What is the difference between Paleo, Low Carb and Keto?

Written by Marina Lommel
7 minutes reading time
19. April 2023 zuletzt aktualisiert am 31. July 2023 von

Stop the confusion! Here you can read what’s behind Paleo, Low Carb and Keto. What are the differences? What the similarities? Which diet is the right one?

Table of contents

    1. Paleo is about the type and quality of food.

    First and foremost, Paleo is about which foods you should eat and which you’d rather not. The goal is to eat only foods to which our genetics and metabolism are optimally adapted. In Paleo, we eat all that makes us healthier and leave out all that can be potentially harmful and could lower our well-being.

    Translated into concrete food, this means that on a Paleo plate there are lots of vegetables, protein from good animal sources, healthy fat and fruit. Not included are legumes, grains, dairy products, additives and sugar.

    The quality of the food is the focus. The vegetables and fruits should be seasonal, organic or from the trusted farmer. Eggs should come from free-range chickens, as should chicken meat. Red meat is absolutely not taboo, it is very healthy! Provided that the animals were kept and fed properly. Lambs and cattle should spend their lives on pasture, feeding on fresh grass. With fat, “saturated fat” is not the enemy. Industrial fats are a no go, but coconut oil, nuts & seeds, animal fat from pastured beef or from high quality bacon are an important part of the diet.

    However, Paleo alone says nothing about whether the diet is particularly low in carbohydrates and high in fat, or whether there is a moderate amount of carbohydrates in the diet. Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes or squash, or fresh fruits, can make the carbohydrate content relatively high. As a rule, however, Paleo followers eat fewer carbohydrates than the average German Otto-Normal-Esser. Those who prefer a low-carbohydrate diet with Paleo rarely eat fruit, sweet potatoes or pumpkin.

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    2. stone age romance is not for me

    Paleo, which comes from the English term “paleolithic diet”. In German, the Paleo diet is also called the Paleo diet or Stone Age diet. I’m not entirely comfortable with the term “stone age diet”. Even though our Stone Age ancestors pretty much only ate unprocessed, natural foods, there is still no such thing as “the one” Stone Age diet. The inhabitants of North Africa certainly ate different foods than inhabitants of colder regions. Presumably, in hot areas, more fruits and starchy roots were eaten, so the diet was richer in carbohydrates. In more northern, cold regions, nature offered less fruit. So animals were increasingly on the Stone Age menu. Just to protect themselves from the cold, animals there are equipped with a thicker layer of fat. Our ancestors in northern Europe and the northern polar region naturally ate a diet higher in fat, lower in carbohydrates, and almost ketogenic. The decisive factor was what nature was offering at the time. It is impossible for us to re-enact or revive the Stone Age nowadays. No wonder many critics therefore label the diet as a trend. We should much more find another rationale. In our biochemistry, in our genes.

    3. low carb - less carbohydrates, more fat burning.

    People who follow a Paleo diet usually reduce the amount of carbohydrates they eat per day quite automatically. With low carb, carbohydrate reduction is not a “byproduct” but the main part.

    Low carb means “fewer carbohydrates than the average German eats”. Or even “less carbohydrates than the DGE recommends”. Say: less than 50-60% of the energy. Already, if you eat only 40% of your energy in the form of carbohydrates, it is easy low carb. Thus, for an active man, even 200 g of carbohydrates a day can already represent a carbohydrate reduction. Exactly how many carbs are eaten on a low carb diet varies from diet to diet. And low carb diets are a dime a dozen. There are low carb diets that are high in protein and low in fat (just don’t!) and there are low carb diets that are a little higher in fat and recommend moderate amounts of protein (yes, please!).

    As a rule, one speaks of low carb when less than 100 g of carbohydrates are eaten per day. For an adult with a daily requirement of 2,000 kcal, this would be 20% of the energy (1 g carbohydrates have 4 kcal, so 100 g of them have 400 kcal. 400/2,000=0.2 so 20 %). This is therefore already much less than the 50-60% recommended by the DGE. In this case, that would be 250 – 300 g per day. There are also low carb variants, where less than 50 g or less than 30 g of carbohydrates are consumed per day.

    4. do not disregard the nature and quality of the food

    If you only have “low carb” as a goal, then unfortunately you don’t always pay attention to the quality of the food you eat. There are supermarket wieners shoveled without end, sausage topped with cheese and the vegetables fall by the wayside. When I recommend low carb, it’s in conjunction with lots of vegetables, not too much protein, and natural, preferably unprocessed foods. No ready-made cheap wieners and no expensive, additive-contaminated protein bars.

    The advantage of low carb? The insulin level in the blood drops, the blood sugar level no longer rides a roller coaster. It is easier to get full, lose weight without hunger and cravings are avoided. IF you do it right!

    5. ketosis - power for the brain

    Keto is the short form for ketogenic diet. It is called ketogenic because in this form of nutrition so-called ketone bodies are “generated”, i.e. produced. For this to work, carbohydrate intake must be reduced to less than 30 g per day. In addition, there is so much protein that the need is covered. The remaining energy is absorbed in the form of good fat. You can read how ketone bodies are formed in the article“How are ketone bodies formed?“.

    The ketogenic diet was originally developed as a treatment for epilepsy. In medicine, the ketogenic ratio has been used to calculate the correct amounts of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. If a child with epilepsy is fed a ketogenic ratio of 3:1, this means that there is 3 x as much fat as protein and carbohydrates combined in each meal. The ketogenic ratio is calculated with this formula:

    Amount of fat (in grams) / (Amount of protein (in grams) + Amount of carbohydrate (in grams))

    With an energy requirement of 2,000 calories, that would equate to about 194 grams of fat and 65 grams of protein + carbohydrates. The possible amount for carbohydrates and protein is very small here. For example, it could be 15 g of carbohydrates and 50 g of protein. This type of diet constitutes medical treatment.

    A ketogenic diet also has many benefits for weight loss and mental alertness. But for that, you don’t have to go as deep into ketosis or follow such a high ketogenic ratio. As a rule, a ketogenic ratio of 1.2:1 is sufficient. At 2,000 kcal a day, that would be about 162 g of fat and 135 g of carbohydrates plus protein. That could then be broken down into 162 g of fat, 30 g of carbohydrates, and 105 g of protein. This helps meet protein needs and facilitates vegetable intake while enabling ketosis. Since ketone bodies inhibit appetite, this diet is very suitable for severely overweight people. These often no longer feel ravenous appetite and lose weight easily. At the same time, they do not have to do without the flavor carrier fat and a good piece of meat.

    For whom which of these diets is best, that is individual and can best be found out during a personal consultation. Feel free to take a look at our nutrition program. You tell us your goal and our experts will put together the perfect plan for you. The plan is individually calculated and adapted to you in order to reach your personal goal as quickly as possible.

    In principle, it can be said that those who are more active and slimmer can tolerate more carbohydrates. Paleo principles (i.e. unprocessed, natural foods) should be followed by anyone who wants to take care of their health. For the severely overweight, the ketogenic diet is ideal. Ketosis is also a brilliant brain booster for managers and high performers, for A-levels and university exams.

    6. the most important at a glance

    Paleo: Vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, good fats and oils, fruit. No grains, sugar, legumes, additives, dairy products.

    Low Carb: Less carbohydrates than “normal”. Insulin levels drop and fat burning increases. Not low fat.

    Keto: Under 30-50 g of carbohydrates per day. Still a lot of vegetables. In ketosis, the brain gets energy from ketone bodies.

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    This article was written by

    Marina Lommel

    Marina gründete Foodpunk nach ihrem Abschluss in Ernährungswissenschaften und ist aktuell CEO des Unternehmens. Während ihres Studiums arbeitete sie in verschiedenen Bereichen, darunter in der Wissenschaftsredaktion beim Radio, Redaktion beim TV und Uni-Wissensmagazin sowie im Labor am DZNE in der Parkinsonforschung. Marina ist außerdem Autorin von 5 ernährungswissenschaftlichen Sachbüchern.

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