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 diet plans promising healthier living, and all of them incorporate low-carb eating and high-quality, whole foods for optimal wellness.

But what makes one different from the next in its nutritional approach and focus food groups? In this article, we’ll explore these diets and outline the key differences so you can decide which approach sounds best for you and your health. 

The Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that includes moderately low protein and very low-carb diet. When properly followed and your daily total carb count is kept very low, it 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 high carb intake way down (typically to around 20 grams of net carbs per day) and instead significantly increase your fat intake and consume moderate amounts of protein. When a body relies on ketones as an energy source, it’s called being in a state of ketosis, and can be measured through testing ketone levels. 

Some of the health benefits of the keto diet include weight loss (due to burning body 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 carbohydrate intake very low (5 to 10 percent of diet)
  • Increase the intake of healthy fats (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 (preferably grass-fed meat), seafood, eggs, full-fat dairy products (including grass-fed butter or ghee), oils (especially coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil)
  • Middle (moderate percentage): leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds
  • Top (small percentage): berries, non-starchy vegetables
  • Avoid: processed foods, processed carbs, starchy vegetables, most vegetable oils, 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 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. 

Keto vs. Atkins? Both the Atkins and the keto diets are low-carb and higher fat eating paradigms. But the Atkins diet is different from the fat-burning keto diet in that the keto diet includes moderate protein (15 to 20 percent of daily calories) whereas the Atkins diet is higher in protein intake (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 low-carb 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 Paleolithic-era hunter-gatherer, early-humans 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.” 

So, paleo vs keto? Like the keto lifestyle, many who follow paleo consider it a healthy lifestyle appreciated 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, coconut sugar, and maple syrup. Both keto and paleo can be followed in a healthy-foods way, or in a not so healthy or “dirty” way. People who eat “dirty” paleo tend to make food choices that include 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, lean 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 Plan

Whole30 program 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 to change eating habits and focus on heathy eating. 

Like keto, Whole30 is a restrictive diet that avoids sugar and sweeteners and is gluten-free. However, Whole30 allows for starchy vegetables, including sweet potatoes and other potatoes. 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 as your energy source 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

The Final Word

As you can see, whether it’s for the short-term to reach a goal weight or burn fat or for a long-term lifestyle for general health or managing type 2 diabetes, 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 carb foods (sticking with mostly veggies as carb sources), and also avoiding added sugars and sweeteners. However, each paradigm has its own unique components. It’s important to understand the differences and speak with your primary care provider about benefits and possible unwanted side effects before dieting or starting any new diet. 


Keto-Mojo is a participant in some affiliate programs and some of the links above will generate a small commission if you make a purchase through a product link on our site. This is at no cost to you and all proceeds go directly to the nonprofit Ketogenic Foundation [501(c)3] to assist with their mission funding education and research into the ketogenic diet and lifestyle. Keto-Mojo in no way profits from these links.



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