Low Carb vs. Keto (How do they compare?)

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Low Carb vs. Keto (How do they compare?)

When researching low carb, paleo and keto diets – a question often comes up: what’s the difference between low carb and keto diets?

At first glance, they may seem similar (or even confused for each other), but there are some important differences between the two diets as you decide which one you’ll choose to follow on your health journey.


First of all, let’s start with some definitions:

What Is The Keto Diet?

A ketogenic diet is a diet so low in carbohydrates that it kicks your body into “ketosis” – which is a way of burning fat to generate energy and creates “ketones.” It was first diagnosed for neurological disorders, but many people currently use it to lose weight rapidly.

Keto puts a heavy emphasis on the fat and protein ratios in a diet and you’ll be tracking both of these metrics constantly throughout the diet. If that’s something you’re into – you’ll be right at home, but you should be aware going into it.

Achieving ketosis and staying in ketosis is almost the entire goal of this diet and the success of your adherence is primarily tied to this metric.

-→ For a full keto beginner’s guide read this.

What Is The Low Carb Diet?

Low carb diets can be both a general diet that is low in carbohydrates as well as a class of diets that encompass this way of eating.

For example both paleo and aip diets could be considered “low carb diets” – but they both count carbohydrates differently. They are primarily focused on food quality and eliminating problem foods first – and then concerning themselves with carbohydrates second. Because of the focus on real foods, carbohydrate intake is almost automatically reduced, but with both keto and low carb diets – the focus is more explicit.

Keto on the other hand is explicitly about the exact number of carbohydrate consumption per day in order to jumpstart the process of ketosis.

In a way, a low carb diet is a specific diet – but it’s also a specific class of diets that all vary in unique ways. This allows you to be flexible with whatever types of low carb diets you undertake and experiment to find the best version for yourself.

-→ For a full low carb guide read this.

Foods on both Low Carb & Keto Diets

While the diets are not identical twins, they are cousins. On either diet – you’ll end up eating a lot of the same foods including

  • Minimal processed foods
  • High quality meat cuts
  • Low carbohydrate vegetables
  • Low sugar fruits (think berries not mangoes)
  • High quality fats + oils
  • Nuts and seeds

All tasty, delicious foods that you might also find on the paleo diet food list – so you should be familiar.

Differences Between Low Carb & Keto Diets

While the two diets can be very similar, there are some key differences”

On the low carb diet, you are mostly focused on carbohydrate intake. In fact, you rarely discuss anything else. On a keto diet, while carbohydrates are a significant concern, you’re primarily focused on whether or not you’re in ketosis – which you can do by monitoring glucose levels or testing for ketones.

While low carb you primarily look for foods below a certain carbohydrate threshold. On the keto diet – you may be looking to supplement your diet with ketones to help with energy.

Low carb has been around for a while. Keto is a bit newer and has a lot more ‘branded” snacks with it.

In short the difference are this:

The keto diet is:

On the other hand – the low carb diet typically:

  • is focused primarily on limiting carbohydrates
  • has a longer history behind it
  • is the underlying diet behind trends like keto, paleo and atkins
  • can sometimes be helpful for people on a weight loss or a diabetic meal plan.

Whatever plan you choose to follow, be sure to take note of any major changes as you test it out and see which one works best for you.

Is Low Carb or Keto Better For You?

Both diets can be helpful with weight loss or just re-establishing a better healthy relationship with food. They both can be helpful in their own way and the best diet for you is one that your body responds to and that you can stick with over the long haul.

With that said – keto is not a cure-all and low-carb isn’t magic. Neither diet is “better” for you – they both have pros + cons and the better question to ask is “what goals are you trying to achieve?” And which diet is better for that? The best diet is one that you can stick with over time.

Keto tends to draw people in who like quantifying & optimizing their health explicitly with monitors and tracking over time. Low carb is sometimes (but not always) a little more focused on the sustainability of the lifestyle over time.

Which Diet is Better for Weight Loss?

When it comes to weight loss, the general consensus is that you’ll get faster results with keto (IF you can stick to it).

While both will likely get you into a caloric deficit – so they will both work for weight loss – because you’re rapidly reducing carbohydrate content explicitly (and possibly combining it with intermittent fasting), keto is usually the choice if you want to lose weight.

That said – if you’re not sure if you can stick to a diet – you might want to try low carb to start with.

Is Keto or Low Carb Right For You?

If your main goal is weight loss and body composition – then you may want to consider the keto diet. 

If you’re newer to real food, low carbohydrate eating – then you may consider a low carb diet as an ‘entry’ into this world. Many people find “paleo” to be an easy low carb diet to stick to. From there, you can choose a low carb, keto or entirely other diet if you choose.

If you’re unsure, you can always build a custom meal plan here and experiment as you go.

Low Carb & Keto Meal Plans

If you want to try a meal plan from either of these diets – you’re in luck – that’s exactly what we do.

Other Keto & Low Carb Resources

Some of our other keto & low carbohydrate resources you may find useful:

Other Diet Comparison Articles

This is just one of several articles we have in our diet “versus” series. Check out our other articles below:

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Joel Runyon
Joel Runyon is the founder of Ultimate Meal Plans. Joel is an ultra endurance athlete and entrepreneur. He's also the founder of Ultimate Paleo Guide, MoveWell and is the founder of IMPOSSIBLE ® - a lifestyle performance brand helping people push their limits in fitness and life.

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