Low carb and keto. These two diets have taken the world by storm. Both have been around for decades, but thanks to social media and mainstream news, they’re finally getting the attention they deserve. Plenty of regular Joe’s and Jane’s, and even your favorite celebrities, have found success in minimizing their carb intake. But which diet is better and more sustainable in the long-term? And what are their similarities and differences? In this low carb vs keto article, we’ll answer all your questions about both diets!
But first, why is it necessary to reduce carb intake?
Pasta, grains, bread, ice cream, dessert, soda, candy, fruits, french fries, and everything with sugar on it – all these are delicious, carb-rich foods. I bet a few of them are probably your favorites. Carbs are important, but too much is downright bad for you.
You see, your body converts the carbs to glucose, which is then used as the body’s main source of energy. However, when you eat too much carbs, the excess glucose gets stored as fat (so, yes, eating too much carb can make you fat). And when your blood sugar levels are too high, it can cause all sorts of health problems. Type II diabetes is just one of them, but it can lead to complications such as blindness, kidney failure and cardiovascular disease.
This is why it’s important to prevent or reverse all the bad things carbs can do to your body. Minimizing your carb intake is an important step towards a healthier you!
Low carb vs keto: What’s the difference?
Keto is low carb, but low carb isn’t necessarily keto. Keto restricts your carb intake to less than 20g-50g per day. Low carb, on the other hand, is a bit more lenient at 50g-150g per day.
The goal of keto is to get the body into a state of ketosis, where fat is used for energy instead of glucose (from carbs). This is why keto also requires that you get most of your calories from fat. So, for keto, the macronutrient formula that you have to follow every day to reach – or remain – in ketosis is this:
- 70% fat
- 20% protein
- 10% carbs
Want to know how to get into ketosis? Here are 6 tips to help speed up ketosis!
For low carb, you have a lot more freedom. You can choose to eat either more protein or more fat. As long as you stick to 150g carbs or less, you’re fine. After all, the goal of low carb isn’t to get the body into ketosis (though short-term ketosis is possible), but to prevent all the bad effects of consuming too much carbs.
That said, there are different types of low carb diets. Keto, of course, is one. Atkins is another popular, low carb diet that’s been around for a few decades. Low-carb, high-fat diet (LCHF) is similar to keto, but you can eat up to 100g carbs per day. The rule of thumb for a proper low carb diet is to restrict your carbs and minimize – or totally avoid – high-carb processed foods.
What can you eat on keto?
Keto is pretty restrictive, yes, but it doesn’t mean all you get to eat from now on is just bland, tasteless food. It’s actually quite the opposite! Surprised? Well, since keto is a high fat and moderate protein diet, you’ve got a range of healthy foods to choose from (and fatty foods taste amazing)!
Meat and seafood are good. Just be mindful of your protein consumption as too much protein can lead to gluconeogenesis which can kick you out of ketosis. Leafy veggies are perfect for keto, but many fruits are off the table due to being high carb.
For a more comprehensive list, check out our keto shopping list.
What can you eat on low carb?
Everything you can eat on keto, you can also eat on low carb. However, depending on what macros you’re tracking, you may opt to eat more fats over protein, or more protein vs fats. Just make sure you don’t go beyond your allotted carbs for the day. Some low carb diets don’t allow for any processed foods. Some require you focus on whole, organic foods. But still, a typical low carb diet will allow for anything as long as the carb limit is followed.
Check out our low carb and keto-friendly recipes.
The similarities of keto and low carb
Naturally, these two diets are quite similar in the sense that they’re both technically low carb diets. However, their similarities go deeper than the carb count.
- Emphasis on healthy fats, veggies and complex carbs
Focusing on healthy foods is important in any healthy diet. But for both low carb and keto, the emphasis is eating good fats, green and leafy vegetables, and complex carbs. Complex carbs have 3 components – fiber, starch, and sugar. Avoid simple carbs – usually found in processed foods – as these are quickly broken down by the body and makes you go hungry faster.
- No calorie counting necessary
If you hate counting calories, then you’re going to love both low carb and keto diets. The main rule for both is to make sure you don’t go beyond your allotted carb limit. So, instead of counting calories, you’ll be counting carbs instead. Fortunately, there are plenty of iOS/Android/web apps that help you keep track of your carb intake easily.
- Reduce appetite
A carb-heavy diet makes you hungry rather quickly, and you often find yourself snacking between meals. But when you drastically reduce your carb intake and replace the carbs with either fat or protein, you won’t feel as hungry all the time anymore. This is because protein and fat spend a lot more time being digested in the stomach, which then leads us to our next similarity…
- Sustainable weight loss
When you’re not eating as much, and you’re consuming far healthier foods, then you can look forward to losing some weight. Both low carb and keto dieters experience weight loss faster than low-calorie, low-fat dieters, with keto providing faster weight loss than low carb. Of course, during the first few weeks, it’s just water weight that’s being shed, but if you stick to the diet, you’ll soon see some fat loss.
- Reduce blood sugar
Since your body is no longer getting overloaded with carbs, you’ll soon see reduced levels of blood sugar. Keto dieters, however, see faster improvement since they’re eating fewer carbs than low carb dieters.
- Promote better insulin sensitivity
A reduction in blood sugar levels leads to improved insulin sensitivity. This means you will be able to manage symptoms from conditions which stem from insulin resistance, such as type II diabetes, PCOS, fatty liver disease, and more. In short, better insulin sensitivity will help you fast-track your way to a much healthier you!
- Reduce visceral fat
Visceral or belly fat increases the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Doing either low carb or keto diet will help you lose the extra fat around your belly.
The differences between low carb and keto
There are plenty of similarities between these two diets, but there are also a few notable differences:
- Carb limit
Keto is the lowest carb amongst all the low carb diets out there. Keto usually sets 20g-50g net carbs as the daily limit, whilst low carb can go from 50g-150g.
- The fatty difference
Fat is important in keto, since ketosis burns fat instead of carbs. For low carb, it depends on what type of low carb diet you’re on. But for the most part, keto usually requires the highest fat amongst the different low carb diets.
- Protein intake
For keto, protein intake should be moderate (about 20% of your daily calories) as the body can convert protein into glucose through the metabolic process known as gluconeogenesis. For low carb, however, since ketosis isn’t a goal, a more liberal protein intake is acceptable.
- Faster weight loss
While both diets will ultimately lead to weight loss, keto will help you reach your target weight faster.
- The kinds of food you can eat
If you’re on low carb, you can basically eat whatever keto dieters eat. However, since low carb allows for more carb intake, you can eat moderate amounts of healthy starches like potatoes and healthy grains like rice and oats. Several kinds of fruit are also acceptable on low carb.
|Good for both keto and low carb||Good for low carb, but not keto|
|Healthy oils and fats |
Low carb veggies
Some berries (e.g. blackberries, strawberries)
Avocados, nuts, seeds
|All veggies |
Several kinds of fruits
Moderate amounts of healthy starches (e.g. potatoes, sweet potatoes)
Moderate amounts of grains (rice, oats, etc.)
The keto diet is tough, yes, and it’s not advisable to go on keto forever since you’re essentially missing out on a lot of healthy fruits and vegetables – and all the vitamins and nutrients they bring. The low carb diet, however, is a different story. Since it’s more lenient, you can still eat the foods you want to eat as long as you don’t go beyond 150g a day. In fact, most people either begin with low carb and transition to keto, or the other way around.
FAQ’s about low carb vs keto
- How to ensure success with either low carb or keto?
Rejecting your favorite high-carb foods and drinks is hard but far from impossible. The devil is in the details – you need to plan your meals ahead of time, so you don’t get tempted with all the carb-rich foods around you.
- Is exercise necessary?
Exercise can do wonders for your overall health. While both diets will help you lose weight even without exercise, there are plenty of benefits to working out. You’ll also lose weight faster if you exercise!
- Which will help me lose weight faster?
Both diets will help you lose weight, but keto will help you reach your goals faster. But keto is a lot harder than low carb, so it really depends on which diet you’ll be more comfortable with.
- Which is more sustainable for long-term?
Since it’s less restrictive than keto, the low carb diet and lifestyle is generally more sustainable. Long term ketosis just isn’t as sustainable as low carb, considering the fact you’re eating fats in huge quantities. The good news is, you can always switch back and forth between keto and low carb.
For long-term health benefits though, it’s best to stick to either diet for longer periods. To do this, overhauling your lifestyle will be necessary. If you’re just in it for the weight loss, that’s fine. But if you want to manage a health condition, like insulin sensitivity and all the problems it causes (type II diabetes, PCOS, etc.) it may be best to go on longer stretches. Best to speak with your primary care physician about this as a very long-term, low carb or keto diet may have harmful effects on your health.
- What to snack on while doing low carb or keto?
Generally, try to stay away from all kinds of processed foods, even if it says low carb on the label. It’s hard at first, but once your body gets used to your new diet, you’ll find yourself snacking less. Snack on healthy foods like eggs or nuts. Just remember that whatever you snack on will count towards your daily macros for carbs, fats, and protein.
- What to drink while on low carb or keto diet?
Water is the best option by far. But unsweetened coffee and tea are okay, too. Soda, fruit juice, and anything sugary are a big no-no.
Choosing between low carb vs keto is a personal decision. Think about which diet can help you reach your goals faster. And don’t forget to consider things like the availability of low carb foods in your area, your budget, your family’s diet, your habits, and more. Be prepared to commit to your chosen diet and you’ll end up a happier, healthier individual.