Low Carb vs. Keto: What's the Difference?

Medically Reviewed on 8/10/2022
Low Carb vs. Keto: What's the Difference
Here are the differences between low carb vs. keto as well as pros and cons of each diet

Low carb and keto diets have become increasingly popular due to their purported ability to help with weight loss.

But since both diets involve restricting carb intake, it can be difficult to tell what sets them apart from each other. 

Here are the differences between low carb vs. keto as well as pros and cons of each diet.

What is low carb vs. keto?

Low carb diet basics

As the name suggests, in a low-carb diet, consumption of total carbohydrates is limited, and the focus is more on eating protein and fat. Here are the basics of a low carb diet:

  • Carbs are limited to 20%-30% of daily calorie intake
  • Typically low in fiber
  • May cause increased sugar cravings
  • Foods allowed include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, low-calorie fruits, nuts, seeds, high-fat dairy, healthy fats, healthy oils, and gluten-free cereals
  • Foods avoided include sugar, honey, grains such as wheat, seed oils, starchy foods, fruits with high sugars and starchy vegetables such as corn and beetroot, milk, trans fats, low-fat foods, and highly processed foods

Keto diet basics

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate eating pattern. Carbohydrates from all sources are strictly limited to under 50 grams a day. Even fruits and vegetables are restricted because they contain carbohydrates. Here are the basics of the keto diet:

  • Carbs are limited to 5%-10% of daily calorie intake
  • Typically higher in fiber
  • Does not cause sugar cravings
  • Carbs should be obtained from non-starchy vegetables and limited amounts of grains, beans, fruits, and starchy vegetables
  • Protein accounts for 20% of daily calorie intake
  • Healthy fats account for 75% of daily calorie intake

What are the phases of low carb vs. keto?

Low carb diet phases

  • Phase 1 (induction): You start with consuming less than 20 grams of carbs per day for 2 weeks.
  • Phase 2: This is an ongoing weight loss phase, during which the goal is to assess your carb tolerance without causing you to gain or lose weight. You must include more nuts and less fruit in your diet.  
  • Phase 3: During this phase, you continue to consume good carbs until weight loss slows down.
  • Phase 4: This is the final phase where you continue to maintain the diet. Eventually, it becomes part of your lifestyle.

Keto diet phases

  • Phase 1: This is the first 8-10 hours after starting a keto diet, in which the body continues to use fuel from existing energy stores.
  • Phase 2: Liver glycogen disappears within 1-2 days.
  • Phase 3: Gluconeogenesis (formation of glucose from a non-carb source) begins on days 3-4. Protein breakdown will increase.
  • Phase 4: Ketosis (a process in which fat is burned to release ketone bodies to be used as fuel) begins around days 4-7. Ketone bodies are produced in larger quantities by the liver.  Some adverse effects such as keto-flu may occur.
  • Phase 5: After 7 days, gluconeogenesis and protein breakdown slow down.


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What are the benefits of low carb vs. keto?

Low carb diet benefits

  • Maintains steady blood sugar levels
    • Cutting carbs, particularly processed carbs and sugar, can help regulate blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with diabetes.
    • Reducing carbohydrate consumption can help reduce blood sugar spikes and prevent diabetes complications
    • However, it does not mean you have to eliminate carbs completely from your diet.
  • Improves heart health
    • Reduced carb consumption may improve heart health.
    • Studies have suggested that very low carb diets reduce high blood triglyceride levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
    • A study conducted on 29 overweight adults reported that limiting carb consumption to 10% of daily calories for 12 weeks lowered triglyceride levels by 39% compared with baseline values in these individuals.
    • Another study suggested that very-low-carb diets may increase high-density lipoprotein (good) cholesterol levels, which may help protect against heart disease.

Keto carb diet benefits

  • Helps with neurological disorders
    • Studies have shown that the keto diet may reduce seizures in children with epilepsy
    • The keto diet is also being explored for its potential to alleviate symptoms of degenerative neurological illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.
  • Helps with weight loss
    • Athletes and bodybuilders use this diet to burn fat quickly.
    • Weight loss is achieved through ketosis, which occurs when carbs are restricted to the point where the body burns fat for fuel instead of stored carbs.
  • Manages blood sugar
    • A 6-month study on 49 people with type II diabetes and obesity reported that those who followed a keto diet had significantly lower hemoglobin A1c (a measure of average blood sugar) than those who did not.

What are the drawbacks of low carb vs. keto?

Low carb diet drawbacks

  • Nutritional deficiency
    • A low-carb diet may be deficient in vitamins and minerals such as potassium and vitamins B and C, all of which are abundant in fruits, vegetables, and other carbs.
    • Furthermore, carb restriction may result in salt and potassium shortages over time due to increased urine production. 
    • A varied and balanced diet is essential to make sure you are getting enough nutrients.
  • Constipation
    • A low-carb diet may be insufficient in fiber because it eliminates many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
    • Fiber is responsible for maintaining a healthy digestive system. When you don’t get enough fiber, it can lead to constipation and stomach discomfort.
  • Fatigue
    • Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy in your body. 
    • A low-carb diet can result in fatigue and decreased stamina, especially during the initial stages of the diet.
  • Increased fat consumption
    • Low-carb diets allow for moderate consumption of high-fat foods such as full-fat dairy and fatty red meat.
    • Because of this, it can be easy to consume more saturated fats than necessary, which can increase your risk of high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

Keto carb diet drawbacks

  • Nutritional deficiency
    • The keto diet restricts many foods that contain essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which usually come from fresh fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. 
    • People report feeling foggy and fatigued as a result of these inadequacies, symptoms referred to as the keto flu.
  • Constipation
    • Due to the absence of fiber in the keto diet, constipation is also very common.
  • Difficult to follow
    • Many people find the keto diet difficult to follow due to strict dietary limits.
    • Although the ketogenic diet can be helpful for weight reduction, it can encourage yo-yo dieting.
  • Increased fat consumption
    • The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat consumption to 5%-6% of total calories. 
    • The keto diet is relatively high in fat, which can have a harmful effect on heart health if consumed in excess.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 8/10/2022
Image Source: iStock image

Difference Between Keto and Low carb diet: http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/diet-fitness/difference-between-keto-and-low-carb-diet/

The Down Low on Low-Carb Diets: https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/down-low-on-low-carb-diets

What is the Ketogenic Diet? https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet