What's the Difference Between the Keto Diet and the Atkins Diet?

While both diets are considered "low-carb," there are some major differences that make each not quite right for everyone.

December 23, 2021

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Cutting carbs can be confusing — and while there are several similarities among the "low-carb" diets, there are actually some big differences between the ketogenic, or keto, diet and the Atkins diet.

What Is the Keto Diet?

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet in which there are so few carbohydrates consumed that the body goes begins to burn excessive amounts of fat for energy, creating a metabolic state known as ketosis. This may sound like a good thing — but only eating 20 to 50 grams of carbs per day (when you are supposed to have closer to 300 grams) can have some pretty uncomfortable side effects, and researchers are only in the beginning stages of finding out if it's a healthy plan for weight loss. In extreme cases ketosis can be life threatening, causing a condition known as ketoacidosis where the blood becomes dangerously acidic, leading to electrolyte imbalances and kidney failure.

However, in one well-designed study scientists did find that the keto diet can help prevent weight regain after weight loss. Other studies point out that long term effects of keto style diets are not well understood, plus dieters’ compliance is questionable.

What Is the Atkins Diet?

The Atkins diet is generally a high-protein, low-carb diet. However, during the induction phase of the Atkins diet, the recommendations for fat intake are somewhat similar to those of the keto diet. The maintenance phase of the Atkins diet has higher protein goals than keto and is much more liberal in its carbohydrate allowances. Research has found that a low-carbohydrate, Atkins-like diet incorporating lower saturated fat and high protein can help with weight maintenance and lower the risk of heart disease.

The Big Differences Between Atkins and Keto

Fat, Protein and Carb Counts

The high-fat keto diet calls for around 110 to 170 grams of fat and 65 to 110 grams of protein per day as part of an 1,800-calorie daily diet. Carb counts are usually kept at around 20 to 50 grams; for reference, one piece of whole-wheat bread has about 22 grams of carbohydrates, and a 1/2 cup serving of chickpeas has 20 grams.

During the induction phase of the Atkins diet, the recommendations are for around 105 to 140 grams of fat and around 110 to 155 grams of protein as part of an 1,800-calorie daily diet. In the diet's maintenance phase, the protein recommendation remains the same, but the recommended amount of fat drops to 85 to 115 grams. The recommended amount of carbs is about 20 to 45 grams during induction and 60 to 130 grams in maintenance.

Meal Planning

After following these diets' recommendations for a couple of weeks, you may not feel like eating a lot. Thus, one of the reasons a high-fat diet like keto or Atkins may be effective in attaining weight goals is because it decreases appetite.

A day of eating keto could look like this:

Breakfast — 3-egg omelet with spinach, 6 green olives and 2 tablespoons ghee

Lunch — Greek meatballs made with lamb or beef topped with 1/3 cup full-fat yogurt; green salad with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Snack — Green smoothie with 1/2 cup coconut milk, spinach and 1 tablespoon MCT oil

Dinner — Steak fajitas with lettuce wraps and guacamole

Totals: about 120 grams fat, 75 grams protein, 27 grams carbohydrates

And a day on the maintenance phase of the Atkins diet might look like this:

Breakfast — 3-egg omelet with spinach and 1/2 cup shredded cheese

Lunch — Greek meatballs made with lamb or beef topped with 1/3 cup full-fat yogurt; green salad with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Snack — Pear; 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

Dinner — Steak fajitas with black beans, mango salsa and corn tortillas

Totals: about 110 grams fat, 115 grams protein, 107 grams carbohydrates

Bottom Line: These diets may not be healthy long-term.

These very-low carb diets may be a way to reset your plate to include more vegetables such as low-carb leafy greens and fewer bakery treats or added sugars. However, there is not yet enough research to suggest that these diets can be healthy long-term, especially since they cut out many of the anti-inflammation foods that have been shown to decrease disease risk.

Serena Ball, MS, RD is a registered dietitian nutritionist, food writer and recipe developer. She blogs at TeaspoonOfSpice.com and is the author of the best-selling The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Follow her @TspCurry on Twitter and Instagram.

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. She is the author of four cookbooks First Bites: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers, The Healthy Air Fryer Cookbook, The Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook and Healthy Quick and Easy Smoothies.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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