What Is A Low Carb Diet?
A ‘low-carb’ diet is a diet that restricts your intake of carbohydrates. A few examples of foods rich in carbohydrates are grains, fruits, milk, soda/pop, and bread.
It’s important to note that there are many variants of a low-carb diet. The various types of low-carb diet include:
1. Atkins Diet
This is a high-protein, low-carb, high-fat, weight-loss diet. It has four phases that make the shift from a regular diet to a low-carb diet easier. The 4 phases of the diet are induction, balance, pre-maintenance, and lifetime maintenance.
2. Paleo Diet
This is a form of eating pattern that comes from humans in the paleolithic era. This diet focuses on foods from our times as hunter-gatherers. It avoids food items that are processed or grown via agriculture. The diet includes meats, eggs, seeds, nuts, eggs, vegetables, and healthy oils.
3. South Beach Diet
This is a modified Atkins diet with a focus on only low-GI carbs and low amounts of saturated fat. The diet also lays emphasis on the intake of lean meats and unsaturated fats. Understand more about saturated fats vs unsaturated fats to make the right kind of choices in this diet.
4. Mediterranean Diet
This diet comes from the traditional foods of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy fats.
5. Dukan Diet
This is a low-carb, high-protein diet that consists of 4 phases. These include- the attack, cruise, consolidation, and stabilization phases. The diet is designed considering your weight loss goals.
As you start with the first phase, and progress across the later stages, your body adapts to the change. This in turn helps get the benefits of a low-carb diet for a prolonged period of time.
It’s key to note that both Dukan and Atkins diets have 4 phases but with different goals. Atkins helps you to maintain a low-carb dietary lifestyle for a long time. But as the Dukan diet progresses, you can eventually eat most foods with only one day a week of eating only protein.
With this, let’s get to know the basics of the keto diet before we set out to compare the keto diet vs low carb.
What Is The Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a high-fat and ultra-low-carb diet. The initial purpose of the diet was to treat refractory epilepsy, seizure, and cancer.
The goal of following a keto diet is to reach a state of ketosis. In this state, your body produces more ketones, which replace carbs as the key source of energy.
You only reach the stage of ketosis, once the carb level in your body has depleted. Thus, the usual carb intake on a keto diet is less than 10%; which is about 20-50 grams/day.
To learn more about the keto diet, check out our ultimate guide on the Keto Diet Plan for Women.
With this, let’s look at the difference between both these diets and learn what sets them apart.
Keto Diet vs Low Carb Diet: The Main Differences
The main difference between the keto diet and the low-carb diet is the number of carbohydrates you can consume per day. Low carb diets can range from anywhere between 50 to 150 grams of carbs per day. But, the keto diet requires you to strictly stay under 50 grams per day.
Apart from this, there are several other differences that you should know about.
So, let’s have a look at the factors that drive the keto diet vs low carb diet debate and determine how the two diets differ:
Keto Diet vs Low Carb: Carb Intake
Keto and low-carb diets primarily differ from each other in terms of carb intake. Generally, on a low-carb diet, your carb intake is somewhere between 50-150 grams/day.
Meanwhile, on the keto diet, your carb intake is lower than 50 grams/day. This is done so that your body can enter a state of ketosis.
Keto Diet vs Low Carb: Metabolic Change
Your body depends on carbohydrates for energy, by default. In other words, the sugar running in your blood in the form of glucose is your body’s fuel.
On a low-carb diet, the goal isn’t to change your body’s natural use of carbs for energy. It’s only to restrict your carb intake. Thus, there’s no change in your body’s metabolism.
But, the keto diet aims to change your body’s metabolism. It does so by switching your body's primary fuel source from glucose to ketones.
Keto Diet vs Low Carb: Protein Intake
A high intake of protein is avoided on a keto diet as it hinders your body from reaching the state of ketosis.
This happens because your body breaks down protein into amino acids. And then, these are converted into glucose via a process called gluconeogenesis.
Thus, while on a keto diet your protein intake needs to be moderate.
But on a low-carb diet, your protein intake can be comparatively higher. This is because you’re at risk of losing muscle due to your body trying to break down protein for glucose. High protein intake helps reduce the loss of muscle tissue on low-carb diets.
Keto Diet vs Low Carb: Side Effects
One of the major side effects of the keto diet is the keto flu. It is generally experienced in the form of various symptoms. These include dizziness, fatigue, brain fog, nausea, irritability, and weakness.
But keto flu is a characteristic of the keto diet. You may not experience this when you start with a low-carb diet. Instead, what you may experience is a milder version of these symptoms.
The side effects of a low-carb diet include lethargy, fogginess, headaches, and weakness. However, these side effects are temporary and last only for a couple of days.
Further, the keto diet may lead to depression. This is because of a reduction in magnesium, zinc, and selenium. Though, studies in this area are far from conclusive. But, a low-carb diet has no such side effects.
Now you know the general difference between the keto diet vs low carb. In the next section, let’s have a look at the difference between the keto diet vs various popular low-carb diets.
Difference Between other Low Carb Diet Types and The Keto Diet
As stated earlier, there is more than one version of a low-carb diet. Let’s understand how each of these differs from the keto diet.
Keto vs South Beach Diet
The Keto diet aims at reaching a state of ketosis by drastically cutting carb intake. But, the South Beach diet relies more on choosing the right kind of carbs and fats as per your body’s goals.
Besides, keto allows the incorporation of all kinds of fats including saturated fat. But, the South Beach diet focuses on unsaturated fats and limits saturated fat intake.
Keto vs Paleo Diet
The main difference between the Keto and Paleo Diets is that keto focuses on eliminating all kinds of carbohydrates from your diet. Whereas Paleo is all about avoiding farmed and processed foods and dairy products. Instead, the Paleo diet recommends eating as many whole foods as possible.
The Paleo diet is also known as the “caveman diet”. It is based on the dietary pattern followed by the hunters and gatherers of the Paleolithic era.
Food items to avoid on the Paleo diet include:
- Refined vegetable oils like soybean, canola, and peanut
- Processed food cookies, bread, crisps, pasties
- Cereal grains like rye, barley, and corn
- Legumes like tofu, beans, peas, and lentils
- Artificial sweeteners and sweetened beverages.
The keto diet focuses on macronutrient distribution. This means that it focuses on regulating the intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. So the selection or elimination of foods is ONLY on the basis of their nutrient composition.
On the keto diet, you restrict the intake of the following food items:
- Grains, crackers, pasta, bread, and rice
- High sugar fruits like banana, mango, and pear
- Starchy vegetables like sweet potato, corn, potato, and beets
- Fruits juices, honey syrup, and maple syrup
- And gluten-free baked goods
Keto vs Atkins diet
The main difference between the Keto and Atkins diets is that Atkins is a low-carb diet whereas keto is a NO-carb diet.
On keto, you get about 20% of your daily calories from protein. Whereas, on the Atkins diet, protein amounts to about 30% of your calorie intake.
Besides, on the keto diet, your goal is to reach and maintain ketosis by eliminating all forms of carbs. The Atkins diet, on the other hand, introduces more carbs in the later phase of the diet. This gradually kicks you out of ketosis.
Finally, because the Atkins diet is more flexible with carb intake, it’s not too restrictive. You can eat different kinds of fruits, vegetables, and grains. And as you already know, the keto diet is highly restrictive in terms of food items and thus, harder to sustain.
Keto vs Dukan diet
The Dukan diet allows the intake of high protein by keeping the carbohydrate intake at a minimum. Conversely, the keto diet is high in fat, low on carbs, and moderate in protein intake.
In addition, the Dukan includes various lean proteins which are filling. This means you will not feel hungry. You get lean protein from salmon, chicken, beans and legumes, tofu, quinoa, and eggs.
On the other hand, you might constantly feel hungry on the Keto diet. This is because of two prime reasons:
- You might be required to cut down on food items that are rich in fiber.
- There may be an increase in leptin resistance in your body. This is a hormonal dysfunction and leads to excessive leptin production. Due to this, your body stops sending signals to the brain that it’s actually full.
Keto vs Mediterranean diet
The main difference between the Keto and Mediterranean Diets is that keto changes your fuel metabolism. Whereas, the Mediterranean diet is a simple guideline for healthy eating with no stringent rules.
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on the staple foods of countries around the Mediterranean Sea. This includes Greece, Italy, Spain, and France. The diet includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes healthier food choices. It doesn't restrict a particular macronutrient as Keto does.
Keto Diet vs Low Carb: Pros & Cons
Now that you understand the key differences between the Keto Diet vs Low Carb Diets in general, as well as each of its major types. Let's compare the two to see which is better.
In this section, let’s have a look at the low carb diet pros and cons, and compare them to the keto diet pros and cons.
Benefits Of Low Carb Diet
1. Helps in promoting weight loss2. Restricts the intake of high-carb processed food
Low carb diet helps in rapid weight loss. But, a lot of the initial weight loss is in the form of water weight due to depletion of glycogen. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose in your body and causes water retention. Eventually, though, the weight loss comes from the actual loss of body fat.
2. Restricts the intake of high-carb processed food
A low-carb diet requires reducing processed food items with a high carb percentage. Reducing the intake of processed food helps in quicker loss of weight and avoiding the numerous negative health effects of eating such foods.
3. May decrease the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol
A low-carb diet may help in reducing the levels of bad cholesterol. This in turn reduces the risk of heart diseases. However, you can only get this benefit if you consume healthy sources of protein and fat.
4. Easy to sustain for a long time
Even though many food items are out of bounds, there is still a wide variety of food items to pick from. So you won’t get bored of eating the same food again and end up spiraling. Thus, you’ll be able to sustain the diet for a long time.
5. May help in balancing blood pressure and blood lipid levels
A low-carb diet with high vegetable protein and fat improves blood lipids and pressure. This also helps in improving heart disease risk factors. Controlling blood pressure levels also helps protect you from the risk of strokes.
Now, let’s have a look at some of the drawbacks of a low-carb diet.
Disadvantages Of A Low Carb Diet
1. You may experience constipation or diarrhea
A sudden drop in carb intake may lead to various temporary withdrawal symptoms. This includes constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, tiredness, and lack of energy.
2. May increase cardiovascular issues
A low-carb diet increases cardiovascular issues by increasing triglycerides in your blood. This in turn increases the risk of heart strokes and heart attacks.
3. Leads to micronutrient deficiency
A low-carb diet restricts the intake of food items like legumes, grains, and vegetables. This leads to a reduction of various micronutrients that you get from these items.
4. Increases the feeling of irritability and annoyance
While getting started with a low-carb diet, you might feel irritated and annoyed. This is due to a sudden shift in the dietary pattern, coupled with a drop in carb level that makes you annoyed. However, this is a temporary effect.
5. May lead to muscle loss
A low-carb diet may also lead to significant muscle loss. This is because your body depends on carbs for energy. In its absence, your body converts the protein stored in your muscles into carbs. This conversion is called gluconeogenesis and it leads to muscle loss.
Now, let’s note down the keto diet pros and cons.
Benefits Of Keto Diet
1. Treats diseases like intractable epilepsy
The keto diet is an effective method of treating intractable epilepsy. This is helpful, as low sugar and high-fat components of the diet alter the brain’s excitability. Thus, it helps in reducing the frequency of seizures.
2. May help in improving cholesterol levels
The keto diet increases the levels of HDL or good cholesterol in the long term. In the beginning, there is a short-term increase in bad cholesterol. But as you progress with the diet, the level of good cholesterol increases significantly.
3. A possible treatment for type 2 diabetes and glycemia
It helps in medical conditions like glycemia and type 2 diabetes by maintaining healthy glucose levels. This happens because you significantly cut down your carb intake. This, in turn, helps in bringing the blood sugar level under control.
4. Reduces body weight
The keto diet has gained popularity for helping in reducing significant weight. This is due to the elimination of carbs and relying on fat for energy. This results in an increased breakdown of fat and thus, reducing the weight significantly.
Apart from these benefits, the keto diet also has some demerits. Let’s have a look at some of these.
Disadvantages Of Keto Diet
1. Difficult to sustain for a longer duration
Following the keto diet for a long period can be hard because of many dietary restrictions. This includes limiting vegetables, fruits and fruit juices, baked goods, legumes, and grains.
2. Leads to various withdrawal symptoms
The initial stage of the keto diet sets in various withdrawal symptoms. These include constipation, lightheadedness, sweating and chilling, nausea, vomiting, and more. However, most of these symptoms subside within a couple of days.
3. May lead to depression
A keto diet leads to a deficiency of magnesium, zinc, and selenium. The reduction of these elements can lead to increased production of cortisol. Increased cortisol levels are a sign of rising stress. The best way to combat this is by increasing magnesium supplementation. Have a look at the best magnesium supplements and make your choice!
4. Leads to nutritional deficiency
As stated earlier, the keto diet requires limiting several food groups like grains and legumes. This restriction leads to a deficiency in several nutrients.
Other than these, there are many more keto side effects that you must know about.
Which Is Better: Low Carb or Keto?
So, which diet should you go for: low carb diet or keto diet?
Well, the answer to this question is not completely black and white.
If your goal is to lose weight gradually, then a low-carb diet is a better alternative. It’s a flexible diet and easy to sustain once you get in the rhythm. Hence, you can maintain this dietary style and consistently lose weight.
Whereas, on a keto diet, you may lose weight quickly. But the weight gain is also sudden once you waver from the diet, even in the slightest bit.
But if you want to lose significant weight in a short time period, then keto is the way to go. Though before you start, you might want to have a look at keto-friendly foods. This will let you know if you can put up with such a restrictive diet pattern.
In addition, you may find it hard to adapt to the keto diet, unlike other low-carb diets. This is because the keto diet has a hard adaptation phase. It requires abruptly cutting down carbs. On the other hand, a low-carb diet like Atkins has multiple phases. This makes the entire dietary shift easier for you.
Plus, the list of low carb friendly foods is quite long and easy to incorporate. So you won’t have to struggle to find variety and hence, will not get bored of the diet quickly.
It’s crucial to note that your body may or may not respond well to the shift in the diet pattern. A keto diet might work out well for you or it might be the other way around.
Thus, it is important that you consult a professional before starting with either of these diets.