PLEASE EXPLAIN: A dietitian on the exact differences between a ketogenic and paleo diet.

It’s hard to keep up with the latest trends and changes in the diet space. Carbs come and go, meat is in and then meat is out completely.

Eating paleo was huge a few years ago, but it’s since dropped off the radar, and many past paleo-eaters have now jumped over to the keto diet.

According to search giant Google, the search interest for ‘ketogenic diet’ overtook ‘paleo diet’ January 2018 and it has continued to beat paleo searches month on month since. But are they the same thing? What’s better? Or worse, for that matter.

The ketogenic diet, also known as ‘keto’ involves is diet very low in carbohydrates and very high in fat. Eating such few carbohydrates then puts your body into a state called ‘ketosis’. The main source of energy for the body to function is usually carbohydrate and when these carb stores are not available, your body switches to burning fat, resulting in relatively quick weight loss.

The paleo diet is a recreation of what our ancestors ate, commonly called the caveman diet. Pete Evans really brought the paleo diet into the spotlight a few years ago, encouraging everyone to live off the land.

Paleo pioneers have proposed this way of living will cure diabetes, heart disease and acne, along with a long list of other conditions, some of which I’d personally deem downright outrageous and not backed by science.

Gets the groceries in activewear, has no shame ???????? @nimbleactivewear

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These two diets are often grouped together as the same thing. They’re commonly confused because both say…
– NO grains and legumes.
– NO processed foods or refined sugars.
– YES to healthy fats (nuts, seeds, animal fats and coconut oil).
– YES to animal protein sources (meats, fish and eggs).
– YES to non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens.


So, when you put it together, there’s a few things they share – namely the minimal wholegrains and processed foods. But on the flip side, the differences are quite significant.


While the paleo and ketogenic diet can both be used to achieve weight loss, the ketogenic diet is much stricter and often used short term, while the paleo diet is more of a long-term lifestyle change. There are four key differences between the two:

1. Carbs.

Paleo isn’t necessarily low in carbs, like the keto diet is. Yes, the paleo diet does restrict grains, legumes and refined sugar, but there isn’t such a strict limit like you find with the keto diet.

To reach and then sustain ketosis, you can’t be consuming much more than 20 to 40 grams of carbs a day, which is equal to two Weet-Bix and maybe a small biscuit.

When eating Paleo, you aren’t constrained by carb counting and can still have many natural sources of sugar and starch, foods like sweet potato, pumpkin and corn along with sweeteners like honey, pure maple syrup and coconut nectar – all of which are naturally high in carbohydrate.

Since there’s no real emphasis on carb consumption, your body is unlikely to go into ketosis when eating Paleo, so unless you intentionally restrict carbs to the limit of roughly 40 grams your body will continue to burn glucose as the main energy source on the Paleo diet.

2. Fat.

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Paleo isn’t necessarily high fat. It certainly can be high fat if you choose, but it isn’t a requirement like the keto diet. Paleo encourages fat from plants (nuts, seeds and avocado) and animal sources (butter, meat, lard). But, since you aren’t limiting carbs like the Keto diet, you could easily consume a moderate intake of fat and much higher amount of carbs.

3. Dairy.

Dairy is allowed on the keto diet, but not even a drip of milk is included with the paleo diet.

Full-fat dairy is allowed on the Keto diet, but must may still need to be limited, as lactose is a naturally occurring sugar and can increase your total carb intake pretty quickly.

Paleo doesn’t include dairy and many paleo-eaters claim lactose to be the devil – supposedly promoting insulin resistance and weight gain. As a dietitian, I’d like to step in and say this is not the case. I’m cautious of any diet that completely exclude food groups and there’s little research to support total dairy restriction, except for those who are allergic or intolerant.

4. The end goal.

The biggest difference between the two is the desired outcome. The Keto diet is designed to put your body into ketosis, manipulating your metabolism and accelerating fat loss. Ketosis is a very fragile state, so the total carbs you consume must to be kept extremely low, and if you consume too much, you’ll quickly jeopardise any benefit of the diet.

The paleo diet may still result in weight loss, but this occurs in a different way. Fat and protein are very satiating, so you might feel fuller for longer, meaning potentially fewer calories are consumed, so the weight loss would be the result of reduced calorie consumption.

But – it is also possible, that you mightn’t necessarily lose weight on the paleo diet, or not as quickly as you would on the Ketogenic diet, particularly if you choose to have a high intake of both fats and natural starches.

At the end of the day removing processed foods will also always be looked upon favourably, it’s the basis of any healthy eating plan.

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Current Evidence.

Paleo hasn’t been around long enough to sufficiently analyse the long-term effects. Excluding dairy for any extended period of time is not something I support, and the high meat intake could also be questioned. A diet high in saturated fat and animal protein has been linked to increased risk of kidney, heart and bowel disease.

On the flip side, there’s a growing body of research which supports the state of ketosis for rapid weight loss and there’s no evidence indicating ketosis is dangerous.

In fact, with their superior weight loss and associated reductions in inflammation in the body, there are several benefits, particularly for individuals with high blood glucose levels, fatty liver and significant amounts of weight to lose. But once again, given the restriction and exclusion of food groups, it’s not something I’d support long term.

The Ketogenic diet is likely to lack key nutrients like fibre, vitamin B and calcium, so supplementation may need to be considered.

Which one to choose?

If you do have a significant amount of weight to lose, or are feeling frustrated with a weight loss plateau, giving keto a go might be worth considering.

However, the hardest thing about the Ketogenic diet, just like any diet, is sticking to it. The keto diet will help you lose weight if you follow it. But unfortunately, most find it too hard to maintain. There is the potential to also lose weight with paleo, as your diet no longer includes processed foods and more whole foods.

Keto or Paleo, regardless of the diet you pick, it’s always going a good idea to cut down on processed foods, particularly those high in refined sugar, fat and salt.

There is a lot more to consider when undertaking either of these diets. The strict carbohydrate limit with the Ketogenic diet requires ongoing monitoring of blood glucose levels and I’d only recommend for a short period of time, under supervision. Personally, I’d give paleo eating a miss – cutting out grains and dairy deems the diet nutritionally incomplete and the health benefits and claims proposed by the diet are not supported by research.

Rachel Scoular is a dietitian and the founder of Healthy Happy Habits.

Have you tried either of these? What were your thoughts? Tell us in the comments.