Low Carb v.s. Keto: What’s the Difference?
Actresses Halle Berry and Megan Fox swear by it. MTV’s Jersey Shore cast member Vinny Gaudagnino renamed himself for it (@ketoguido). Even NBA star LeBron James has tried it. It seems like everyone is embracing the keto (short for ketogenic) diet — cutting out virtually all carbs and living high on the (bacon) hog and avocado tree. So is keto just a trendy name for a low carb diet? Not exactly. A ketogenic diet is a low carb diet, but a low carb diet isn’t necessarily a ketogenic diet. They differ in origin, philosophy and execution.
Low carb diets, such as Atkins, South Beach and the like, have been around since the 1970s as a way to lose weight. Carbs were the enemy for each of these fad diets du jour. The ketogenic diet was created in the 1920s as a medical treatment for childhood epilepsy and only in the past few years has become a popular method for weight loss. People are going cuckoo for cocoa puffs coconuts.
One key difference between low carb diets and keto diets is the macro split (the percentage of calories allocated to each of the three macronutrients: fats, proteins and carbohydrates). A standard keto diet allows for 75% of daily caloric intake to come from fat, 20% from protein and no more than 5% from carbs. On a basic low carb diet, there are no specific rules about macro splits. As long as a person’s carbohydrate intake is less than the 45-65% USDA’s Recommended Dietary Allowance, it can be considered low, thus making “low carb” a subjective term.
Quick science lesson: Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. When consumed, carbs are broken down by the liver into glucose, which is then combined with insulin in the bloodstream and converted to energy. Extra glucose is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen for later use. Once glycogen stores are full, extra glucose is stored by the body as fat. If the body cannot find sufficient carbohydrates to use as energy, it enters ketosis – burning fat as fuel.
The goal of a ketogenic diet is to virtually starve the body of carbohydrates in order to force a state of ketosis — the metabolic condition by which the body uses fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. The point of a low carb diet is to reduce or eliminate high glycemic “bad” carbs (such as bread, pasta, sugary drinks and processed foods) in exchange for lower glycemic “good” carbs (e.g., whole grains, low sugar fruits and non-starchy vegetables). Ketosis is not the objective and does not occur.
The trick with a ketogenic diet is to keep carb intake low enough to induce that fat-burning state, which means even high-nutrient, good-for-you complex carbs, such as fruit, beans and starchy vegetables, are off-limits. But the body is smart. In order to keep blood sugar levels stable, the liver can also convert protein to glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. Eating too much protein can kick the body out of ketosis, so it’s not just about eliminating simple carbs, like bread and soda. The amount of protein digested must remain in a 4:1 protein-to-carb ratio (thus the 20% cap on protein) in order to remain in a ketogenic state. On a low carb diet, however, ketosis is not the goal. The goal is simply to reduce the amount of simple carbs consumed on a daily basis. There are no hard and fast rules about how to replace those calories. If both carbohydrates and fats are too low, the body will not be in ketosis and it will still be searching for carbs to use as energy. When not found, both the brain (concentration, mood, focus) and the body (energy levels, strength, endurance) will suffer.
While the approaches vary, both a keto diet and a low carb diet can result in weight loss, but each can also produce moodiness, fatigue, hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies when entire food groups are eliminated. The “keto flu” is also common during the first week or two, as the body detoxes from carbohydrates. Once it has passed, keto followers report increased energy levels and improved cognitive functions.
As with any diet, weight loss, health improvements, energy levels and satiety vary. What works for one person may not work for another. Whether you decide to go low carb, keto or follow something else entirely, always consult a doctor or medical professional to ensure its appropriateness for your own personal health goals and condition. And if he/she says it’s okay, then go ahead and add some grass-fed butter or Organisource Chocolate Keto Collagen Peptides Powder to your next Starbucks order. You can thank us later!
Author’s disclaimer: I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The purpose of this article is to educate and motivate readers to make their own health and wellness decisions after consulting with their health care provider. It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult your physician to insure tips given are appropriate for your individual circumstances.
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