A comparison of two of the most popular low-carb diets
Looking to go on a diet for the New Year? You’ve probably scoured the internet in search of the best one for you, and likely, you’ve probably been most curious about the ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet. From a quick glance, they seem to be incredibly similar, but there are quite a few differences between them.
The biggest similarity they share is the restriction of carbs. Though it’s a huge no-brainer that bad carbs like cookies, cakes, donuts, and all of those high-cal items are a no-no on any healthy eating plan, but what’s less obvious is that some fruits and vegetables also contain carbs and even those must be restricted to a certain degree.
The reason for the limitation on carbs is to get your body into a state of ketosis, where it works to turn fat into fuel by taking away its glucose stores. Both the ketogenic diet and the Atkins diet feature ketosis in them, but in very different ways. This is where you’ll want to learn more about each of these diets and see which one is more sustainable for you to keep up with for weight loss success.
What is Ketosis?
Since both diets involve ketosis, it’s helpful to know what that means. The definition of ketosis is a metabolic state where fat is used as fuel for the body. To achieve it, the access to blood sugar or glucose must be restricted as this is the preferred source of fuel for the cells in your body.
In order to achieve it, carbs must be restricted to less than 50 grams per day. To do so, diets like the ketogenic diet and Atkins diet are very restrictive in that you can’t eat grains, legumes, potatoes, and fruit. When you eat low-carb with your diet, the levels of insulin in your body go down while fatty acids are released from your body fat in big amounts.
The fatty acids go to the liver and are oxidized. They’re then turned into ketones, molecules your body can use for energy. Ketones can cross the blood-brain barrier, unlike fatty acids, and give the brain energy when there is no glucose.
You can find a more lengthy description of what keto is here.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet involves eating one way the entire time you’re on the diet. Carbs are cut down to roughly 5% of your daily intake while the bulk of your calories, 75% to be exact, will come from fat, and 20% will come from protein. By eating this way for several days, your body will go into ketosis. An easy way to keep on track with it and know you’re doing things right is to use keto urine strips to monitor things.
This diet wasn’t created for weight loss initially though. In the 1920s, it was used for children that suffered from epilepsy. With more modern research, it was found that the ketogenic diet showed positive signs for weight loss and it became something that even people who didn’t suffer from seizures dove into head first. In fact, in studies it was found that those who followed the ketogenic diet for 10 full weeks had major changes in their weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat percentage.
While it is incredibly successful for helping people lose weight, many health experts urge that the ketogenic diet should only be for children or even adults with epilepsy. This is because avoiding entire food groups brings with it hefty risks. When ketones build up, they can create many side effects. Among them, headaches, nausea, bad breath, and mental fatigue can plague those on the ketogenic diet. Additionally, it may cause deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals, which puts you at higher risk for kidney stones and heart disease. The risk can rise higher too, depending on the type of fats you choose to eat.
Benefits of the Ketogenic Diet
In addition to weight loss, if you stick with the ketogenic diet, it provides some proven benefits that you’ll notice:
- Reduced inflammation throughout the body
- Better efficiency with fat burning
- Improved mental clarity and sharpness
- More energy
- Clearer skin
- Reduced cravings
- Helps achieve mitochondrial biogenesis
- Anti-aging benefits
- Reduced risk for chronic diseases
The Atkins Diet
Most people have heard of Robert Atkins. He was the famed cardiologist who created the Atkins diet in 1972. The diet was originally called Atkins 20 but later just went by Atkins. It features four phases to bring you to your weight loss goals.
Atkins Phase 1:
In the introductory phase of the Atkins diet, there are many restrictive rules. You are allowed to have protein and fat, but must adhere to between 20 and 25 grams of net carbs. Net carbs simply means the total carbs found in a food minus the fiber content. To get these carbs, you may eat, seeds, nuts, cheese, and vegetables. By limiting the amount of carbs your body gets, it sends it into ketosis. In the Atkins diet, you stay in this introductory phase until you arrive at close to 15 pounds of your weight loss goals.
Atkins Phase 2:
Once you get through phase one, the second phase allows you to increase your carbs from 25 to 50 grams a day. You get to add in foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, and blueberries. This phase tends to last a shorter amount of time. You can move onto the third phase of the Atkins diet when you’re 10 pounds from hitting your desired weight.
Atkins Phase 3:
In this phase, you get to increase your carbs to somewhere between 50 and 80 grams. The tricky part here is finding that sweet spot. You need to find the balance right for you, which varies by person. It involves patience and taking things slow. Think of it like those balancing scales in science class where you have to play around with the weights to get it just right. Here, you’ll have to do much the same thing with seeing how many grams of carbs you can eat before your weight loss stalls. When you get it right and then maintain it for a full month, you can move on to the final phase.
Atkins Phase 4:
This is the lifetime maintenance phase. You will continue the habits you developed during the third phase and enjoy carbs up to 100 grams per day, as long as you don’t find you’re gaining weight. It’s basically taking all of what you’ve learned through the intensive phases of the diet and making them work for you in the long run to sustain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
Benefits of the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet has proven benefits on its side too along with that of weight loss. Among them:
- Blood sugar levels are stabilized
- Cholesterol levels are balanced
- Fantastic for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes
- Reduces risk for neurological disorders
- Improved metabolic syndrome
Ketogenic Diet and Atkins Diet Similarities
If you follow these diets strictly, you will lose weight. Much of it will be water weight because carbs notoriously retain water and by reducing them, it makes sense you’d lose water weight. If you start eating normally again, you’ll find the weight to come back on which may not make them very sustainable in the long run.
For both diets though, you don’t need to count calories. The only thing you’ll need to be mindful of in each is to keep tabs on how many carbs you’re getting. Neither diet is easy all the time though and dieters should be aware of that. Because of the drastic reduction in carbs, dizziness can be a big factor. It’s important to note how you feel and keep your doctor informed while you’re doing either of these diets. Nutritional deficiencies can also cause problems whichever one you choose which is why it’s wise to visit your doctor before you begin these or any diet to make sure you’re not compromising your heart health or other factors. Your doctor can also recommend supplements to help ensure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep it properly nourished.
Ketogenic Diet and Atkins Diet Differences
Perhaps the biggest difference of all between these two diets is how much protein you’re allowed to consume. With the Atkins diet, there is no limit on protein consumption. However on the ketogenic diet, protein is limited to just 20% of your daily calorie intake.
With the ketogenic diet, the entire diet is about being in constant ketosis. In the Atkins diet, ketosis is only part of phase one, and maybe some of phase two, depending on you. Atkins allows for more flexibility and versatility in this regard, plus you are eventually allowed to reintroduce more carbs. On the ketogenic diet, carbs are always limited. Another point with the keto diet is that you have to make sure you’re getting the right amount of percentages of calories with your fat and protein to keep your body in ketosis.
The Atkins diet is more sustainable for a long-term solution to healthy living because it involves less restrictions and doesn’t center on being in ketosis the entire time. Those on the Atkins diet also get the chance to eat foods they once had to restrict again like fruit, oatmeal, and quinoa.
Is One Safer Than the Other?
With all diets, it’s important you go in for a full physical first to make sure you’re cleared of any health issues that could be problematic to your diet. For example, neither ketogenic nor Atkins are recommended for those with diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. You may have one of these conditions without being aware of it so having a medical examination to give you the green light to go ahead is imperative.
Without any underlying problems, these diets can be safe when they’re done on the short term. Little data exists regarding the long term because the dropout rates are high in low-carb diets. However, there are studies that point to low-carb diets for being more effective than diets that restrict fat for lowering A1C and triglycerides which raise HDL cholesterol (better known as the “good” cholesterol).
So Which One Should You Choose? Keto vs Atkins
So, which one is right for you? Only you and your doctor can decide. With the first step to get a clean bill of health to proceed, schedule an appointment with your doctor and make sure you’re a good candidate for either of these diets. After that, you can decide which way you’d like to live. Would you like to restrict your way of eating indefinitely, or would you like to gradually be allowed more freedom with what you eat?
Whichever one you choose, remember to focus on your overall health and well-being. If something doesn’t feel right, be sure to communicate that with your doctor. These diets aren’t for everyone however many people have found great success with them to kickstart a healthy new lifestyle. Will you be one of them?