Keto vs low carb: What is the difference?

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Keto vs low carb explained. Both the keto and low carb diets are increasingly popular ways of eating that restrict your intake of carbohydrates.

Reducing carbohydrate intake, either drastically or just a little, can help hugely with a number of health issues. It is especially effective for weight loss and metabolic issues such as type 2 diabetes. 

Some people actually may not need to restrict their intake of dietary carbohydrate. You may have no metabolic issues and be a healthy weight for your height. If you do wish to maintain your carbohydrate intake, look for minimally processed carbs, as highly processed carbohydrates are never a great option.

A Keto diet and a generic low-carb diet are similar, but not the same. Both diets restrict carbs to give health benefits. So what is the difference between the two? The distinction is the amount of carbs you consume each day.

Keto (Ketogenic Diet)

the keto diet plan

If you are trying to lose a lot of weight, a strict ketogenic diet will help you achieve this faster than a general low carb diet. If you are trying to simply maintain your weight, or lose it gradually, a more liberal low-carb diet may work for you.

When following a keto diet, the goal is to reach nutritional ketosis. This is where the body has converted to burning fat for energy needs, rather than glucose. To achieve this state, you eat plenty high-quality fat, a moderate amount of protein, and very few carbs. Something that is not alway mentioned is that if you eat too much protein, it can take you out of ketosis. Although the carb intake is crucial, it isn’t the only thing to pay attention to.

Where the low carb diet could allow up to 150grams of carbs per day, Keto dieters consume fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day (and often 20 grams or less). In addition protein intake is lower than on low carb, and this reduction in protein is replaced with an increased fat intake.

It is thought that a keto diet of less than 20 net carbs per day may be the most beneficial way to treat type 2 diabetes and even reverse the disease.  However, the regime may be too strict for some people and a low-carb diet of less than 100 grams of net carbs can still be effective for those with type 2 diabetes.

People normally split it up by macronutrient ratio which is the percentage of protein, carbs and fat they eat in a day. As a general rule the keto diet has the following percentages of protein, carbs and fat:

keto diet plan infographic

Protein: 15-25%

Carbs: 5-15%

Fats: 65-75%

Advantages of Keto vs Low Carb

Keto is a proven way to achieve rapid weight loss. It is actually quite difficult to eat too much when following the Keto diet. This is because when you are in Ketosis (a metabolic state where your body uses ketones for energy instead of carbohydrates), you will tend to feel fuller for longer. The advantage of Keto is that you can eat when you are hungry and simply stop when you are full.

Keto dieting is a great way of burning your body fat and losing weight without feeling like you are starving yourself! You won’t experience the familiar drops in energy because you won’t be causing your insulin to spike in the way that sugary snacks or high carb meals do. Because Keto is a diet much higher in fat, this keeps your blood sugar far more balanced. Fat doesn’t affect your insulin response.

Disadvantages of Keto

Eating a high-fat diet can be harder than you think, due to the restriction of both protein and carbs. Eating too much protein can kick you out of ketosis, so it is more complicated than just paying attention to your carbohydrates.

As shown above, on a ketogenic diet, your macronutrients are very important. Everyone has their own individual needs, and there is not a “one size fits all” approach.

Low carb

low carb plate of food

A low carb diet restricts dietary carbohydrates mainly from grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and bread. The low-carb diet tends allow a  higher protein intake than a typical “Western” diet. There is an increased consumption of meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. High-carb foods such as grains, highly processed foods, starchy foods such as potatoes, sugary foods and drinks, are greatly restricted.

A low carb diet usually allows an intake of 10–30% of calories from carbs, although this is a general guide because there is not a strict definition.So, if you consume, say, 2,000 calories per day, this would mean a carb intake of  between 50–150 grams per day.

Thousands of low carb dieters have had great success with weight loss, and improved their overall health at the same time. A low carb diet has been linked to several health benefits, particularly for those with Type-2 diabetes because it leads to improved blood sugar control. It is not surprise that if your intake of sugary and starchy foods is reduced, then this will improve your overall health. It also has proven beneficial for reducing cardiovascular risk factors.

Advantages of Low Carb v Keto

Like keto, low-carb will help to balance your blood sugar. This leads to stable levels of energy and blood sugar. As a result, many people find that they don’t need to go on a much stricter Keto diet plan.

Low carb is much more relaxed than Keto. Maybe you occasionally want to eat some foods which contain carbs – things like sweet potatoes are a good option. Whereas Keto demands that you avoid carbs in order to stay in full ketosis, low-carb lets you be a little more relaxed with what you eat, which can mean that for many people it is more sustainable.

So, low carb allows you to add some carbs to your diet. Just make sure these are high quality. You also may want to increase your protein intake, as ketosis is not what you are aiming for.

Disadvantages of Low Carb v Keto

Whereas Keto follows strict guidelines on what to eat, low carb is not clearly defined. It is a flexible plan that can simply mean that you consume fewer than usual carbohydrates. This means that there are lots of ways to go about it, and it is really up to you. If you need structure in your eating habits, you may need a more rigid plan.

There are also no foods which are absolutely forbidden, meaning you could either just eat low-carb foods or you could allow yourself moderate portions of high-carb foods, like bread or potatoes. For some people, the temptation may be to keep allowing yourself more of these foods, and then see your carb intake gradually rising unintentionally.

If you find Keto too strict, but wish to follow a low carb plan with more structure, you may find Paleo more suitable. There is a list of Paleo foods which you should not eat, such as starchy veg (think potatoes), sugar, processed foods, cereals, etc.

Though eating paleo doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be maintaining a low-carb diet, by cutting out lots of carbs as well as increasing protein and fat, the paleo diet is usually a low-carb solution.

So – Keto vs Low carb, which is best?

To answer this, you should look at your goals and preferences. There is not a single solution which works better for everybody. That said, many people find Keto difficult to maintain because it is so strict. 

If you are treating or trying to reverse a medical condition such as type 2 diabetes, dementia or seizures, a strict ketogenic diet may be the quickest and most effective way to start. If you simply have lifestyle concerns, and want to  find a sustainable way to eat more healthily, then a low-carb approach of up to 100 grams a day may be equally effective.

Of course, everyone’s needs are different. The key is finding the level of carbs which helps you feel your best. Also important is whether the diet is easy for you to follow, and gives you the greatest chance for long-term success. If it does’t fit in with your lifestyle, it won’t last. 

For some people, Keto doesn’t quite work. On the other hand, some people feel terrible eating carbs (or simply very guilty!). Some people are happier on higher carb, lower fat diets.

If your current diet involves a very high intake of carbs, then changing to a strict keto overnight may well be difficult. Instead, consider gradually reducing your carb intake. This will make things more sustainable. Try reducing by 15-20 grams of carbs at a time, or just a little per serving. By doing this, you can find which level of carbs helps you feel the best and is easiest for you to follow. This will give you the greatest chance of long-term success.

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