Paleo vs. Keto Diet

As I travel around testing firefighters, EMS, and police, it is very common to discuss dietary habits and changes annually. Two of the hottest diet trends are the Paleo and Keto Diet.


The Paleo diet, or caveman diet, is very popular with the crossfit community. It is called the caveman diet because you only eat what the caveman did. That means no grains, legumes, dairy or sugar and lots of meat, coconut, vegetables and fruit.

Pros for the Paleo diet are:

  • Vegetables and fruits should be the star. This encourages good fiber intake.
  • Encourages clean eating. The “avoid” list for Paleo includes processed foods, sugar, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, margarine and trans fats. “Avoiding processed sugars and sweeteners is a good thing,

Cons for the Paleo diet are:

  • Paleo eliminates all grains, legumes and dairy. The Paleo diet nixes grains, believing they cause inflammation. Ginger Hultin, a Seattle-based registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says, “Research actually shows the opposite to be true. Legumes and whole grains show up again and again as beneficial in heart health studies. Whole grains contain many nutrients like B vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, and a diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.”

The Keto diet is comprised of a very low-carb, moderate-protein and high-fat. That might look like five percent of calories coming from carbs, 20 percent coming from protein and 75 percent coming from fat. The idea is to have the body in ketosis, or a state when your body begins using fat as fuel rather than glucose is the goal. It generally takes a few days or weeks to reach a state of ketosis, and when it happens, the liver releases ketones (the byproducts of using fat for energy) into the blood. When a certain level of ketones is present in someone’s urine, it’s generally an indicator that they’re in ketosis.

Pros for the Keto diet are:

  • May be a good alternative for those that have tried calorie restrictive diets and failed. According to Amy M. Goss, PhD, RD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences at University of Alabama at Birmingham, “Other types of weight-loss diets that focus on calorie restriction have failed them.” That could be partially because as you lose weight, your metabolism slows, but hunger remains constant. “There is some evidence to suggest that the use of the ketogenic diet for weight loss may allow an individual to side step these adaptations, ultimately increasing the chances of maintaining weight loss long-term.”
  • The keto diet has been shown to help control blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight loss happens almost immediately in the beginning. Much of the initial weight loss is water weight, though it’s encouraging which can help people stay committed long enough to get into ketosis.

Cons for the Keto diet are:

  • Diets that are this restrictive (20-25g of carbs) is extremely difficult to follow long term. Once people go off this diet, then they tend to gain all weight back plus more. They often over-consume the very thing that they were restricting.

In the end, whether or not the keto diet or the paleo is a good fit depends on individual lifestyles because with any dietary change, adherence is the most important factor for long-term success. In my opinion, the best long-term approach is the healthy eating plate model. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with lean protein and a quarter with carbohydrates. Use smaller plates, don’t go back for seconds, avoid processed foods.

If you want to determine how you can improve your fitness and implement a program at your department contact

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