Low Carb vs. Keto Diet: Weight Loss Strategies for You

As rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease continue to rise globally, many are turning to diets like low-carb and keto for weight loss and improving health. In addition, when initial weight loss plateaus on calorie-counting diets, fitness enthusiasts explore more alternatives to cut sugar and carbs to enhance fitness and lose more weight.

However, many often get confused about the difference between low-carb and keto diets and which one is right for their needs. While Both low-carb and keto can produce impressive short-term weight loss results compared to the typical higher-carb Western diet, it is crucial to understand the science behind these food patterns and find out which one is right for you.

This article will explain how carb restriction through low-carb and keto diets can optimize your health and fitness journey.

A low-carb diet limits the amount of carbohydrates you can eat to help manage blood sugar and insulin levels. In fitness, people who subscribe to this method can accelerate weight loss by accessing the body's fat stores faster.

Typically, a low-carb diet restricts carb intake to only 50-150 grams of carbs per day. This pushes the body to burn stored fat for energy instead. Technically, any eating style that reduces calories from carbs to less than 30% is considered a low-carb diet.

A low-carb diet plan replaces the calories you get from carbs with protein sources and healthy fats from lean meat, veggies, and nuts. Unlike the Keto diet, which strictly limits carbs to induce ketosis, low-carb diets offer more flexibility in carbohydrate consumption.

Depending on your goal and meal plan, your macronutrient breakdown for a low-carb diet could look like this:

  • 10-30% carbs
  • 40-50% protein
  • 30-40% fats

Here’s an example of a 30% carb intake based on a 2,000-calorie diet totalling to 150g per day:

Meal Time Food Estimated Carb (grams)
Breakfast Scrambled eggs with spinach and feta cheese, one slice of whole-grain toast and an avocado 20g
Snack 1 Handful of almonds and small apple 20g
Lunch Grilled chicken salad with mixed greens, cherry tomatoes,m cucumbers, olives and vinaigrette dressing. Served with quinoa side 40g
Snack 2 Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of chia seeds and a few berries 15g
Dinner Baked salmon with asparagus a side sweet potato 35g
Snack 3 A small serving of dark chocolate and few strawberries 20g

Here’s an example of a 10% carb intake based on a 2,000-calorie diet totaling to roughly 50g per day:

Meal Time Food Estimated Carb (grams)
Breakfast Omelette with cheese, mushrooms and spinach 5g
Snack 1 Small serving of almonds and walnuts 3g
Lunch Salad with grilled chicken, mixed greens, avocado, cucumber and olive oil dressing 10g
Snack 2 Celery sticks with cream cheese or peanut butter 4g
Dinner Grilled steak with sauteed broccoli and butter 10g
Snack 3 A small portion of berries 8g

Low-carb diet helps accelerate weight loss while offering some flexibility in your eating habits

Offers flexibility and versatility

Offers a broader range of food choices compared to stricter diets like Keto, making it more adaptable to different lifestyles and preferences. Low-carb diets allow slightly more room for carbs while lowering them enough to benefit from improved sugar control and appetite regulation.

Low-carb diets are very effective for losing excess fat when you maintain a state calorie deficit and are paired with high protein intake.

Lower carb intake is associated with improvements in different markers for reducing risks for heart disease, such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body fat.

Hitting under 100-150g total carbs daily proves easier without needing to strictly hit macro and calorie targets every day. This benefits people who struggle with busy schedules and have difficulty preparing their own meals.

Rigorous planning can also be overwhelming in some people and may increase stress levels, which can negatively impact the overall fitness journey.

Removing excessive carbohydrate intake can reduce brain fog and spikes/crashes in energy levels. Many people experience improved concentration and focus.

Restricting carbohydrates can greatly assist in stabilizing erratic blood sugar swings and spikes. People with type 2 diabetes can benefit from a low-carb diet while having a less restrictive and more fulfilling lifestyle.

Limits food options

While it is less restrictive than some other diet plans, a low-carb diet can seem limiting at times, especially on social occasions.

Increasing your dietary protein to compensate for caloric needs in a low-carb diet can lead to overconsumption of lean meat and inadequate intake of healthy fats. This imbalance can harm your liver and kidney if left unchecked.

A low-carb diet restricts carbs from grains, rice, and starchy vegetables to only about 10-30% of your overall dietary intake. Over time, this could put you in a long-term caloric deficit and nutrient deficiency if not managed properly.

The ketogenic or keto diet is an extreme form of low-carb diet. It aims to restrict carb intake to about 20-50 grams per day or just 5-10% of daily caloric needs to achieve a metabolic state of ketosis.

This diet causes the liver to produce ketones from fat, which become the main source of energy for the body and brain.

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This diet lowers your carb intake dramatically while increasing your healthy fat intake. While all keto diets are low-carb, not all low-carb diets are keto.

Depending on your goal and meal plan, your macronutrient breakdown for a keto diet could look like this:

  • 5-10% carbs
  • 20-25% protein
  • 70% fats

Here’s an example of a keto diet with only 10% carbs per day based on 2,000-calorie diet totaling roughly less than 50g per day:

Meal Time Food Estimated Carb (grams)
Breakfast Scrambled eggs cooked in butter with spinach and a few cherry tomatoes 5g
Snack 1 Handful of macadamia nuts 2g
Lunch Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, grilled chicken, parmesan cheese, Caesar dressing, no croutons 7g
Snack 2 Slices of cucumber with cream cheese 3g
Dinner Zucchini noodles with meatballs in a low-carb marinara sauce and herbal tea drink with a slice of salmon 12g
Snack 3 A serving of Greek yogurt mixed with a few raspberries 6g

Here’s an example of a keto diet with only 5% carbs per day based on 2,000-calorie diet totaling roughly less than 25g per day:

Meal Time Food Estimated Carb (grams)
Breakfast Scrambled eggs cooked in coconut oil and a few spinach leaves 2g
Snack 1 A small serving of macadamia nuts or a slice of cheese 1g
Lunch Salad with grilled chicken and avocado, mixed greens, with low fat dressing 5 g
Snack 2 Few slice of cucumber with cream cheese 2g
Dinner Grilled steak with a side of sautéed green beans in butter. 5g
Snack 3 A small portion of dark chocolate or raspberries 4g

Keto diet is an extreme form of low-carb diet that can lead to rapid weight loss.

Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body switches from using glucose from carbohydrates as its main source of energy to using ketones, which are derived from fat. This means that using ketones for fuel can cause rapid fat loss in the body.

Suppresses appetite

Ketosis has been shown to suppress hunger hormones like ghrelin, leading to a longer feeling of satiation between meals. In addition, high fat intake also enhances leptin sensitivity and regulates signals for hunger or fullness.

Here’s workout plan for women that goes well with keto diets:

And for men:

The ketogenic diet has proven very effective for reversing insulin resistance and improving erratic blood sugar shifts, especially for those with diabetes or prediabetes.

Some studies have shown that ketones power your cells much better than sugar, especially in the brain. Ketones are a more efficient and steady fuel source, allowing greater focus and mental clarity without drops in energy levels.

Ketones also increase the amount of GABA in the brain, which is the brain’s major neurotransmitter that promotes calmness.

Compared to other sources of energy like glucose or fat, ketones are a more efficient fuel for the muscles. Ketones enable the cells to produce more power while using less oxygen by extracting more energy from fat. This leads to a rapid boost in energy and endurance, allowing higher power outputs for longer-duration activities like marathon running or cycling.

In one study, endurance athletes performed better in long-distance cycling when they were in a state of ketosis, adding more than 400 meters to their normal limits.

Ketones act as a backup fuel when brain cells have problems utilizing glucose for energy production. Studies have shown that ketogenic diets can reduce seizures in people with epilepsy by as much as 50% by providing brain cells with an alternative, stable fuel source.

In some brain diseases that occur in later stages, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, the brain could have difficulty processing glucose for energy due to insulin resistance. This results in "brain starvation" and death of brain cells, leading to a decrease in brain function. Ketones provide a perfect alternative to fuel neurons and prevent cognitive decline as we age.

Researchers found that high levels of ketones in the body dramatically increase brain function due to improvement in blood flow in the brain.

By removing constant abundant glucose surges from high carb intake, ketogenic diets mitigate inflammation in the body and pathways associated with obesity and chronic diseases from metabolic dysfunction.

May cause keto flu

When first starting keto, many people experience headaches, tiredness, nausea, and brain fog for 1-2 weeks as the body adjusts to burning fat and ketones instead of carbs.

It's essential to remember that this is only temporary as effect as your body gets used to your new fuel source. Be mindful of these symptoms and contact your doctor if symptoms are intolerable or you are experiencing high blood pressure or extreme headaches.

The ketogenic diet is one of the more restrictive protocols, with staple foods like grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables heavily limited. Staying off of your usual diet and treats is a long-term psychological challenge and could also be mentally taxing.

Also, studies have shown that people who undergo drastic weight loss protocols and diets tend to regain their weight after a few years of hard work.

The key to complying with restrictive diets is to learn cooking skills that match your needs so you won't have to rely on eating outside or ordering food to meet your caloric requirements.

The high-fat nature of ketogenic meal plans causes mild digestive upset like diarrhea, cramping, constipation and reflux issues for some people. Consuming plenty of fiber and probiotics to support your gut health can help you smoothly transition to the keto diet.

Since whole food groups are excluded, without careful meal planning, some may not get enough vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants over time, leading to nutritional deficiencies.

Common nutrient deficiency that may occur in a keto diet:

  • Fiber
  • Magnesium, potassium & sodium
  • B Vitamins
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Selenium

When first transitioning into ketosis, most athletes notice declines in strength, endurance, and overall power capacity for intense training temporarily. This stems from the body’s metabolic systems needing to gain efficiency at tapping into fat-and-ketone-based fuels efficiently versus relying on carbs and glycogen for immediate energy.

Typically, it takes about 1-3 months of adjustment for the body to get used to its new fuel source completely, and the ketone supply stabilizes.

While the keto diet can mitigate body fat accumulation and prevent obesity, high-quality studies have shown that ketogenic food patterns can increase bad cholesterol levels in the body, which can negatively impact heart health in the long run.

That’s why it is crucial to source your keto needs in high-quality, healthy fats such as:

  • Avocados,
  • Coconut oil,
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts
  • Chia, flaxseed, hemp
  • Salmon, and sardines
  • Eggs
  • Grass-fed butter

Deciding whether to commit to the ultra-low-carb ketogenic diet or take a more moderate low-carb approach depends on your goals, preferences, and lifestyle factors.

Those with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or neurological disorders may benefit more from prioritizing keto to keep carbs very low constantly. The level of carb restriction needed to remain in continual ketosis enhances blood sugar regulation.

However, active gym-goers may prefer switching between low and moderate carbs to maximize athletic performance while utilizing some metabolic benefits of burning ketones. Going full keto may not suit their need for carbs to fuel intense training.

If your goal is to lose more weight, switching to a low-carb diet first before transitioning to keto could be a great strategy. Starting with a less restrictive low-carb plan in the 100-150g daily carb range can allow an easier initial transition from the standard diet. This phase helps curb sugar cravings, hunger, and insulin spikes without drastically restricting your lifestyle.

When picking the better dietary strategy between low-carb or full-blown keto, it depends greatly on your goals, preferences, and carbohydrate tolerance. Both can effectively promote weight loss and boost health metrics when done right.

Keto accelerates fat burning but requires strict tracking and limitation. Low carb allows more flexibility while stabilizing blood sugar and hunger to tap into stored fat.

Ultimately, the best diet plan is always the one you can maintain consistently and personally find fulfilling.

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Bert Bauzon is a licensed physiotherapist specializing in spinal care and sports rehabilitation. He writes articles and books about exercise science and health care.

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