Keto vs. Low Carb: The Differences

There seems to be constantly changing trends when it comes to following a diet plan. With the introduction of new diets all the time, it can be challenging to keep them all straight. This is especially true when it comes to the newest addition to the dieting, the Keto diet. People often get the keto diet confused with a low carb diet, but they aren’t exactly the same. 

So, with keto vs. low carb, what are the actual differences? They do actually have differences, but it’s hard to say that one is better than the other. They offer great options, but you need to decide for yourself which one will help you achieve your personal goals. 

Here, we’ll highlight what both diets offer, along with their differences, so you can make the best choice for you. 

  • Ketogenic Diet

A keto diet is about as low in carbohydrates as you can get. This diet is often not for those who have trouble following a strict dieting plan, as it really doesn’t get much stricter than this. Most people who follow this diet split their day up according to macronutrient ratio, which is the percentages of protein, carbohydrates, and fat consumed in every day. In general, the keto diet is comprised of 15-25% protein, 5-10% carbohydrates, and 65-80% fat. 

For the majority of people who follow this diet, the carbohydrate intake is equivalent to no more than 50 grams in any given day, which is very low. This is often half of the low end for the amount of carbs consumed on a low-carb diet. The premise is that by consuming so few carbs, the body goes into ketosis, which is the burning metabolic state which uses fat as the primary source of energy. So, the body burns the fat you eat, and then it moves on to fat stored in the body. 

What is interesting is that there are also variations to the keto diet now. The version highlighted above is now referred to as the convention ketogenic diet. There are two others that can be followed now as well. There is the targeted ketogenic diet, or TKD, which allows dieters to add in small amounts of carbohydrates for particularly intense workouts. This can be helpful for those who really do need the support of carbs to get through working out. 

The second version is the cyclical ketogenic diet, also known as CKD, which has dieters follow the standard keto version for most days of the week but then they can switch to a high-carb diet for one to two days per week. This is an option for those who do really want to follow a keto diet but can’t seem to stick to the rigidity it requires. 

  • Low-Carb Diet 

A low-carb diet doesn’t follow an exact formula like a keto diet does. In the most basic sense, a low-carb diet is keto. However, a general low-carb diet usually includes a slightly higher number of carbs in a given day. Most people who follow a low-carb diet will still consume somewhere between 75 and 150 grams of carbs in a day. What is interesting with a low-carb diet is that low-carb can mean a different thing to everyone. Since there is no breakdown like there is with keto, most people who follow a low-carb diet have to find a mix that works for them and gets them the results they want. 

In general, a low-carb diet isn’t actually low enough in carbs to get your body to go into a full mode of ketosis. Your body will go into ketosis, in a mild form, but will come out of it all the way when you eat carbs again. It is kind of more of a yo-yo effect than keto, which keeps you in that state. You aren’t likely to go into full ketosis on this type of diet other than specific period of times such as when you are fasting, following a particularly hard workout, or sleeping. A low-carb diet also includes more protein than a keto diet.  

Examples of popular low carb diets include Atkins, which is high in protein, and Paleo and Mediterranean. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing to have some more carbs than what Keto provides. Some people just feel better if they have a decent number of carbs. In addition, low-carb diets aren’t as strict in their formula and you don’t have to watch your carb intake quite as intently as you do with keto. This can be helpful for those who have difficult with rigidity or who aren’t as structure in their meal planning. It can sometimes be challenging to eat out, for example, and still stick to a keto diet. This is especially true if you are often on the go or looking for quick meals. 

A low-carb diet will often be based on things like vegetables, seeds, eggs, fish, nuts, meats, healthy fats, and fruit. It limits the consumption of anything high in carbs like potatoes, grains, high-sugar foods, and sugary beverages. However, it only limits them and does not eliminate them completely.

Most people do lose weight at the beginning of a low-carb diet, given that the switch to this diet usually comes from a diet previously full of higher-carb foods. The shock of lowering carbs will cause the body to lose some weight. Those who follow a low-carb diet will usually decrease their carb intake when needing to increase their weight loss and then increase their carb intake when they are just trying to maintain their weight or need extra fuel for an intense workout. So, there is some flexibility in planning your own diet, depending on your current goals.

  •  Which is better: Keto vs. Low Carb

There is no clear answer here as to which of these two diets is better. They both offer significant benefits. Choosing the best one really depends on your particular goals and preferences. It also depends on the biology of your body and how you react to the dietary changes these diets present. Some people do better with keto while others do best with general low-carb. 

Both diets also focus on lots of vegetables, particularly those that have a lot of fat as well as healthy fats. A good example of a fatty vegetable is avocado, which has seemingly become quite popular with this emergence of new diets. Both diets keep carbs low which can help you if you have high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes or heart disease. 

Deciding which is best for you will ultimately depend on your personal health goals:

What keto is good for:

Losing Weight: With keto, you will start by burning the fat you eat and then your body will start burning the fat it has stored. This is important to know because it basically means that you can still overeat on this diet and you can still gain weight, just as is the case with other diets. With that said, it is a bit harder to overeat on keto than it is with alternatives. This is for two primary reasons.

    1. Ketones are strong suppressors of hunger. They are the fuel bundles used by your cells when your body is in ketosis. So, you ultimately feel fuller, even though you’ll consumer less calories on keto. You will burn through your body fat but won’t feel hungry constantly. 

    2. You’ll get a faster metabolism. In general, those who follow a keto diet tend to burn around 300 calories more per day than those who don’t follow the diet. You jus burn off more than when following another diet.

    Stable Blood Sugar and Energy: Keto can help with stabilizing your sugar. For many, watching sugar intake isn’t enough to stop the feeling of going between energetic and completely exhausted. That yo-yo feeling can be annoying and hard to handle. Carb intake impacts your blood sugar levels as well as your insulin levels. However, fat intake does not. This means that limiting your carbs can actually help balance your blood sugar levels. You should feel a steady level of energy throughout the whole day when on keto. You really shouldn’t get any of that yo-yo imbalance that an uneven sugar amount gives you. 

    Decreased Inflammation: The keto diet has recently been shown to lower inflammation, particularly in the liver. This might be due to beta-hydroxybutyrate, which is a keto metabolite. The research has not pinpointed exactly how this works just yet. 

    Endurance: You might think of only powerlifters and CrossFitters when you think of the keto diet but that doesn’t have to be the case. It also helps endurance athletes, giving them the energy they need for long workouts. 

  •  What low-carb is good for

Stable blood sugar and energy: Similar to keto, a low-carb diet can also help with keeping your blood sugar balanced. This is especially true if you still to complex carbs as opposed to simple carbs. Most who follow this diet find that they are able to maintain stable energy without having to go into full keto. 

Athletes who are non-endurance:  Many athletes just need carbs to perform their best. If you find that you are hitting a wall during your workouts, it may just be that you aren’t consuming enough carbs. This can be the case if you are sprinting, lifting heavy or doing anything else that is particularly intense. Upping your carb intake might be a good place to start. You can also increase your intake of protein which is another reason your performance could be slipping. 

Relaxed Dieting: A low-carb diet is a great option if you don’t want to be quite as strict with your diet. For example, many dieters still want to enjoy things like butternut squash and sweet potato. If you think keto is just too strict for you and you won’t be able to follow it, low-carb is just a bit more relaxed. For many, this can lead to greater overall dieting success, since it is more likely they’ll stick with it. It can be frustrating to subscribe to a diet to which you can’t adhere. It can also just set you up for failure. A low-carb diet can get you great results while being a bit more relaxed.

  •  Conclusion

When looking at keto vs. low carb, you need to keep your personal goals and preferences in mind. Keto is a great diet for those who can stick to it. With that said, it is very strict. If you don’t need the results that keto provides or you aren’t sure that you can stick to its rigidity, it might be best to look at a low-carb diet which might be easier for you to maintain. 

In addition, some people just feel better eating carbs while others feel terrible eating carbs. Some people do best with high-carb, low-fat diets and others do well with the opposite. It really is a matter of your personal biology and preferences. You want to fuel your body in the way that will help it perform at its highest level and give you the results you want. 

With all of that said, it is possible that following a keto diet can really give people the edge when it comes to weight loss. So, if that is your primary goal, it is something to consider. In essence, you may be cutting carbs low enough to get the benefits of a low-carb diet in addition to the hunger-suppressing attributes of ketones. However, the research is still unclear when it comes to exactly what effect ketones have on body composition and calorie consumption. In addition, weight loss is just one facet of dieting. Primary focus may be general overall health, in which case a low-carb diet may be far more manageable for most. 

Try both, keep a close eye on how you feel, and then gauge which is best for you. The debate of keto vs. low carb will always continue, given that everyone will have a different reaction to both diets.

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