The ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet are often – incorrectly – assumed to be the same thing, along with the general term of ‘low-carb diet’.
They are both low-carb and incorporate a lot of fat. So it is easy to see how people will get them confused. However – there are key differences between the two, which we will discuss below.
The aim of this discussion is not to push you into any specific direction. When making major lifestyle changes – especially when it comes to your health – it is important to be aware of the effects it can have and to have as much knowledge as possible before making the decision. And I want to help you make the best decision for you and your health.
The Ketogenic Diet
What is the Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is a diet low in carbs, moderate in protein, and high in fat.
The goal of the keto diet is to keep your body in a constant state of ketosis by starving it of carbohydrates. This way the body burns fat instead of sugar for fuel.
The general caloric breakdown for the keto diet is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.
This means that if you find that your daily recommended caloric intake is 2000 kcal a day then 75% of those calories need to come from fats.
When calculating the carbohydrate count of a food on the keto diet, the net carbs are used.
If you look at a nutrition label on a food item, you will see that there is a section labeled Total Carbohydrates. This is broken down into two subsections: fiber and total sugars. Net carbs are the total carbohydrates minus the fiber.
History of the Keto Diet
The keto diet was originally designed to fight epilepsy. It was later discovered that this diet had so many more benefits.
Around the 1920’s, physicians developed the ketogenic diet to mimic the metabolism of fasting. It was widely used for two decades until epilepsy medication became more widespread. Since the mid-90’s, there has been more interest in the scientific use of the keto diet, and more recently it has become popular as a weight-loss diet.
Health Benefits of the Keto Diet
Apart from helping to heal epilepsy, the ketogenic diet also has a whole host of other non-weight loss health benefits.
The keto diet has also been studied for its potential therapeutic use for other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, autism, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep disorders.
Keto diets have also been known to help treat cancer. I know this sounds like a crazy claim – but hear me out. Cancer cells can only use glucose as a fuel source to grow. When you remove glucose stores or keep those levels to a minimum, the cancer cells don’t have their fuel source to grow.
It has been found that brain injuries can be healed faster as well on the keto diet. (Our brains are composed of 60% fat!) And keto diets have been known to speed up the healing process of people that have experienced any kind of brain injury, most notably, concussions.
The Atkins Diet
What is the Atkins Diet
The diet started as low-carbohydrate approach, with an emphasis on more protein and fats (including saturated fats). It has since evolved to incorporate four phases, with varying levels of carbohydrates in each phase.
Phase 1 – Induction
Carbohydrates are limited to 20 grams per day. All fruit is cut out. At this level, keto and Atkins are very similar – the carbohydrate count at this point is more or less the same. Most of the weight loss on the Atkins diet happens during this first phase.
Phase 2 – Balancing
Nuts, a small amount of fruit (such as berries), and carb-containing vegetables are slowly introduced, while still keeping the carb count quite low.
Phase 3 – Fine Tuning
Once you are very close to your goal weight, you can start to add more carbohydrates until your weight low starts slowing down.
Phase 4 – Maintenance
The idea here is to add more carbohydrates (from vegetables), but only as much as your body can manage without gaining weight again. The maximum allowed is 100 grams per day.
The Atkins Diet has developed over the years from simply a prescribed way of eating to a whole brand that incorporates shakes and protein bars. The plans recommend these shakes and bars rather than focusing only on whole foods.
History of the Atkins Diet
Developed in 1972 by Dr. Robert Atkins, the Atkins diet is regarded as the start of the low-carb craze.
When Dr. Atkins’ book was first released, his diet was considered unhealthy by mainstream health authorities. This was largely due to its high saturated fat content.
Health Benefits of the Atkins Diet
There are, of course, many health benefits of losing weight if you overweight or obese. But those benefits can be achieved through a variety of other diets.
Does the Atkins Diet offer any specific health benefits (unique Atkins – rather than low-carb in general) in addition to weight loss? There doesn’t seem to be good scientific evidence for health benefits not linked to weight loss.
Keto vs Atkins: Which is better?
There are pros and cons for both the Atkins and keto diets.
Both of these diets lead to very rapid weight loss in the beginning. With the Atkins diet, once you are at your goal weight, you gradually reintroduce carbohydrates. With keto – the diet stays the same even when you have reached your goal weight.
Another benefit that both these diet share is diabetes prevention and management. When you follow a low carb diet long term, the chance of developing diabetes is greatly reduced.
Insulin is used to break down all the sugars in carbohydrates, and eating fewer carbs reduces the need for the body to produce insulin. Too much of this can lead to diabetes in later life.
Simply put – by reducing the number of carbohydrates (insulin trigger foods) that you are eating, you are reducing the production of insulin in the body, thereby reducing the body’s resistance to it.
Research has also shown that diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 can be better controlled with a low carb diet.
The keto diet has a far more straightforward approach, compared to Atkins which incorporates four phases to work through. This can be a ‘pro’ or a ‘con’, depending on how you work best. For some people, have a very price plan is easier to follow (keto), while others prefer to have some flexibility (Atkins).
It has been reported that people who follow the Atkins diet tend to put the weight back on once in Phase 4, rather than maintaining their weight.
One of the biggest ‘cons’ for the ketogenic diet is that for most people following the diet, they don’t actually reach ketosis. They may be eating a very low carb, for sure, but to actually be and stay in ketosis requires very careful measurement.
It is easy to end up with an electrolyte imbalance when following the keto diet, especially when you are first transitioning. It is important to ensure you are supplementing to avoid an electrolyte imbalance.
The biggest difference, however, between the keto diet and Atkins, is this:
The ketogenic diet is a lifestyle change that changes your body into a fat burner and has a host of other health benefits – one of them being weight loss. Atkins is a mainly a short-term weight loss plan.