If you are shopping around for the best modified or reduced carbohydrate diet to suit your unique nutrient and physical needs, perhaps this post will be of benefit to you!

Understandably, it can be difficult to assess whether a low carbohydrate or Paleo diet is better for you and your health goals.  With the wealth of information available online and through published material, it can be overwhelming to choose which eating regimen is best for your own needs and goals.  

Although it may seem difficult to believe, there are actually quite a few differences that set a Paleo-based diet apart from a low carbohydrate diet, and these differences are particularly important to consider when choosing to adhere to one of the two specific dietary plans.   Given the differences, it important to distinguish low carbohydrate from Paleo-oriented diets even though there may be a fair amount of overlap in both of the dietary patterns depending on the exact diet your prescribe to.

If you are already following a Paleo diet, chances are you’ve now you might figured out that the Paleo is a somewhat low carbohydrate diet by default given the elimination of grains and simple sugars.   So which diet is better in the long-run if both nutrition philosophies are ultimately reducing your carbohydrate intake?

Let’s look at 5 important differences between low carbohydrate and Paleo diets, and why the Paleo diet is considered to be a better choice:

1. The Paleo diet focuses on food quality:

While most low carbohydrate diets focus on weight loss, the Paleo diet emphasizes the importance of increasing the consumption of real, whole foods. Consider these two very different, extremely important details when weighing low carb versus Paleo:

  • The foods that nature has created and the Paleo diet revolves around, such as fruits and vegetables, are prime examples of real, whole foods because they contain only one ingredient (i.e. themselves) and there is no need to try to interpret a nutrition label.  
  • Compare this to the processed, low carbohydrate convenience foods typically incorporated into some of the most popular low carbohydrate diets such as nutrition bars, baking mixes, and packaged meals.  Most of these products come with a laundry list of ingredients, some of which you can’t even pronounce.  

In contrast, you will drastically reduce the amount of time spent on reading ingredient labels shop as you won’t be buying off-the-shelf, pre-packaged goods as part of your Paleo diet staples.  Instead, you will spend your time preparing healthy, nourishing foods that are of rather high quality. 

“If there’s one thing we know for sure about nutrition, it’s that nutritious whole foods are superior to highly processed and/or refined products. This is supported by a solid line of evidence showing that a whole-foods diet is superior to one rich in refined and processed foods.”(1), (2)

2. The Paleo diet has a healthy Omega-3 to Omega 6 ratio:

A Paleo diet is relatively well balanced in terms of the Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acid ratio, unlike most of the popular low carbohydrate diets that lead to the over-consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, which are present in vegetable and seed oils.  Why is this of concern?

Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are both essential to incorporate into your diet; however, the standard Western diet tends to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids while having excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, particularly when compared to the diet on which human beings evolved causing genetic patterns were established.  

When your Omega-6 intake exceeds your Omega-3, you are increasing your risk of maintaining an elevated inflammatory status. (3) Inflammation in and of itself lead to the development of many disease states.  Conversely, Omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to provide anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects.

Aside for inflammation alone, excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are linked to the promotion of the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids have the ability to exert suppressive effects. (4)  

For more research-specific information as well as tips to help ensure your diet is well balanced in terms of the Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, clink on this link.

3. The Paleo diet leads to long-term weight management:

There is a fairly popular misconception that as long as you are limiting your carbohydrate intake, you are almost guaranteed to lose weight regardless of how much you eat.  If that were true, every individual looking to lose weight would be able to follow a low carbohydrate diet to help them achieve their ideal weight.

While it is not healthy to aim for severe caloric restriction as part of any dietary plan, long-term weight management is best achieved in following your hunger and satiety signals.  When you focus on eating the right kinds of fats, wild caught or organic sources of protein, and plenty of non-starchy vegetables that bulk up your fiber intake, fat loss and long-term weight management feels a bit more effortless.

“Dietary guidelines have changed over the years as research becomes more accurate in determining what we should eat to attain optimal health and weight. The strongest evidence to date shows that calories matter, but focusing on food quality is an equally important part of preventing weight gain and promoting weight loss.”

With a focus on eating high quality, real, whole foods, you don’t have to purposely carbohydrates, though you’ll naturally eat fewer carbohydrates simply through the elimination of highly processed and refined carbohydrates.   

With most low carbohydrate diets, you have to adhere to particular and often rigid carbohydrate intake levels which most often can only be accomplished through daily macronutrient tracking.  Often times this is not a sustainable plan, and without long-term lifestyle changes, weight loss will be temporary and fleeting.

4. The Paleo diet has clear bone density benefits:

One relatively common concern related to the Paleo diet pertains to calcium, or lack thereof, with the elimination of dairy as part of the general dietary guidelines.  

Of all the most common concerns and complaints expressed by conventional health professionals with respect to the Paleo diet relates to one’s calcium and vitamin D intake.  There is a fairly widespread belief that the risk of an inadequate nutrient intake of both of these bone-building nutrients is greatly increased through the elimination of grains and dairy in the diet, which will eventually cause one’s bone health to greatly suffer.

What many individuals fail to recognize is that the richest sources of calcium in our diet do not come from dairy products, but rather through the regular incorporation of green, leafy vegetables or bone-in fish.  Did you know that if you incorporated two cups of leafy greens with a side of bone-in sardines throughout the day, you’d already taken in roughly 840 mg of calcium?  

With a few simple additions of foods listed on this chart, you’d easily be at 1,000 mg of calcium for the day.  Aside from your diet, living the Paleo lifestyle has beneficial effects on your bones, too.

“A nutrient dense Paleo diet, full of vitamin-rich fats and calcium-rich vegetables, plus the associated lifestyle factors promoted in this community including good sleep, stress management, and regular appropriate exercise, is the perfect combination for promoting good bone health.”

5. The Paleo diet allows for healthy incorporation of fruits and vegetables:

Unlike the Paleo diet, many of the well known low carbohydrate diets eliminate almost all sources of fruit while placing a moderate to severe restriction on vegetables, both starchy and non-starchy.

While fruit does not have to be the primary focus of your diet, particularly if you are incorporating a wide variety of vegetables, optimal health is best achieved through good quality, nutrient dense food choices that provide your body with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.   According to epidemiology studies, fruits and vegetables provide protection against a number of chronic diseases. (5)

While it may be possible to get in a number of vitamins and minerals from animal foods incorporated in rather high amounts as part of a low carbohydrate diet, there are rather obvious downsides to eating very little fruits and vegetables.  

Aside from providing your body with carbohydrates which are the primary source of energy for your body and brain, you lack fermentable fibers, which can be detrimental to your health.  For more information on the importance and benefits of fermentable fiber, check out this great resource!

Take Home Message: After learning about some of the important differences between a low carbohydrate and Paleo diet, it is up to you to decide what will be best for you and your body.  After all, you know your body better than anyone else, and there is no “one size fits all” approach to weight loss or optimal health.

Just remember, if you choose to follow a Paleo nutrition plan, you will be incorporating food choices that basically mimic the diet of your pre-agricultural ancestors to best accommodate your physiology, which remains essentially the same as theirs was.  

In addition, the Paleo diet tends to be naturally low in carbohydrates as you will be eliminating grains, legumes, processed foods, and most often dairy. 

For even more benefits of following a Paleo diet, be sure to visit this link!

Low Carb vs Paleo (Which is Better?)
Aleksandra