Atkins diet v paleo primal differences comparision-min

9 Reasons Why Paleo isn’t Atkins

Now that more people have heard of Paleo, I've notice it is often assumed to be a different name for the Atkins Diet. “Oh, so you’re doing Atkins…”. Well actually, no. I follow a Paleo Diet, which is completely different to Atkins.

1. Low-Carb?

The main difference between Paleo and Atkins is that Atkins IS low-carb. In the induction phase (the initial two weeks), less than 20g of carbs a day are consumed, rising to about 20g – 60g a day in the Ongoing Weight Loss Stage. This is designed to keep the body in a state of Ketosis, which seems to be very beneficial to achieving weight-loss. Whilst a great number of people do eat a low-carb Paleo diet (keeping carbs under 50g a day seems popular); Paleo is not a low-carb diet tweet this quote Indeed, a lot of people, particularly Paleo athletes and crossfitters, eat a far higher carb ratio (though obviously these carbohydrates come from foods like sweet potatoes and fruit – rather than refined carbs).

2. Counting, Counting, Couting…

As carbs rule on Atkins, counting is essential. An Atkins diet requires measuring, weighing and recording of the carbohydrate content of everything that’s eaten. Paleo is just about eating real food and avoiding grains, legumes and dairy – so no weighing, counting, measuring and journaling is required. So. Much. Easier.

3. Grass-Fed, Organic?

A Paleo diet is all about food quality. Meat in particular, is ideally grass-fed and organic. Processed, grain-fed, intensively farmed meat is to be avoided. On Atkins however, the source of the food isn't of such importance (though they do seem to be paying more attention to quality).

4. Processed?

A simple “is it Paleo” test can be resolved like this: if it’s in a packet, it probably Paleo tweet this quote . If it’s in a packet, it could well be Atkins. Atkins have a whole rage of processed convenience foods, that meet the Atkins low-carb rule; but would fail miserably to be classed as Paleo foods, with their long list of ingredients.
Paleo-Diet-V-Atkins-Diet 680-min

5. Allowable Foods

Whilst a Paleo diet omits grains, legumes and (sometimes) dairy, on an Atkins diet, these are all permissible – providing they are low in Calories. You can consume sweeteners, diet soda, seed oils, soy, Atkins chocolate bars, Atkins crisps – and lots of other very un-Paleo foods on Atkins.

6. Purpose

I also think the purpose of the plans is very different. Atkins followers tend to be following the plan for weight-loss – once they get to their goal weight, they generally stop eating an Atkins Diet. Paleo however, attracts followers for many reasons. Weight loss is definitely a driver, but many people come to Paleo to improve their athletic performance too. Health is a key motivation for many looking to reverse/ improve health issues such as diabetes, allergies and auto-immune conditions.

7. For Life, Or Just For a Bikini?

Generally, Atkins seems to be followed until weight-loss goals are achieved. Paleo is more of a lifestyle; a way of eating and living that is easy to follow forever.

8. Not Just Eating

It’s also important to bear in mind that as well as nutrition, fitness, strength, stress-reduction, balance, sleep and sunshine are amongst the lifestyle factors that Paleo addresses. Atkins appears to be primarily focused on diet, rather than lifestyle factors.

9. Paleo-Atkins?

It is possible to be Paleo-Atkins; but many people are also Paleo-not-Atkins.

Have people told you “oh, Paleo – that’s like Atkins”, when you tell them how you eat? Have you ever tried Atkins? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on Atkins and Atkins V Paleo in the comments below!


Paleo Cookbooks cavemanfeast paleo-recipe-book
16 replies
  1. Tacosaurus
    Tacosaurus says:

    I have done both. As you noted, Atkins several times because when I would reach my weight goal I would think oh good I’m normal again and move right back onto the foods that had made me fat in the first place.

    I started another Atkins round this year for weight loss then was noodling around looking at low carb online and found a whole new push to eating whole/real foods and over the last few months have been modifying my obsession with “just low carb” to be “low carb AND all those good foods that are part of an Ancestral Diet”.

    I am especially pleased to have learned what I have about grains and legumes … interesting because from a pure Atkins perspective I knew grain=carb but I see now it runs much deeper than that.

    I am finding that giving up Dairy is more difficult. Never been a big milk drinker or consumer of yogurt, but absolutely love my cheese. . . which Atkins is fine with but Paleo frowns on.

    Same is true of grass-fed/pastured vs. commercial meats, eggs, etc. I am making an effort, but the cost difference is significant and I don’t have unlimited funds. I was interested to see your comment above about grain-fed to be avoided. Is that because of the Omega 3/Omega 6 issues or something else?

    I find my best of both worlds approach is serving me well now and we’ll see how things go along if I tilt long term more to just low carb or the whole foods approach.

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      The Omega6/3 is a big problem in grain-fed meat; it can be as much as four times higher than grass-fed meat!

      Experimentation is the best thing, working out what works well for you.

  2. Rella
    Rella says:

    Tacosaurus – my story is similar. I did Atkins for weight loss and control my hypoglycemia, but stumbled into paleo more recently and found it to be better for my overall health. This winter I finally gave up all dairy for 30 days and noticed my constant sinus congestion cleared up. I ate some cheese and it came back. Now I avoid all cow dairy products: I miss it but breathing easily is so much more rewarding. Goat dairy does not affect me as much, so I allow the occasional goat feta or goat yogurt.

    From what I’ve read around the webs, dairy intolerance is like that. Give it up, reintroduce and see what happens. It is more immediately noticeable than grain lectins tearing holes in your intestines.

    For meat and eggs: I get the best my budget allows. Nutritionally the o3/o6 fat ratio is better in pastured livestock, and I would rather give my money to people who raise animals more traditionally. But I can’t afford it often, so I trim the fat from my conventional meats and cook in coconut oil or pastured beef tallow.

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      I’ve had exactly the same experience with dairy Rella – it really does seem to be related to sinus issues – for me anyway.

  3. Ken
    Ken says:

    Funny you have this post as just last week a pal of my sister had to go to emergency hospital, as she was totally bunged up (you probably have guessed what that means) I was quite upset when my sister said, yea she was on the same diet as you. I talk but it seems she doesn’t listen, great.

  4. julianne
    julianne says:

    My observation is one reason why Atkins is so successful for people on the induction phase is because they give up grains. So many are gluten sensitive – but have no idea. The foggy brain, gut issues, headaches etc linked with gluten sensitivity disappear and they put it down to low carb, rather than no grains. I did exactly this when I originally switched to the Zone diet. I thought all my good results were linked with balanced meals and reduced carbs. Over time when people come off the strict versions and add back grain carbs, and some symptoms come back they (as I did) thought it was because I wasn’t low carb enough, when in fact it was the grain carbs triggering my health issues.
    I now eat a decent amount of paleo carbs, without issue. Like you say – food quality is the most important factor defining paleo.

    • Suz
      Suz says:

      That’s a really good point Julianne; and of course, you would attribute it to being low-carb, rather than excluding grains…

  5. Audra Blue
    Audra Blue says:

    I did Atkins quite a few times. Each time I lost a heap of weight and looked amazing. But all the animal protein was too acidic and completely bunged me up. I was slim but had a bloated belly and was intensely uncomfortable. And the cravings were insane. I was consuming salami sticks, cheese cubes and Pepsi Max like they were going out of style just to try and dampen them down.

    Eventually, I stopped it because I couldn’t deal any more and I put back all the weight plus a whole load more. To this day, I can’t eat an egg. I went from that to food combining which worked a treat but eventually stopped, I’m not sure why.

    I’ll be starting Paleo tomorrow. I’m hoping it will lead to weight loss but I’m really looking for overall health. At 46, it’s getting harder to keep the weight off even when I eat well and do weight training every day. I heard that Paleo settles down your hormones because it’s a better way to eat, so I’m hoping that will help me.

  6. Elena
    Elena says:

    Paleo isn’t Atkins but Atkins could be Paleo with a few thoughtful modifications. I agree that most people do Atkins to lose weight and then go off-plan but then of course, they regain the weight! Atkins is designed to be a low carb lifestyle where each person determines their own carb threshold to remain in fat-burning for a majority of the time and maintain their weight loss. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Atkins…that lone voice in the 60’s saying that fat is in fact good for you and being ridiculed for it by every other doctor and “dietician”!

  7. Mike
    Mike says:

    I reckon another difference is that paleo has an intuitive reason for being right, whereas Atkins seems a bit mysterious and counter-intuitive. The principle of realigning our diet and fitness habits with our genetic heritage is kind of obvious… once someone tells you! The principle of minimal carbs and lots of fat just seems weird.

  8. BillyHW
    BillyHW says:

    With some small modifications Atkins can be Paleo, and Paleo can be Atkins. They really aren’t that far apart. Anyone can do either of these diets wrongly (an excess of processed junk foods as opposed to real food), or not stick closely enough to it, or not stick with it once they’ve reached their goals. And anyone doing either of these diets right will be eating about a million times better/healthier than the average modern diet.

    Eliminate refined sugars and starches and you’ve solved 90% of the problem, and both diets agree on that.

    There doesn’t need to be a war between the two diet camps. We should be allies.

  9. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Hi Suz,
    thanks for your great work in Oz. Just one quibble. Atkins is low carb in the early stages, but the maintenance phase is not explicitly ketogenic in the long term. The transition to the maintenance phase involves increasing the carbs until you start to gain weight and then dropping it back a notch. That can mean 100g or more of carbs per day for some people.

    So, while I agree with the other points, the low carb one I think is a little more nuanced.


  10. Steve
    Steve says:

    I have come to this discussion as a result of my daughter, a PHD Bio-Technologist, starting on a Paleo diet about 3 months ago. She has reported great results, (but has admittedly bemoaned the inconvenience and expense involved). She also has admitted that it is a difficult diet to be overly strict about because our western food culture is awash with toxic but great tasting and convenient foods, that even the most dedicated Paleo-ist (?) will succumb to from time to time just because we need to be sociable, and sometimes a little self-indulgent.

    As a middle aged couple who are increasingly finding it a challenge to control our weight, my wife and I have decided that we are going to move our dietary habits to a healthier mode. One key factor in this decision is the result of reading “Why We Get Fat, and What To Do About It” by Gary Taubes. In this book the case is made for a low-carb, non refined food eating regime high in meats and fats, but does not go on to recommend a particular diet as such. He does mention both Atkins and Paleo in favourable terms, but his main point is to give a good scientifically based case for good dietary PRINCIPLES to follow regarding our diet.

    One point he does make is that it is very difficult to advocate a ‘one size fits all’ diet for everyone, because of an almost infinite variety of variables which affect what constitutes ‘good’ regarding diet. He cites genetic, cultural and environmental reasons why some foods are ‘good’ for some people and ‘bad’ for others. Sometimes a given food can be good for one person with a particular genetic makeup, but can be not so for another.

    My take from all this is that we all should follow good dietary principles, which seem to be very well explained in both the Atkins and Paleo dietary guidelines, but which allow for some personalization. For example, my wife can’t tolerate much dairy, but I don’t have any problem with it. My wife feels unwell on a high-fat diet, but I don’t have a problem. However we both agree that we need to eliminate high-carb foods from our diet.

    We are both still learning, and are not willing to go ‘all in’ in favour of a particular diet regime without a good understanding of why we are doing what we are doing. This involves maintaining an open mind and being willing to hear all sides of the argument and trying to get an idea of the science behind it.

    I’m not totally convinced of the evolutionary basis for the Paleo diet, but at the same time do agree with many of the principles it espouses. Humans have survived and even thrived on many foods that both Atkins and Paleo frown on, and equally so without many of the foods considered necessary. Try telling the pre-western indigenous Inuit that they absolutely must include leafy greens in their diet, when their ancestors ate almost exclusively meat and fat, and thrived. Humans are able to adapt amazingly well to the foods available, in a very short timeframe where necessary for survival. In fact there are many societies worldwide who thrive on a high-starch diet, and don’t suffer from many of the health ill-effects blamed on such foods (see Chris Kesser’s version of Paleo regarding this).

    That all said, we do feel that the Paleo approach as a lot to offer. It seems just good sense that a diet based on primarily Paleo principles (unrefined, low GI foods, unprocessed oils and fats, pasture fed meats etc.) is the way to go, so this is what we are planning to try to follow as we enter 2015.

  11. José Maurício
    José Maurício says:

    I read a lot of lies about Atkins above . I´m pretty happy that Paleo is getting popular , people will improve their lifestyle , but every Paleo has to Thank Dr. Atkins for being bold to defy the stablishment of high carb lwo fat and pave the way for all other low carb choices . Atkins is also a lifestyle change . people who only do Atkins as a “quick fix” are “posers” of the scene that if they treat Atkins that way they will also treat Paleo the same way .

    Atkins was all about eating real food , in all of his books he said that there was no sugar of pure starch for cavemen . and he was also all about lifestyle change , in every one of his books he emphasized the imprtance of exercising . I consider myself more of a Atkneer , altough I like Paleo too and read a lot of Paleo sites and blogs .


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.