(Healthline) – The low carb and keto diets are two popular ways of eating that involve restricting your carb intake.
Given that they both limit carbs, you may wonder what sets the two apart.
This article reviews the differences between the low carb and keto diets, the pros and cons of each, as well as which one may be a better option for you.
What’s a low carb diet?
A low carb diet is a way of eating that restricts dietary carbohydrates, mainly from grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and bread.
Studies suggest that a low carb diet comprises 10–30% of calories from carbs, although there is no set definition. For a healthy person who consumes 2,000 calories per day, this equals 50–150 grams of carbs (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
When following a low carb diet, it’s common to increase your intake of protein, healthy fats, and vegetables to replace the carbs and promote fullness.
Also, by restricting carbs, you eliminate many high calorie foods from your diet. All these factors may work together to reduce your overall calorie intake and promote weight loss (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source).
A low carb diet has been linked to several health benefits in people with diabetes, including weight loss and improved blood sugar control and cardiovascular risk factors (5Trusted Source).
It’s also commonly used to induce weight loss (6Trusted Source, 7).
While a low carb diet may not be for everyone, it can be a viable weight loss option for most healthy people.
Low carb pros and cons
may promote weight loss (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source)
eliminates many processed high carb foods
can be sustained long term
less extreme adaptation phase than keto
less restrictive and easier to follow than keto
you may feel weak or experience constipation
limits food options
limits fruit intake
may impact micronutrient intake
A low carb diet restricts carbs, such as grains, rice, and starchy vegetables, to 10–30% of your overall calorie intake, which may lead to weight loss. You should consider the diet’s pros and cons before starting it.
The ketogenic — or keto — diet is a very low carb, high fat diet that has gained popularity in recent years.
The keto diet has several therapeutic properties, such as helping treat refractory epilepsy. Promising research shows it may also impair the growth of certain types of cancer. Furthermore, some people utilize it to lose weight (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
When following a keto diet, the goal is to reach nutritional ketosis. In this state, your body produces ketones from fat in your liver and uses fat as its main fuel source instead of carbs.
This is achieved by consuming fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day while keeping protein intake moderate and increasing fat intake drastically.
A standard keto diet is restrictive and may not be a practical long-term option for those looking to lose weight and improve their health.
Keto pros and cons
has therapeutic benefits, such as managing epilepsy (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source)
may improve insulin sensitivity (11Trusted Source)
may reduce appetite (12Trusted Source)
can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels (4Trusted Source)
constipation is common due to low fiber intake
long-term data is limited
risk of the keto flu, which may include headaches, fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and lack of motivation
limits fruit intake
may be difficult to stick to for long periods
The keto diet restricts carbs to 50 grams or fewer per day. This puts your body in a state of nutritional ketosis, which promotes the use of fat as a primary fuel source. The diet’s pros and cons should be considered before starting it.
Which is better for most people?
When it comes to choosing between the low carb and keto diets, there are several factors to consider.
The main difference between these diets is carbohydrate intake. On a low carb diet, you typically eat 50–150 grams of carbs per day, but on the keto diet, daily carb intake is restricted to fewer than 50 grams.
Another main difference is protein intake. With low carb diets, protein intake may be high, but with keto diets, protein intake should be moderate at around 20% of total calories. This is because excessive protein intake can prevent ketosis (13Trusted Source).
Additionally, fat intake tends to be significantly higher on the keto diet, as fats replace carbs and protein.
The keto diet may be too restrictive for most people, leading to poor long-term adherence. Furthermore, the keto diet is more likely to cause unwanted side effects (13Trusted Source).
Therefore, a low carb diet is likely a better option for most people.
That said, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before starting any diet to reduce your risk of complications.
While both diets limit carbs to varying degrees, the keto diet is more restrictive. For the majority of the population, the low carb diet appears to be more sustainable in the long term.
The bottom line
The low carb and keto diets restrict carbs to yield potential health benefits.
While both limit carbs to a certain extent, numerous differences set them apart — with carb and fat intakes being the two most significant.
It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of each diet and consult your healthcare provider before deciding if either of them is right for you.