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Keto vs. Atkins: Which Is the Better Low-Carb Diet?

If the premise behind the ketogenic diet (a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein plan) sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Curious folks around the Internet have been asking: What’s the difference between the keto diet and the Atkins diet?

At their most basic, they’re both low-carb diets. But they’re not exactly the same.

The biggest difference between the keto diet and the Atkins plan might be their origin stories, says dietitian and educator Claudia T. Felty, PhD, RD. “Atkins was designed for weight loss, and keto was designed, it its strictest form, for seizure prevention.” (Really! It was a tool in the treatment of epilepsy, and has only recently been adopted as a slim-down strategy.)

RELATED: 7 Keto-Friendly Recipes People Are Loving on Pinterest

When you crunch the numbers for the two diets, things shake out a little differently too. People on the keto diet usually get 2% to 5% of their daily calories from carbs; while Atkins followers are typically getting around 10% of their calories from carbs (at least at first). Both diets use this ultra-low carb approach to trigger ketosis, a state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of stored carbs, leading, in theory, to weight loss.

On the keto diet, people usually get somewhere between 75% and 90% of their daily calories from fat, and the remaining 6% to 20% of their calories from protein. In the Atkins plan, fat makes up closer to 60% of daily calories, with protein accounting for closer to 30%, according to the U.S. News and World Report annual diet rankings. (The site ranked Akins 36th out of 40 on its list, and keto 39th.) That helps explain why people think of Atkins as the “all bacon, all the time” plan, while keto is considered the “avocado-a-day” diet.

RELATED: Kourtney Kardashian Says She Did the Keto Diet to Help With a ‘Metal Detox’—Does That Work?

Another difference: The Atkins approach to carbs changes over time. “Atkins has what’s known as the ‘induction phase,’ which is the first phase of the diet. It allows 20 grams of net carbs—total carbs minus fiber. As the diet progresses, the carb amount allowed goes up,” Felty explains. “Keto counts all carbs—not just the net—and the amount tends to be much lower long-term than that of Atkins.”

Adding in more good-for-you carbs as you reach, and then maintain your goal weight brings you out of ketosis. And that might be a good thing: Ketosis can trigger ketoacidosis, which is when excess ketones–a byproduct of fat metabolism–build up in the blood. Left untreated, ketoacidosis can be fatal.

When it comes to losing weight, both plans can help you shed pounds, especially at first. Low-carb diets are often successful weight-loss plans in the short-term as you shed water weight. But the results might not last: In its reviews of the two diets, U.S. News and World Report pointed to longer-term studies that haven’t found much difference between low-carb diets and low-fat diets. There simply hasn’t been enough research to determine if lasting weight-loss success on a low-carb plan is due to cutting carbs, or simply cutting calories.

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If you’re considering going keto or trying Atkins, keep in mind that low-carb diets aren’t always easy to follow. After all, who wouldn’t miss potatoes? “I suggest modifying the diet to allow more carbs–especially the ones you know you can’t live without,” Health contributing nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, wrote in a previous article. “In my experience, moderation is generally the key to shedding pounds for good, optimizing health, and living a balanced, enjoyable life.”

Keto vs. Atkins: What’s the Difference?

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If you been reading all about the ketogenic diet and feeling a little déjà vu, you’re not alone. The high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet sounds a lot like the Atkins Diet, which was developed by the late cardiologist Robert Atkins in the ’70s and took off again in the early 2000s. There are some fundamental differences between the two, however. Let the keto vs Atkins diet showdown begin.

The Similarities Between Keto Vs. Atkins

“The most obvious similarity is they’re both about carb restriction,” says Kelly McGrane, M.S., R.D., founder of The Healthy Toast in Denver. Another similarity is that you’re not counting calories on either one; it’s more about macronutrient distribution. And for most people, consuming very little carbs is drastically different than their typical diet, so both can lead to weight loss. (Related: What Happened When This Woman Went from a Low-Carb Diet to Counting Her Macros)

“Both diets advocate for impressive weight loss quickly,” says McGrane, “but there are really no good studies showing that long-term weight loss sticks with either one of them.”

When you’re just starting out, there’s a good chance either diet will make you feel less than stellar at first (ever heard of the keto flu?). “If you’ve been eating a lot of carbs, you’re likely to feel sluggish and even shaky when you dramatically lower them,” says McGrane.

Keto and Atkins each recommend eating as many whole foods as possible (i.e., not falling into the trap of “dirty keto,”), yet technically, they can both be followed by eating indulgent foods like bacon, full-fat cheese, and processed low-carb packaged snacks, so “it really depends on how the individual is doing it,” says McGrane. There are ways to make eating on either diet healthier, such as swapping in salmon for ribeye, which will give you more vitamins. “Anything—even if it’s healthy—in excess, can be too much for the body,” she says.

The Differences Between Keto Vs. Atkins

While you’re not sticking to a specific caloric intake on either program, following keto does require precisely calculating where your calories are coming from, which is 70-80 percent from fat, followed by 15-20 percent protein and just 5 percent from carbohydrates, says McGrane. A key difference between keto vs. Atkins here is that on keto, you can’t eat too much protein because it can be broken down into glucose, which is typically the body’s source of fuel, “and the whole point is you have to be breaking down fat to get energy” to be in ketosis, she notes.

Atkins doesn’t restrict protein. The classic Atkins 20 Diet is broken into four stages. The initial phase—which is basically a ketogenic diet—includes meat, fish, chicken and shellfish; eggs; fats like butter and olive oil; cheese; and low-carb vegetables. As you progress through the diet and reach stage four, however, you’re able to introduce more foods back in, such as fruit, starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, corn, beets) and whole grains (quinoa, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal), gradually increasing your daily carb intake.

Keto, on the other hand, eliminates any fruits, and you don’t get to add complex carbs (like sweet potatoes) back in—ever—like you can on Atkins, says McGrane. Overall, keto ends up feeling a lot more restrictive as your food choices remain limited as long as you’re on the diet. (FYI, that’s just one of the reasons why this dietitian is completely against keto.)

Keto Vs. Atkins: Beyond Weight Loss

While keto and Atkins are touted as weight-loss diets, both have been advertised as treatments for a wide range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes. (Related: Can the Keto Diet Help with Type 2 Diabetes?)

A claim of the Atkins diet is that low-carb diets can dramatically improve blood glucose control and insulin resistance, which makes it a good choice for patients who need this; yet a study published in Nutrition & Metabolism found that a ketogenic diet actually led to greater improvements in glycemic control than a low-glycemic diet (like Atkins). Another published review found that very low-carb diets, such as keto, resulted in better improvements in blood sugar control, weight loss, and medication reliance compared with other diets.

The Bottom Line On Keto Vs. Atkins

McGrane doesn’t recommend either diet in the long term, because they require cutting out major food groups. She says women following keto or Atkins can face “very real nutrient deficiencies,” and that keto isn’t the best diet for building muscle “because if you’re truly following it, you’re likely to have lower energy levels,” at least in the beginning. (FYI, here are some other side effects to keep in mind before trying keto.)

However, if you’re someone who tends to reach for a lot of sugary, processed snacks, following one of these can be a good *short-term* solution to clean up your diet, says McGrane. In the long term, it comes down to choosing a diet that can become a lifestyle for you, rather than looking for a quick fix.

  • By Kelsey Ogletree

Paleo, Atkins and keto are all low-carb diets, so what’s the difference?

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Other than taking away all our carbs, are the Atkins, Paleo and keto diets basically the same thing?

Short answer — no.

Although each of these diets are low-carb, they all serve different purposes.

We’ve broken down the details of three popular low-carb diets below. All of these diets can result in weight loss, but the one that’s right for you will depend on your overall goals.

The United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Service’s dietary suggestions recommend that adults break up their calorie consumption into 45 to 65 percent carbs, 10 to 35 percent protein and 20 to 35 percent fat.

Before starting on any of these, it’s recommended that you consult your doctor first.

What is the ketogenic diet?

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Better known as keto, this diet was created in the 1920s as a way to treat epilepsy. Classic keto requires that 90 percent of a person’s calories come from fat, 6 percent from protein and 4 percent from carbs.

There are different variations of the diet out there, and all of them are high in fat and low in carbs, though they range from 60 to 90 percent of the diet coming from fat.

The purpose of the keto diet is to force the body to go into ketosis, which is a metabolic state that uses fat for energy instead of glucose (carbs). To enter ketosis, dieters need to be eating fewer than50 grams of carbs a day for a few days.

More: 7 fast-food restaurants with keto-friendly options

Although the diet is low-carb, its focus is to be high in fat with some protein — but mostly fat. There are no restrictions on the type of fat you’re supposed to eat, so followers of keto are known to eat things like bacon, avocados and butter.

Keto leans on the stricter side of low-carb diets as you have to maintain a rigid nutrition plan so your body can successfully go into ketosis.

What is the paleo diet?

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The paleo diet calls for followers to go back to the way people were eating during the Paleolithic era, 2.6 million years ago, which is basically eating like a hunter-gatherer.

Paleo focuses mostly on a high-protein diet with a lot of vegetables and fruit. Unlike keto and Atkins, this diet doesn’t aim to be low-carb, it just is because of the food it cuts out, including grains, dairy, legumes and refined and processed foods.

While keto doesn’t discriminate between what types of fats you should consume, the paleo diet advises dieters to avoid certain types of oils and trans fats. And though you can eat all the peanut butter you want on a keto diet, the paleo diet cuts out peanut butter because technically peanuts are classified as legumes.

The main focus of paleo is to get people to go back to eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

More: The pegan diet — a hybrid of paleo and vegan — could be the next big thing

What is the Atkins diet?

This diet is specifically marketed and labeled as a low-carb diet. There are two version of the Atkins diet now, Atkins 20, which is the original, and Atkins 40, which is a plan created for those looking to lose less than 40 pounds.

The classic Atkins diet has four phases — the first phase starts off with having dieters eating 20 to 25 grams of carbs per day and then slowly progresses to phase four in which people are allowed 80 to 100 grams of carbs, which is still considered low-carb.

Atkins also focuses on net carbs. Instead of counting all carbs as the same, this diet takes fiber and sugars into account, whereas paleo and keto don’t. So if a product has 10 grams of carbs, but 3 grams of fiber and 1 gram of sugar, then your net carbs would be 6 grams.

And while you can prepare diet-friendly meals at home, Atkins offers pre-packaged and processed items that meet the dietary requirements.

Paleo and keto do not offer products like Atkins, so followers are expected to stick to the guidelines on their own.

What’s the Difference Between Keto and Atkins?

RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Ketosis and Diabetic Ketoacidosis?

Phase two increases the carb allotment to 25 to 50 g, adding in foods like blueberries, cottage cheese, and yogurt. You’ll stay here until you’re about 10 lb away from your goal.

During the third phase, you’ll increase to between 50 and 80 g of net carbs as you try to find that perfect balance — how many carbs can you eat before the weight loss stalls? “It is done slowly, realistically, with some trial and error to see what amount of carbohydrates can be consumed again without causing any weight gain,” says Michelle Jaelin, RD, a Hamilton, Ontario–based blogger at NutritionArtist.com.

Once you figure that out and maintain it for one month, it’s on to phase four: Lifetime Maintenance. This part of the diet focuses on continuing the habits developed during phase three. Carbs are allowed (up to 100 g per day), as long as the weight doesn’t creep back on.

RELATED: How Do You Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbohydrates?

An Overview of How the Ketogenic Diet Works

There are a lot of moving parts with Atkins and its four phases. The ketogenic, or “keto,” diet, on the other hand, promotes one way of eating for the entirety of the diet. You’ll cut your carbs down to about 5 percent of your daily intake. Seventy-five percent of your remaining calories will come from fat and 20 percent from protein. As a result of eating this way for a few days, you will enter ketosis, which you can monitor with keto urine strips if you choose.

The keto diet was first developed in the 1920s as a way to treat children with epilepsy, Dolinski says. Since then, research has linked the diet to weight loss, hence the many people without a history of seizures who have hopped on the bandwagon. A study published in November 2017 in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews found that subjects who followed the keto diet for 10 weeks had significant changes in weight, body fat percentage, body mass index (BMI), and HgA1c levels.

Still, Dolinski recommends the diet only for children with epilepsy because cutting out entire food groups and drastically changing the way you eat poses a fair amount of risk. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests the keto diet may help adults with epilepsy, too, but more research is needed in this population. If you have epilepsy, be sure to check with your doctor before making changes to your diet.

“The buildup of ketones can cause a lot of side effects, such as nausea, headaches, mental fatigue, and bad breath,” Doinski says. It can also lead to deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals and increase your risk of kidney stones and potentially heart disease, depending on the types of fats people choose.

RELATED: What to Eat and Avoid on the Ketogenic Diet

Similarities Between the Ketogenic Diet and the Atkins Diet

Will you lose weight on a low-carb diet like these? Most likely you will, if you follow them strictly.

Dolinski suspects you’ll mainly lose water weight in the beginning because carbs retain water. She suspects you’ll gain a lot of that back once you start eating normally again. A study published in November 2014 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes found that after one year, people who followed Atkins lost a modest amount of weight (4.6 to 10.3 lb), though some of the weight was regained by the end of year two.

You don’t have to count your calories on Atkins or keto. But you do need to track the number of carbs you take in. On keto, you also need to make sure you’re hitting the right percentages of calories coming from fat and protein.

As for which diet is easier to follow, Jaelin says it depends on the person and his or her eating habits before starting the diet. Neither one will be easy, though, because low-carb diets can lead to dizziness, nutritional deficiencies, and mental and physical fatigue, Dolinski says. U.S. News & World Report puts the Atkins diet’s “easy to follow” score at 1.8 out of 5 and keto’s at 1.4.

RELATED: Here’s What to Expect if You Try the Ketogenic Diet

A Look at the Differences Between Keto and Atkins

One key difference between the keto diet and Atkins is the amount of protein you’re allowed to take in. There’s no cap on Atkins, while keto limits protein to about 20 percent of your daily calories.

The other big difference is that keto centers on the body being in ketosis during the entire period of the diet, while ketosis plays a role only during phase one and possibly two of Atkins. On Atkins, you eventually reintroduce carbs, but on keto, carbs are always limited.

That means Atkins may be more sustainable in the long run because it’s not quite as restrictive and doesn’t require you to make sure your body remains in ketosis. Plus, on Atkins, you can eventually add back nutritious foods like quinoa, oatmeal, and fruit, the Atkins website notes.

RELATED: 8 Veggies That Make Great Low-Calorie Bread Substitutes

Which Low-Carb Diet Is Safer, According to Dietitians?

Jaelin says neither of these diets is recommended for people with diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. But without any of those chronic conditions, the diets can be safe if done short term, Jaelin says. A study published in American Family Physician found that low-carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets at lowering levels of triglycerides and A1C and raising levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

The long-term safety of low-carb diets is a little iffy. Jaelin suspects that’s because dropout rates for studies involving low-carb diets are high. A study published in February 2017 in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care looked at 10 low-carb studies and found dropout rates ranged from 2 percent to 60 percent.

Considering giving one of these diets a try? Both Jaelin and Dolinski recommend speaking to a doctor or dietitian first.

Keto Vs Low-Carb: What’s the Difference?

Ketogenic and low-carb diets aren’t as new as most people think. The ketogenic diet was developed in the early 1900’s to help control pediatric seizure cases who were not responding to medical treatment. Low-carb diets gained a lot of attention due to the Atkins nutrition plan which emerged in the 1970’s and remains a fairly popular program today. When it comes to keto vs low-carb, they are actually pretty different and can have drastically different effects on the human body.

In this article I am going to dive into the concept of keto vs low-carb and explain why these two might get confused. If you are not following a specific set of principles on a ketogenic diet, then you might be setting yourself up for failure and a long list of unpleasant side effects.

Low-Carb

Low-carb is a term that is tossed around a lot in diet circles and online communities of all kinds. But what does low-carb actually mean? When you think about it, the term low-carb actually has very little meaning that is actionable by the person using it to describe their nutrition plan.

Low-carb simply means eating a subjectively low amount of carbs that may be different for every person. The problem with this is that other macronutrients such as fats and protein, are not considered in the equation. I am going to explain why this can be a problem.

If you have “tried a ketogenic diet” and suffered from low energy, weight gain, hormonal disruption, among other negative side effects, you are likely making a big mistake. When you compare keto vs low-carb, there are some key differences that make all the world of difference.

Ketogenic

While low-carb simply describes a vague behavior pattern that is subject to each person, ketosis is an objective and measurable fat-burning state of the human body. It is when the body’s metabolism switches gears to burn fat for energy instead of sugar. It is this metabolic state in which people experience the full benefits of a ketogenic lifestyle.

In order to prime the body to enter a state of ketosis (fat burning), a number of variables must be in line:

  • Carb intake must not spike blood sugar or insulin levels
  • The body must not convert excess dietary protein into glucose
  • Enough dietary fats must be present to provide an energy source

These rules are solid, however, the conditions for these rules can be unique to each person. For example, one person may be able to eat higher amounts of carbs compared to someone else while remaining in ketosis. Someone else who is doing heavy bodybuilding will likely be able to handle a higher protein intake.

Keto Vs Low-Carb: Which is Better?

When it comes down to it, ketosis is a measurable state. In the comparison of keto vs low-carb, one is vague and the other is measurable. The ability to measure ketosis makes it easier for someone to troubleshoot any issues they are facing and adapt their eating style to meet their individual needs.

If you have tried low-carb and it “didn’t work for you,” I urge you to consider the information in this article and try again using tools to measure your ketones.

Low-Carb Side Effects

Consuming a low-carb diet, but not being in ketosis may be causing a number of negative side effects. In fact, the side effects of going low-carb without actually getting into ketosis are counter intuitive and may discourage someone from continuing on their ketogenic journey.

These side effects typically occur because carbs are the body’s primary fuel source, when carb intake is restricted, the body goes into a state of starvation. This state is extremely stressful for the body and stimulates survival mechanisms which include slowing of the metabolism and a loss of interest in sex (not as important as food for survival). When adequate fats are available in the diet, however, the body will burn those for energy and these issues can be avoided.

Biggest Ketogenic Mistakes

In addition to not consuming enough fats, there are a few other critical mistakes that people make when attempting a low-carb or ketogenic diet. If you are making any of these mistakes, it is likely preventing you from entering a state of ketosis and experiencing the many benefits it has to offer.

Too Many Carbs

If there is a certain amount of glucose available in the blood, the body will choose to burn that as energy before it burns fats. This obviously prevents you from entering ketosis. While the general recommendation for most people is to shoot for 40 grams of carbs or below on a daily basis, this is actually somewhat relative to the individual. I will often go by percentages, saying that between carbs, proteins, and fats, carbs should make up between 5-10% of total calories.

Very active individuals will often be able to tolerate higher amounts of carbs and remain in ketosis while more sedentary individuals will need to stick to as little carbs as possible.

Ultimately, the best way to find your ideal carb intake is to track your ketone levels and correlate that with how your energy levels are on a daily basis. I will discuss ketone measuring methods shortly.

Too Little Calories

Another big issue I notice with people is that they simply aren’t eating enough calories. I typically recommend people consume 60-80% of their calories from healthy fats. Don’t be afraid of consuming a whole avocado or a healthy serving of grass-fed butter with a meal!

Not getting enough calories may be a reason why you feel tired and are putting on body fat, your body is trying to not starve!

Too Much Protein

A final common issue on a ketogenic diet is that instead of increasing fat intake, people increase their protein intake. A ketogenic diet is NOT a high-protein diet. In fact, too much protein will prevent you from entering a state of ketosis. This is because excess amino acids in the blood stream can be converted into sugar via a process called gluconeogenesis.

As I mentioned already, the body will burn sugar for energy before it burns fat. Most people will do very well in the range of 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per KG of bodyweight they have. To convert your bodyweight into KG, simply take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2. This number can then be multiplied by 0.8 and 1.2 to determine your protein range.

So, for a 160 lb. individual the protein range would be about 58-87 grams per day.

For high-level athletes that incur higher amounts of muscle damage, a range of 1.5-1.8 grams of protein per KG of bodyweight can sometimes be followed while maintaining a ketogenic state. Again, the best way to determine the right balance for you is to measure your ketone levels.

How Do You Know If You Are in Ketosis?

There are reliable principles to follow that can help you get into ketosis and those are partly outlined above. For more in-depth ketogenic diet success tips, check out this article: 10 Critical Ketogenic Diet Tips

The best way to know if you are in ketosis is to measure your ketone levels. There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Blood Ketone Monitor (Gold Standard)
  • Breath Ketone Monitor (such as this one)
  • Urine Ketone Strips (less reliable)
  • Blood Glucose Monitor
  • Subjective Feeling (energy levels and mental clarity)

The video below outlines these methods along with the pros and cons of each.

Benefits of Ketosis

Now that the keto vs low-carb question has been answered, we must answer the question: Why would someone want to be in a ketogenic state to begin with?

Well, when your body is burning fat as a primary energy source there are actually a ton of benefits. From an experiential standpoint, most people notice an abundance of energy and a higher level of mental clarity. In fact, as someone who constantly requires these things, I have been following a ketogenic lifestyle for several years.

Reduced Inflammation

The number one benefit of being in a state of ketosis is reduced inflammation (1). Almost every cell in the human body has something in it called mitochondria. Mitochondria turn glucose or ketones (from fat) into a useable energy source so that our cells can carry out their functions.

Most people don’t know this but when mitochondria make energy, they also produce oxidative stress. Think of how an engine burns gas to make energy and waste products, it is somewhat similar. While small amounts of oxidative stress can be beneficial to the body, too much can contribute to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation is at the root of almost every chronic disease people face today.

Ketones produce far less oxidative stress when turned into energy when compared to glucose. The side benefit of this in our chronically inflamed society is less inflammation and an improve ability of the body to heal various diseases.

Improved Fat Burning

This benefit is pretty straightforward as ketosis is defined by a state of fat burning. This means that excess body fat has now become a viable source of energy for the body and will have a higher tendency to melt off. In fact, weight loss is a common reason people start a ketogenic diet.

While for years we were told to avoid dietary fat because it would increase our waistline, recent research has shown that a low-carb, high fat diet is superior for weight loss (2).

Being overweight predisposes you to many different diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and even knee or back pain later in life. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical for long-term wellness.

Mental Clarity and Sharpness

As alluded to already, the ketogenic diet is great for improving several aspects of mental performance. This is likely due to its anti-inflammatory effects and ability to stimulate the formation of new mitochondria within brain cells.

Inflammation in the brain has been isolated a major player in depression, anxiety, and overall poor cognitive function (3).

Being in ketosis also helps to assist the conversion of glutamate (a stimulatory brain chemical) into GABA (a relaxing brain chemical) to promote emotional stability and feelings of well-being (4).

Abundant Energy

There are a few reasons why you might experience such abundant energy levels on a ketogenic diet:

  • Lowered Inflammation
  • Production of New Mitochondria
  • Ketones Provide More Energy Per Molecule Than Glucose
  • Balanced Blood Sugar

The combination of these benefits means that not only do you have more mitochondria to make energy, but those mitochondria have a better fuel source. Additionally, less inflammation and stable blood sugar means you have more energy to do other things like support the immune system or fire up your brain!

Clear Skin

More people are facing skin issues today than ever before. Skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, and eczema are often linked to some source of underlying chronic inflammation. With chronic inflammation, the immune system can become uncoordinated and begin targeting different tissues of the body, such as the skin.

Things like chemical exposure, environmental allergies, chronic stress, hormone imbalance, and imbalances in gut bacteria can all contribute to these skin conditions. While the factors should also be addressed, following a ketogenic diet can also help to quickly lower inflammation and accelerate healing.

Oftentimes, skin issues are linked to digestive issues, which are a common underlying source of chronic inflammation. If this sounds like you, you may find this article helpful: How to Beat Acne, Eczema, and Psoriasis.

Reduced Cravings

When you consume sugar or carbohydrates, they must be processed into glucose and shuttled into the cells via a hormone called insulin. Oftentimes, people with poor blood sugar stability will experience pronounced spikes and crashes in their blood sugar which leads to many health problems including weight gain, low energy, and emotional instability.

Since ketones are able to readily cross into cells without insulin, and provide a more efficient source of energy, these rapid fluctuations do not occur. The result is a stable and sustained energy that doesn’t leave you feeling hungry and emotional a few hours later.

Many people report that their cravings become substantially more manageable when in a state of ketosis, which makes long-term success much more likely.

Mitochondrial Biogenesis

This was alluded to already but it deserves some extra attention. Mitochondria are extremely important to keep healthy. With poor functioning mitochondria you have low energy available to your cells and a substantially higher risk of just about any kind of disease you can think of.

The more efficient your mitochondria are, the more resilient you will be to disease and daily stressors.

Consequently, when you begin a ketogenic diet, it acts as a metabolic stressor on the body. In the process of relearning how to burn fat for energy, a mild metabolic stress is inflicted upon your mitochondria. This stress is just powerful enough to kill off old and dysfunctional mitochondria which stimulates the growth of new and more powerful mitochondria (5). The end result is more energy and a higher level of vitality.

Anti-Aging

A prominent theory about aging involves how well the body is able to fight off oxidative stress and reduce its damaging effects. The ability of a ketogenic diet to lower oxidative stress and improve mitochondrial function has highlighted it as a powerful anti-ageing strategy.

In fact, the mitochondria have their own theory of aging and it is postulated that mitochondrial health is a strong indicator of life-span (6).

Fasting and fasting-mimicking diets, such as a ketogenic diet, are powerful ways to take advantage of mitochondrial boosting benefits.

Summary

When comparing keto vs low-carb, there are some glaring differences that can drastically change the benefits that you feel. The ketogenic diet has the specific and measureable goal of attaining the fat-burning state of ketosis. This is not necessarily the case with a low-carb diet.

If you are having a negative experience with the ketogenic diet, it will be important to troubleshoot and find out what is holding you back. Common mistakes that people make are consuming too many carbs, not consuming enough calories (especially from fats), and eating too much protein.

For long-term success and help troubleshooting in your personal ketogenic journey, it can be helpful to either work with a qualified health coach or enroll in a comprehensive ketogenic diet program.

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Finding yourself confused by the seemingly endless promotion of weight-loss strategies and diet plans? In this series, we take a look at some popular diets—and review the research behind them.

What is it?

The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a low-carbohydrate, fat-rich eating plan that has been used for centuries to treat specific medical conditions. In the 19th century, the ketogenic diet was commonly used to help control diabetes. In 1920 it was introduced as an effective treatment for epilepsy in children in whom medication was ineffective. The ketogenic diet has also been tested and used in closely monitored settings for cancer, diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.

However, this diet is gaining considerable attention as a potential weight-loss strategy due to the low-carb diet craze, which started in the 1970s with the Atkins diet (a very low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, which was a commercial success and popularized low-carb diets to a new level). Today, other low-carb diets including the Paleo, South Beach, and Dukan diets are all high in protein but moderate in fat. In contrast, the ketogenic diet is distinctive for its exceptionally high-fat content, typically 70% to 80%, though with only a moderate intake of protein.

How It Works

The premise of the ketogenic diet for weight loss is that if you deprive the body of glucose—the main source of energy for all cells in the body, which is obtained by eating carbohydrate foods—an alternative fuel called ketones is produced from stored fat (thus, the term “keto”-genic). The brain demands the most glucose in a steady supply, about 120 grams daily, because it cannot store glucose. During fasting, or when very little carbohydrate is eaten, the body first pulls stored glucose from the liver and temporarily breaks down muscle to release glucose. If this continues for 3-4 days and stored glucose is fully depleted, blood levels of a hormone called insulin decrease, and the body begins to use fat as its primary fuel. The liver produces ketone bodies from fat, which can be used in the absence of glucose.

When ketone bodies accumulate in the blood, this is called ketosis. Healthy individuals naturally experience mild ketosis during periods of fasting (e.g., sleeping overnight) and very strenuous exercise. Proponents of the ketogenic diet state that if the diet is carefully followed, blood levels of ketones should not reach a harmful level (known as “ketoacidosis”) as the brain will use ketones for fuel, and healthy individuals will typically produce enough insulin to prevent excessive ketones from forming. How soon ketosis happens and the number of ketone bodies that accumulate in the blood is variable from person to person and depends on factors such as body fat percentage and resting metabolic rate.

What is ketoacidosis?

Excessive ketone bodies can produce a dangerously toxic level of acid in the blood, called ketoacidosis. During ketoacidosis, the kidneys begin to excrete ketone bodies along with body water in the urine, causing some fluid-related weight loss. Ketoacidosis most often occurs in individuals with type 1 diabetes because they do not produce insulin, a hormone that prevents the overproduction of ketones. However in a few rare cases, ketoacidosis has been reported to occur in nondiabetic individuals following a prolonged very low carbohydrate diet.

The Diet

There is not one “standard” ketogenic diet with a specific ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat). The ketogenic diet typically reduces total carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams a day—less than the amount found in a medium plain bagel—and can be as low as 20 grams a day. Generally, popular ketogenic resources suggest an average of 70-80% fat from total daily calories, 5-10% carbohydrate, and 10-20% protein. For a 2000-calorie diet, this translates to about 165 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrate, and 75 grams protein. The protein amount on the ketogenic diet is kept moderate in comparison with other low-carb high-protein diets, because eating too much protein can prevent ketosis. The amino acids in protein can be converted to glucose, so a ketogenic diet specifies enough protein to preserve lean body mass including muscle, but that will still cause ketosis.

Many versions of ketogenic diets exist, but all ban carb-rich foods. Some of these foods may be obvious: starches from both refined and whole grains like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, and cookies; potatoes, corn, and other starchy vegetables; and fruit juices. Some that may not be so obvious are beans, legumes, and most fruits. Most ketogenic plans allow foods high in saturated fat, such as fatty cuts of meat, processed meats, lard, and butter, as well as sources of unsaturated fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, plant oils, and oily fish. Depending on your source of information, ketogenic food lists may vary and even conflict.

The following is a summary of foods generally permitted on the diet:

Allowed

  • Strong emphasis on fats at each meal and snack to meet the high-fat requirement. Cocoa butter, lard, poultry fat, and most plant fats (olive, palm, coconut oil) are allowed, as well as foods high in fat, such as avocado, coconut meat, certain nuts (macadamia, walnuts, almonds, pecans), and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, hemp, flax).
  • Some dairy foods may be allowed. Although dairy can be a significant source of fat, some are high in natural lactose sugar such as cream, ice cream, and full-fat milk so they are restricted. However, butter and hard cheeses may be allowed because of the lower lactose content.
  • Protein stays moderate. Programs often suggest grass-fed beef (not grain-fed) and free-range poultry that offer slightly higher amounts of omega-3 fats, pork, bacon, wild-caught fish, organ meats, eggs, tofu, certain nuts and seeds.
  • Most non-starchy vegetables are included: Leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, bok choy, lettuces), cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, summer squashes.
  • Certain fruits in small portions like berries. Despite containing carbohydrate, they are lower in “net carbs”* than other fruits.
  • Other: Dark chocolate (90% or higher cocoa solids), cocoa powder, unsweetened coffee and tea, unsweetened vinegars and mustards, herbs, and spices.

Not Allowed

  • All whole and refined grains and flour products, added and natural sugars in food and beverages, starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and winter squash.
  • Fruits other than from the allowed list, unless factored into designated carbohydrate restriction. All fruit juices.
  • Legumes including beans, lentils, and peanuts.
  • Although some programs allow small amounts of hard liquor or low carbohydrate wines and beers, most restrict full carbohydrate wines and beer, and drinks with added sweeteners (cocktails, mixers with syrups and juice, flavored alcohols).

*What Are Net Carbs?
“Net carbs” and “impact carbs” are familiar phrases in ketogenic diets as well as diabetic diets. They are unregulated interchangeable terms invented by food manufacturers as a marketing strategy, appearing on some food labels to claim that the product contains less “usable” carbohydrate than is listed. Net carbs or impact carbs are the amount of carbohydrate that are directly absorbed by the body and contribute calories. They are calculated by subtracting the amount of indigestible carbohydrates from the total carbohydrate amount. Indigestible (unabsorbed) carbohydrates include insoluble fibers from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and sugar alcohols, such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol commonly used in sugar-free diabetic food products. However, these calculations are not an exact or reliable science because the effect of sugar alcohols on absorption and blood sugar can vary. Some sugar alcohols may still contribute calories and raise blood sugar. The total calorie level also does not change despite the amount of net carbs, which is an important factor with weight loss. There is debate even within the ketogenic diet community about the value of using net carbs.

Programs suggest following a ketogenic diet until the desired amount of weight is lost. When this is achieved, to prevent weight regain one may follow the diet for a few days a week or a few weeks each month, interchanged with other days allowing a higher carbohydrate intake.

The Research So Far

The ketogenic diet has been shown to produce beneficial metabolic changes in the short-term. Along with weight loss, health parameters associated with carrying excess weight have improved, such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. There is also growing interest in the use of low-carbohydrate diets, including the ketogenic diet, for type 2 diabetes. Several theories exist as to why the ketogenic diet promotes weight loss, though they have not been consistently shown in research:

  • A satiating effect with decreased food cravings due to the high-fat content of the diet.
  • A decrease in appetite-stimulating hormones, such as insulin and ghrelin, when eating restricted amounts of carbohydrate.
  • A direct hunger-reducing role of ketone bodies—the body’s main fuel source on the diet.
  • Increased calorie expenditure due to the metabolic effects of converting fat and protein to glucose.
  • Promotion of fat loss versus lean body mass, partly due to decreased insulin levels.

The following is a summary of research findings:

The findings below have been limited to research specific to the ketogenic diet: the studies listed contain about 70-80% fat, 10-20% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrate. Diets otherwise termed “low carbohydrate” may not include these specific ratios, allowing higher amounts of protein or carbohydrate. Therefore only diets that specified the terms “ketogenic” or “keto,” or followed the macronutrient ratios listed above were included in this list below. In addition, though extensive research exists on the use of the ketogenic diet for other medical conditions, only studies that examined ketogenic diets specific to obesity or overweight were included in this list. (This paragraph was added to provide additional clarity on 5.7.18.)

  • A meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials following overweight and obese participants for 1-2 years on either low-fat diets or very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diets found that the ketogenic diet produced a small but significantly greater reduction in weight, triglycerides, and blood pressure, and a greater increase in HDL and LDL cholesterol compared with the low-fat diet at one year. The authors acknowledged the small weight loss difference between the two diets of about 2 pounds, and that compliance to the ketogenic diet declined over time, which may have explained the more significant difference at one year but not at two years (the authors did not provide additional data on this).
  • A systematic review of 26 short-term intervention trials (varying from 4-12 weeks) evaluated the appetites of overweight and obese individuals on either a very low calorie (~800 calories daily) or ketogenic diet (no calorie restriction but ≤50 gm carbohydrate daily) using a standardized and validated appetite scale. None of the studies compared the two diets with each other; rather, the participants’ appetites were compared at baseline before starting the diet and at the end. Despite losing a significant amount of weight on both diets, participants reported less hunger and a reduced desire to eat compared with baseline measures. The authors noted the lack of increased hunger despite extreme restrictions of both diets, which they theorized were due to changes in appetite hormones such as ghrelin and leptin, ketone bodies, and increased fat and protein intakes. The authors suggested further studies exploring a threshold of ketone levels needed to suppress appetite; in other words, can a higher amount of carbohydrate be eaten with a milder level of ketosis that might still produce a satiating effect? This could allow inclusion of healthful higher carbohydrate foods like whole grains, legumes, and fruit.
  • A study of 39 obese adults placed on a ketogenic very low-calorie diet for 8 weeks found a mean loss of 13% of their starting weight and significant reductions in fat mass, insulin levels, blood pressure, and waist and hip circumferences. Their levels of ghrelin did not increase while they were in ketosis, which contributed to a decreased appetite. However during the 2-week period when they came off the diet, ghrelin levels and urges to eat significantly increased.
  • A study of 89 obese adults who were placed on a two-phase diet regimen (6 months of a very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and 6 months of a reintroduction phase on a normal calorie Mediterranean diet) showed a significant mean 10% weight loss with no weight regain at one year. The ketogenic diet provided about 980 calories with 12% carbohydrate, 36% protein, and 52% fat, while the Mediterranean diet provided about 1800 calories with 58% carbohydrate, 15% protein, and 27% fat. Eighty-eight percent of the participants were compliant with the entire regimen. It is noted that the ketogenic diet used in this study was lower in fat and slightly higher in carbohydrate and protein than the average ketogenic diet that provides 70% or greater calories from fat and less than 20% protein.

Potential Pitfalls

Following a very high-fat diet may be challenging to maintain. Possible symptoms of extreme carbohydrate restriction that may last days to weeks include hunger, fatigue, low mood, irritability, constipation, headaches, and brain “fog.” Though these uncomfortable feelings may subside, staying satisfied with the limited variety of foods available and being restricted from otherwise enjoyable foods like a crunchy apple or creamy sweet potato may present new challenges.

Some negative side effects of a long-term ketogenic diet have been suggested, including increased risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis, and increased blood levels of uric acid (a risk factor for gout). Possible nutrient deficiencies may arise if a variety of recommended foods on the ketogenic diet are not included. It is important to not solely focus on eating high-fat foods, but to include a daily variety of the allowed meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds to ensure adequate intakes of fiber, B vitamins, and minerals (iron, magnesium, zinc)—nutrients typically found in foods like whole grains that are restricted from the diet. Because whole food groups are excluded, assistance from a registered dietitian may be beneficial in creating a ketogenic diet that minimizes nutrient deficiencies.

Unanswered Questions

  • What are the long-term (one year or longer) effects of, and are there any safety issues related to, the ketogenic diet?
  • Do the diet’s health benefits extend to higher risk individuals with multiple health conditions and the elderly? For which disease conditions do the benefits of the diet outweigh the risks?
  • As fat is the primary energy source, is there a long-term impact on health from consuming different types of fats (saturated vs. unsaturated) included in a ketogenic diet?
  • Is the high fat, moderate protein intake on a ketogenic diet safe for disease conditions that interfere with normal protein and fat metabolism, such as kidney and liver diseases?
  • Is a ketogenic diet too restrictive for periods of rapid growth or requiring increased nutrients, such as during pregnancy, while breastfeeding, or during childhood/adolescent years?

Bottom Line

Available research on the ketogenic diet for weight loss is still limited. Most of the studies so far have had a small number of participants, were short-term (12 weeks or less), and did not include control groups. A ketogenic diet has been shown to provide short-term benefits in some people including weight loss and improvements in total cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. However, these effects after one year when compared with the effects of conventional weight loss diets are not significantly different.

Eliminating several food groups and the potential for unpleasant symptoms may make compliance difficult. An emphasis on foods high in saturated fat also counters recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association and may have adverse effects on blood LDL cholesterol. However, it is possible to modify the diet to emphasize foods low in saturated fat such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.

A ketogenic diet may be an option for some people who have had difficulty losing weight with other methods. The exact ratio of fat, carbohydrate, and protein that is needed to achieve health benefits will vary among individuals due to their genetic makeup and body composition. Therefore, if one chooses to start a ketogenic diet, it is recommended to consult with one’s physician and a dietitian to closely monitor any biochemical changes after starting the regimen, and to create a meal plan that is tailored to one’s existing health conditions and to prevent nutritional deficiencies or other health complications. A dietitian may also provide guidance on reintroducing carbohydrates once weight loss is achieved.

A modified carbohydrate diet following the Healthy Eating Plate model may produce adequate health benefits and weight reduction in the general population.

Related

  • Low-Carbohydrate Diets
  • David Ludwig clears up carbohydrate confusion
  • The Best Diet: Quality Counts
  • Other Diet Reviews

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Keto Versus Atkins: How Do the Two Low-Carb Diets Compare?

There is certainly no shortage of diet types to choose from these days. From Whole30 and gluten-free to plant-based living, it can be hard to find one that works for you and your real life.

While dieting trends are constantly changing today, the most popular diets promote real whole foods for lasting results that go beyond weight loss.

The ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet are two of the most followed nutritional plans because of their low-carb approaches.

With thousands of fat loss success stories from plans like the 28-Day Keto Challenge, it’s no wonder low carb diets are all the rage.

If you’re looking to lower your intake of carbohydrates in a healthy way, keto or Atkins may be good options for you. But, even though they have a low-carb approach in common, there are a few key differences between the diets.

Here, experts share how these diets compare and what to know before starting them.

Also known as the keto diet, it’s a super high-fat diet that also includes an adequate amount of protein and a very low carbohydrates intake.

Thousands of women have taken the “28-Day Keto Challenge“. It’s your essential guide to living the keto lifestyle.

“The keto diet is 70 percent fat, 25 percent protein, and 5 percent carbohydrates,” says Samantha Lynch, registered dietitian nutritionist.

Due to the low amount of carbs in this diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies. This forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. These replace what would normally be converted into glucose (from carbohydrates) as the source of energy.

“It typically takes three to six weeks for the body to make the transition to running on fat,” adds Paul Salter, R.D., M.S., and founder of Fit in Your Dress.

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Dr. Robert Atkins founded this diet, also known as the Atkins nutritional approach, in 1972. Marketed as a low-carbohydrate diet, it’s often regarded as the diet that started the low-carb craze.

“The diet began as a simple low-carbohydrate approach. emphasized more protein and fats (including saturated fats) and a reduction in carbohydrates.

Therefore carbohydrates consumed come from high-fiber, satiating options,” Salter says. Over the years the diet has evolved to include four distinct phases.

  1. Induction: You are restricted to no more than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. Emphasis is placed on high-fat and high-protein foods, with the source of carbohydrates coming from dark, leafy greens.
  2. Balancing: You begin to incorporate more nuts, low-carbohydrate vegetables, and small amounts of fruit.
  3. Fine-tuning: Once you’re close to your goal weight, you will begin to add more carbohydrates until the weight loss slows down.
  4. Maintenance: You may eat as many high-fiber carbohydrates as you can tolerate without regaining weight.

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Keto Versus Atkins: The Pros and Cons

Before you settle on which diet that you want to move forward with it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons for each.

Atkins Diet: Pros

The Atkins diet offers quick weight loss results and reduces appetite and cravings, especially for sweets.

According to Lynch, there is less insulin produced in the body. This is because the diet is low on carbs and doesn’t include any sugar.

Insulin in the pancreas often lowers blood sugar levels, she adds, leading to fluctuating blood sugar (glucose) levels. These fluctuating levels are responsible for cravings. So when there is less insulin produced, there are less fluctuating sugar levels, and, therefore, fewer cravings.

Due to the dip in insulin production and blood sugar levels, the Atkins Diet can be a great resource for reversing diabetes or pre-diabetes and help people manage PCOS, says Lynch.

“If you have quick weight loss, even if you have like a 10 percent weight loss of your body weight, your blood sugar levels are more likely to be within normal ranges. We always shoot for a 10 percent drop,” she says.

Lynch adds that in order to stabilize blood sugars, you should eat a high-protein, high-fiber diet.

Atkins Diet: Cons

The Atkins diet can also cause electrolyte imbalances. Additionally, according to Lynch, the Atkins diet can lead to reduced muscle mass and weakened bones.

“If you lose weight quickly, your body is obviously going to use ketones. But it will also use your muscle mass for energy,” explains Lynch.

“If you use your muscle mass for energy, you’re lowering your muscle mass. Because so many people gain back the weight, what happens is they actually have a higher percent body fat and less muscle mass.”

Additionally, Lynch says that many people who gain back the weight find that they have a lower metabolic rate than they did before they initially lost the weight. Though studies have been conducted to try to prove this, further research is required.

The diet may also lead to osteoporosis, says Lynch. Salter adds that “with a very high fat intake, if somebody is not restricting their fat appropriately between saturated and unsaturated and relying too heavily on saturated fat, that could pose a risk for osteoporosis.”

Again, there have been various studies done that both prove and dispute this. To make sure that you’re consuming all the vitamins and minerals you need, it’s best to consult a registered dietician.

Keto Diet: Pros

Historically, the keto diet was invented to help people with epilepsy. According to Salter, the keto diet was hypothesized to help people with epileptic seizures.

It “robbed the brain of sugar,” including sugar that came from broken down carbohydrates. He explains that sugar was believed to fuel the nerve impulses that caused the epileptic seizures.

Similarly to the Atkins diet, the keto diet can also help with the maintenance of blood sugar levels and reduce the risk or severity of type 2 diabetes.

Additionally, studies have shown that people in ketosis have decreased levels of triglycerides and increased levels of HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

“By reducing blood sugar levels, you’re going to reduce triglycerides. Triglycerides are basically excess carbohydrates or they’re fat in the liver. Triglyceride levels are affected by the incline of blood sugar levels and weight loss,” Lynch explains.

She adds that high consumption of soluble fiber may also help lower cholesterol.

The lower blood sugar levels also play a role in the decreased risk of heart disease.

“Again you’re removing tons of high sugar food. And you’re eating a large number of leafy greens which are healthy, good-for-you fats. That is going to have a positive effect on your heart health as a whole as well,” Salter says.

Keto Diet: Cons

Arguably the biggest con for the keto diet is that many people never truly achieve ketosis.

“The main difference is the Atkins diet includes a gradual increase in carbohydrate intake. far more sustainable, after completing a period of time following a very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) approach. The ketogenic diet is a very-low-carbohydrate diet at all times,” Salter says.

“ the ketogenic diet, you have to meet these precise eating guidelines. If you do not eat to the guidelines, you actually don’t induce the state of ketosis necessary to experience those benefits.”

Lynch echoes the sentiment. “Unfortunately, most Americans want results and they want them quick. I always remind people: You didn’t gain the weight overnight, so be realistic with your expectations,” she says.

Additionally, the keto diet, when followed incorrectly, may lead to an electrolyte imbalance.

“A lot of people will experience an electrolyte imbalance, especially when transitioning from a traditional western diet to a keto diet. When you stop eating carbs you do lose a lot of sodium and potassium that are common in those foods,” says Salter.

He adds that it’s important that people be aware of the risk and take electrolyte supplements to replenish their stores. This is especially true for people who work out regularly and lose electrolytes through sweat.

There are four types of electrolytes to be cognizant of: potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. According to Lynch, many of the foods not allowed on these low-carb diets provide the highest sources of electrolytes for most people.

“A lot of the grains have magnesium, potassium comes in a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she says. In order to ensure you get the nutrients you need, she adds that you should consult a dietician before starting the diet.

Which diet is better for me?

An important thing to keep in mind is that if you have a fit lifestyle, both diets probably won’t work well for you. “For a fit and active lifestyle, it’s going to be hard to maintain either of these diets,” Lynch says.

“However, if you do lower-intensity exercises like yoga, pilates, barre, and walking, it will be easier to maintain. Remaining in ketosis is not advised and can be dangerous.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that, when it comes to keto versus Atkins, the keto diet lays out specific guidelines. However, the Atkins diet does not.

“The main difference is the ketogenic diet is much more precise. You have to be precise in order to achieve those benefits,” says Salter.

“I think the Atkins diet is more flexible and might be less intimidating, which is something some people gravitate towards. However, on the other end of the spectrum, some people need that rule-based approach. need all of these specific diet guidelines in place because otherwise, they’re going try to break the rules or bend them. So it depends on the individual.”

Regardless of which diet you choose, there are two major things to keep in mind before starting any new diet. The first is to always check with a physician or registered dietician.

You want to ensure that the changes you plan to make to your diet are right and safe for you. The second is to make sure that you pick a diet that can become a lifestyle.

“My biggest piece of feedback to people is to make sure it’s an approach you can foresee yourself doing for the long term. Not a quick-fix rash diet approach,” says Salter.

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Keto vs Atkins: Which One is Better?

If you ever googled “low-carb diets,” you probably noticed that keto and Atkins are at the top of search results. Maybe you even stumbled upon some keto vs Atkins discussions across forums. This isn’t at all surprising. Both are low-carb, high-fat diets people follow to lose weight and improve health. Which probably leaves you wondering:

Is the keto diet the same as Atkins?

In the world of low-carb diets, keto is at the very end of the spectrum. In other words, it’s the king of low-carb. Atkins takes a more moderate approach to carb restriction, although it may not seem that way in the beginning. These two diets are also made with different effects in mind and have completely different histories.

Want to learn more about both to see which one is best for you?

Here, we talk about the many differences between keto vs Atkins in great detail. We’ll go over the science behind each diet, take a look at their different benefits, and offer suggestions for which one might be best for you.

Let’s Start with Atkins

Is the Atkins diet a ketogenic diet? Or is it something else?

Formally known as the Atkins Nutritional Approach, medical experts classify this low-carb diet as a fad even though it’s been around for half a century and despite the fact it was developed by a physician, namely Dr. Robert Atkins.

Dr. Atkins, who was a cardiologist, began developing his namesake diet, mainly for weight loss, in the late 1960s. After careful research, he published Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution in 1972, a book that kicked off decades of debate within the medical community . There, Atkins explains what he knows about carbohydrates and sets the rules that shape the Atkins diet. Since the book’s publishing, hundreds of scientific publications have examined if low-carb diets can work for weight loss .

So, how does Atkins’ famous diet look like?

Like every low-carb diet, this one is based around eating fewer carbs and more fats and protein. Besides that, it involves several phases, beginning with a very-low-carbohydrate eating plan.

Here’s how it looks like in more detail:

Atkins: Principles & Types

Currently, there are two different Atkins plans available:

1. Atkins 20

This is the original Atkins diet and is best if you want to lose weight quickly or have a lot of weight to lose.

Atkins 20 has 4 phases:

• Induction Phase – Eat only 20 grams of net carbs a day or make carbs 10% of your daily calories. Low-carb vegetables like broccoli, cucumbers, celery, and green beans are best to keep carbs low. Make sure to include protein foods like fish, chicken, eggs, and tofu with every meal and eat as much fat as you can. Drink around 8 glasses of water and avoid alcohol.

Timing: Follow this phase for the first 1-2 weeks.

• Balancing Phase – Time to start introducing moderate-carb foods back into your diet. Berries, nuts, and seeds are great options. Continue eating mostly low-carb vegetables and avoid high-carb foods like cereals and legumes. The balancing phase is when you should start tracking your weight loss to see when it’s time to move on to the next phase.

Timing: Stay here until you’re about 10 pounds away from your goal weight.

• Pre-Maintenance Phase – You can now start reintroducing high-carb but nutritious foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. You’re allowed to eat an additional 10 grams of net carbs per week. But in case you notice you’re not losing weight, cut back on the carbs again.

Timing: Stay in this phase until you reach your goal weight or go back to the balancing phase if staling.

• Lifetime Maintenance – Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you can jump to this phase. As the name suggests, it should last a lifetime, that is if you want it to. To maintain weight, eating around 100 grams or less carbs is best for most people.

2. Atkins 40

Atkins 40 is the newer and simpler version of the classic Atkins diet. Its main principles are portion control and limiting net carbs to 40 grams daily. This one is best for people who need to lose only a little bit of weight. It’s also safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women because food choices are less restrictive.

Another great thing about Atkins 40 is that it does not come in separate phases, making it relatively easy to follow.

Feeling interested?

Start your diet with a limit of 40 grams daily net carbs. Then, add 10 net grams of carbs each week once you are 10 pounds away from your target weight (however, this is purely optional).

And as if that wasn’t enough, Atkins 40 allows for moderate alcohol intake (equivalent to one drink per day). Now you won’t have to skip Margarita Day.

3. Modified Atkins

Modified Atkins is very similar to keto. It’s called “modified” because it limits carb intake to a maximum of 20 grams per day, separating it from its classic cousin. And just like keto, you don’t need to watch your calories on this version.The only feature that sets it apart from the keto diet is that it allows for high amounts of protein.

What the Atkins Diet Looks Like

Your meals on the Atkins diet should consist of:

  • Meat: Any type of meat will do, but unprocessed fresh meat is best.
  • Fish: Fish and other seafood are good sources of protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Vegetables: Low-carb vegetables like broccoli and spinach are important early in Atkins. Later, you can also add starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and parsnips.
  • Full-fat dairy: Butter, cream, aged cheese, and full-fat yogurt are high-fat staples in the Atkins diet.
  • Eggs: A great source of both fat and protein, eggs also provide the additional benefits associated with omega-3s.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are all great choices.
  • Healthy fats: Cold-pressed oils like olive oil and butter are preferred on Atkins.

Do not eat:

  • Sugars: All types of sugar are no-no on Atkins. This includes honey, agave nectar, and foods or beverages sweetened with sugar.
  • Refined oils: Avoid refined oils such as sunflower, soybean, and corn oil. These are high in omega-6 fatty acids (not to be confused with omega-3s), which are sometimes linked to inflammation, making weight loss difficult.
  • High-carb vegetables and fruits: Potatoes, carrots, turnips, bananas, apples, and mangoes are some examples. Once you reach the pre-maintenance phase, you can enjoy these in moderation.
  • Grains and legumes: Both are exceptionally high in carbs, so don’t even look at them.
  • Trans fats: Partially-hydrogenated oils and some margarines have unhealthy trans fats, which are linked to cardiovascular diseases. You definitely don’t want that.

Sample meal plan (after induction phase)

Breakfast: A bowl of steel-cut oatmeal made with full-fat milk, topped with fresh blueberries.

Lunch: Apple muffins made from almond flour and pecans, sweetened with stevia.

Dinner: Beef stroganoff over whole-wheat noodles with steamed broccoli on the side.

About the Keto Diet

A low-carb diet that’s been in the spotlight for a decade or so is keto, which is also a high-fat, adequate-protein diet.

However, it’s been around for much longer than that.

Researchers developed the ketogenic diet (aka keto) in the 1920s to manage severe epilepsy in children, after studies found that limiting carbs causes ketosis, a known cure for epilepsy. It’s only recently that keto became popular for weight loss and better health.

But now you’re probably wondering, what’s the difference between a low-carb diet and a keto diet?

The main difference is that it causes ketosis — a metabolic state of enhanced fat burning and elevated ketones. Ketones are a compound that can replace glucose in many chemical reactions in the body, like serving as fuel for energy. The keto diet, ketosis, and ketones help with weight loss but also things like better brain health and a lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes .

Other things keto can do for you include:

  • Enhance mental clarity
  • Improve energy levels
  • Better manage or even reverse type II diabetes
  • Prevent some types of cancer
  • Control your appetite; and
  • Increase longevity

Like Atkins, the main principle of keto is carb restriction followed by higher fat intake. But there are many, many more intricacies to this diet.

Keto Diet Principles & Types

Be warned that the keto diet is strict, especially when it comes to macronutrient ratios (macros).

Keto macros are based on research that shows your metabolism changes drastically when you eat less than 50 grams of carbs daily .

Here’s how they typically look like:

  • Carbs: 5-10% of calories
  • Protein: 20-30% of calories
  • Fat: 65-80% of calories

Eat this way and you’ll be in ketosis within a few weeks.

But how exactly does eating a certain way lead to ketosis?

Not enough carbs in your diet leads to drops in circulating insulin. In turn, decreased insulin brings about metabolic changes that discourage fat accumulation in the body. Besides that, after just a few days on keto, your glucose stores are too depleted to fuel the brain or other organs, so your body produces ketones as replacement fuel.

But ketosis is not the end goal of keto.

What you want to aim for is keto-adaptation, which is essentially your body becoming perfectly adapted to running on fat and ketones. What this gives you is consistent and long-lasting energy, an ability to maintain normal weight, and metabolic flexibility (which can make weight loss easier).

And now onto keto diet types:

  • Standard keto diet: This is the original version based around macros mentioned earlier. It provides health benefits such as weight loss, blood glucose control, and increased energy.
  • Cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): Developed for bodybuilders and athletes on high-intensity training regimens, cyclical keto involves periods of carb-loading “re-feeds” (50 gram of net carbs, 5 days a week) and carb-loading days (up to 600 grams of carbs, 2 days a week) in addition to following a standard keto diet.
  • Targeted ketogenic diet (TKD): Targeted keto is eating your daily carb allotment 30 minutes before or after workouts. This version is ideal for endurance athletes or people who work out at a moderate intensity on a daily basis.
  • High-protein ketogenic diet: High-protein keto allows for a slightly higher intake of protein (about 5% more than standard keto). However, the amount of protein you consume daily still needs to be low enough to keep you in ketosis.

What to Eat on Keto

Despite what you may have heard, there’s more to keto than eating bricks of butter with bacon on the side.

Here’s what delicious and nutritious food keto encourages:

  • Fatty cuts of meat: Beef brisket, beef ribs, T-bone steak, sandwich steaks, and ground beef (look for 75-80% lean or lower) are good options.
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring can help boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake and protect your cardiovascular health and brain.
  • Full-fat dairy: Butter is a keto staple, but cream, cheese, and full-fat yogurt are also great.
  • Low-carb vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, and asparagus are good examples. These will help you get essential vitamins and minerals as well as fiber.
  • Berries: Berries tend to be low in carbs, high in fiber, and high in antioxidants. Some keto favorites are blueberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, and lard are all great on a keto diet. Avoid sources of trans fats such as refined oils and margarine.
  • Substitutes: Almond flour, coconut flour, coconut milk, almond milk, and stevia can replace high-carb ingredients to bring versatility to your keto meals.

Sample meal

Breakfast: Mushroom and feta omelet with full-fat yogurt.

Lunch: Tuna salad served on keto bread with a side of fresh blackberries.

Dinner: Garlic butter chicken with asparagus on the side.

Keto vs Atkins

So, is it keto better than Atkins or vice versa?

Truth be told, both diets have their pros and cons, so it’s really not a question of which diet is better as much as which diet is better for YOU.

If you’re feeling ambivalent about these diets, here’s a comparison of the two.

Similarities & differences

Keto vs Atkins #1

The induction phase of the Atkins diet is almost the same as keto. Carbs are kept low, so you’ll likely enter ketosis. Whether or not the induction phase of Atkins will lead to ketosis depends on your protein intake.

Keto vs Atkins #2

Studies show that both of these diets cause weight loss . However, research tends to favor keto, concluding that it provides more effective weight loss compared to Atkins. Since Atkins allows higher carb intake during later phases, the long-term metabolic changes associated with keto are not present, so your body continues to burn carbs for fuel.

The keto diet, on the other hand, means sticking to 30 grams of net carbs per day, turning your metabolism into a strict fat burner long-term. On the other hand, the higher carb and protein intake in the later phases of Atkins makes it more sustainable than keto for some people.

Keto vs Atkins #3

Atkins is primarily a low-carb diet, while keto is more accurately a high-fat diet. There’s great emphasis on fat intake on keto — in fact, up to 80% of your calories should come from fat on a keto diet, compared to 20 to 30% on other diets . The Atkins diet is also higher in fat than your typical weight loss diet, but not as much as keto.

Keto vs Atkins #4

Both diets focus on unprocessed foods. This is both for practical and health reasons. When you eat real, whole foods, it is much easier to estimate your macro intake. Unprocessed foods are also higher in valuable nutrients that support your health and keep potential deficiencies at bay (unlike more restrictive diets).

Keto vs Atkins #5

You need to avoid sugar, honey, and nutritive sweeteners on both diets because they tend to affect blood glucose. Instead, stevia and erythritol are good sweetener options. Both are non-nutritive, meaning they don’t contain calories (or contain a negligible amount) or affect blood sugar.

The Final Verdict

As you can see, both diets have their benefits and setbacks.

Still, a lot of people wonder, do you lose more weight on keto or Atkins?

Where research is concerned, keto may have a slight edge when it comes to weight loss. Keto can help you boost cognitive functioning, control (and sometimes even reverse) diabetes, and even help to prevent or fight cancer . There are also more studies showing keto is safe long-term . Unfortunately, there aren’t near as much studies on Atkins, but this is because it’s not used in the clinical setting like keto.

Despite the lack of research on Atkins, what we do know is that it’s more sustainable for most people, while keto is notoriously difficult to follow.

Conclusion

Keto vs Atkins: it’s a difficult question to answer. Both diets have their pros and cons. Current research shows that keto tends to be more efficient than Atkins for weight loss, but keto is also difficult to stick to, so Atkins provides a sustainable alternative.

The efficiency of Atkins also depends on your metabolic flexibility and goals. If you are able to effectively switch between burning carbs and fat for fuel, then Atkins may be ideal for weight management in the long run. Atkins also allows for more carbs, so you’ll find eating at restaurants easier and have a wider range of food options to choose from.

In the end, whether you should opt for keto or Atkins depends on how willing you are to stick to low-carb eating, as well as your metabolic flexibility. Keto is great in terms of efficiency, but some people find that a life without carbs is unbearable. If you’re still undecided, we suggest switching between keto and Atkins and finding what works best for you.

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You can’t scroll through your Instagram without seeing a handful of celebrities (like Kourtney Kardashian and Adriana Lima) and social media influencers showing off their flat bellies while singing the praises of their favorite low-carb meals. And if your New Year’s resolution is to shed those pesky pounds, you might be this close to hopping on the carb-restrictive bandwagon.

But before you become one of the more than 13 million people posting about their #lowcarb life, here’s what you need to know about two increasingly popular weight-loss plans: keto and Atkins.

Keto Diet 101

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In short, the ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, ultra-low-carb plan. Tried by Jenna Jameson, Savannah Guthrie, and Halle Berry, this diet works by sending the body into ketosis, a physiological state that occurs when your body is forced to burn fat cells instead of glucose (due to the absence of carbs) as a form of energy.

“In order to reach ketosis, you have to keep carbohydrate intake to a minimum, so you need to eat about 75% of your calories from fat, 20% from protein, and about 5% from carbs,” says Julie Upton, MS, RD, co-founder of Appetite for Health.

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And when the body uses the glucose that’s stored in our muscles as glycogen for energy, the scale goes down. “Our muscles store about 3 grams of water for every gram of glycogen, meaning we can lose quite a bit of weight right away when we tap into glycogen stores for fuel,” says GH Nutrition Director Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. “That’s why someone who loses weight in ‘just one week!’ from a low-carb plan is likely losing water weight, not necessarily real weight that stays off over time, but the immediacy can be motivating at the beginning of a weight-loss diet.”

Atkins Diet 101

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With Rob Lowe as the latest (and first male) spokesperson for this widely known low-carb diet, it’s no wonder people are (once again) taking the Atkins route. “Atkins is a diet where you replace many of your carbohydrates with protein and healthy fats — meaning foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats,” Upton says. (FYI: The diet was created by a cardiologist named Robert C. Atkins back in the ’60s.)

The diet is divided into four phases where carbs are slowly re-introduced as the stages go on. Phase 1 is the most drastic since it’s about sending your body into ketosis with a daily intake of protein, fat, and 20 to 25 grams carbs — where about 15 grams should be from veggies. Phase 2 boosts the daily carb intake to 25 to 50 grams and more carb-filled foods are added to the diet, such as berries, melon, and legumes. Phase 3 ups the daily carb intake to 50 to 80 grams — where starchy veggies, more fruits, and whole grains are added to the plan. And Phase 4 increases the daily carb intake to 80 to 100 grams.

Atkins has created a more relaxed plan (called Atkins 40) where Phase 1 begins with a daily carb intake of 40 grams. Both versions nix simple carbohydrates (bread, bagels, cereal, juice, dried fruit), starches (white pasta, white potatoes, white rice, corn, chips), and anything with added sugars.

The Pros and Cons of Keto and Atkins

Generally speaking, eating fewer carbs can be healthful since the typical follower of the Western diet takes in more than the daily recommended amount of carbohydrates (about half of our calories per day, where at least half of these grains derive from whole grains, according to the 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

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However, London stresses that any diet ultra-low in carbs — such as keto and phase 1 of Atkins — can result in some unwanted short-term side effects (like constipation and bad breath), as well as some serious long-term ones (increased risk of osteoporosis, kidney and liver issues, and decreased immune function). Also, one large study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2018 found that low-carb diets should be “avoided” since followers are at a greater risk of death due to heart disease, stroke, and cancer.

Upton highlights the additional cardiovascular complications that may arise from the keto lifestyle. “The keto diet doesn’t emphasize healthy fats — it just promotes any type of fat, like heavy cream, butter, and lard,” she explains.

London also feels that a super-restrictive plan like keto sets you up for failure since one innocent mom’s night out will result in immediate weight gain. “Keto diets rely on an extreme technique to (temporarily) move the scale down a few pounds, and basically eliminates all joy associated with eating real food and living life,” she adds.

But this isn’t as much the case with Atkins. “What’s great about Atkins 40 is that it encourages choosing smarter carbohydrates in place of simple added sugars from sneaky sources and emphasizes polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are two evidence-backed strategies for better health and long-term weight loss,” London says. “I also like the emphasis on whole-food sources of fiber, which makes the plan more realistic than extreme eating plans that almost entirely eliminate a food group.”

The Bottom Line

London and Upton both find more promising results from following the Atkins plan, but this diet is not realistic for everyone. “You may find yourself dreaming of bagels instead of feeling good on the plan,” London adds. “That said, Atkins’ reincorporation of starches and the plan’s increased veggie intake can be super effective, and the maintenance phase can feel much more attainable for the long term.”

For anyone looking to consume less carbs in their regime, London shares this advice:
“Fill up on veggies of all kinds — starchy and non-starchy — choose lean protein, low-fat dairy, and nuts and legumes as much as possible, and allow for the occasional dessert or indulgence (about 150 to 200 calories daily). Hardcore restrictions can backfire big time, so go easy on yourself!”

Since eating preferences and dietary needs vary from person to person, it’s advised to check with your doctor before starting any new weight-loss program.

Amy Capetta Amy Capetta has been writing health and lifestyle articles for over 15 years.

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