Both Paleo and Whole30 are wildly trendy diets that ditch processed eats in favor of whole foods.
But the diets aren’t actually interchangeable terms. Whole30 has stricter requirements and is a time-constrained program, while Paleo is a lifestyle change.
Still confused? Let’s map out the main differences between Paleo and Whole30. And help you figure out if either diet plan is right for you.
Paleo (codename: the caveman diet) is a diet designed to mimic eating habits of the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer age — back when obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates were presumably lower.
Paleo proponents say eating like your ancestors can ward off “modern” diseases and help you lose weight. But TBH, paleo’s premise is a stretch.
Ancient human diets would’ve varied depending on geography and food availability. Plus, just because certain foods weren’t available to your ancestors doesn’t mean they’re bad for you.
Paleo food do’s and don’ts
Eating paleo = eating these foods:
- plant-based fats (like coconut, olive, and avocado oils!)
And avoiding these foods:
- vegetable oil
- legumes (buh-bye, beans)
- refined carbs (so long, white flour)
- refined sugars (see ya never, candy)
- super processed foods like chips, cereal, and most prepackaged noms
- alcohol (occasional glass of sulfite-free wine OK if not strictly following the diet)
Paleo pros and cons
The intense focus on minimally processed foods means you’ll be eating lots of nutrient-dense foods. It’s basically a form of “clean eating” that also nixes random food groups like dairy and legumes.
That said, eating paleo could limit your nutrient intake, especially if you load up on protein instead of veggies. It can be tricky (but not impossible) to sustain a well-balanced, healthy paleo diet.
Potential pros of eating paleo
- weight loss without counting calories
- healthy weight management
- blood sugar stabilization
- less sugar (soooo many health perks!)
- some experts support occasional glass of sulfite-free wine and dark chocolate
Potential cons of paleo
- heavy red meat consumption
- higher risk of kidney stones and kidney probs
- nutritional deficiencies from cutting out dairy and legumes
- no coffee
The Whole30 program = an intense, 30-day “detox” focused on minimally processed, easily digestible foods.
Designed to help pinpoint food sensitivities and reset your eating habits, Whole30 has gained a fanbase for helping weight loss and smoother digestion.
Here’s the thing: Nixing sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and dairy probably *will* help you lose weight (even if that’s not your goal). Whole30 maintains a lengthy no-no list, so you’re bound to consume fewer calories and more nutrient-dense plants.
Whole30 food do’s and don’ts
The Whole30 program allows foods like:
- veggies (this just in: yes, even potatoes)
- healthy, natural fats (like avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee)
- black coffee
Whole30 ixnays foods like:
- any added sugar or artificial sweetener (goodbye, honey)
- beans and other legumes
- processed additives (carrageenan, etc.)
- “fake” treats like cauliflower pizza crust or paleo pancakes
Whole30 pros and cons
The Whole30 program is generally safe and you’ll get some potential health perks from eating nutritious, whole foods. But things get murky if you’re at risk for disordered eating.
It’s also a tricky, potentially unhealthy plan for folks who eat plant-based diets because it cuts out nutrient-dense proteins like beans and soy.
Potential pros of Whole30
- weight loss without counting calories
- less sugar intake
- black coffee is allowed
- no booze, no hangovers!
- figuring out which foods make you feel crappy or bloated
- while not proven, may offer blood sugar stabilization benefits like paleo since diets are similar
Potential cons of Whole30
- potential heavy red meat consumption
- temporary weight loss could contribute to yo-yo dieting
- might trigger disordered eating
- possible constipation (swapping beans for steak = no bueno)
- no alcohol or chocolate
By now you’ve probably noticed that Whole30 serves as a stricter, time-constrained form of paleo. But we’ve pinpointed one major difference between the two: intended purpose.
- Paleo = a long-term eating plan. Like going vegan or gluten-free, it’s designed to be a lifestyle change.
- Whole30 = a 30-day food reset. You’ll severely restrict your eating for 30 days, then gradually reintroduce the restricted foods to settle on a new, long-term eating plan that works for you.
Remember, Whole30 aims to help you pinpoint food intolerances. After IDing your triggers, you can welcome back “off-limits” foods like beans or peanut butter.
Paleo might seem more chill at first. You can have a teeny bit of chocolate or wine, which are strictly forbidden on Whole30. But the rules on day 1 stay the same for as long as you eat paleo — weeks, months, or even years.
On an average day, paleo and Whole30 look a whole lot alike. Peep these parallels:
- You’ll eat the same things. Both paleo and Whole30 emphasize animal protein, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats.
- You’ll nix the same food groups. Wave goodbye to grains, dairy, and legumes. While these food groups cause stomach issues in some folks, eliminating them also removes some healthy, nutrient-dense foods from your diet.
- You’ll swap carbs for protein. Carbs are not “bad.” But both these plans drastically reduce your carb intake by restricting grains. And most folks end up relying on protein-heavy foods in their place.
- You might lose weight. When you’re required to avoid so many foods, you’ll probably create a calorie deficit. Plus, noshing on fiber-full fruits and veggies might help you feel more full, causing you to eat less.
- Both *may* dial down your risk of some chronic diseases. A research review of the paleo diet found that it’s beneficial for metabolic health and waist circumference — both factors in the development and management of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, more research is needed to confirm this.
- They’re hard to sustain. Whole30 takes less time, sure, but both plans require a lot of meal planning and prep. Your wallet might take a hit too. Health or not, the accessibility and affordability of these plans depend a lot on your schedule and location.
- Paleo and Whole30 are both strict. Rules, rules, rules.
Here’s the lowdown on Whole30 vs paleo.
|What is it?||long-term eating plan consisting of minimally processed foods that would’ve been available to hunter-gatherer humans in the Paleolithic age||30-day elimination diet designed to reset healthy eating habits and pinpoint problem foods|
|Purpose?||lifestyle change||30-day clean eating reset|
|Sweet stuff?||no refined sugars, but honey and maple syrup are A-OK||no added sweeteners, whether natural or artificial|
|Meat and fish?||✅||✅|
|Fruits and veggies?||✅||✅ (but go easy on the fruit)|
|Booze?||⛔️ (but the occasional sulfite-free wine is OK if you’re not a paleo purist)||⛔️|
|Coffee?||⛔️||✅ black coffee only (Whole30 compliant creamers allowed)|
If Whole30 and paleo are sisters, think of paleo and keto as cousins. They might look alike even though they have different personalities.
A quick summary of each plan:
- Paleo aims for minimally processed, whole foods thought to be available to Paleolithic humans.
- Keto aims for high fat, low carb consumption regardless of whether it comes from processed foods or whole foods. The focus is on a specific breakdown of macronutrients (protein/carbohydrates/fat).
In reality, folks eating keto *can* adhere pretty closely to paleo guidelines. But because keto demands a high fat, low carb consumption, the diet can also include dairy, peanut butter (legume alert!), and other foods that are paleo-prohibited.
Each member of the trio — Whole30, paleo, and keto — has the potential to help you lose weight and keep your blood sugar under control. But all three can be unnaturally limiting too.
Every body is different. There’s no one-size-fits-all diet. Whether your goal is to feel better or shed body fat, just check with a doc or dietician before cutting out major food groups.
- Paleo and Whole30 are similar diets with very different purposes.
- Paleo cuts out highly processed eats in favor of food thought to be eaten by hunter-gatherer humans in the Paleolithic age.
- Whole30 also cuts out highly processed foods. This super-restrictive, 30-day plan aims to “reset” your eating and pinpoint food sensitivities.
- Both paleo and Whole30 could help you lose weight and feel more energized.
- Both paleo and Whole30 can be tough to sustain.
- Ultimately, both paleo and Whole30 eliminate protein-rich dairy and nutrient-dense legumes and whole grains. Following these plans might mean missing out on some good-for-you eats. So, while both claim to offer health perks, they might not benefit everyone.