The Paleo Diet vs. Keto Diet: 3 Lessons Learned

What’s that? You wanna know how the popular Keto Diet
compares to the Paleo Diet?

Oh Paleo, you were so 2014. Right there with “Let it Go” and
Ice Bucket Challenge

I kid, I kid. I do want to build a snowman.

The question “how does Keto compare to Paleo” will dive into
some interesting concepts, worth discussing. There’s the normal
answer, you’ll read on every other site out there. We’ll talk
about that too, to cover our bases, just in case you’re
unfamiliar with either diet. Knowledge is power and an overview of
Keto and Paleo will be helpful for the remainder of the

However, here at Nerd Fitness, we keeps it real.

So I’ll give you the honest, “real” answer on how Keto and
Paleo compare. And no, it’s not just eating Brussel sprouts
(although it’s not-not eating Brussel sprouts). You’re smart,
and I think you can handle some real talk on the benefits of Keto
and Paleo.

So strap in and get ready for the following:

  • The textbook, basic answer on how Paleo and Keto compare
  • The Nerd Fitness straight talk on Keto vs. Paleo
  • What you can learn from both diets to Level Up your eating


The “Beginner’s
Guide to the Paleo Diet
” is to Nerd Fitness what The Lord of
the Rings is to Elijah Wood.
While far from the first article I
ever wrote, our post on Paleo became SUPER popular and is perhaps
what Nerd Fitness is best known for.

If you’ve never heard the term “Paleo” until today, go
check out that article and get caught up. It is long tho, sort of
like the Extended Editions. So I’ll give you a quick recap in
case you don’t have much time, or need a general refresher.

The Paleo Diet, in theory, is a way of eating that attempts
to mimic how our ancestors would have eaten hundreds of thousands
of years ago.
The gist is that agriculture is a recent
phenomenon in the story of humans. Eating as our ancestors did
before this current chapter is more in line with how we evolved,
which has health benefits. By ignoring the agricultural revolution,
Paleo attempts to align ourselves with a more primal and primitive
eating pattern. It’s why people joke about cavemen and all that
when discussing Paleo.  

Which I am not above.

What did our genetic ancestors eat, prior to agriculture?

In the Paleo Diet, you eat the following:

  • Meat. Paleo recommends grass-fed meat whenever possible,
    which is more in line with how animals exist in nature.
  • Fowl. Chicken, duck, hen, turkey…things with wings
    that (try to) fly.
  • Fish. Things you catch with a hook or spear.
  • Eggs. Things that come from birds.
  • Vegetables.
  • Oils. Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil – the less
    refined the better.
  • Fruits. Apples, oranges, berries, etc. Although because
    of their high sugar content (fructose), the Paleo community will
    recommend limiting these to a few servings a day. I have a somewhat
    more lenient
  • Nuts. Almonds, macadamias, and cashews are quite common
    on a Paleo Diet.
  • Tubers. Foods like sweet potatoes and yams.

That’s a list comprised of REAL food, which I discuss heavily
in our Guide to Healthy
. In my opinion, REAL food is the key to a successful
eating strategy. That’s why  I’m a fan of Paleo and/or


What’s missing from that list of approved food

  • Grains
  • Dairy
  • Legumes
  • Processed things (junk food)

Again, the thought is we didn’t evolve eating massive amounts
of these foods, so they should be avoided or limited. Granted, with
the exception of the last bullet (junk food), this might be
overkill. Personally, I eat a little bit of rice regularly, but
we’ll talk more about that later.

Okay, that’s the super quick, textbook answer to “What is
the Paleo Diet.” If you want more info, make sure to download the
PDF of our Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet. If you enter your
email below, we’ll route it to you.

Get the FREE eBook! The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to
  • Discover if Paleo is for you
  • The one simple trick to know if your food is
  • Easy Paleo recipes for beginners to get you started
I identify as a:


Next up!


In fitness trends, if the Paleo Diet is old and busted, the
Keto Diet is the new hotness.

This isn’t the first time we’ve brought up the Keto Diet on
this site. If you’re interested in eating low-carb, you should
check out our
HUMONGOUS article on the subject

Plus, there are GIFs of a Ninja Turtle and an ACTUAL turtle in

What’s that? You don’t like turtles? What about otters?

There are otters in there too! Alright, enough “cute animal”

For the sake of keeping this article as one resource, let’s
chat about Keto.

To understand the Keto Diet, you need to understand that your
body can burn both ketones and glucose for energy.
Your body
obtains and makes glucose, a simple sugar, from most of the food
you eat.

That’s one way to fuel yourself.

The other is ketones. Your body can produce ketones from dietary
fat, as well as your own fat reserves. The strategy behind the Keto
Diet is to limit carbohydrates (which turns to glucose) to such a
point that your body is forced to rely on ketones for sustenance.
This could include your own fat stores.

That’s why the Keto Diet is all the rage these days because
tons of folks want to burn through their stored fat.

To get into this state of ketosis, where your body is relying
on fat for fuel, you need to calculate your macronutrient ratio
You’ll drastically reduce carbs (5-10% of total
diet), eat a moderate amount of protein (15-30%), and round out the
rest with tons of healthy fat (60-75%).

You may be asking yourself, “That’s all well and good
Steve, but what do I actually eat on a Keto Diet? No one looks at
food and says ‘that’s 60% fat.’

Great point. Here are your low-carb food groups:

  • Meat. Red meat (like steak), pork products (sausage and
    bacon and ham), and white meat (like chicken and turkey).
  • Fish. High-fat fish like tuna and salmon are the go-to
    for Keto.
  • Eggs and dairy. White, yellowish, fats and protein for
    the win.
  • Healthy fats. Nuts, seeds, and avocados should be your
    staples. Although the later, avocados, contains decent carbs. Be
  • Dressings and oils. Greek dressing, Caesar dressing
    (check the ingredients first!), ranch, aioli. When you need an oil,
    stick to extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil.
  • Veggies. Prioritize the less starchy, green ones like
    spinach, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower (ok, it’s white).
  • Meatless proteins. Tempeh, tofu, and seitan can take the
    place of meats in a vegetarian or vegan Keto Diet. Gotta get that
    protein from somewhere, right?

The above list consists of foods low in carbohydrates, key if
you want to drive your body into ketosis.

Alright, that’s the short and gist of the Keto Diet.

Now, it should be noted that not everyone does well on a
low-carb high-fat diet. For example, me! I’ve found that I
perform and feel better when eating whole, unprocessed
carbohydrates. It’s why I eat a little bit of rice… which
isn’t Paleo or Keto! The horror.

Speaking of Paleo vs Keto…


The textbook answer on “Paleo vs Keto” will take a Venn
diagram like look at both diets.
Showing which foods are both
low in carbs, and something our great, great, great, great, great,
great, great, great grandmother would have eaten.

Is that enough “greats” to get us to the Paleolithic era?

Such a Venn diagram would look like this, as demonstrated by

That’s a textbook graph if I’ve ever seen one. But Venn
diagrams are nifty, and an easy way for us to visualize

For example, we can quickly see that Paleo and Keto overlap

  • High-quality meats. Both diets encourage protein coming from
    high-quality meat sources.
  • Lots of non-starchy vegetables. Whether Keto or Paleo, both
    include nutrient-dense vegetables like spinach, asparagus, and
    Brussel sprouts.
  • Plenty of healthy fats. What do coconut oil, avocado oil,
    and olive oil all have in common? They’re all part of both an
    ancestral and low-carb way of eating.  

Of course, not all parts of the circles overlap. Such is the
nature of a Venn diagram.

For Paleo, you cut out most dairy, because it’s a more
modern dietary food group that causes some people problems. This
differs from Keto, where you rely on yogurt and cheeses for fat

For Keto, you cut out fruit and starchy vegetables
(potatoes) because the high carb content is an easy way to knock
you out of ketosis. This differs from Paleo because fruits and
potatoes are whole foods that have been eaten for thousands of

Is there anything stopping you from trying both diets? Nope!

When you combine both strategies, for a Keto-Paleo Diet,
you’re left eating low-carb foods that our ancestors had access

It should be noted, there are some studies proclaiming the
benefits of a paleolithic ketogenic diet.[1] Which is logical,
because there are studies galore on the benefits of Paleo and Keto,
independent of each other.

However, both diets are SUPER restrictive, which is why a lot of
folks have trouble maintaining the lifestyle of Paleo or Keto. The
adherence rate for either diet is terrible. Both our posts on

stress this point as an overall con of either diet. When
you COMBINE these two very restrictive ways of eating, you could
end up creating a nightmare scenario of food limitations.

Alright, you can pack up your bags. Our official answer
comparing the Paleo and Keto Diet is over. The lesson is
technically finished. Don’t forget to turn in next week’s
assignment at the start of class.


Okay, they’ve taken off. Now lean in close. We’re turning
off the PowerPoint presentation. It’s time for Professor Steve to
give you the after-hours honest truth on Paleo vs. Keto.


The reason Keto and Paleo can often work for people centers
on the idea of “Mental

It’s a concept I’ve graciously borrowed from my friend Shane
over at Farnam Street
. A Mental Model provides a framework for how we understand
the world. A way for us to interpret facts and make sense of what
we are experiencing.

Shane describes three different Mental Models for looking at the
same data:

“When a botanist looks at a forest they may focus on the
ecosystem, an environmentalist sees the impact of climate change, a
forestry engineer the state of the tree growth, a business person
the value of the land. None are wrong, but neither are any of them
able to describe the full scope of the forest.”

Bringing it back to nutrition, Paleo and Keto both provide us
with a model for understanding food.

  • “That Twinkie is something that came from a factory, that my
    ancestors would never have touched. It’s unhealthy for me,”
    says the Paleo follower.
  • “That Twinkie is pumped full of sugar and processed carbs,
    that’ll kick me right out of ketosis. It’s unhealthy for me,”
    says the Keto follower.

Two different ways to come to the same conclusion: a Twinkie
probably isn’t the healthiest thing you can eat.

We are in a food landscape that almost seems designed to
make us sick and fat.
Full of candy, soda, and junk food.
Food that is easy to overeat, and when you eat too much
consistently for weeks/months/years, you end up overweight and
staying overweight.

So think of Paleo and Keto as blueprints designed to help you
avoid these calorie dense and addictive foods. That’s why they
can work for people.

By eliminating large swaths of food groups, especially those
that have tons of calories, insulin-spiking sugar, and no
nutritional satiating value, you’re more likely than not to eat a
caloric deficit consistently. Which can indeed lead to weight

For some evidence of REAL food containing way fewer calories
than processed junk, check out this post from wiseGEEK.
They do a great job of demonstrating the caloric density of
different foods.

That’s why a Mental Model centered on REAL food is the true
benefit and overlap of Keto and Paleo, because focusing on REAL
food is the easiest way to obtain and maintain a caloric deficit.

A plan, or Mental Model, to navigate these food choices will be
critical for healthy eating. A clear “yes” or “no” for
every meal choice you’ll encounter.

It doesn’t matter if cavemen ate grains, or if the metabolic
state of ketosis is desirable. That’s not the true advantage of
either diet.

Said again: the reason Keto and Paleo can be great for people
is that it provides them with rules on exactly what to eat.

  • Is this plate of chicken and broccoli something a caveman could
    eat? Yep!
  • Is this plate of fish and asparagus low in carbohydrates? You

Eating plenty of vegetables and high-quality meat is great. Most
health professionals would agree. However, a Mental Model on how to
go about this can help make food choices
, like a robot.

And robots rule.

I want to create such an autopilot for you. A system you can
depend on to navigate all the meal decisions you will face.

Let’s find you a Mental Model. Something both reliable
and sustainable.

Paleo and Keto are two ways to go about this. But if you’ve
tried one, the other, or both and found them too restrictive,
don’t give up! There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

I don’t give a sh*t if your Mental Model is low-carb, or if
Neanderthals ate that way. There are many different strategies for
how to eat. Pick one that works for you and try it out! Adjust and
learn as you go. A lot of them will work if you’re consistent, as
long as it’s not some “crash
” designed as a quick fix.

Small, sustainable changes
for the win

If you want help developing a Mental Model, we offer two ways
to get you there.
If you can hold yourself accountable, the
Fitness Academy
will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted
to know about a proper relationship with food. You can follow many
like-minded nerds and set yourself on a path through our
self-guided course.

If you want an accountability buddy, we got you there too! We
offer a 1-on-1
private coaching program
that can do just that. We’ll work
with you to find a Mental Model that works perfect for your
situation, and provide direction and accountability until these
changes become normal and routine. If you want guidance from a
trained professional, schedule a call by clicking on the image
below and see if we’re a good fit for each other!


We talk a lot about life as a real-life RFG here at Nerd
Completing quests and goals to gain experience points
so you can take it to the next level in life.

That’s where the “Level Up Your Life” tagline comes from.
Almost as if you yourself were a character to be

And YES, that DOES also happen to also be the name of
my best selling book
, available online and in bookstores
nationwide, thank you for noticing!

There are all sorts of ways to go about leveling up. Things like
sleeping better
and, playing with
will advance you in the game of life, leading to
castles raided, dragons slain, and fireworks enjoyed.

If you want to advance onto the next level, one sure fire way to
do it would be a Mental Model on how to eat. Paleo and Keto are
both great options that have helped a lot of people learn better
dietary habits for life improvement.

As I said above though, they are far from the only options. You
can go vegan, try the Slow Carb Diet, experiment with
intermittent fasting
, or act like a Mediterranean.

Or do what I do and
invent your own

With a Mental Model on nutrition under your belt, you can
consider your life leveled up.

Then we can worry about equipping you with a flaming sword.


PS: For those who were expecting some kind of epic
showdown between Paleo and Keto, a battle between two popular
diets, here’s a gif for you:


Source: FS – All-FitnessBlogs
The Paleo Diet vs. Keto Diet: 3 Lessons Learned