Low-Carb vs. Keto: Which Is Better for You?

Limiting carbs has proven benefits for weight loss. What’s the difference between low-carb vs. keto diets?
Limiting carbs has proven benefits for weight loss. What’s the difference between low-carb vs. keto diets?

What is the difference between a keto diet and a low-carb diet? They are both low-carb diets and have many similarities. However, the keto diet is a low-carb diet with two distinct differences. The amount of fat you eat and your daily carbohydrate intake.

Limiting carbohydrates can help you lose weight. Therefore, both low-carb and keto diets lead to weight loss. However, when you compare the benefits of a low-carb diet versus a keto diet, one comes out on top.

Join us as we explore the similarities, differences, pros, and cons of various levels of carbohydrate restriction and the ketogenic diet. Which diet is right for you? Low-carb or keto?

What Is a Low-Carb Diet? 

Carbohydrates are found in foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruit, vegetables, and dairy products. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 45–65% of your total caloric intake be in the form of carbohydrates, which equates to 225–325g of carbohydrates for a 2,000-calorie diet plan.

Therefore, the definition of a low-carbohydrate diet is a carbohydrate intake of less than 45% of your total daily calories, with subcategories based on the degree of carbohydrate restriction.

A moderate carbohydrate diet provides 26–44% of your calories from carbohydrates. A low-carbohydrate diet is equal to, or less than, 25% or 130g of your daily energy from carbs, and a very low-carbohydrate diet is considered to be less than 10% or 50g of carbohydrates per day. 

Popular low-carb diets include the Atkins diet, the paleo diet, the low-carb Mediterranean diet, and the keto diet. Many of them, such as the Mediterranean diet, include foods from all food groups. However, some diets low in carbs, such as the paleo diet, encourage you to eliminate entire food groups. 

Cooking healthy low-carb or keto dinner.

When compared to a low-fat diet, research shows that diets involving a carbohydrate restriction offer greater weight loss and health benefits than low-fat diets in the long term.

Whether you are on keto or one of the other low-carb diets, getting your macros right is crucial to losing weight. In the standard low-carb diet, you have a moderate protein intake and a relatively high fat intake. The result is a reduction in calories and improved blood sugar control, which helps to reduce insulin resistance and promote weight loss.

What Is the Keto Diet? 

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb diet, allowing less than 10% of your total calories to be from carbohydrates. With a restriction of only 50g of carbs per day, the keto diet requires that most of your energy is provided by fats.

So it’s not just a low-carb diet. It’s a high-fat diet with a moderate protein intake. The macro breakdown for the keto diet is 5–10% of your calories from carbohydrates, 10–20% from protein, and 70–80% from fat.

Unlike other low-carb diets, ketogenic diets force your body to burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Achieving this fat-burning mode requires a strict reduction in daily carbohydrate intake and a sharp increase in fat intake.

When your metabolism switches to fat as an energy source, your body relies on ketone bodies produced in the liver from fat, often referred to as ketones, for energy, and you are said to be in nutritional ketosis. 

A high intake of healthy fats on the keto diet, including omega-3 fatty acids and medium-chain triglycerides, combined with a low-carb intake, helps you maintain ketosis and burn body fat. 

As a result of nutritional ketosis, blood sugar control improves, which in turn addresses the insulin resistance that frequently accompanies overweight and obesity. Lower blood glucose levels, along with an enhanced ability to burn fat, then promote weight loss.

Woman making a low-carb keto smoothie for breakfast.

Additionally, the high satiety value of keto diets makes it easier to naturally reduce your calorie intake and curb cravings, further helping you to lose weight. 

Keto vs. Low-Carb: The Difference

Whether you choose a low-carb diet or the keto diet, the end goal is the same – weight loss. Although they may seem similar, these diets have some notable differences that result in different health and weight loss outcomes. 

Let’s compare the differences between low-carb and keto diets by examining calorie intake, carbohydrate intake, protein intake, and fat intake, as well as the effects of both diets on body weight and health.

Similarities between keto and low-carb diets

  1. Both low-carb and keto diets involve a reduction in carbohydrate intake below that recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
  2. Moderate protein intake is encouraged in both low-carb and keto diets.
  3. Fat intake is increased in both low-carb and ketogenic diets.
  4. Standard low-carb diets and the keto diet promote weight loss by reducing caloric intake.

Differences between keto and low-carb diets

  1. Carbohydrate intake is more strictly limited on the ketogenic diet than on low-carb diets. Less than 50g of carbohydrates per day should be consumed on a very low-carb diet, while carb consumption can be as high as 130g per day on a regular low-carb diet.
  2. Keto is a high-fat diet that focuses on increasing fat intake to promote and maintain ketosis. Although fat intake is increased in low-carb diets, it is not as significant as in keto diets.
  3. Although calorie intake is reduced in both low-carb and keto diets, the high fat content of the keto diet makes it more satiating, and many people find it easier to limit their total calories.
  4. Vegetables are limited to non-starchy vegetables on the ketogenic diet, but people following a low-carb diet are free to include any vegetables in their meal plan.
  5. The nutritional ketosis achieved on the keto diet provides improved weight loss and health benefits.

Do you go into ketosis on a low-carb diet?

No, you don’t go into nutritional ketosis on a standard low-carb diet. Despite the reduction in carbohydrate consumption, low-carb diets provide your body with enough carbohydrates for energy, so it doesn’t have to switch to using ketone bodies.

The success of the keto diet requires that you consume a high fat content and reduce your carbohydrate intake. Only then will fat be burned for energy, allowing you to lose weight quickly.

Which Diet Is Better for Weight Loss? 

Both the keto diet and low-carb diets have been proven to be effective for weight loss. Both improve blood glucose levels, reduce insulin resistance, and result in a loss of body weight.

When carbohydrate intake is reduced, and fat intake is increased, your calorie consumption naturally decreases. Scientists believe that both diets effectively reduce the amount of energy you eat in a day by affecting hunger hormone levels, making it possible to lose weight quickly.

It has also been observed that diets with a lower carbohydrate content increase the amount of energy your body burns throughout the day. However, ketogenic diets promote the loss of body fat more than those with moderate carbohydrate restriction.

How to Eat Low-Carb but Not Keto 

The ketogenic diet can be difficult for some people to follow, especially if they have been eating a standard American diet. Therefore, it may be better for them to try a low-carb eating plan instead. 

The first step is to identify the high-carbohydrate foods in your diet and eliminate sugary and processed foods. This will not only reduce your intake of carbohydrates but also unhealthy fats.

Next, you need to decide which carbohydrates to include in your meal plan. You can choose from whole grains such as oats, brown rice, and barley; legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas; all fruits; all vegetables, including starchy vegetables; and dairy products. 

As long as you don’t exceed 130g of carbohydrates per day, you can include high-fiber carbohydrates in your diet.

It’s important to note that not all carbohydrates can be used for energy in the body. Dietary fiber, for example, cannot be digested. Therefore, the amount of fiber in a meal can be subtracted from the total carbohydrate content to determine the net carbohydrates in the meal or the amount of carbohydrates available for energy. 

To meet your caloric needs, you need to increase your fat intake. Try to focus on healthy fats from foods such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados, and limit your intake of saturated fats from sources such as the fat on meat and the skin on chicken.

Keto salad with olive oil.

Protein intake should be moderate, providing 10–20% of your daily calories or 50–100g of protein per day.

Are Low-Carb Diets Good for you?

Yes, low-carb diets are good for you. Research suggests that when your diet includes a limited amount of fiber-rich carbohydrate foods, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of lean protein, you won’t only lose weight, but you will experience numerous health benefits, too.

Below is a list of the benefits and risks of carbohydrate-restricted diets:

Benefits of low-carb diets:

  • Rapid weight loss, particularly with the keto diet
  • Reduction in body fat, especially with the keto diet
  • Reduced insulin resistance
  • Improved blood sugar control
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Raised HDL (good) cholesterol levels
  • Less hunger
  • Fewer food cravings
  • More energy
  • Improved brain health

Risks of low-carb diets:

  • A possibility of diabetic ketoacidosis when low-carb diets are used in combination with some diabetes medications.
  • Increased levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in some people. Therefore, it is recommended that cholesterol levels be checked regularly.
  • A lack of fiber as a result of limiting your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can cause intestinal problems, including irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and bloating.
  • Some people struggle to maintain a low-carb diet.
  • Keto flu can be a problem in the early stages of the diet. However, keto flu is usually temporary as your body adjusts to your new lifestyle.

Tips for Starting a Low-Carb Keto Lifestyle

Use these tips to get you started on your new low-carb keto lifestyle and achieve sustainable weight loss

#1 Begin with a meal plan

Having a low-carb meal plan at your fingertips takes the guesswork out of what you are going to eat each day. Keto Cycle offers personalized meal plans based on your food preferences, lifestyle, and nutritional needs to ensure you get the fastest results.

keto quiz

#2 Make a grocery list

Use your meal plan to create a shopping list, or use the thousands of recipes and personalized grocery lists created for you by the Keto Cycle app to make sure you have all the ingredients you need to prepare healthy, low-carb meals every day.

#3 Learn about net carbs

The fiber in carbohydrate foods cannot be digested by the human digestive system and, therefore, cannot be used by the body for energy. When calculating the number of carbohydrates in a meal, you can subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrates to get the net carb value.

#4 Familiarize yourself with the best foods to include in your low-carb eating plan

For your new diet to work, you must be familiar with which foods you should include in your meal plan for maximum results. Whenever you can, choose fresh, whole-food ingredients for their nutritional value and lack of added sugars, fats, additives, and preservatives. 

#5 Stay hydrated

Ensuring that you drink enough is critical for health and weight loss success. Plain or sparkling water, unsweetened tea and coffee, coconut water, and dairy alternatives such as almond milk are the best choices for drinks on a low-carb diet.

Low-Carb Diet vs. Keto: Which Is Better for You?

The best low-carb diet for you is the one that fits your lifestyle, results in reliable and sustainable weight loss, and meets your nutritional needs. 

Keto diets are not for everyone. However, reducing your carbohydrate intake to less than 45% of your daily calories can help you lose weight and improve your health.

Nutritional ketosis isn’t necessary for weight loss and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, it is beneficial for burning body fat. So when choosing between a low-carb or keto diet, choose the one you think you can stick with until you reach a healthy weight and beyond.

Apps such as Keto Cycle can make starting a new keto lifestyle simpler. Your journey begins with a quick quiz to determine your personal requirements so that you can work with a meal plan created just for you. Take the first step toward taking charge of your health by taking the quiz today.

keto quiz


Category: Diets Compared