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Keto, Atkins, Paleo ... What's The Difference?

by Kate Itrich-Williams September 05, 2019

Fried Egg with Avocado and Berries Keto Diet

Low carb and grain-free diets are definitely trending. From Keto to Atkins and every Paleo-dieter in between, there are plenty of ways to incorporate low carb eating into a healthier lifestyle.

We, of course, love the fact that our foods can be incorporated into any healthy lifestyle, but we also know that they're particularly great for those on low carb diets. And while we are definitely down to talk about how great our chocolate chips are, we want this blog to be a resource for anyone wanting to learn more about living healthy. 

In order to help, we're breaking down the similarities and differences between these three popular low carb diets.

The Major Differences Between Keto, Atkins, and Paleo

While Paleo and Keto meals may look very similar, the premises of the two diets are very different. The Keto Diet is ultra low in carbohydrates and requires monitoring macronutrients in order to be successful. Paleo is a dietary approach that emphasizes eating whole, nutrient-dense foods. Both, however, are grain-free diets.

What about Atkins? Atkins and Keto are actually very similar in that they sharply reduce carbohydrate intake; however, Atkins is a multi-step diet plan that eventually incorporates higher levels of carbohydrates than Keto. Atkins also does not place any bans on grains or starchy vegetables — rather, it restricts them to limited amounts.

Paleo and Atkins are less alike, as Atkins does not necessarily place restrictions on processed foods. In fact, the company that now owns the diet trademark also sells low carb snack and meal replacement products that contain many ingredients, such as Splenda, soy protein, and rice flour, that would not be considered Paleo.

Want more info? Keep reading for a deep dive into each of these popular low carb diets.

Diet Venn Diagram

What is the Keto Diet?

Short for Ketogenic Diet, Keto is a very low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet. It was originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy, and it was widely used as such in the early 20th century, until the advent of anticonvulsant medications. This medical form of the diet is extremely low in carbs (less than 5% of your daily calories) and very high in fat. However, most people who follow a Keto Diet for general health, or for weight loss and maintenance follow a slightly less restrictive version, where about 60 to 75% of calories come from fat, 15 to 30% come from protein, and 5 to 10% come from carbohydrates. 

The objective of Keto is for your body to switch from metabolizing carbohydrates for energy to metabolizing fat for energy. When in this state, the liver breaks down fat into ketone bodies (or ketones), which are then used for energy instead of glucose. Once the body is using fat for energy, it has entered what is known as ketosis. It is this state that can be helpful for treating epilepsy.

When researching Keto, you'll likely hear a lot about "macros." It might sound complicated, but really, macro is simply shorthand for macronutrient, a.k.a. carbohydrates, fat, and protein. While calorie counting isn't required on Keto, it is necessary to monitor your intake of these macros each day in order to maintain ketosis. 

You'll also hear a lot about "net carbs." While net carbs are not officially measured on nutrition labels, they are a convenient measurement tool for those on the Keto Diet and Atkins (see below). Net carbs measure the total number of carbohydrates that your body metabolizes, which translates to total carbs minus fiber and allulose

What can you eat on Keto?

More than you think! Fat is your friend in this diet, which means lots of coconut oil, cheese, avocados, eggs, and fattier cuts of meat. Higher-fat fish, like salmon, are great, as well as nuts and seeds. Leafy greens and non-starchy veggies like cauliflower help to balance out your meat and fat intake. If you're vegetarian or vegan, you can also include meatless proteins as well, but you'll want to watch your carb counts. What else? KNOW Foods products, of course!

What can't you eat on Keto?

Well, sugar is the big one, along with starchy vegetables and grains. You'll also want to be very careful about fruit. Most fruits are too high in sugar to work in a Keto Diet, but you can eat small amounts of berries.

Grain Free Salad Bowl Atkins Diet

What is the Atkins Diet?

Originally developed by the cardiologist Robert Atkins in the 1960s and 70s, the Atkins Diet is actually quite similar to Keto. In its initial iteration, in fact, it looked pretty much identical to today's typical Keto Diet, with a very low intake of carbs, moderate protein, and high amounts of fat. 

Unlike Keto, however, Atkins is typically followed using a multi-step regimen; the very low carb induction phase is only intended to be followed for a couple of weeks. After that point, complex carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits can begin to be reintroduced in small amounts, eventually leading to a maintenance stage, where moderate amounts of carbs can be consumed. 

The diet was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, but began to wane in popularity until relatively recently. The company that owns Atkins has now branded itself as a "more flexible" Keto. It currently offers three levels of Atkins correlated to a total number of net carbs eaten per day. These plans are aimed at people who either want to lose a large amount of weight (Atkins 20), want to lose a small amount of weight (Atkins 40), and want to simply maintain a relatively low carb lifestyle (Atkins 100). 

What can you eat on Atkins?

When outside of the initial induction phase, you can eat just about anything on the Atkins diet, albeit in proscribed amounts. You'll be mainly eating protein, fats, and vegetables, with some fruit and even whole grains thrown in. If following the most restrictive Atkins diet, your proportions of fat and protein to carbohydrates will be smaller, and you'll be less likely to be able to include higher-carbohydrate starchy vegetables into your diet.

What can't you eat on Atkins?

Refined carbohydrates and sugars.

Beef Rib Paleo Diet

What is the Paleo Diet?

At its most general, the Paleo Diet, or Paleolithic Diet, emphasizes eating the real, whole, nutrient-dense foods that humans have evolved to eat. It does not include any processed foods, grains, or legumes, and, most of the time, dairy. When following a Paleo lifestyle, you'll mostly eat meat, vegetables, and healthy fats.

The Paleo Diet does not require counting macos in various foods, and it is not strictly low carb in theory. Its emphasis is instead on eating unprocessed, nourishing foods that don't trigger an inflammatory response in the body. However, since Paleo eliminates grains and legumes, it tends to be low carb in practice. 

Additionally, the Paleo Diet often varies from person to person; some people still consume dairy on the diet and others avoid any potentially inflammatory foods, such as nightshades and nuts. Variations of Paleo include the Whole30 Diet and the AIP (Autoimmune Paleo) Diet.

What can you eat on the Paleo Diet?

You'll mainly want to eat grass-fed meat, vegetables, eggs, wild seafood, healthy fats, fermented foods, fruit, nuts, seeds, and spices.

What can't you eat on the Paleo Diet?

Processed foods are the big no-nos here. Grains and legumes (including soy and peanuts) are widely avoided on Paleo, as well as processed sugar and vegetable oil. Most people following Paleo also avoid dairy products.

Note: We are not doctors and cannot provide medical advice. If you are considering going on a low carb diet of any kind, consult with your medical practitioner first.

Photo Credits:
Fried Egg: Jenna Hamra/Pexels
Salad: Rawpixel.com/Pexels
Beef Rib: Chad Montano/Unsplash

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