Diet Confusion: Keto, Paleo, and Whole 30. What’s the difference?

There is a lot of confusion surrounding Keto, Paleo, and Whole 30 diet plans. Each plan is low in carbohydrates. However, there are some distinct differences. Let’s take a look at each one.

Paleo is simple in the fact that it doesn’t require that calories be counted or that you consume frequent portions of fat. It’s based on the premise that our bodies have been adversely affected by the environment and by the current food supply of processed junk which has only been around about 50 years. Paleo encourages you to return to how our ancestors ate- meats and vegetables, nothing processed, and no refined sugar.

Many people have experienced successful weight loss on paleo. However, after the initial weight loss, it is common to hit a plateau. Thus, adjustments in calories or carb intake is required to maintain continued results. Lower calories eventually results in cravings and hunger. Also, if a low calorie diet is maintained for too long, the body can reach a point where it will no longer respond.

The ketogenic diet is based in the biology of human metabolism. They believe that paleo followers eat too many carbohydrates and not enough fat. Keto followers claim that consuming fat reduces hunger and increases fullness. Some versions of Keto encourage getting fats from dairy products such as milk and cheese. However, the form I have followed avoids dairy and uses avocados, nuts, whole eggs, and fatty proteins (such as salmon or steak) as healthy fat sources.

Another main difference between paleo and Keto is consumption of sugars. Paleo avoids sugar and sugar substitutes but allows for natural sweeteners such as honey. Keto discourages all carb filled sweeteners and encourages sugar substitutes, such as stevia.

Keto involves getting into a state of ketosis, so your body is burning fat for fuel instead of sugar. Followers try to remain in this state for as long as possible. With Paleo, Ketosis is only achieved for very brief periods of time.

The Whole 30 diet is a stricter version of Paleo. It was designed to be more of a nutrition clean up or reset rather than a weight loss plan. Whole 30 eliminates all legumes, sugar, grains, dairy, alcohol, natural and artificial sweeteners, baked goods, and processed foods. The focus is on whole fresh foods like fruits and vegetables. Unlike Keto, even the starchy vegetables are permitted. Whole 30 allows absolutely no sweeteners, natural or unnatural. In contrast Paleo will permit natural sweeteners like honey. After 30 days you begin to slowly reintroduce foods and ingredients in order to find the cause of any bloating, digestive issues, or skin problems.

With Whole 30 there are no guidelines for macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) as there is with Keto. It simply states which foods you can eat. Because Whole 30 eliminates legumes and whole grains, it is naturally low carb. However, it is not as low carb as Keto.

Because so many foods are restricted on Whole 30, weight loss is common. However, people often gain the weight back when they reintroduce foods back into their meal plan.

What do we do with all this information? There are a few things to take into consideration.

  1. Each one of us is very different. What works for me may not get the best results for you.
  2. Regardless of which plan you choose, cutting back on sugar and refined carbohydrates is beneficial and will most likely result in weight loss.
  3. Consider using a more strategic result, where you choose a plan based on goals. For example, when I’m trying to gain weight, control body fat, and build muscle I will choose a high carb plan in which the carbs are primarily from clean sources. When I’m leaning down for a photo shoot or competition I may carb cycle between low and high. At times I have used Keto to shed excess water and body fat after a vacation. Although all the programs I follow are comprised of whole foods, the carb and fat ratios vary significantly.
  4. Ask yourself if the plan is sustainable. No diet or meal plan will work unless it can be sustained. For this reason, I often use a medium carb plan with my clients that includes a variety of protein sources, healthy carbs, and good fats.

It’s important to know that the best meal plans might not adhere to one philosophy but rather include fundamentals from many different approaches. Sometimes when we become locked into one fad or one way of thinking, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. As I mentioned before, I prefer a more strategic approach where different plans are used and even combined to achieve desired results. However, the most important thing to remember is lifestyle and sustainability. Ultimately we don’t want to diet for the rest of our lives. We want to maintain healthy eating as a lifestyle.

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