total daily carbohydrate intake, or 5 to 10% of your total daily caloric intake, carbohydrate maximums for most people.

Therefore, in terms of food group limitations, one of the biggest differences between the paleo vs keto diets is the complete exclusion of dairy products on the Paleo diet. 

You cannot eat butter, milk, yogurt, cheese, or any other form of dairy. In contrast, the keto diet strongly encourages the consumption of high-fat dairy products, particularly grass-fed butter, whole milk, all cheeses, and full-fat yogurt.

Note that some people who follow the Paleo diet consume nut-based cheeses and milk, such as almond milk, cashew cheese, and coconut yogurt.

These non-dairy dairy substitutes are also permissible on the keto diet and are commonly eaten by people following a vegan keto diet.

Avocado, egg, cheese and chicken salad.

The other major difference between the keto vs paleo diets is the particular sweeteners permitted in the diet.

With the Paleo diet, natural sweeteners such as fruits, dates, raw honey, and raw maple syrup are all permitted and encouraged. However, all artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are prohibited.

The opposite is true with the keto diet. Regular sugar and natural sweeteners are not consumed, whereas artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, and noncaloric sweeteners such as Stevia are allowed and frequently found in keto diet food products.

Here are some of the differences in foods you can eat on paleo vs keto diets:

Type of FoodPaleoKeto
Fresh and dried fruitYesVery sparingly
LegumesNo Very sparingly
Whole grains NoNot really
Raw, natural sweeteners (raw honey, raw maple syrup)YesNo
Healthy plant oils (avocado, coconut, flax, olive)YesYes
Nuts and seedsYesYes
Meat, poultry, fishYesYes
Full-fat dairy (cheese, butter, Greek yogurt, cream)NoYes
Non–caloric sweeteners (stevia, erythritol) NoYes
Starchy vegetables YesNot really
Non-starchy vegetablesYesYes
Avocado and smoked salmon.

Which Is Better: Keto or Paleo?

There isn’t necessarily a “better“ diet between keto versus paleo. Both diets offer some overlapping benefits, as well as differences that may make one diet preferable to the other for your own personal needs.

One shared benefit of both diets is the focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods.

With that said, there are now processed foods that comply with the keto and paleo diets, so it is possible to follow either diet while still consuming a fair amount of processed foods.

For example, there are keto cereals made from milled almond flour, coconut oil, artificial sweeteners, and other fillers that resemble normal sugary breakfast cereals but just contain foods that are in line with the macronutrient ratios on the keto diet.

The Paleo diet typically contains less processed food than the keto diet.

There are prepared Paleo bars, brownies, cookies, and other snack foods, similarly made with almond flour, coconut oil, dates, nuts, and other ingredients.

These are certainly less processed than some package snacks and sweets found on grocery shelves, but it’s not like you can be instantly transported back to the hunter-gatherer society and pluck a Paleo brownie out of the ground.

A variety of foods, such as avocados, cheeses, broccoli, eggs, and nuts.

Both diets impose restrictions, but the format, or way in which your diet is governed by rules, varies between keto vs paleo. 

The Paleo diet excludes certain food groups but gives you full freedom to customize your diet from the permissible food groups. Therefore, you could theoretically follow a high-protein Paleo diet, a high-carb Paleo diet, or a high-fat Paleo diet by making different food choices.

With that said, it would be very difficult to follow a vegan Paleo diet and still get an adequate amount of protein.

Vegans cannot consume eggs, and because the Paleo diet eliminates legumes, it does not allow for consuming tofu, other soy-based products, or any other legumes. These plant-based proteins are typically the primary source of protein in a vegan diet.

There are other plant-based protein sources permissible on the Paleo diet, such as nuts and seeds, but it can be difficult to get enough protein from these types of foods without consuming an excessive number of calories.

A salad with eggs, carrots, lettuce and tomatoes.

With the keto diet, the restrictions come in the form of macronutrient limits, specifically in terms of carbohydrates. 

However, it’s also important to stress that the keto diet may not necessarily mandate a specific fat intake, but the diet is intended to be a high-fat diet. You should not be consuming more than 20 to 25% of your total daily caloric intake from protein, and you should be focusing on getting at least 70 to 75% of your calories from fat. 

Therefore, while the specific food choices are up to you, the overall diet composition between any two people following the keto diet will likely appear more similar than with the range of customization in a Paleo diet.

If you like to consume carbohydrates, particularly in terms of fruits and starchy vegetables, The Paleo diet will be a better option for you than the keto diet.

In terms of Paleo versus keto nutrition, it can be argued that the Paleo diet provides a more well-rounded nutritional profile than the keto diet. Because the Paleo diet does not place restrictions on fruit and vegetable intake, it also tends to be higher in fiber and micronutrients than the keto diet.

If you are searching for the right diet for you, we have other options you can take a look at. Check out our guides on:

The Complete Guide To Intermittent Fasting Schedules

Whole30 Rules: Here’s Everything You Can Eat, (And What To Avoid)

A group of food consumed on the paleo diet including proteins, eggs and vegetables.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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