Lately, there are a number of popular diet trends cropping up in both the fitness and medical communities alike. The three most notable trends are the keto diet, Paleo diet, and Whole30 diet.

While “trendy” diets seem to come and go, these three are not likely to fall off the radar any time soon. However, before you jump on the keto or Paleo or Whole30 bandwagon, remember that there is no single cookie-cutter diet that is ideal for all people.

Your body is a unique machine; some nutrition habits will work great for you while others will not. In other words: Nutrition is not as black and white as most fitness and nutrition “experts” claim. There are many shades of grey at play when it comes to perfecting your diet and healthy lifestyle.

Does this mean that diets like keto, Whole30, and Paleo are not effective?

Certainly not.

However, when it comes to the Paleo and Whole30 diets, there isn’t a substantial body of evidence suggesting these diets are more effective than a simple, well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet (which is ironically a major oversight among the population these days).

In fact, there are no scientific or clinical studies that directly address the impact of the Whole30 diet on human health and longevity.

On the contrary, the keto diet is becoming a more scientifically praised diet, with new studies coming out nearly every week now.

So, how does the keto diet stack up compared to the Paleo diet and Whole30 diet?

Paleo vs. Whole30 Diet

The Paleo diet is generally used as a long-term diet, while the Whole30 Diet is designed to be a 30-day program/“cleanse.” (Fun fact: The notion of short-term “cleanses” is actually quite unfounded and there is next-to-no research suggesting any type of “cleanse” is more effective than just eating a balanced diet.)  

During the Whole30 diet, you do not need to count calories or weigh yourself. The Paleo diet, on the other hand, encourages you to monitor your daily calorie intake (which is generally best for body weight management).

What the Whole30 Diet and Paleo Diet do have in common is their food recommendations, which typically consist of:

  • Eggs
  • Fresh Seafood
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Vegetables
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Raw Seeds
  • Raw Nuts

Whole30 Diet: An Effective “Cleanse” or Quackery?

The Whole30 diet is essentially an elimination diet. Once you complete the 30-day “cleanse,” you can slowly reintroduce certain “off-limits” foods. Like any elimination diet, you are encouraged to monitor foods that may be impacting your progress/health.

For example, let’s say you eat a piece of wheat bread after you complete the Whole30 and notice that you have digestive problems; this might be a signal that you are gluten intolerant, meaning you should remove/limit wheat in your diet. (We will address the gluten-free trend later in this article.)

The Whole30 diet creators assert that certain foods can negatively impact your health and cause unexpected weight gain; these foods include:

  • Foods/drinks containing added sugars
  • Beans/lentils
  • Legumes
  • Grains (oats, rice, wheat, barley, etc.)
  • Dairy
  • Alcohol

As mentioned earlier, there have been no scientific studies which directly address the health impact benefits of the Whole30 diet.

So, why are so many nutrition “gurus” advocates of the Whole 30 diet?

Well, the Whole30 diet is not really anything profound when you consider that it basically just encourages people to eat more healthy protein sources, fresh vegetables, and raw foods.

Intuitively, this is going to be much healthier than eating sugar-laden junk, pounding a six-pack of beer, and stuffing your face with Double Whoppers ten times a week.

Does the Whole30 Diet Work?

Ultimately, the Whole30 diet is a highly restrictive way of eating and far from ideal in the long-term.  Sure, it might help in the short-term if your previous eating habits were unhealthy, but it’s not any more effective/beneficial than simply following a sustainable, balanced diet and watching your calorie intake.

In terms of keto vs. Whole30, the better long-term option is keto since it’s less restrictive.  The Whole30 isn’t really intended to be a long-term diet anyhow; in that regard, it could serve as an introductory transition to something like keto (or even Paleo dieting).

The Paleo Diet: Goodbye to Grains

Proponents of the Paleo diet claim that modern agriculture has led humans to predominantly consume grain-based diets, which has contributed to the many health complications and diseases we face.

Paleo is actually quite similar to keto, but you can eat a high amount of carbs and still be “Paleo-friendly.” The main thing on Paleo is to eliminate grains, added sugars, and generally dairy as well.

While there’s plenty of research demonstrating the negative health ramifications of consuming large amounts of processed carbs and added sugars, there isn’t conclusive evidence that grains are a direct cause of disease (or weight gain).[1]

The main grain people vehemently avoid these days is wheat, since it contains gluten – a group of proteins found in many cereal grains. These proteins are generally high in bread products, as they are what give flour dough elasticity and help maintain the shape of the final product.

But is the booming gluten-free trend really justifiable?

Gluten Allergy and Intolerance: Epidemic or Irrational Fear?

Research suggests as few as one in every 133 individuals are affected by celiac disease, and one in every 22 people are gluten-intolerant.[2]

Doing the math of the above suggests that as low as 0.75% of the population has celiac disease and 4.54% are gluten-intolerant.

Scientific evidence also demonstrates that as low as 3% of the U. S. population has any food-related allergies.[3] Ironically, wheat and/or gluten allergy isn’t even in the top 5.

It’s also fairly well-documented that red meat, which is widely consumed on the Paleo diet, may increase the risk of cancer (primarily colon cancer).[4]

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?

If you have to choose between Paleo vs. Keto, it’s really going to be up to your discretion and figuring out which fits best with your lifestyle.  Again, keto and Paleo are very similar diets in terms of the food recommendations and guidelines.

The Paleo diet is inherently lower in carbs than a typical Western (grain-based) diet, but it won’t necessarily put you in ketosis. If your goal is to get into ketosis (and stay there), then keto is the more appropriate diet.

We have an in-depth guide to the Paleo diet if you’re interested in learning more about the research and history behind it.

Keto vs. Paleo and Whole30: Fad Diets or Long-Term Solutions?

The ketogenic diet has gained popularity in both clinical practice and the fitness community due to an evolving body of research backing its health benefits.[5] It’s important to note that the keto diet is not meant to be a short-term solution (like the Whole30 diet), but more so a lifestyle change.

Benefits of keto often include:

How the Keto Diet Works

To get into ketosis, you’ll want to start by cutting your carb intake to about 25-30 grams per day (or roughly 5% of your total daily calorie intake, whichever is lower).  On keto, essentially all of your carbohydrates will come from fibrous vegetables, nuts/seeds, and dairy.

Since carb intake is so low on keto, you’ll be eating much more fat and an ample amount of protein. For most people, about 25-30% of total daily calories should come from protein. The best sources of complete protein are generally:

  • eggs
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • and dairy (plant sources are also suitable)

The remainder of your calories, 65-70% should come from healthy fat sources. Some great healthy fat sources for keto include avocado, grass-fed butter, fresh cheese, coconut, nuts/seeds, and fatty fish (salmon).

It’s generally best to count your calorie intake on keto as well (at least during the first few weeks).

Notable Health Benefits of the Keto Diet

  • By cutting out processed carbohydrates and sugar, and eating more healthy fat and prebiotic fiber, you will give your gut nutrients that stimulate the growth of “friendly” microbes while “starving” harmful bacteria.
  • Consuming ample amounts of healthy fats, such as omega-3s and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) on keto is beneficial for a myriad of physiological processes, ranging from enhanced cognitive function, more stable blood sugar levels, increased insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and better appetite control.[6]
  • Research suggests that cutting out carbs has a range of therapeutic benefits as well, such as reducing the risk of [7]:
    • Type-2 diabetes (and treating current diabetics)
    • Cognitive dysfunction and neurodegenerative disease
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Metabolic syndrome
    • Epileptic seizures

Keto vs Whole30 vs Paleo: Which Diet Is Best?

There is not much research suggesting that the Whole30 and Paleo diets are more beneficial than a well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet. Whether or not the food choices on these diets have added health benefits is speculative at best. Again, this doesn’t mean they aren’t useful or effective diet protocols.   

Keto, on the other hand, does have quite a bit more research to back the claims.

Ultimately, you have to do what works best for you. When it comes to your diet, the main goal should be to create nutritional habits that you can sustain while feeling good and promoting health/longevity.

For some people, that’s keto. For others, it’s Paleo. For the rest, it just means controlling calorie intake and eating mostly whole, nutrient-dense foods that are low in sugar.

Related Articles:

The Keto Diet vs the Standard American Diet (SAD)

Standard Ketogenic Diet (SKD): Complete Guide

The Three Types of Ketogenic Diets: Which is Best For You?

Cyclical Ketogenic Diet (CKD): Complete Guide

Targeted Ketogenic Diet (TKD): A Complete Guide

Vegan Keto Diet: Is it a Healthy Way of Eating?

References

[1] Hu, F. B., & Malik, V. S. (2010). Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes: epidemiologic evidencePhysiology & behavior100(1), 47-54.
[2] Gujral, N., Freeman, H. J., & Thomson, A. B. (2012). Celiac disease: prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatmentWorld journal of gastroenterology: WJG18(42), 6036.
[3] Rona, R. J., Keil, T., Summers, C., Gislason, D., Zuidmeer, L., Sodergren, E., … & McBride, D. (2007). The prevalence of food allergy: a meta-analysisJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology120(3), 638-646.
[4] Corpet, D. E. (2011). Red meat and colon cancer: should we become vegetarians, or can we make meat safer?Meat science89(3), 310-316.
[5] Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) dietsEuropean journal of clinical nutrition67(8), 789.
[6] Freeman, J., Veggiotti, P., Lanzi, G., Tagliabue, A., & Perucca, E. (2006). The ketogenic diet: from molecular mechanisms to clinical effectsEpilepsy Res68(2), 145-80.
[7] Gasior, M., Rogawski, M. A., & Hartman, A. L. (2006). Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic dietBehavioural pharmacology17(5-6), 431.

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Elliot received his BS in Biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and has been a freelance writer specializing in nutritional and health sciences for the past 5 years. He is thoroughly passionate about exercise, nutrition, and dietary supplementation, especially how they play a role in human health, longevity, and performance. In his free time you can most likely find him lifting weights at the gym or out hiking through the mountains of Colorado. He will also host the upcoming BioKeto podcast. You can connect with him on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/elliot.reimers) and Instagram (@eazy_ell)

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