Keto vs Low Carb Diets: What’s the Difference?

If you’ve heard of the Keto diet then you probably know that it’s a low carb diet. It’s perfectly reasonable to be wondering if Keto is a low-carb diet, what’s the difference between low carb and Keto? The short answer is that Keto is low carb, but not all low carb diets are Keto. The following article will help you understand the key differences between the two while highlighting their similarities as well.

In order to understand how these two diets differ you first have to understand what each of them entails.

What is the low-carb diet?

A low carb diet is difficult to define concretely. At its heart, it’s a diet that’s lower in carbohydrates than protein and fat. It often has higher amounts of protein as well. However, there are so many variations of the low carb diet. Keto is one version of the low carb diet. Atkins, the Mediterranean diet and the Paleo diet are three common variations of low carb diets. Some lesser-known variations include the Carnivore diet, the Scandinavian diet and Tim Ferriss’s low carb diet.

The Atkins diet is a low carb diet that restricts the amounts of carbs you eat while letting you eat as many fats and proteins as you want. It’s usually broken up into 4 stages where you restrict your carbs to under 20g, then you begin to introduce carbs back and once you reach your goal weight you eat as many carbs as you want as long as you don’t gain the weight back.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on eating Mediterranean foods from back in the 20th century including fish, legumes, whole grains seeds, potatoes, seafood, fruits and vegetables. There isn’t a specific number of carbs allowed on this low carb diet.

The Paleo diet doesn’t focus on not eating carbs. However, a by-product of the diet is that you end up eating a lot fewer carbs. The idea behind this diet is that you only eat foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Because this limits you to mainly meat, fish, nuts and seeds you end up eliminating a lot of carbs.

As you can see, these low carb diets are all different. Some restrict the number of carbs you eat to a set amount while others focus on food groups over macronutrients. What every low carb diet has in common with one another is that they all reduce the number of carbs you eat compared to the average American diet. They also tend to focus on whole foods while limiting processed carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and sugar.

What is the Keto diet?

The Keto diet, like Atkins, Mediterranean and Paleo diets, is a type of low-carb diet. While you’re on the Keto diet you focus on limiting the number of net carbs you eat to 20-25g/day depending on your gender. The reason for this low number is because the goal of the Keto diet is to get your body to switch from using glucose to using ketones as fuel.

Ketones are created in your liver when your body has no carbohydrates being pumped in. They’re your body’s back up plan. If your body had a chance it would always run off of the glucose that you create when you eat high carb meals. Glucose is a fast source of energy and it’s easier for your body to break down than ketones.

Ketones are formed from your stored fat cells. When your body switches to using ketones as fuel you’re literally burning your fat for energy. This is part of the reason that Keto is a high-fat diet. Using fat as fuel means that your body will have a constant supply of energy, you won’t feel hungry as often and you’ll avoid the sugar highs and lows that you can get with a high carb diet.

The Keto diet focuses on fat while allowing a moderate amount of protein and very few carbs. For this reason, healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil are encouraged while grains, bread, pasta and starchy vegetables are discouraged. Foods such as beans can sometimes be too high in net carbs for the Keto diet so it’s important to understand the net carbs in your food when you begin the Keto diet.

Net carbs are the carbohydrates that your body can use to create glucose. If your body can’t digest a portion of the carb it’s not counted towards your overall net carb numbers. For example, your body can’t digest fibre or sugar alcohols for energy so these won’t be counted towards your net carbs. To calculate your net carbs you take the total number of carbohydrates listed on a food item and you subtract the fibre and sugar alcohols from this amount.

Key differences between Keto and low carb diets

One of the main differences between the Keto diet and low carb diets is the number of carbs that you’re allowed to eat. If you’re doing a low carb diet the number of carbs you can eat will depend on which plan you chose and could vary from 50g a day all the way up to 150g. The Keto diet, on the other hand, is very specific about how many carbs you can have and limits your net carbs to 20-25g per day.

The Keto diet is a lot more structured and strict than low carb diets in general. If you’re just looking for a low carb diet and the one you’re on isn’t working there are so many variations that you can switch to a different type easily. If you’re looking for structure and you have the perseverance to stick with a strict carb limit you’ll get great results on the Keto diet.

Carbs aren’t the only difference between these two diets. The ratio of macronutrients is also different. On the Keto diet, the majority of your calories come from fat with a moderate amount of protein and very few carbs. On the low carb diet, the macronutrient ratios can change quite a bit depending on the plan you chose; however, they’re often skewed more towards eating a lot of protein with a moderate amount of fat and a low to moderate amount of protein.

Key similarities between Keto and low carb diets

Since the Keto diet is a low carb diet it makes sense that there would be some similarities between them. For starters, both diets emphasize non-starchy veggies, low sugar fruits, healthy fats and protein. Both diets are also low on carbs. Whole foods are also emphasized on the Keto and the low carb diet since they both try to eliminate processed foods as much as possible.

Health Benefits of Keto and low carb diets

One of the other similarities between Keto and low carb diets is that they both have great health benefits!


There are plenty of health benefits with the Keto diet. One of the main reasons that people begin Keto is because they’re looking to lose weight. If this sounds like you then you’ll love the Keto diet! It helps you lose weight in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it changes how your body sources energy and you literally burn away that stubborn stored fat that can be difficult to do on a higher carb diet. The Keto diet also gives you more consistent energy so it’s easier to work out. You also feel hungry less often which is important for anyone trying to cut calories. Eating less often helps promote weight loss all on its own.

Weight loss isn’t Keto’s only health benefit. It was originally designed by doctors looking to stabilize the blood sugar levels of diabetics and it still serves this function. There is research being done that’ s looking into whether the Keto diet can lower your bad cholesterol levels and the results look promising.

Low Carb

The low carb diet also has weight loss benefits. Because it prioritizes whole foods and helps you cut out the processed foods and sugars you’re going to lose weight. The weight loss results won’t be as dramatic or as fast as you’d get with a Keto diet but you’ll still lose a bit of weight.

The low carb diet is good for endurance athletes who want to stabilize their energy but also have enough carbohydrate fuel to keep their bodies moving through intense workouts. When you enter the realm of high-intensity workouts your body requires glucose. It doesn’t matter what foods you’re putting into your body if you don’t have glucose your body won’t be able to sustain your activity.

Which one is right for you?

After comparing these two low carb diets you might be wondering which one is right for you. The following list outlines who each diet is best suited for.

Low Carb

  • you need more than 25g of net carbs daily
  • you’re unsure if you can stick to a strict eating routine
  • you want the freedom to try a variety of low carb plans
  • you want to lose weight but you’re not in a hurry to get there


  • you think you have the discipline to stick to 25g of net carbs daily
  • you’re looking for added heart health and diabetes benefits
  • you want to avoid the sugar crash that can come from carbs
  • you’re looking to boost your weight loss results as quickly as possible
  • you’re looking for a diet with structure


The Keto diet is more structured and has stricter limits as to how many carbs you can eat. On the other hand, the low carb diet can consist of a wide variety of carb limits and different diet plans including the Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet and the Paleo diet. Now that you understand the basic differences you’ll be able to determine which one is right for you and your health goals.

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