The Carnivore, Keto and Paleo Diets: Is There a Winner?
Carnivore, keto, and paleo are contemporary diets that eliminate grains, legumes, and soy, and emphasize eating the way our ancestors did. But what differentiates these three popular diets? This post will explore the pros and cons of each diet so you can decide whether the carnivore, keto, or paleo diet is better for you.
What Is the Carnivore Diet?
The carnivore diet is a highly restrictive diet that involves consuming only animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products and excludes all other foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
The carnivore diet is based on the idea that humans evolved as carnivores and that consuming a diet that consists solely of animal products can support weight loss, improve digestion and gut health, increase your energy levels, and boost mental health. Many nutrition experts caution that the carnivore diet isn't a balanced or sustainable way to eat in the long term. However, a Harvard study found that people on the carnivore diet report health benefits like healthier lipid profiles, improvements in chronic medical conditions, better quality of sleep, and improved mental clarity.
What Is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic diet, commonly called the "keto diet," is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has been shown to improve multiple health markers. In fact, the keto diet can be considered a first line of defense against obesity and diabetes.
The keto diet emphasizes healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils, along with moderate amounts of protein and very low amounts of carbohydrates. In fact, followers of keto must ensure carbs make up only 5-10% of their daily caloric intake. This carb deficit puts your body into a state of ketosis, which means it's burning fat stores for fuel instead of glucose. Some potential benefits of the keto diet include weight loss, improved blood sugar control, increased energy levels, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet, or Paleolithic diet, is a dietary approach that aims to mimic the eating habits of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The paleo diet emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds while excluding grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugar, and processed foods.
Proponents of paleo argue these excluded foods weren't part of the human diet until relatively recently and may be responsible for many of the health problems associated with modern diets, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Because paleo emphasizes eating anything that can be hunted or gathered in nature, it includes more food groups and freedom than both the carnivore and keto diets.
Carnivore vs Keto
The carnivore and keto diets are both low-carbohydrate diets, but there are some key differences between the two.
- Both diets emphasize meat, seafood, eggs, bone broth, and animal fats.
- Both diets are linked to lower blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, and better mental clarity.
- The keto diet allows certain plant-based fats, such as avocados and avocado oil, coconut milk and coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil. The carnivore diet only allows animal-based fats, including tallow, butter, ghee, and lard.
- Non-starchy veggies like leafy greens are allowed on the keto diet, whereas no plants can be eaten on the carnivore diet.
- The carnivore diet allows dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. The keto diet only allows aged cheeses, whereas all other dairy products have lactose (the sugar found in milk).
Carnivore vs Paleo
While they may seem similar, the carnivore and paleo diets have several important differences between one another.
- Both diets eliminate vegetable (seed) oils.
- Both diets eliminate alcohol.
- The paleo diet allows fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, honey, agave, and maple syrup. The carnivore diet doesn't allow any of these foods.
- The carnivore diet allows dairy products, whereas dairy is restricted on the paleo diet.
- Like keto, the paleo diet allows some plant-based fats, such as avocados, coconut, palm oil, and olive oil. The carnivore diet only allows animal-based fats.
Keto vs Paleo
Keto and paleo diets differ mainly in the types of carbs allowed, plus keto requires strictly tracking your carb intake to keep it below 10% of your total calorie intake.
- Paleo and keto both allow non-starchy vegetables, coffee, nuts, and seeds, which are foods restricted in the carnivore diet.
- The keto diet doesn't allow sweet fruits, starchy vegetables, honey, agave, or maple syrup, which are all foods the paleo diet allows.
- Vegetable (seed) oils are allowed on the keto diet, but not paleo.
- Low-glycemic alcohol is allowed on the keto diet, whereas no alcohol is allowed on the paleo diet.
- No dairy is allowed on the paleo diet, but keto allows aged cheeses.
Carnivore vs Keto vs Paleo: Which Diet is Best?
In the modern world, there's no one-size-fits-all diet. Everyone has different genetic predispositions, so taking blanket advice doesn't work. Experimentation is key when it comes to finding the right paleolithic diet for your lifestyle, as different people feel better eliminating different foods, such as dairy, sugars, or vegetables.
One method is to start with the carnivore diet, then reintroduce foods (keto), then move to paleo. During this process, you can identify which diet makes you feel the best. For instance, if you think dairy may be causing you issues, you might do best with the paleo diet.
Paleo is the least restrictive diet that will cause fewer side effects when you get started, and it could be considered the easiest to try. On the other hand, the keto and carnivore diets could be more therapeutic if you have unidentified food allergies or a chronic medical condition. Keto is also the best option for people looking to lose weight.
Choosing Between Carnivore, Keto, and Paleo
While these three diets inspired by the Paleolithic era share some similarities, such as their emphasis on whole, unprocessed foods, they also have significant differences in the foods allowed and restricted. All three share similar benefits, too, with keto emphasizing blood sugar control and the carnivore diet helping with food allergies.
When choosing the best diet for you, you want to consider your personal preferences, health and fitness goals, as well as any medical conditions you have.