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Paleo and Keto – What’s the Difference?

August 19, 2014

I just answered this question in a forum over at Myfitnesspal.com, but the answer also makes for a good blog post, so here we go:

“Paleo” simply means that you try to eat what your ancestors ate in the paleolithic era, which essentially means “before we had agriculture”. It’s a very vague definition, and so there’s a wide range of foods that are included at least in somebody’s definition of paleo, but not in another’s. Typical bones (pardon the pun) of contention are dairy, legumes, ancient/wild grains (quinoa, amaranth etc.), tubers (roots) and so on. Regardless of those details, on a Paleo diet you usually focus on food quality first and foremost rather than macronutrient ratios.

“Keto” on the other hand has a clear definition: Any diet where you eat very little digestible carbohydrate (typically <50g/day of net carbs) and moderate protein (about 100g/day for an average person) will cause your body to produce ketones in the liver, and your brain will switch to burning these preferentially instead of glucose. There’s a host of other changes which happen during ketosis, but in a nutshell you indeed switch from carbs to fat, and at least during weight maintenance (also called a eucaloric diet, you eat as many calories as you burn) about 70% of your calories come from fat (a mix of mono-unsaturated and saturated fat).

So – do those two diets overlap? Sure. You can definitely implement a ketogenic diet using paleo foods – in fact that’s what in essence all the popular books on low-carb / ketogenic diet books advise: Focus on whole foods, organic, grass-fed, steer clear of processed foods. Keto by no means implies a meat-heavy diet – you can even implement it vegetarian style while still remaining paleo. Vegans will have a hard time, since complete protein is hard to obtain once you eliminate rice and legumes, but they can get there using fermented soy – which is technically not paleo, but fermentation itself is thought to have been used for a long, long time, so if not strictly “paleo” you can look at it as an “ancestral” technique.

So how would a typical keto+paleo meal look like? Imagine a huge salad made from leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables, with a little bit of meat,fish,seafood,dairy or eggs, and liberal amounts of butter, olive oil, avocado or coconut oil (fat), with maybe some nuts sprinkled on top and a hand-full of berries for dessert. Typical macros for a Keto weight maintenance diet: 70% fat, 20% protein, 5% carbs.

You can also use this neat calculator to figure out your optimal ketogenic diet macronutrient composition depending on your goals:

 

When the goal is fat loss, on a ketogenic diet the idea is to keep carbs and protein constant all the time and simply reduce the amount of fat you eat. Your body then “supplements” that fat it needs from its own fat stores, which it can easily access since in ketosis you burn fat more easily than you would on a diet higher in carbohydrate.

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