If you want to lose weight, you need to follow a diet. Most diets work by reducing your calorie intake so that your body has to burn more fat for fuel. Unfortunately, there are hundreds if not thousands of weight loss diets to choose from, and while some a very effective, others are less so. Some are downright hopeless and dangerous – like the tapeworm diet and the cotton wool diet.
Low-carb diets are popular, mainly because they work, but which low carb diet is best? It’s a battle of Keto diet vs. Atkins diet.
These diets are very similar but different enough that it’s worth examining each one individually to determine which one is best for you. After all, even the most effective diet is not worth the paper it’s printed on if you don’t enjoy the process. For any diet to work, you need to be able to stick to it. Not for a week or a month, but for as long as it takes to reach your weight loss goal.
So, which one is best? Is there a clear-cut winner? Let’s take a look!
A Brief Intro to the Keto Diet
Keto is short for ketogenic and can also be applied to the condition of ketosis. With keto, you purposely reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day. In the absence of carbs, your body has no choice but to burn more fat for fuel.
Unfortunately, your muscles and brain cannot function on fat alone. As a result, your body converts fatty acids into ketones, which is an energy source your brain and muscles can use. Once you have run out of carbs and are using nothing but fat and ketones for energy, you are said to be in ketosis.
The keto diet involves strict macro guidelines. Those guidelines are:
- 5-10% of energy from carbs
- 20-30% of energy from proteins
- 65-80% of energy from fats
Following these guidelines should ensure you enter and remain in ketosis, burning more fat than usual as a result. It can take several days to a week or two to enter ketosis, during which you may suffer some symptoms that are collectively called the keto flu. However, keto flu usually vanishes once you enter full ketosis and are said to be keto-adapted.
To enter and maintain ketosis, you cannot eat any form of carbohydrate. That means no bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, cereal, or soda, and most fruit is off the menu too. You can, however, eat lots of meat, fish, nuts, oils, and non-starchy vegetables.
There are several interpretations of the keto diet – each one working slightly differently.
The standard keto diet: This version involves eating next to no carbs for an extended period. When most people talk about the keto diet, this is the one to which they are referring.
The cyclic ketogenic diet: The CKD involves eating less than 50 grams of carbs 5-6 days per week, and then eating as much as 400-600 grams of carbs for 1-2 days per week. This version is aimed at bodybuilders and hardcore exercises who need extra energy for training but still want to lose fat. It’s an advanced diet and not really suitable for non-exercisers.
The targeted ketogenic diet: TKD allows you to consume a small amount of carbs just before or just after exercise. This will not interfere with fat loss but should give you extra energy for your workout. Carbs are limited to about 50 grams per serving.
The high-protein ketogenic diet: Popularized by bodybuilder and nutrition guru Dave Palumbo, this diet increases protein intake to 1 to 1.5 grams per kilo of bodyweight. This should allow you to maintain ketosis but also provides more amino acids for muscle repair and growth.
The Lazy keto diet: With this keto diet version, you don’t count macros. Instead, you focus on one thing only – your carb intake. Providing you keep your carb intake to less than 50 grams per day, and preferably 20-30 grams, you are doing enough to enter and remain in ketosis. Most keto diets put an emphasis on good-quality as carb intake. With lazy keto, carbs are the only thing that matters. Because of this, some people call this version dirty keto.
Keto Diet Pros
The keto diet has lots of benefits. Firstly, it is very useful for weight loss. Keto dieters usually lose 5-10 pounds in the first 1-2 weeks. Much of this weight is water, but it’s a good indicator of what is to follow. Once you are in ketosis, your body burns fat much faster than usual, even compared to a low-calorie diet.
Being in ketosis also helps keep your energy levels stable. With lots of fat to burn and therefore plenty of source material for ketones available, your energy levels should be high and remain so for as long as you are in ketosis. Most keto deters report that it’s not just physical energy that increases but mental energy too.
Finally, ketosis has many health-boosting benefits. Studies suggest that being in ketosis is good for your heart and brain, can help control the symptoms of diabetes, and reduces systemic inflammation. In fact, keto was used first in a medical setting as a treatment for childhood epilepsy – and that was over 100 years ago!
Keto Diet Cons
As good as the keto diet is for weight loss, it is not without drawbacks. Some of those cons include:
Very strict – unless you follow the cyclic or targeted ketogenic diet, going keto means next-to-no carbs for an extended period, usually several months at a time. This level of strictness can be hard to live with, especially if you consider yourself to be a carb or sugar-addict.
Keto flu – many people experience the keto flu when they cut carbs from their diet. This occurs as your body makes the switch from using carbs for fuel to using fat and ketones. Some people experience very mild symptoms, but others feel quite unwell. While there are things you can do to minimize keto flu, it is not usually avoidable.
Health concerns – keto is a high-fat diet. Some health experts are worried about the impact that eating lots of fat will have on the heart. Most of the fats consumed on keto are of the healthy variety, but even so many doctors are anti-keto. This pressure may make some dieters reticent to try keto.
A Brief Intro into the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is also a ketogenic diet. However, unlike keto, there are fewer strict macro guidelines, and the diet itself is made up of several different phases. There are two main Atkins diet variations – Atkins 20 and Atkins 40.
Phase 1: Phase one of Atkins, also known as the induction phase, involves a strict diet that severally limits your carb intake. This is designed to get you into ketosis as fast as possible. With Atkins 20, this means you can only eat 20 grams of carbs per day. With Atkins 40, you can have 40 grams of carbs per day. This phase lasts two weeks.
Phase 2: In phase two, also known as the balancing phase, you are allowed to eat slightly more carbs, but your intake is still very low. This will ensure you stay in ketosis. Your carb intake is determined by how well you respond to the reintroduction of carbs. The average carb intake during this stage is 25-50 grams per day. Phase two lasts for as long as it takes to get you within 10 pounds of your target weight.
Phase 3: The third phase of the Akins diet is all about finetuning your carb intake to get you to your target weight and then slow down weight loss. Most dieters in this phase consume 50-80 grams of carbs per day. This may mean that you exit ketosis.
Phase 4: Having reached your target weight, phase four is all about maintenance. Your carb intake is increased to the point just below weight regain. This is generally around 80-100 grams of carbs per day. You definitely won’t be in ketosis, but this is still a low-carb diet and should ensure you do not gain back all the weight you have lost. In theory, this phase will last for as long as you continue the Atkins diet.
The food choices on Atkins are very similar to the keto diet. Meat, fish, nuts, eggs, and oil are in, and all sources of carbs, including bread, rice, pasta, etc., are off the menu. In addition, the Atkins diet can include Atkins-approved supplements, bars, snacks, soups, and shakes.
Atkins Diet Pros
The Atkins diet has been around since the early 1970s and is one of the most popular weight-loss diets on the planet. It has a very clear structure that makes it easy to follow. Unlike the keto diet, carbs are reintroduced as you approach your target weight. This makes a lot of sense because, as you get leaner, your ability to digest and metabolize carbohydrates increases. This variety can be very welcome.
The Atkins diet is supported by lots of guidebooks and recipe books. There is no guesswork with Atkins, and every step of the diet (both Atkins 20 and Atkins 40) is clearly laid out. In contrast, there are lots of interpretations so the keto diet, and that can lead to confusion.
The other advantages are the same as for the keto diet as both diets are very low in carbs and put you into ketosis.
Atkins Diet Cons
The Atkins diet shares the same drawbacks as the standard keto diet. It is restrictive, can cause keto flu, and there are concerns over eating all that fat. However, the Atkins diet was actually invented by doctor and cardiologist Doctor Robert Atkins, so there are good reasons to think that many of the health risks associated with keto have been overstated.
In the battle of Keto vs. Atkins diet, there is no clear-cut winner. They both have similar advantages and disadvantages and involve eating the same sorts of food. Both put you into ketosis, which means they are effective fat loss diets.
Comparing these two diets is a bit like comparing walking outside to walking on a treadmill; they are so similar that it’s hard to differentiate between the two, let alone determine if one is better than the other!
Keto is arguably the stricter of the two diets because your carb intake doesn’t vary. There are no phases – it’s all keto, all the time. In contrast, with Atkins, carbs are gradually reintroduced, and that means there is light at the end of your low-carb tunnel. Keto might produce faster weight loss, but Atkins may be better for keeping that weight off.
Which one is right for you? That’s a tough question to answer. Your personal preferences and individual circumstances both play a part in determining the right diet for you.
If you are an all-or-nothing kind of a person, the keto diet should resonate with you. With no changes in carb intake and no phases, it’s probably the simpler of the two diets. However, if you get bored easily and like the idea of changing your diet over time, the Atkins diet is the clear winner. The good thing about both these diets is they work – regardless of which one you choose.