Paleo vs. Low Carb – Variations of the Same Theme


So what’s the difference between Paleo, Primal, Ancestral and Low Carb High Fat lifestyles?  Inspired by this interesting post from Livin La Vida Low Carb Blog, discussing what I like to call the Politics of Paleo, I wanted to comment.

Paleo, Primal, Ancestral and Low Carb guidelines are merely variations of the same theme. Reducing processed foods especially from sugars and starches and consuming more real foods containing natural proteins and natural fats from both animal and plant based sources.

We define these programs based on percent of energy or calories from the macronutrients:

  • Low Carb High Fat Diets – 70% fat, 20% protein and <10% carbs.
  • Paleo and Primal diets – 50% fat, 30% protein and <20% carbs.

The more Insulin Resistant the individual the more weight loss will be achieved on a Low Carb High Fat program. Paleo and Primal programs are great for those who tend to be less insulin resistant, needing to loose less weight and or looking to optimize overall health. No two people are alike and the goal is to find a program best suited to the individual.

  • Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD

    Thank you for reminding everyone that no two people are alike—but I would like to adapt the last phrase. Maybe it’s not about finding a program best suited to the individual. That inherently means the individual has to adapt to the program. Ideally, one should be able to put together an approach to food that works for them.

    People are initially drawn to structure. It seems easier and simpler in the short run. But I also find people struggle with that same structure when they don’t need it as much or when it no longer works for them. It is important to empower people to adjust their approach to food so that it truly works for them. The body continues to change and adapt. With a healthier diet, people cultivate a healthier gut and more effective energy regulation. The approach to food they needed to get on track is not always what they need to stay on course.

    • Bonnie – Great comments. As healthcare professionals we provide guidance and structure initially. The ultimate goal indeed is to empower people to find their own path to health.

  • If only paleo was indeed low carb, it is not however low carb any longer. The main stream paleo crowd has truly come full circle as my friend points out.

    • Danny – There are so many definitions that we all could use some clarity

  • Susan

    I started with low carb only, but would occasionally have processed foods, such as “low carb tortillas,”, mcdonalds chicken salds, processed salad dressings, etc. I’ve since learned a lot about paleo and have completely embraced the elimination of processed foods, including grains, legumes, (barring an occasional splurge), soy and most dairy. The low carb aspect helped me see the importance of macronutrients, but the paleo pushed me further to learn just how processed most of our “food” really is and how important hormones and gut health are too. I currently eat in a low-carb, mostly ketogenic paleo way. I credit both movements for giving me the best health of my life and the knowledge of how to be able to get there!

    • Susan – A great summary how both programs complement each other and have also helped you.