Low Carb vs. Keto: How They Are Different and Why It Matters

Published August 29, 2019
Kate Sullivan

Written By: Kate Sullivan, MS

Kate holds a MS in Business Psychology and is currently a PHD researcher in Well-Being and Performance Psychology.

low-carb-vs-keto
<article> <section> <p>When it comes to losing weight and feeling healthy, the options can make your head spin. Low carb vs. keto? Do I go Atkins or Mediterranean? What about the hot dog diet my cousin’s ex-roommate mentioned? It seems like you need to be a certified nutritionist—or possibly a wizard—to make sense of it all!</p> <p>There’s certainly a lot of information out there on various diet plans and lifestyles that all promise major weight loss, among other benefits. But which offers the most sustainable, healthiest way to lose weight—and keep it off? </p> <p>Let’s take a look at one of the biggest areas where confusion rears its ugly head: low carb vs. keto.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ingredients-low-carb-keto-red-meat-salmon-avocado-cheese-0229.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ingredients-low-carb-keto-red-meat-salmon-avocado-cheese-0229.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ingredients-low-carb-keto-red-meat-salmon-avocado-cheese-0229.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/ingredients-low-carb-keto-red-meat-salmon-avocado-cheese-LR-0229.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="ingredients-low-carb-keto-red-meat-salmon-avocado-cheese"> </picture> <header>What Is the Keto Diet?</header> <p>Short for <i>ketogenic</i>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101-a-beginners-guide-to-keto" rel="noreferrer">the keto diet</a> is a way of eating that pays careful attention to the balance of macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The primary goal is to put your body into <i>ketosis</i>, a state where your body burns excess stores of fatty acids for fuel instead of its carbohydrate stash (glycogen and glucose).</p> <p>Carbohydrates are largely empty calories—or at least, the kinds of carbs that <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-ugly-truth-behind-the-standard-american-diet/" rel="noreferrer">most Americans</a> tend to eat are! They’re full of sugars, starches, and quick hits of energy. But they don’t sustain your body for the long term—you may need to eat every couple hours to avoid feeling hungry or lethargic. They also carry with them a whole host of health issues. Simple starches like those found in processed white bread, sugary cereal, and other high-carb foods may contribute to insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, cognitive decline, and more.</p> <p>Keto and low-carb lifestyles counteract these modern dietary dangers by focusing on getting more healthy fats and muscle-building <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/plant-vs-animal-protein" rel="noreferrer">protein</a>. All this while limiting carbs to the healthy kind that come from <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-low-carb-vegetables-to-eat-on-keto/" rel="noreferrer">non-starchy vegetables</a> like leafy greens, broccoli, zucchini, and the like. This helps you feel fuller, longer, besides improving your muscle mass and losing unwanted body fat. It may also boost many other areas of your health and well-being—more on that later!</p> <div class="sub-head">How Many Carbs Are Allowed on a Keto Diet?</div> <p>When you’re looking to get into ketosis, you want to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/why-you-should-be-calculating-your-macros" rel="noreferrer">watch your <i>macros</i></a>, the amounts of critical macronutrients you consume: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. It’s important to get these in the right ratios so that your body burns fat instead of carbs for fuel.</p> <p>Ratios aren’t a one-size-fits-all thing: the <a target="_blank" href="https://perfectketo.com/keto-macro-calculator/" rel="noreferrer">right amount of carbs</a> for you will depend on your activity level, your body chemistry, and more. In general, though, most people on a keto diet should aim for keeping their carbs to <b>less than 5% of their daily caloric intake.</b></p> <p>Typically, that means eating fewer than 50 net grams of carbs per day. However, to make sure you’re in ketosis and not at risk of a carb slipup, most nutritionists recommend aiming for <b>20-30 net carbs per day.</b></p> <div class="sub-head">What Are Net Carbs?</div> <p>Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Some aren’t even digested! For example, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-fiber-foods-5-fiber-rich-foods-to-add" rel="noreferrer">fiber</a> helps you feel full for longer, can lower your risk of heart disease, and feeds the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-411-on-probiotics-and-the-microbiome" rel="noreferrer">healthy bacteria</a> in your gut. Because you need <i>some</i> carbs in your diet to stay healthy and active, we have to account for the difference between beneficial ones like fiber and less healthy ones like sugar.</p> <p>This is where <i>net carbs</i> come in. </p> <p>To calculate net carbs, take the total amount of carbs in a food and subtract the fiber and sugar alcohols, which aren’t digested. Here’s a simple example:</p> <center><p>Net Carbs = Total Carbs – (Fiber + Sugar Alcohols)</p></center> <p>So a recipe that contains 20 grams of carbs, of which 18 grams are fiber, would actually only have 2 grams <i>net carbs</i>. And that’s what you count on keto!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/illustration-low-carb-high-fat-graphic-ingredients-keto-0229.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/illustration-low-carb-high-fat-graphic-ingredients-keto-0229.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/illustration-low-carb-high-fat-graphic-ingredients-keto-0229.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/illustration-low-carb-high-fat-graphic-ingredients-keto-LR-0229.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="illustration-low-carb-high-fat-graphic-ingredients-keto"> </picture> <header>Low Carb vs. Keto</header> <p>So if keto involves consuming very few carbs, how does it differ from the “low-carb diet” that we’ve all heard about for years?</p> <p>In some ways, low carb vs. keto is just a relative thing—keto is a form of low-carb diet.</p> <p>Think of it like this: If you’ve been eating tons of pasta, rice, and bread for years, “going low carb” simply means reducing your carb intake to a more reasonable level—maybe from 200 net grams to 75 net grams. But that’s still not enough to put you in ketosis. So, the keto diet focuses on changing all your eating patterns to get you to a healthier and more balanced place, all while remaining in ketosis.</p> <p>It all comes back to those macros. Many low-carb beginners have heard their uncle’s poker buddy’s cousin talking about how much weight he lost eating nothing but bacon and eggs. So they think that “going low carb” means simply replacing all the carbs with oodles of protein. But that’s not quite the case! </p> <p>A quality low-carb diet, whether it’s the ketogenic diet, Atkins, Paleo, or another eating plan, does involve a fair amount of protein. But it also includes <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-low-carb-vegetables-to-eat-on-keto/" rel="noreferrer">low-carb veggies</a> and other nutritious foods. It’s actually important to be mindful of how much protein you’re getting because replacing lots of carbs with lots of protein can cause your body to convert that protein right back into glucose! This process, called <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/what-is-gluconeogenesis/" rel="noreferrer"><i>gluconeogenesis</i></a>, can derail your attempts at weight loss even if you’re slashing carbs.</p> <p>On a ketogenic diet, instead of trying to maximize protein, you focus on replacing unhealthy carbs with high-quality, healthy fats like those found in full-fat dairy, avocados, or coconut oil. </p> <p>That’s because ketosis burns fat for fuel—and you have to power your body! Getting the right kinds of fats in the right amounts boosts <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/is-mct-oil-the-key-to-burning-stubborn-fat" rel="noreferrer">weight loss</a> and helps support your general health and well-being. Fat also fills you up, making sure you feel satisfied instead of starved when you cut down on carbs. Add in tasty <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/protein-powder-is-for-more-than-just-body-builders" rel="noreferrer">protein</a> and you’re on your way to a <i>truly</i> balanced diet.</p> <div class="sub-head">Is Low Carb as Good as Keto?</div> <p>The right diet for you will depend on your goals and your personal body chemistry. If you’re simply looking to lose weight and maintain that loss, a more general low-carb diet might be the right move. You have a little more leeway in terms of the foods you choose and it’s often easier to be flexible when you go out to eat or while traveling.</p> <p>However, if you’re seeking not only weight loss but long-term health gains, it might be worth taking the extra effort to follow a keto diet! Yes, you have to largely eliminate sources of sugar (including many—but not all—<a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/can-you-have-fruit-on-keto" rel="noreferrer">fruits</a>) and pay close attention to the fats you’re eating, but you also get some amazing health benefits. Ketosis and increased consumption of healthy fats have been shown to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/ketosis-and-brain-function" rel="noreferrer">improve brain function</a>, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-energy-how-the-keto-diet-combats-fatigue" rel="noreferrer">boost energy levels</a>, combat <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/foods-high-in-collagen" rel="noreferrer">signs of aging</a>, and protect your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/bring-on-the-bacon" rel="noreferrer">heart health</a>! </p> <div class="sub-head">How Is Keto Diet Different from Atkins?</div> <p>Introduced by cardiologist Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1970s, the Atkins low-carb diet has been popular for decades. It involves dramatically reducing your carb intake to 20-25 net carbs per day, all of which come from leafy vegetables, low-fat dairy, or nuts and seeds. In this introductory phase, your body quickly goes into ketosis and the pounds come off.</p> <p>Next, you start introducing foods with more carbs, like certain fruits. With time, you keep expanding your diet and adding foods back in, experimenting until you find the right ratio of macronutrients to support your weight and health goals. Most people end up consuming about 50-100 net carbs per day on Atkins when they get to the maintenance phase.</p> <p><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/atkins-vs-keto-a-side-by-side-comparison" rel="noreferrer">In contrast</a>, the ketogenic diet focuses on finding a sustainable low level of carbs that you’ll stick to long-term—no messing around with sliding scales and different diet phases. Instead, you aim for 20-30 net carbs per day, making up no more than 5% of your total calories. You’ll get 20% of your calories from protein and a full 75% from healthy fats.</p> <p>This puts you in ketosis fast—within <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-into-ketosis" rel="noreferrer">just a few days</a>—and keeps you there, offering a host of health benefits that go beyond weight loss. Think <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/how-going-keto-can-improve-your-sleep-quality" rel="noreferrer">improved sleep</a>, less <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/can-ketosis-reduce-inflammation" rel="noreferrer">inflammation</a>, and a more <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/8-facts-about-sugar-and-depression" rel="noreferrer">balanced mood</a>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-step-scale-weight-check-loss-0229.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-step-scale-weight-check-loss-0229.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-step-scale-weight-check-loss-0229.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/man-step-scale-weight-check-loss-LR-0229.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="man-step-scale-weight-check-loss"> </picture> <header>Do You Have to Be in Ketosis to Lose Weight on a Low Carb Diet?</header> <p>Cutting back on carbs can help nearly anyone lose weight, as most Americans eat pretty poorly if following the Standard American Diet. Sure, we might be choosing more <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/organic-produce-vs-conventional-produce" rel="noreferrer">organic veggies</a> and paying more attention to our food systems, but we still tend to reach mindlessly for a bag of chips when we’re <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/are-you-stress-eating-7-tips-to-stop-doing-it" rel="noreferrer">stressed</a>!</p> <p>Being more mindful and choosing healthy, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-and-worst-keto-snacks" rel="noreferrer">low-carb snacks</a> can help you drop those first few pounds. From there, as long as you don’t have a broader health issue, if you exercise, choose lower-carb foods, and get the <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/do-micronutrients-matter-as-much-as-macronutrients/" rel="noreferrer">right kinds of nutrition</a>, you’ll be well on your way to living a healthier lifestyle.</p> <p>But in the long term, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/" rel="noreferrer">being in ketosis</a> will help you <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/will-i-lose-weight-on-keto/" rel="noreferrer">lose more weight</a>, in a sustainable way. Measuring your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/how-to-measure-ketosis-with-a-home-ketone-meter" rel="noreferrer">ketone levels</a> is also a good way to help check on your progress, which may help you maintain your diet and exercise motivation!</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/road-highway-two-arrows-choice-direction-0229.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/road-highway-two-arrows-choice-direction-0229.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/road-highway-two-arrows-choice-direction-0229.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/road-highway-two-arrows-choice-direction-LR-0229.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="road-highway-two-arrows-choice-direction"> </picture> <header>Choosing a Low-Carb Diet</header> <p>In the end, the right diet is the one that you can maintain without feeling deprived or frustrated. It helps you reach not only your weight loss targets but also your overall health and well-being goals.</p> <p>Whether a general low-carb diet that’s a little more flexible or a stricter ketogenic diet is right for you will depend on your lifestyle, goals, and metabolism. Naturally, you’ll want to check with your doctor before making any big diet or nutrition changes! But overall, if you’re looking to lose weight and feel healthier, you may want to try <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/14-day-keto-diet-plan-and-menu" rel="noreferrer">starting a keto lifestyle</a> and see if it’s sustainable for you.</p> <p>With tons of easy, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-on-a-budget" rel="noreferrer">inexpensive</a>, and delicious keto-friendly meals, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-desserts-to-satisfy" rel="noreferrer">desserts</a>, and more available, you can experiment to see what works and welcome a whole new you!</p>

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