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Which Diet is Best? Comparing the Most Popular Diets

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In this Lesson you will Learn

  1. What is the difference between clean eating and Whole30?
  2. What is the difference between clean eating and Paleo?
  3. What is the difference between Whole30 and Paleo?
  4. What is the difference between the ketogenic diet and Paleo?
  5. What is the difference between Paleo and Primal?
  6. What is the difference between FODMAP and gluten free?

Everybody needs to eat, and everybody needs to eat calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, etc. How much and which foods you eat to meet these requirements depends on which diet you're following. Which diet is best for you is going to depend on numerous factors: your taste preferences, physical needs, food intolerances, even ethical beliefs. Moreover, the best diet for health may be different than the best diet for weight loss or muscle gain. Since it can be difficult to decide, let's take a look at many of the most popular diets.

Omnivore (Average Diet)

A mixture of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, grains, etc. It can be healthy if following a balanced whole food or so-called "clean eating" diet1 or unhealthy if eating the Standard American Diet2.

Allowed: Everything! Meat, fish, grains (except in special cases), eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, etc.

Not Allowed: n/a

Clean Eating

Clean eating simply means eating natural foods instead of processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, plain dairy, unprocessed meat and fish, and less refined carbohydrates (e.g. brown rice, oats, quinoa) are all acceptable foods. Nutritionally empty foods, such as pasta, cereal, etc. made with wheat flour and most things you'll find in the salty or sweet snack aisles are out. If you've heard that tip about mostly shopping the perimeter of the supermarket and avoiding the aisles in the middle, it can definitely apply here.

Allowed: All unprocessed foods. Meat, fish, produce, dairy, legumes, nuts, eggs, whole grains.

Not Allowed: Processed foods. White flour products, products with added refined sugar, etc.

Recommended Read

The Clean Eating Cookbook & Diet

This best-selling cookbook offers over 100 healthy recipes to satisfy your taste buds while giving your body the quality fuel it needs. This is no fad diet, but rather a sustainable lifestyle choice.

check it out »

Mediterranean Diet

Often a top contender in "which diet is best" rankings, the Mediterranean Diet fits under the "omnivore" category. The Mediterranean Diet is a bit hard to define, since numerous countries border the Mediterranean Sea and they all have their own unique cuisines. Nonetheless, a Mediterranean-style diet is typically understood to mean one where:

  • consumption of red meat is substantially reduced
  • eggs and dairy are eaten in moderation
  • fish and seafood are enjoyed more often
  • fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes form the basis of the diet

Mediterranean diets are also known to be higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, from olive oil for example, rather than saturated fat. As you probably expect, this diet also focuses on natural, minimally processed foods, similar to the clean eating philosophy.

Allowed: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fish, chicken, olive oil, nuts, red wine

Reduced: Eggs, dairy, red meat, highly processed grains, sweets and desserts

Recommended Read

Mediterranean Diet for Beginners: The Complete Guide

This book with recipes and a meal plan is the perfect intro for anyone looking to test the Mediterranean diet waters.

check it out »


The Whole30® program is a 30 day program designed to help people not just lose weight, but greatly improve their overall health. The difference between clean eating and Whole30 is that Whole30 is much, much more restrictive. No sweeteners. No alcohol. No grains, no legumes, no dairy. However, the creators of the diet don't expect you to eat this way the rest of your life. After the 30 day program, you are encouraged to "continue eating Whole30-ish every meal, every day, as long as that feels good to you," but you can happily enjoy any food that you deem worthy of the potentially negative health consequences. That is to say, when a truly special food experience comes along, you should take advantage of it. One of a kind dessert on vacation? Yes. Office vending machine cake? Probably not.

If you start to feel you can't see the distinction anymore or your diet is generally getting out of control, you can repeat the program.

Allowed: meat, fish/seafood, eggs, vegetables, fresh fruit, coconut oil, olive oil, small amounts of dried fruit and nuts/seeds

Not Allowed: Added sweeteners (natural and artificial, except small amounts of fruit juice), dairy (except clarified butter or ghee), alcohol, grains, legumes (except green beans, sugar snap peas, and snow peas), and food additives, such as carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites.

Recommended Read

The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom

The official book is all you need to do your first 30 days of Whole30. With hundreds of 5 star reviews, we think you'll see results if you stick to it.

check it out »

Paleo Diet

This diet is based on the belief that the best diet will align with how our ancient ancestors ate, before agricultural and industrial developments led to widespread changes in the typical human diet. Following a Paleo diet means following a clean eating diet, since ancient man definitely didn't have access to Oreos, Lunchables, or Lunchables with Oreos. The strictest form of the Paleo diet goes further, however, limiting additional foods that most would still consider clean. These foods are outlined in the list below.3

Allowed: Meat (especially grass fed), fish, eggs, vegetables, some oils (e.g. coconut and olive oil), and in smaller quantities, fruit, nuts, sweet potatoes

Not Allowed: Legumes, grains, dairy, refined sugar, processed foods

Note: not everyone agrees on what is Paleo and what isn't. Some Paleo experts, for instance, have no problem with full fat, raw dairy - some people would say this version of Paleo is better called Primal (based on Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint). Raw honey and maple syrup might also be acceptable for the occasional treat, depending on who you ask. This is a big difference between Whole30 and Paleo; the Whole30 program does not allow you to recreate splurges using Whole30-appropriate ingredients. If you're being technical, something like "Whole30 brownies" shouldn't even exist!

Another tip: For our purposes, if you set your spoonacular profile to Paleo, you'll get dairy free Paleo recipes. If you set it to Primal, you'll get Paleo recipes that allow dairy.

Recommended Read

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet is a guide to get you started on the Paleolithic diet. Not only does it explain the science and research behind the diet, it offers numerous Paleo recipes you can try right away.

check it out »

Ketogenic Diet

If the body does not have enough glucose, its preferred source of energy, it breaks down fat for energy instead. This process releases molecules known as ketones. "Ketosis" refers to this state of increased ketones in the blood. Low carb diets can cause ketosis, because carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during digestion. Thus, restricting carbohydrates reduces the amount of available glucose and creates the need for the body to get energy from other sources.4

The ketogenic diet is a low carb diet specifically intended to produce ketosis in the body. Rather than focusing on eliminating specific foods, the ketogenic diet pays close attention to the ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat consumed. Commonly, followers of a ketogenic diet consume 60-75% calories from fat, 15-30% calories from protein, and 5-10% calories from carbs.5

The Atkins diet is a famous low carb diet divided into four phases. The first three phases are designed to help a person lose weight, while the final phase is devoted to maintaining one's goal weight. The principle of ketosis is key to weight loss using the Atkins diet, but unlike the ketogenic diet, lists of "acceptable foods" are key.

Allowed: Foods high in fat and/or protein but low in carbohydrates.

Not Allowed: Foods high in carbohydrates, especially processed foods.

Recommended Read

The Ketogenic Cookbook: Nutritious Low-Carb, High-Fat Paleo Meals to Heal Your Body

150 recipes to help you achieve and maintain ketosis!

check it out »

Weight Watchers

The Weight Watchers program, unlike the other omnivorous diets we've discussed so far, has no rules about which foods you can and cannot eat. Instead, you are given an allotment of SmartPoints based on your age, gender, weight, and height. Using the formula they have developed, they determine how many SmartPoints any individual food, recipe, or restaurant meal has. You can decide how to "spend" your SmartPoints based on what you choose to eat, but you shouldn't exceed your daily points if you want to lose weight. Though they encourage healthy eating, the real goal with the Weight Watchers program (not surprisingly considering the name) is weight loss.

Allowed: Everything!

Not Allowed: Going over your daily/weekly SmartPoints allowance.

Recommended Read

Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

These 500 Weight Watchers approved recipes will help you spend your points wisely. Just be aware this book still uses the old points system, so you'll have to run them through the new calculator.

check it out »

Gluten Free Diet

Following a gluten free diet means eliminating gluten, the proteins found in wheat and some other grains. There are no other requirements, so a gluten free diet is not necessarily a healthy diet, since you could easily load up on gluten free pasta, cookies, and crackers. This is why a gluten free diet mostly makes sense if you truly have a gluten allergy or insensitivity, or if you cut out gluten while centering your diet around unprocessed foods.

Allowed: Everything that doesn't contain gluten

Not Allowed: Gluten-containing grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye, as well as any foods made from them

Recommended Read

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health

A #1 New York Times Bestseller and must-read for anyone curious about the science behind following a wheat/gluten free diet.

check it out »

Grain Free Diet

The difference between gluten free and grain free is simple: a gluten free diet avoids grains that contain gluten, while a grain free diet avoids all grains, even those that do not contain gluten. This means a grain free diet is a gluten free diet (because it does not include wheat or gluten-containing grains), but a gluten free diet is not necessarily a grain free diet (because it can include grains that do not contain gluten, such as rice and corn.)

It is difficult to find grain free processed foods, so going grain free could lead to a more healthful diet. However, if you don't have allergies that require a grain free diet, there is evidence to suggest whole grains can have beneficial health effects when eaten in the recommended quantities.6

Allowed: Everything that isn't a grain. Nut flours, chickpea flour, coconut flour, and potato starch are similar to grain-containing flours and starches, but are grain free. Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are often excluded, even though they are technically not grains, but seeds. They are often called pseudo-grains.7

Not Allowed: Grains of any kind, including wheat, rye, barley, corn, rice, oats

Recommended Read

Against All Grain

Giving up grains can require some adjustment, but this cookbook will make the transition much easier and more delicious.

check it out »


The GAPS diet is a program based upon the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD). It claims to heal the gut and help treat numerous psychological conditions, including autism, ADHD, and depression. While there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting the diet can be helpful, especially for those with digestive conditions, scientific evidence is lacking.8 However, research on the SCD does exist and appears promising.9

Allowed: The foods you may eat depend on which stage of GAPS you are in. Stage 1 is the most restrictive, allowing just homemade broths/stocks, boiled fish and meats, several types of cooked vegetables and onions, garlic, ginger, honey, salt, pepper, and small amounts of fermented vegetable juice and homemade yogurt.

Not Allowed: Again, depends on which GAPS stage you are in, but stage 1 does not allow raw vegetables, grilled meats, eggs, fresh or dried herbs and spices, nuts, butter, cheese, etc. By the time you reach the last stage, Full GAPS, many of these foods are allowed.

Recommended Read

Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia

This book from the creator of the GAPS diet is the best resource for anyone interested in trying the diet for themselves.

check it out »


FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides And Polyols. For those of us who aren't biochemists, these are carbohydrates found in fructose, lactose, wheat, garlic, onion, legumes, sugar alcohols, and stone fruit.10 Some individuals are sensitive to FODMAPs in the diet and experience unpleasant digestive side effects after consumption. For this reason, low FODMAP diets can be helpful for sufferers of IBS and other digestive disorders.

Allowed: Foods low in FODMAPs. This includes meat, eggs, fish, lactose free dairy, some nuts, gluten-free grains, certain fruits and vegetables (e.g. bananas, blueberries, oranges, grapes, bell peppers, cucumber, kale, potatoes, tomatoes)

Not Allowed: Foods high in FODMAPS. This includes high lactose dairy (like milk), cashews, pistachios, legumes, gluten-containing grains, apples, dried fruit, stone fruit, cauliflower, celery, mushrooms, onions, garlic, sugar alcohols (e.g. sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol).

Recommended Read

Low-Fodmap 28-Day Plan

Not sure what to eat on a low FODMAP diet? This book will simplify the process.

check it out »


This diet includes just about everything except beef, poultry, pork, and other animal meats. As the name suggests, they do eat fish and other seafood. They may or may not eat eggs and dairy. 11

Allowed: Fish, seafood, fruit, vegetables, grains

Not allowed: Meat

Recommended Read

Fish Without a Doubt

If you want to eat more fish, but find cooking fish intimidating, you need this helpful guide with recipes.

check it out »


This diet excludes all meat, fish, and animal by-products that require the animal to be killed (such as broth made from bones or gelatin). It is typically rich in legumes (e.g. beans and lentils), grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarians who eat eggs but not dairy are known as ovo vegetarians while vegetarians who eat dairy but not eggs are known as lacto vegetarians.12

Allowed: Legumes, grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and often eggs, dairy, and honey

Not Allowed: Meat, seafood, bone broth, gelatin

Recommended Read


Meatless contains "more than 200 of the very best vegetarian recipes" from Martha Stewart for you to fill your vegetarian meal plan.

check it out »


This diet excludes all animal products, including meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and honey. Like the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet is centered around legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. 13

Allowed: Legumes, grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds

Not Allowed: Meat, seafood, bone broth, gelatin, eggs, dairy, honey

Recommended Read

Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook

If you buy just one vegan cookbook, make it this one. You'll get 250 well-tested and user-friendly recipes for all occasions.

check it out »


This diet is, as the name suggests, a fruit-based diet. In its purest form, fruitarianism is truly limited to consuming fruit, though some fruitarians eat vegetables, nuts, and seeds.14

Allowed: Fruit

Not Allowed: Everything else (in the strictest cases)

Recommended Read

The 80/10/10 Diet

This book is popular among fruitarians. It recommends eating 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 10% fat in a fruit-heavy diet with a small amount of nuts and seeds. It also provides sample meal plans.

check it out »


The variety of eating styles out there is incredible - and overwhelming. Thankfully, many people are able to lead healthy lives without following just one of the diets above. There isn't one right answer for

Check out this infographic about different diets to see which foods are allowed and which are not. Perhaps it can help you decide which diet is best for you!

diet infographic


  1. - Eating Clean For Dummies
  2. New York Times - Timeline of the Standard American Diet
  3. WebMD - The Paleo Diet
  4. - Ketosis
  5. KetoDiet Blog - How Much Fat on a Ketogenic Diet?
  6. EUFIC - Whole grain Fact Sheet
  7. - Pseudo-Grains in a Plant-Based Diet
  8. Science-Based Medicine - GAPS Diet
  9. The Food Rx Project - The Specific Carbohydrate Diet™ Examining the Science
  10. Stanford Health Care - The Low FODMAP Diet
  11. - What is a Pescetarian?
  12. - Vegetarian
  13. - Types of Vegetarians
  14. - Fruitarian Diet


  1. The difference between clean eating and Whole30 is that Whole30 is much stricter and excludes more foods that a clean eating diet allows.
  2. The difference between clean eating and Paleo is that a strict Paleo diet excludes some unprocessed foods, such as dairy and legumes.
  3. The difference between Whole30 and Paleo is difficult to define. If you follow a strict Paleo diet that excludes all dairy, legumes, alcohol, and even natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, then there isn't much of a difference at all. In this case, the biggest difference would be that the Paleo diet can include treats made from Paleo-approved ingredients, such as Paleo brownies or muffins, while Whole30 discourages this practice.
  4. The difference between the ketogenic diet and Paleo is that a ketogenic diet must be low carb, while a Paleo diet can be low carb or high carb depending on the person. Moreover, the Paleo diet has more rules about which foods are acceptable to eat.
  5. The difference between Paleo and Primal is hard to define, but the simplest explanation is that Paleo excludes all dairy while Primal allows some raw milk, butter, etc.
  6. The difference between FODMAP and gluten free is that a low FODMAP diet doesn't just exclude wheat or gluten-containing ingredients. Low FODMAP diets also exclude certain fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc.
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