Paleo, Whole30, or Keto – Which is Right for Me? Or Are None Right for Me?

Gluten-free lifestyle blog

For many of us, we use January as a way to reset our diet and exercise regimen. New year, new me – right? There are so many different diets and ways of eating it can get really overwhelming when trying to determine which is the best for you. 

Jennifer Ostman is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner based in Dallas. Along with some friends, I worked with her last year on a six-week sugar detox. I reached out to her for her advice on clean eating and her opinion the Paleo, Whole30, and Keto diets. “As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I believe the most important thing anyone can do for their health is eliminate processed foods and eat a properly-prepared, nutrient-dense diet made of real whole foods. While a New Year’s resolution to eat healthy and exercise is admirable, many people try to jump from a SAD diet (Standard American Diet) right into a fairly extreme diet such as Keto.  And while I do think these diets have great benefits, I do not think it is realistic to expect real lasting results if you currently eat a lot of processed food,”

Three of the most talked about diets is the Paleo diet, Whole30, and the Keto Diet. There are some similarities among these diets and there are a lot of differences between them, as well. The Paleo diet is more of a lifestyle change, where the Whole30 is short term diet designed to kick-start healthy eating and weight loss. The Keto diet can be controversial, as it promotes a low carb, high fat eating which isn’t necessarily the healthiest in the long term.

How do you know which way of eating is right for you? Here is a breakdown of these three diets.

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. Developed by Loren Cordain, PhD, the Paleo diet is also known as the “caveman diet”, since it focuses on food eaten by hunter-gatherer civilizations. 

Foods that are allowed:

  • Fresh, unprocessed meats including poultry, chicken, pork, steak, bacon, and game.
  • Fresh seafood including salmon, shrimp, halibut, tuna, and tilapia. As long as it’s cooked according to Paleo methods, pretty much any seafood is allowed.
  • Non-starchy vegetables including asparagus, avocado, Brussels sproutskale, carrots, spinach, broccoli, and peppers. These vegetables will help you feel fuller for longer and are naturally low in sugars. 
  • Limited starchy vegetables that include sweet potatoes and yams, squash (all types), and beets. These foods are perfectly fine to eat, just don’t each them every day. Limit to once or twice a week.
  • Fresh fruit. A bowl of fresh fruit can be very refreshing. Fruits are Paleo-friendly, but as with the Whole30, just be careful about the quantity of fruit eaten each day. Fruit is naturally high in sugar and you don’t want to spike your blood sugar levels because you are over-doing it with the fruit.
  • Eggs, unless you have a food allergy or intolerance to them.
  • Nuts and seeds make for a great snack. They are high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. But, they are also high in fat, so just be careful about how many nuts you are eating. It’s easy to munch on a bag of mixed nuts and before you know it, the bag is almost gone! Don’t forget, peanuts aren’t allowed because they are a legume, not a nut.
  • Healthy oils and fats are good for you – they don’t raise your cholesterol. This includes coconut oil, olive oil, coconut butter, avocados and avocado oil, and ghee. This also includes cooking with oils left over from cooking meats like bacon. 
  • Honey, stevia, and maple syrup. Make sure to use these sweeteners in moderation because they are high in natural sugar.
  • Nut flours such as coconut flour, almond flour, cassava flour, arrowroot flour, or tigernut flour.

Foods to avoid:

  • No refined or processed sugar. This includes high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
  • No dairy of any kind. If you are dairy-free, this step is easy. But you can’t eat dairy-free yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, cheese, or many other “dairy-free” items, as these contain added sugars or soy. 
  • No legumes. This means no beans of any kind. Peanuts are included in this family, so no peanut butter. 
  • No white or red potatoes, as these are high in starch and natural sugar. Sweet potatoes are allowed in moderation.
  • No grains, including corn and rice. If you are gluten-free, this is easy (you just have to add corn and rice to the list), as you’ve already eliminated these from you diet. If you aren’t gluten-free, this means no bread, pasta, crackers, oats, quinoa, bulgur, and sprouted grains, to name a few. Unlike the Whole30, Paleo bread is allowed.
  • No processed foods of any kind. 
  • No refined oils. Canola, palm, and vegetable oils are all off limits. You can cook with olive, avocado, or coconut oils. 

The Palo diet may be beneficial to people prone to internal inflammation, have been diagnosed with PCOS or another auto-immune disease, have insulin resistance or need to regulate your blood sugar due to diabetes or pre-diabetes, have high cholesterol or heart disease, or are looking to lose weight (or maintain weight loss). Like the Whole30, the diet eliminates processed foods, processed sugar, gluten, and dairy. Unlike the Whole30, you can enjoy a glass of wine (in moderation, like on a Friday night after a long week at work). This diet is also easier to maintain long-term since it’s not a rigid as the Whole30 or the Keto diet.


Developed by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig in 2009, the Whole30 is an elimination diet. Foods that contain sugars and sweeteners, gluten, dairy, and legumes may be causing you to have internal inflammation or leaky gut, have low energy levels, poor sleep quality, and cause your blood sugar levels to spike. The idea is to eliminate these foods and food groups for 30 days, allowing your body to heal and reset. 

This elimination diet doesn’t require you to count calories, carbohydrates, or macronutrients like the Keto diet. You can eat as much as you want – as long as it is a Whole30 approved food. The rules of the Whole30 are very strict. No cheat days are allowed; if you slip up, the program expects you to start all over again at day 1. 

What you can eat during the 30 days:

  • Meat. Even if you aren’t doing the Whole30, you should try and buy meat that is organic, grass-fed, or all natural. Check out my blog post about the benefits of buying organic meat.
  • Seafood. Wild-caught is the best, as it won’t contain any additives. 
  • Eggs. For those of us with egg allergies or intolerances, this is off limits.
  • Fresh vegetables. Try and buy what is in season and avoid canned and frozen vegetables. 
  • Fresh fruit. Fruit is high in natural sugar, so be careful to not eat too much in one day. You can’t eat dried fruit, as this is really high in sugar. 
  • Whole-Fat Foods like avocado, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, and nut butters.
  • Potatoes. Sweet potatoes have always been allowed on the Whole30 but they added white potatoes to the list. Who doesn’t love a potato? 
  • Ghee or clarified butter. For those of us with dairy intolerances or allergies, these may not be an option. When I first went dairy-free, ghee bothered me. However, I tried it again last year and it didn’t bother me. It’s still not my go-to for cooking, but I keep it in my pantry and use it when I want a buttery taste in my cooking. 
  • Vinegar, including rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. The only thing not allowed is malt vinegar because it contains gluten.
  • Coconut aminos. If you are already soy-free, you know how easily this can be substituted for soy sauce.

What you can’t eat for 30 days:

  • No sugar of any kind, including maple syrup, coconut sugar, honey, agave nectar, stevia, artificial sweeteners like Splenda.
  • No alcohol. You can’t even cook with it.
  • No grains, including corn and rice. If you are gluten-free, this is easy (you just have to add corn and rice to the list), as you’ve already eliminated these from you diet. If you aren’t gluten-free, this means no bread, pasta, crackers, oats, quinoa, bulgur, and sprouted grains, to name a few.
  • No legumes. This means no beans of any kind. Peanuts are included in this family, so no peanut butter. 
  • No soy. This includes soy sauce, miso, tofu, and read your labels, because this includes soy lecithin.
  • No dairy. If you are dairy-free, this step is easy. But you can’t eat dairy-free yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, cheese, or many other “dairy-free” items, as these contain added sugars or soy. 
  • Read labels for carrageeans, MSG and sulfites. Carrageean causes inflammation, which this diet is trying to eliminate. No one should be eating MSG and sulfites are preservatives.
  • Do not eat processed foods, baked goods, junk food or other treats made with Whole30 approved ingredients. One of the goals of the Whole30 diet is to break the “sugar demon” and eating these types of foods is only going to make the monster bigger. Clean eating is the platform of this diet and none of these foods are considered “clean.”

I did the Whole30 back in 2015 when I first moved to Dallas. I had been on a two-month goodbye tour of New Jersey and I was so ready to detox. I’m not going to lie – it was hard. Not being able to have a glass of wine on a Friday night was brutal. But, I got really good at reading labels and learning how to make better food choices. To this day, I avoid legumes as much as possible and try and limit the amount of rice and corn I consume. The Whole30 has become very popular over the past few years. As a result, there are a lot more options availablefor people wanting to partake in this diet.

The Keto Diet

The Keto diet is basically a low-carb diet, high-fat diet like Atkins. When you drastically reduce the amount of carbs eaten, your body goes into ketosis, a type of metabolic state. When you reach ketosis, your body is relying on burning fat instead of sugar for energy.

The standard keto diet contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and only 5% carbs. This can help reduce blood sugar spikes and helps keep insulin levels regulated. However, there is a lot of controversary around the Keto diet, as there are some dangerous side effects.

Diabetics are advised not to follow this diet, unless under close doctor supervision. Acids are produced as a byproduct of burning fat – too much of this buildup causes the blood to become too acidic, which damages the liver, kidneys, and brain. Ketoacidosis can develop, which can become fatal if left untreated.

Another concern doctors and nutritionists have about the Keto diet is people going overboard on the high-fat foods. Bacon is delicious but you shouldn’t eat it at every meal. As a result, people who follow the Keto diet may be prone to weight gain, not weight loss.

The keto diet has been found to be beneficial for people suffering from seizures or epilepsy

Foods that are allowed:

  • Meat of any kind, including sausage and deli meats.
  • Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and shellfish.
  • Eggs
  • Dairy, including butter, cream, and unprocessed cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils
  • Non-starchy vegetables including kale, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cauliflower.
  • Fruits low in carbs, such as apricots, grapefruit, raspberries, and lemons.

Foods to avoid:

  • Sugar of all kinds
  • Grains and starches, just like Paleo and Whole30.
  • All fruit except for a small portion of berries.
  • Legumes, also like Paleo and Whole30.
  • Root vegetables and potatoes. This includes carrots, beets, parsnips, and all potatoes. Basically, any vegetable grown in the earth.
  • Processed and sugar-free “diet” foods
  • Limit the amount of “unhealthy” fats like vegetable oils and mayonnaise.
  • Alcohol, unless labeled “low carb”


“Paleo and Whole30 are very similar; are you the type of person who needs a “program” with an official start and end date? Then Whole30 is a great option.  Are you a rebel who doesn’t want to be tied down by those strict rules? Maybe exploring Paleo feels better to you. Keto is a therapeutic diet that can be very beneficial, but needs to be thoroughly researched and executed correctly, in my opinion. Ideally with the guidance of a practitioner,” said Jennifer.

At the end of the day, you need to determine what is sustainable for you and your family. Maybe one specific diet doesn’t fit into your lifestyle but a combination of two works best. We follow a combination of the Paleo diet and the Whole30. This allows us to eat clean while still being able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage on occasion.

“The bottom line is that we must respect bio-individuality.  We are each very unique, and cannot expect that one diet will heal everyone,” said Jennifer. “Personally, I know that I do very well with high fat and low carb. I also have family members and clients who have more energy, better digestion, and better overall health with more carbs. You must find what works best for you. Give Paleo a try for 30 days. Try the Whole30. Test out a few Keto recipes. How do you feel? Trust your instinct!” she concludes. 

As always, if you are starting out on a new diet and/or fitness regime, you should consult with your doctor, healthcare provider, or nutritionist. He or she may recommend you start your diet a specific way or advise against one versus another based on pre-existing health issues. 

About Jennifer:

Jennifer Ostman is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner based in Dallas, TX.  She is creating an online program called The 30 Day Real Food Challenge: a fully online course that provides a complete 30-Day Meal Plan (grocery lists, meal prep guide & recipes), nutrition education, kitchen skills, and practical tips. This program is designed to help you cultivate new habits that will last you a lifetime. Coming April 2019!  

Download the free guide: My Favorite Packaged Food Brands

3 Comments on “Paleo, Whole30, or Keto – Which is Right for Me? Or Are None Right for Me?

  1. So thorough, thoughtful, and concise! Thank you, Megan, for explaining everything. I am on the Keto diet with some cheating. Red wine with dinner, not so terrible.


  2. Pingback: Super Bowl Jalapeno Poppers – The Food Allergy Foodie

  3. Pingback: Super Bowl Jalapeno Poppers – The Food Allergy Foodie

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