Low Carb vs. Keto Diet: Which is Better for Weight Loss

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With so many fads and trends vying for attention and promising to be the key that unlocks the secret to successful weight loss, the war of the diets has been the subject of discussion for years. The low carb diet and the Keto diet are two of the candidates that have drawn a lot of interest and a devoted following. People are sometimes faced with choosing between these two dietary approaches in their pursuit of losing excess weight and improving their health. The Low Carb vs. Keto Diet debate is examined in detail in this post, along with the key differences and shared values between the two diets, so you can decide for yourself which could be best for your weight reduction goals. To discover which of these well-liked dietary approaches might be better at helping you achieve your weight loss goals, let’s delve in and examine their subtleties.

The Ketogenic Diet: A Comprehensive Overview

The goal of the ketogenic diet, also known as the high-fat, low-carb diet, is to put the body into a state of ketosis because it burns fat rather than carbs as its primary fuel. [1] By cutting back on carbohydrates and upping fat intake, you can put your body in a metabolic state that encourages the breakdown of fat into energy-producing ketones. This change in metabolism can result in better blood sugar regulation, weight loss, and increased mental clarity. Rich meats, seafood, eggs, dairy products, avocados, nuts, and seeds are typical keto diet staples; starchy and sugary items like grains, fruits, and most legumes are off limits. The keto diet’s appeal is rooted in its ability to help people lose weight quickly and in treating specific medical disorders. Nevertheless, because of its restrictive nature, it may not be appropriate for everyone and must be strictly followed when cutting carbs.

Low Carb Diet: The Basics

Reducing the amount of carbohydrates consumed, especially in the form of sugars and starches, is the main goal of a low-carb diet. [2] The fundamental idea of a low-carb diet is to consume more healthful fats and proteins while eating fewer items high in carbs. This is intended to help control blood sugar levels and encourage the body to burn fat stores for energy, which will ultimately result in weight loss and other health advantages. Lean meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, are foods that are common in this low-carb diet. On the other hand, this diet promotes eating less or limiting your intake of foods that are high in carbohydrates, which include most fruits, bread, pasta, sugary snacks, and rice.

Low Carb vs Keto Diet: Which is Better for Weight Loss

Diet plan with fresh vegetables and measuring tape on a white background.

Though both the ketogenic and low-carb diets share the fundamental concept of reducing carbohydrate intake and incorporating protein, healthy fats, and vegetables, it’s important to note that not all low-carb diets are ketogenic. These two diets, however, differ in their approach to weight management. Let’s have a look at which diet is more effective for weight loss.

Key Similarities Between Low Carb vs Keto

Low-carb and keto diets share several key similarities:

Reduced Carbohydrate Intake: Both diets emphasize the reduction of carbohydrate consumption. They aim to limit the intake of foods that are high in sugars and starches, such as bread, pasta, rice, and sugary snacks.

Focus on Protein: Both diets include an increased emphasis on protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. Protein helps with satiety and muscle preservation during weight loss.

Healthy Fats: Both diets encourage the consumption of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils like olive oil. These fats provide a source of energy and help keep you feeling full.

Vegetable Emphasis: Non-starchy vegetables are a staple in both low-carb and keto diets. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber while contributing minimal carbohydrates.

Weight Loss Potential: Both diets have the potential to promote weight loss, primarily by reducing calorie intake and improving insulin sensitivity. The restriction of carbohydrates often leads to an initial reduction in water weight.

Improved Blood Sugar Control: Both diets can help stabilize blood sugar levels, making them potentially beneficial for individuals with diabetes or insulin resistance.

Reduced Sugar and Processed Foods: Both diets discourage the consumption of sugary and highly processed foods, while promoting a focus on whole, unprocessed foods.

Aspect Low-Carb Diet Keto Diet
Carbohydrate Reduction Yes, significantly reduced Yes, very low (typically <50 grams)
Protein Emphasis Yes, includes protein-rich foods Yes, includes protein-rich foods
Healthy Fat Emphasis Yes, encourages healthy fats Yes, encourages healthy fats
Vegetable Inclusion Yes, non-starchy vegetables Yes, non-starchy vegetables
Weight Loss Potential Yes, promotes weight loss Yes, often results in weight loss
Blood Sugar Regulation Yes, helps stabilize blood sugar Yes, improves blood sugar control
Whole Food Emphasis Yes, encourages whole foods Yes, focuses on whole foods
Avoidance of Sugary Foods Yes, discourages sugary foods Yes, discourages sugary foods
Processed Food Avoidance Yes, discourages processed foods Yes, discourages processed foods

Essential Differences in Macronutrient Ratios

The essential differences between low-carb and keto diets primarily lie in their macronutrient ratios, particularly the levels of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats:

Carbohydrates

Low-Carb Diet: In a low-carb diet, carbohydrates are reduced, but the level of restriction varies. This diet typically allows for a higher daily carbohydrate intake, often ranging from 20 percent to 40 percent of total daily calories or about 50-150 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Keto Diet: The keto diet is much more restrictive in terms of carbohydrates. The diet typically limits carb intake to a very low level, usually around five percent to ten percent of total daily calories or less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. The goal is to enter and maintain a state of ketosis, where the body primarily burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.

Proteins

Low-Carb Diet: Protein intake on a low-carb diet can vary, but it’s generally moderate. Protein may account for around 20 percent to 30 percent of total daily calories.

Keto Diet: Protein intake in a keto diet is typically moderate to high, with protein contributing to about 20 percent to 30 percent of total daily calories. This helps maintain muscle mass while keeping carb intake very low.

Fats

Low-Carb Diet: A low-carb diet encourages a balanced intake of fats. Fats can make up about 30 percent to 50 percent of total daily calories, but there’s more flexibility in the sources of fats, including saturated fats.

Keto Diet: The keto diet is characterized by a high fat intake. [3] Fats typically account for around 70 percent to 80 percent of total daily calories. The diet emphasizes healthy fats like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, and minimizes saturated and trans fats.

Aspects Low-Carb Diet Keto Diet
Carbohydrate Intake Moderate: Allows for more flexibility Very low: Strictly limited to induce ketosis
Macronutrient Ratios Variable: Carbs, protein, and fat ratios can vary Fixed: High fat, moderate protein, very low carbs
Ketosis Not the primary goal, typically not in ketosis Aims for and maintains ketosis
Daily Carb Limit Higher, around 50-150 grams per day Very low, usually less than 50 grams per day
Protein Intake Moderate, around 20-30% of daily calories Moderate to high, around 20-30% of daily calories
Fat Intake Balanced, around 30-50% of daily calories High, around 70-80% of daily calories
Saturated Fat May include saturated fats in the diet Encourages healthy fats, minimizes saturated fats

Impact on Hunger and Satiety

Woman holding fork and knife near empty plate on orange background

The impact on hunger and satiety can differ between low-carb and keto diets due to their varying macronutrient compositions and effects on metabolism:

Low-Carb Diet

Hunger: Low-carb diets can help reduce hunger for some individuals. By moderating carbohydrate intake and emphasizing protein and healthy fats, these diets can provide a steady source of energy and promote feelings of fullness.

Satiety: A low-carb diet can lead to increased satiety because fats and proteins tend to be more filling than carbohydrates. Additionally, the stabilized blood sugar levels on a low-carb diet can help prevent sudden spikes and crashes in hunger.

Keto Diet

Hunger: The ketogenic diet is often associated with reduced hunger for many people. When in a state of ketosis, the body relies on fat stores for energy, which can lead to a more stable and prolonged feeling of fullness.

Satiety: Keto diets tend to promote satiety due to the high fat and moderate protein content. [4] Fats are especially satiating, and the absence of blood sugar spikes can help maintain a consistent sense of fullness.

Sustainability and Long-term Adherence

The sustainability and long-term adherence of low-carb and keto diets can vary significantly among individuals due to several factors:

Low-Carb Diet

Sustainability: Low-carb diets can be more sustainable for long-term adherence for many people. This is because they offer more flexibility in terms of carbohydrate intake. You can choose a level of carbohydrate restriction that suits their preferences and lifestyle, making it easier to maintain over the long term.

Variety: Low-carb diets can include a wider variety of foods, making it less monotonous than the strict keto diet. This can contribute to sustained interest in the diet.

Social Flexibility: Low-carb diets are generally more socially flexible, as they allow for occasional indulgence in moderate-carb foods without necessarily abandoning your diet plan.

Keto Diet

Sustainability: The strictness of the keto diet, with its very low carbohydrate limits, can make long-term adherence challenging for some people. It may be harder to maintain over time due to the restrictive nature of the diet.

Compliance: Achieving and staying in a state of ketosis requires meticulous monitoring of carbohydrate intake, which can be demanding. This level of vigilance can be difficult to sustain for extended periods.

Limited Food Choices: The keto diet limits certain food groups, including many fruits and high-carb vegetables, which can lead to dietary monotony and reduced enjoyment.

Potential Challenges

Both low-carb and keto diets can be effective for weight loss, but they come with their own set of challenges that you may encounter:

Weight Loss on a Low-Carb Diet

Moderation: One challenge on a low-carb diet is finding the right balance between carb restriction and overall calorie intake. It’s possible to overeat on low-carb foods, which can hinder weight loss.

Variability: Low-carb diets can vary widely in their carbohydrate allowance, making it confusing for some people to choose the right approach. Some may find it challenging to determine how many carbs to consume.

Sustainability: While generally more sustainable than the keto diet, long-term adherence to a low-carb diet can still be challenging for some people, especially if they miss certain high-carb foods.

Weight Loss on Keto Diet

Ketosis Maintenance: Achieving and maintaining ketosis, the metabolic state necessary for fat burning, can be challenging. Even small deviations in carb intake can disrupt ketosis.

Initial Side Effects: Some people experience “keto flu” during the initial phase of the diet, which includes symptoms like fatigue, nausea, and irritability. These side effects can be discouraging.

Dietary Restrictions: The keto diet restricts many food groups, including fruits, most grains, and high-carb vegetables. This can lead to dietary boredom and make it challenging to meet nutrient needs.

Social Challenges: Social situations and dining out can be difficult on a keto diet, as many restaurant meals and social gatherings revolve around carb-rich foods.

Considerations Before Choosing A Diet for Weight Loss

When deciding between a low-carb and keto diet, several factors should be considered to determine which one aligns better with your health goals and lifestyle. Here are key factors to take into account:

Health Goals: Your primary health goals should guide your choice. Are you looking to lose weight, manage blood sugar, improve metabolic health, or address specific medical conditions? Different diets may be more suitable for specific objectives.

Carbohydrate Tolerance: Consider your tolerance for carbohydrate restriction. Some people find it challenging to adhere to very low carb limits, while others are comfortable with more moderate restrictions.

Sustainability: Think about the long-term sustainability of the diet. Can you see yourself maintaining the chosen diet for an extended period? Sustainability is crucial for achieving and maintaining weight loss and overall health.

Food Preferences: Take your food preferences into account. Do you enjoy foods rich in healthy fats and proteins, or do you miss carbohydrate-rich foods like fruits and grains? Your enjoyment of the diet can impact your adherence.

Medical Conditions: If you have underlying medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, or metabolic syndrome, consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine which diet aligns best with your health needs.

Social and Lifestyle Factors: Consider how the diet fits into your social life and daily routine. Some diets may be more adaptable to social gatherings and dining out than others.

Metabolic Response: Be aware of how your body responds to different macronutrient ratios. Some people may thrive on low-carb or keto diets, while others may feel better with a more balanced intake of carbohydrates.

Initial Side Effects: Understand that both diets may have initial side effects, such as the “keto flu” on a keto diet or carbohydrate cravings on a low-carb diet. Be prepared to manage these challenges.

Monitoring and Support: Determine your willingness and ability to monitor your dietary intake. Ketogenic diets often require meticulous carb tracking, while low-carb diets may be less demanding in this regard.

Consultation with a Professional: Before making a decision, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian who can assess your individual needs, provide personalized recommendations, and monitor your progress.

Flexibility: Consider how flexible you want your diet to be. Low-carb diets offer more flexibility in terms of carb intake, while keto diets are more rigid.

FAQs

Can you do low carb without doing keto?

To follow a low-carb diet without fully embracing keto, just cut back on the amount of carbohydrates you eat by avoiding starchy and sugary items. Lean meats, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats are examples of whole, unprocessed foods to prioritize. You should also allow yourself to consume a modest amount of carbohydrates, usually 20–40 percent of your daily calories. This strategy offers flexibility and can be simpler to maintain over time.

Are keto diets safe?

Some people may find ketogenic diets safe if they adhere to them properly and use them for brief goals, such as controlling specific medical issues or losing weight. But they might not be right for everyone, and if they’re not balanced, they might cause adverse consequences including the “keto flu,” constipation, and nutritional shortages. Before beginning a ketogenic diet, it is imperative to speak with a medical expert or qualified dietitian to be sure it’s appropriate for your needs and health objectives.

Do keto diets allow sugar?

A well-structured ketogenic (keto) diet typically restricts added sugars and high-carb foods, aiming to minimize sugar intake. However, small amounts of sugar may be present in some foods like dairy products and non-starchy vegetables. The primary goal of a keto diet is to keep overall carbohydrate intake very low, which includes limiting sugar consumption.

How much weight loss on keto diet?

Weight loss on a keto diet can vary widely depending on factors like individual metabolism, adherence to the diet, starting weight, and activity level. However, some people may experience rapid initial weight loss, often due to water weight reduction, with an average of one to two pounds (0.45-0.9 kilograms) per week thereafter. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian for personalized guidance and expectations regarding weight loss on a keto diet.

The Takeaway

To sum up, the decision to follow a ketogenic or low-carb diet for weight loss is based on personal preferences, health objectives, and tolerance to carbohydrate restriction. Every diet has advantages and disadvantages. Low-carbohydrate diets offer greater flexibility and sustainability, whereas strict devotion to the ketogenic diet may result in faster initial weight loss. To guarantee a safe and successful weight loss journey, it is imperative to speak with a certified dietician or healthcare professional to establish which technique best suits your individual needs. The ideal diet is ultimately one you can stick to and enjoy while reaching your health goals.

Reference

  1. Swink, T. D., Vining, E. P., Freeman, J. M. (1997). The ketogenic diet: 1997. Advances in pediatrics, 44, 297-329.
  2. Slomski, A. (2019). Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss. Jama, 321(4), 335-335. 10.1001/jama.2018.22031
  3. Willi, S. M., Oexmann, M. J., Wright, N. M., Collop, N. A., Key Jr, L. L. (1998). The effects of a high-protein, low-fat, ketogenic diet on adolescents with morbid obesity: body composition, blood chemistries, and sleep abnormalities. Pediatrics, 101(1), 61-67. 10.1542/peds.101.1.61
  4. Gibson, A. A., Seimon, R. V., Lee, C. M., Ayre, J., Franklin, J., Markovic, T. P., … Sainsbury, A. (2015). Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity reviews, 16(1), 64-76. 10.1111/obr.12230
Nikki Sambitsky
Nikki Sambitsky
Nikki Sambitsky received her BA in journalism in 2015 from Central Connecticut State University, and her MFA in creative nonfiction in 2018 from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA Graduate School. She has worked in the journalism, creative writing, and health and wellness industries for over 20 years. Nikki specializes in deeply researched articles about natural healthcare and holistic products. She excels at blogging, editing, copy editing, copywriting, and educating. When Nikki is not working, she dedicates her time, love, and energy to her husband, two children, three dogs, rabbit, plants, and fish. 

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