You’ve made the choice to eat healthier, but with that decision comes a flood of different dietary paradigms, all of which seem strikingly similar. Keto, Atkins, low-carb, paleo, and Whole30 are just a few of the contemporary diets promising healthier living, and all of them incorporate low-carb eating and whole foods. But what makes one different from the next in its nutritional approach? In this article, we’ll explore these diets and outline the major differences so you can decide which approach sounds best for you. 

The Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderately low protein, and very low-carb diet that, when properly followed, allows your body to use fat from your diet and your body for energy rather than use glucose (sugar) from a carb-heavy diet. 

The keto diet is named after the ketones it produces. Ketones are a natural byproduct of fat digestion in the liver and they burn more efficiently than glucose to fuel the brain and body. Ketones are produced when you cut carb intake way down (typically around 20 grams net carbs per day) and instead eat primarily fat and moderate amounts of protein. 

Some of the benefits to the keto diet include weight loss (due to burning fat stores for energy), increased energy, healthy aging, increased lifespan, better brain health (neuroprotective), and a decrease in chronic inflammation (the root cause of many disease processes).

The keto diet in a nutshell:

  • Keep carbs very low (5 to 10 percent of diet)
  • Increase fat intake (70 to 80 percent of the diet)
  • Keep protein moderate (15 to 25 percent protein)
  • Leverage ketones rather than glucose for energy
  • Maintain nutritional ketosis (blood ketone .5 mmol/L or greater)

The keto food pyramid:

  • Bottom(largest percentage of diet): meat, seafood, eggs, dairy, oils
  • Middle (moderate percentage): leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds
  • Top(small percentage): berries, non-starchy vegetables
  • Avoid: processed foods, processed carbs, starchy vegetables, most fruit, sugar of any kind (except for keto-friendly sweeteners)

Some keto-diet benefits include:

  • Improved cognitive functioning
  • Increased weight loss
  • Balanced hormones 
  • Improved fasting insulin
  • Decreased depression and anxiety

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet was developed by cardiologist Dr. Robert C. Atkins who spent years researching weight loss methods that could treat hunger without medication. In 1972, he published the book, Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution which recommended a low-carbohydrate eating plan. It’s been credited with launching the low-carb diet trend. 

Both the Atkins and the keto diets are low-carb and high-fat eating paradigms. But the Atkins diet is different from keto in that the keto diet includes moderate protein (15 to 20 percent of daily calories) whereas the Atkins diet is higher in protein (30 percent of daily calories). Also, many proponents of the ketogenic diet consider it a “ketogenic lifestyle” whereas Atkins is more of a diet with a goal of weight loss. The Atkins food pyramid includes grains at the top, whereas grains are completely off limits on a keto diet (on keto most carbs come from vegetables). 

The Atkins Diet in a nutshell:

  • Keep carbs low 
  • Keep protein high 
  • Increase fat 
  • Primarily a weight loss program

The Atkins food pyramid:(source) 

  • Bottom (largest percentage of diet): meat, eggs, and seafood
  • Bottom Middle (high consumption): non-starchy vegetables
  • Middle (moderate consumption): fruits, berries
  • Upper Middle (modest consumption): oils, dairy, fiber-rich fruits, oils, and nuts 
  • Top (minimal consumption): legumes and whole grains 
  • Avoid: sugar, sweeteners

Some Atkins-diet benefits include: 

  • Increased weight loss
  • Decrease symptoms of GERD (gastric reflux)
  • Less acne
  • Decreased headaches

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet (aka “caveman diet”) is a diet that emulates how our early ancestors ate before modern farming was introduced. With a focus on real, whole foods that would have been hunted and gathered, this diet avoids all grains, dairy, legumes, and processed foods, which are considered to be inflammatory.

According to Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist and the New York Times best-selling author of The Paleo Solution and Wired To Eat, “Research in biology, biochemistry, ophthalmology, dermatology, and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats, and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.” 

Like the keto lifestyle, many who follow paleo consider it a healthy lifestyle, followed by people who are concerned with not only weight loss but also with improving their overall health. But paleo is different from keto in that paleo allows for higher amounts of carbohydrates, including honey and maple syrup. Both keto and paleo can be followed in a healthy way, or in a not so healthy or “dirty” way. People who eat “dirty” paleo tend to consume a lot of paleo desserts and packaged foods, rather than sticking with real whole foods. 

Paleo in a nutshell:

  • Considered a healthy lifestyle
  • Eat “as a caveman did”
  • Removes processed foods from the diet
  • Stresses food quality over macronutrients

The Paleo food pyramid: 

  • Bottom (largest percentage of diet): fats, meats, eggs, seafood, and avocados
  • Middle (moderate consumption): non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds
  • Top (minimal consumption): starchy vegetables, fruit, honey, and maple syrup
  • Avoid: legumes, grains, dairy, refined sugars 

Some Paleo-diet benefits include:

  • Increased weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Facilitates gut health 


Whole30 is a plan created by sports nutritionist, Melissa Hartwig. It’s a 30 day program of strictly eating “real food.” The premise behind Whole30 is that sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes can have a negative impact on our digestive health, blood sugar balance, skin health, and ability to lose weight. These foods are eliminated from the diet for a full 30 days. 

Like keto, Whole30 avoids sugar and sweeteners. However, Whole30 allows for starchy vegetables. The goal with Whole30 is not ketosis, but rather to decrease sugar cravings and eat whole foods for 30 days, in order to improve health biomarkers and feel better all around. 

Whole30 in a nutshell:

  • Avoid all processed/packaged foods for 30 days
  • Avoid sugar for 30 days
  • Eat real, whole foods for 30 days

The Whole30 Food Pyramid: 

  • Bottom (largest percentage of diet): meats, eggs, seafood, and green vegetables
  • Middle (moderate consumption): non-starchy colored vegetables 
  • Top (minimal consumption): nuts, seeds, berries, and starchy vegetables
  • Avoid: dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, sweeteners, and any paleo “treats” 

Some Whole30-diet benefits include: 

  • Increased weight loss
  • Increased energy
  • Better athletic performance
  • Improved focus and mental clarity

As you can see, there are many similarities between keto and other popular diets, but there are also many differences. Most of these ways of eating involve cutting down on processed forms of carbohydrates (sticking with mostly vegetable sources), and also avoiding added sugars and sweeteners. However, each paradigm has its own unique components. 

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