Vegan Vs. Keto Vs. Paleo – What’S The Difference?

Vegan vs. Keto vs. Paleo – we hear these terms a lot lately. It’s no wonder, since there are so many diets to choose from these days (some of which are based on science and common sense). As our generation becomes more ‘woke’ and better understands that healthy eating should be a lifestyle change, many different tribes have emerged and people have chosen sides.

Between Instagram models pushing their vegan-gluten-free-low-carb mermaid toasts on to our feeds, and Facebook shoving superfood-paleo-whole30 compliant coconut fat bombs on us, the lines between these diets are getting blurrier by the day. Vegan-Keto? Vegan-Paleo? Are there such things?

Which is why this handy guide should help you compare and contrast some of these lifestyle diets, and can also help you chose one that best fits your needs (Bonus: Whole30 and Gluten-Free have been added to the mix as well).

  • Vegan(ism)
  • Keto(genics)
  • Paleo(lithic Diet)
  • BONUS: Whole30 & Gluten-Free
  • The Bottom Line

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In a Nutshell: Plant based foods only (if it comes from an animal, don’t eat it) Permitted Foods: Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts & Seeds, Beans, Legumes, Grains, Lentils, Plant Based Fats, Alcohol, Vegan Sugar & Sweeteners Forbidden Foods: Meat, Fish/Seafood, Dairy, Eggs, Honey – and ALL animal products

People go vegan for many reasons. Some people (myself included) do it for ethical reasons, as meat production and factory farming practices are extremely cruel. Some people do it for environmental reasons as meat farming causes deforestation and pollution. Some people go vegan due to the global impact, as meat consumption is an improper use of resources. And some people go vegan for health reasons, as vegan diets are believed to lower your cholesterol and risk of heart disease (just to name a few health benefits).

Whatever the reason may be, veganism has become an increasing popular lifestyle change, and vegan products are becoming more available by the day. Of course, this doesn’t mean that being vegan alone is inherently healthy. There are still plenty of vegan junk foods, and some vegans rely heavily on carbs to become full; like any diet, you can be healthy by eating things in moderation and making good choices.

How involved you get, is up to you. There is no right or wrong reason for going vegan, but the benefits to your body and the environment are undeniable.

Protein can easily be found in many plant based sources, including nuts, grains, and some vegetables; some vegans supplement their diets with protein powders, made from soy, pea, or rice (my favorite vegan protein powder is by Vega )

  • Fats can be found from natural plant foods such as avocados, olives, coconuts, and nuts; natural plant fat is welcomed in a vegan diet, and doesn’t affect your cholesterol and heart health as badly as animal fats do
  • Carbs make up a big portion of the vegan diet in the form of grains, rice, lentils, and beans; vegetables also naturally have carbs (but most of it comes from fiber), and fruits are full of natural sugar/carbs, meaning vegans tend to take in more carbs than any other diets do

What Foods Are Avoided All animals, and foods that come from animals, or is processed using animal parts are avoided, including:

  • Red Meat
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Gelatin
  • Honey
  • Lard
  • Chicken/Beef Stock or Broth

White Sugar (find out why )

What Foods Are Allowed Plant based foods, crops, and produce such as:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains (Wheat, Cereals, Rice)
  • Pulses & Lentils
  • Beans & Legumes
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Plant Based Fats and Oils
  • Raw Cane Sugar
  • Spices, Herbs, Natural Seasonings
  • Mushrooms, Fungi, Yeasts
  • Vegan Meat and Dairy Substitutes
  • Vegan items and replacements are easier to find in your local grocery store
  • Science is proving that some plant based fats and proteins are healthier for you than animal based fats and proteins
  • You may have a more balanced diet with the abundance of food choices and variety of acceptable foods
  • It may be hard to avoid carbs or eat a low carb diet, since most plant foods (especially fruits and vegetables) are high in carbs from fiber and natural sugar
  • Food options are limited when you’re eating out (but this is improving)

In a Nutshell: High Fat/Low Carb, designed to send your body into ketosis to burn fat Permitted Foods: Red Meat, Poultry, Fish, Seafood, Vegetables, Nuts & Seeds, Fats & Oils Forbidden Foods: Wheat/Flour, Most Fruits, Sugar & Sweeteners, Grains, Starches

The Keto diet is a high-fat/low-carb diet, which runs on the principle that you need to eat fat to burn fat. On a broad level, it’s based on the fact that the body breaks carbs down into glucose and uses said glucose as a primary energy source over the fat that’s already stored in your body.

So you want to limit the amount of carbs you put into your body so that you can force the body to enter into a state of ketosis. Ketosis is a natural process where the body starts dipping into its fat stores for energy; it’s almost like the body says “Hey, where’d all of the glucose go?? Oh well, I guess I’ll just burn the fat in these thighs and belly instead!”

The ultimate goal is to stay in a state of ketosis and to train your body to metabolize fats for energy, while using proteins to build your body and complete necessary functions. This can all be achieved by eliminating carbohydrates and the body’s option to use glucose with it.

  • Completely eliminate carbohydrates (no more than 5-10% of your daily calorie intake), to block the body from producing glucose which prevents the metabolization of fat and signals the production of insulin (which makes you store more fat)

Provide 60-75% of calories from fat , giving the body the proper energy it needs to metabolize and stay in a fat burning zone

  • Eat a high amount of protein (between 20-25% of daily calorie intake) so that the body can maintain muscle, but not so much protein where the body will be pushed out of ketosis

TIP: Use this Keto macro calculator to get and idea of what your nutritional goals on keto should be in regards to how much fat, protein, and carbs you should have to stay in ketosis

What Foods Are Avoided It doesn’t matter if you’re eating complex carbs or simple sugars, both of these carbs turn into glucose in the body (even fruit sugars). People following a keto diet should avoid the following foods:

  • Sugar, in all forms including Cane Sugar, Agave, Maple Syrup, Molasses, Honey, etc.
  • Grains, Cereals, Wheat, Rice (so no Breads, Crackers, Oats, Flour)
  • Starchy Vegetables and Tubers, such as Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
  • Lentils, Beans, Legumes (includes Peanuts and Soy)
  • Most Fruits, with the exception of low glycemic fruits (such as berries)
  • Some Vegetables high in sugar, such as Carrots, Peas, Tomatoes

What Foods Are Allowed High fat and high protein options are abundant, and foods that are permitted include:

  • Animal Fats such as Butter, Ghee, Lard, Beef Tallow, Duck Fat, Mayonnaise
  • Natural plant fats, including Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, MCT Oil
  • Red Meat & Poultry, especially those high in fat
  • Seafoods, Fish, and Shellfish, especially oily fish
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Nut Flowers such as Almond or Coconut Flour
  • Natural Sweeteners such as Stevia and Monk Fruit Sugar
  • Alcohol Sugars such as Xylitol and Erythritol
  • Low Sugar Vegetables, especially greens
  • It’s an extremely easy diet to follow, and people love the fact that they have the freedom to eat high fat foods like bacon and butter (although there’s so much more to the diet than that)
  • Due to the lack of carbs/glucose, it reduces insulin levels in the body which is especially helpful for diabetics and keeping down inflamation
  • Due to the strict carb restriction, keto is a great way to detox from sugar and retrain your tastebuds in the long run
  • Some people report feeling ‘The Keto Flu’ which occurs when the body goes through withdrawals from the lack of carbs; this usually occurs the body switches to using fat over glucose for its primary energy source, and can last for a few days to a week
  • Many people don’t eat the full spectrum of keto approved foods (including low carb veggies and nuts) and consume too many highly saturated animal fats and not enough fiber
  • People run the risk of exposing themselves to a higher amount of carcinogens from eating too much cooked animal protein
  • The elimination of whole grains leads to a lower fiber intake, which effects gut health and regularity

In a Nutshell: ‘Ancestral Diet.’ If our prehistoric ancestors didn’t eat it, neither do we Permitted Foods: Grass Fed Meats, Wild Caught Fish/Seafood, Eggs, Natural Fat, Nuts, Most Vegetables Forbidden Foods: Processed Foods, Grains, Legumes, Dairy, Sugar, Most Fruits, Alcohol

The Paleo diet is a complete lifestyle change. Diet, exercise, sleep, and even nutrient absorption is modeled after what our early human ancestors did. Basically, if a caveman didn’t eat it/do it, we shouldn’t either.

Think about it, our brains, muscles, and organs, all evolved to perform specific functions for hunting and survival. Before we discovered agriculture, nutrient rich foods (from hunting and gathering), explosive movement (such as running, chasing, leaping, crouching), and the very way we perceive the quality of life (the importance of play, sex, sleep, etc.) all literally shaped us as the humans we are today.

The ancestral human woke up early and hunted or foraged its food, ate a diet of small infrequent meals high in protein and fat, engaged in play, sex, and physical activities, was exposed to sun and all of nature’s elements, and went to bed when it became dark. Compare that to today’s common desk jockey and it’s no wonder we’re fat, sick, and experiencing so many diseases in today’s world of abundance and comfort.

Other key ideals that frame the Paleo Diet:

  • Nutrient Density: eating foods high in disease fighting nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
  • Protein Diversity: getting protein from a wide range of sources including bone broth, organ meats, collagen, and also from wild and game meat
  • Biochemistry: understanding how natural foods (versus genetically modified foods, or foods treated with chemicals and pesticides) affect our bodies with issues ranging from gut health to autoimmune disease, cancer, mental health, and more
  • Proteins is essential for muscle growth and repair, and makes up the bulk of the Paleo diet; animal proteins should come from pasture raised, grass-fed, or wild caught animals (so that you’re eating foods that are healthy and natural themselves)
  • Fats (especially saturated fats from plants and animals) are highly encouraged; like the Keto diet, Paleo encourages you to become fat-adaptive and allow your body to metabolise fats over carbohydrates
  • Carbs are heavily restricted, especially those from grains, sugar, and other non-primitive food sources (remember, what did the hunter-gatherers eat?)

What Foods Are Avoided Eating ancestrally seems pretty straight forward, but it’s important to consider these foods that DO NOT fall within the Paleo diet:

  • Processed Meats (such as Bologna, Hot Dogs, Salami, Pepperoni, etc.)
  • Grains, Cereals, Wheat, Rice (so no Breads, Crackers, Oats, Flour)
  • Sugar, in most forms, especially Cane Sugar
  • Dairy in most forms (some people make an exception for Grass Fed Butter or Ghee )
  • Lentils, Beans, Legumes (includes Peanuts and Soy)
  • Most Fruits, with the exception of low glycemic fruits (such as berries)
  • Artificial/Processed Fats such as Margarine or Canola, Cottonseed, Grapeseed, and Safflower oil

What Foods Are Allowed Eat foods that are whole and natural, something a caveman would find or hunt (and not process with technologies and tools that didn’t exist 10,000 years ago):

  • Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, or Wild/Game Meat and Poultry
  • Wild Caught Seafoods, Fish, and Shellfish
  • Organic Cage Free & Free Range Eggs
  • Organic and Non-GMO Vegetables
  • Animal Fats such as Butter, Ghee, Lard, Beef Tallow, Duck Fat, Mayonnaise
  • Natural plant fats, including Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, and Olive Oil
  • Nuts and Seeds (you can also use Nut flours)
  • Organic Low Sugar Fruits, such as berries and some melons
  • No calorie counting or macro tracking required; if you eat the right things and work out regularly, you will lose weight and gain muscle naturally
  • By eating unpackaged and unprocessed foods, you can detox your body and increase nutritional efficiency
  • The focus on eating a variety of nutrient dense foods helps the body get vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that one wouldn’t eat on the Standard American Diet (a.k.a. SAD)
  • Eating organic, grass fed, wild caught meats and seafood is more expensive, and the diet can be harder on your pocketbook overall
  • If not well balanced, you can inadvertently be overeating calories and actually gain weight
  • The elimination of whole grains leads to a lower fiber intake, which effects gut health and regularity
  • It’s not a perfect diet – the fact is that humans today are not genetically identical to our primal ancestors, and we’ve adapted to certain environmental factors and foods (.ie. the body’sproduction of the lactase in response to our consumption of dairy)

In a Nutshell: Eat only whole foods for 30 days to reset your relationship with food Permitted Foods: Meat, Poultry, Seafood, Eggs, Vegetables (except for corn and peas), Fruits, Nuts & Seeds, Plant & Animal Fats/Oils, Salt Forbidden Foods: Grains, Dairy, Sugar, Alcohol, Legumes, Soy, Packaged Foods (specifically those that contain MSG, Carrageenan, or Sulfites)

Although created in 2009, The Whole30 Diet didn’t reach peak popularity until the release of the book ‘The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom,’ in 2015.

The authors describe the diet as a ‘life changing 30 day program’ which focuses on eliminating certain foods that are known to negatively affect your health, energy levels, inflammation, digestion, weight loss, and a long list of other food related ailments.

Whole30 is not about losing weight but more about feeling good and resetting your relationship with food. Because of this, weighing yourself and calorie counting is forbidden; dieters following this eating plan are asked to practice clean eating instead.

Because Whole30 focuses on training your body (and mind) to eat real food, substitutions are also not allowed. This means no Paleo Pancakes or Vegan Cookies. Since sugar is prohibited, other sweeteners or sugar substitutes (i.e. Splenda, Stevia, Maple Syrup, Honey, etc.) are also not allowed.

Preservatives, MSG, carrageenan, and sulfites are also banned, virtually making all packaged foods off limits. The focus is to get people to cook real meals with whole foods, resetting their relationship and attitude towards eating and cooking food.

Many people enjoy this diet because of its attainable 30 day window, and some people report the end of sugar cravings, mental clarity, better sleep, and increased energy by cutting out grains, alcohol, sugar, and processed food. If you’d like to learn more about Whole30, visit their website here.

In a Nutshell: Avoid grain foods that contain the Gluten protein, such as Wheat, Barley, and Rye Permitted Foods: Meat, Seafood, Fruits, Vegetables, Dairy, Eggs, Nuts, Beans, Legumes, Non Gluten Grains (Rice, Corn, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Teff, Millet, and more) Forbidden Foods: Grains w/ the Gluten Protein, such as Wheat, Barley, Rye and Foods that are Processed with Gluten (Beer, Soy Sauce, some Processed Meats, some Condiments, and more)

***It is important to note that the Gluten Free diet is taken very seriously for those suffering from celiac disease. There are conflicting studies on weather healthy non-celiac people should avoid gluten, but if you are doing so for non life-threatening reasons, please be considerate when ordering out at restaurants or in public. Many restaurants take gluten intolerance very seriously and go through extra precaution to ensure their food handling is not compromised for those medically diagnosed with gluten intolerance.***

You may have noticed that grocery stores and restaurants are carrying more and more gluten-free options these days. This can be attributed to the rise in celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivities (aka ‘wheat intolerance’), and wheat allergies.

But what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a combination of two proteins (gliadin + glutenin) that are found in some grains like wheat and barley. Gluten can be activated when wheat is broken down or kneaded (like when making bread) and gives food its chewy, stretchy, and bread like texture.

Those who’ve been medically diagnosed with celiac disease suffer a condition in which gluten triggers an autoimmune response where the body attacks the incoming gluten, in turn damaging the lining of the small intestine in the process. This reaction causes a range of issues, including the inability to absorb nutrients from other non-gluten foods and other allergic reactions.

Gluten intolerance is an issue that some Americans have no control over. However, many diet experts claim that if an average (non-celiac) person eats a gluten free diet, they too can benefit from better nutrient absorption, more energy, mental clarity, and better skin.

There is no true scientific backing that can validate this claim, at the moment.

Another thing to be careful about is the fact that gluten free foods that are trying to emulate regular wheat based foods (ie. gluten free waffles or muffins) have more fat and sugar to compensate for the lack of gluten. This is something to consider, given your particular diet goals.

In any case, plenty of people do experience weight loss and feel better by cutting out gluten, and eliminating gluten for sometime may help you get an idea if you have a wheat intolerance. If you’re looking for more information about celiac disease on the effect gluten has on our body, take a look at Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic on Amazon.

Now that you know the difference between some of today’s popular diets, it’s up to you to decide which one fits in best with your lifestyle, beliefs, and nutritional needs.

Just know that when it comes to YOUR diet, it’s a choice best made between you and your doctor. Feel free to adapt any of the above diets to better suit you, or take a more synchronistic approach and pick and choose the parts that make the most sense to you. It is possible to be Vegan-Keto or Vegan-Paleo or Vegan-Whole30 even. It all comes down to finding what works for you, and living in the common areas between the diets you choose (vegetables for all!).

Comment below if you practice the above diets (or a hybrid of the above) and let us know how its changed your life!

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