There are many low-carb diets out there, with the most significant two being keto and the Atkins diet. Both focus on dramatically lowering carb intake and increasing healthy fats to promote health and weight loss.
The two approaches have many similarities, particularly in their underlying principles. Still, when you start to compare keto vs Atkins, there are some clear differences too. These differences impact which diet is the best choice for each person.
The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet was developed by Dr. Robert C. Atkins in the 1970s promoted through his 1972 best-selling book. The book has been revised and updated since that point, but the main approaches remain the same.
Atkins is a low-carb diet, but it’s not as straightforward as other low-carb approaches. Instead, the diet is split into four distinct phases.
Phase 1: Induction (1)
- Purpose: To kick start weight loss
- Duration: Until you’re around 15 pounds from goal weight
- Daily Net Carbs: 20-25 g
- Allowed foods: Foundation vegetables, proteins, healthy fats, most cheeses, nuts and seeds (Intake of foundation vegetables should be 12 to 15 grams of net carbs each day)
Phase 2: Balancing Your Diet (2)
- Purpose: To help you lose additional weight
- Duration: Until you’re less than 10 pounds of your goal weight
- Daily Net Carbs: 25-50 g
- Additional Allowed foods: Phase 1 + berries, cherries or melon; whole milk Greek yogurt, ricotta or cottage cheese; legumes; tomato juice
Phase 3: Maintaining Weight Loss (3)
- Purpose: To lose the last bit of weight and help you understand your body’s carb tolerance
- Duration: Until you’ve lost all your goal weight and kept it off for one month
- Daily Net Carbs: 50-80 g
- Allowed foods: Phase 2 + additional fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains
Phase 4: How to Maintain a Healthy Diet & Weight (4)
- Purpose: To transition to a long-term way of eating (i.e. to go from a diet to a lifestyle)
- Duration: Ongoing
- Daily Net Carbs: 80-100 g
- Allowed foods: Same as Phase 3
There is also a second version of the plan, called Atkins 40. This is a simpler approach that doesn’t have multiple phases. On it, you’re consuming 40 grams of carbs per day. Once you’re 10 pounds from your goal weight, you can add in 10 grams of carbs per week.
Your food choices vary depending on which plan and diet phase you’re on.
As a general rule, you’re choosing low-carb and high-fat ingredients. There are also some specific exclusions, like no legumes until Phase 2 and no whole grains until Phase 3.
There are also many pre-prepared products that you can rely on, such as meals, protein bars, snacks and much more.
The Atkins diet does work as a way to lose weight. It is effectively a low-carb diet, where you are in ketosis at the beginning. Because you’re not in ketosis the whole time, the weight loss might be relatively slow (especially if your carb intake wasn’t high to begin with). But, there are plenty of resources to help you follow the diet, along with tools and recipes.
Ease of Use
Atkins is somewhat difficult from the practical perspective, as the foods you can eat change with each phase. This may mean regularly looking for new recipes and adjusting your eating plans.
Once you get used to the changes, Atkins is fairly easy to use. A key reason is that the final net carb intake is between 80 and 100 grams. This is much easier to manage in the long-term than a keto diet. You can also rely on prepared products if you get stuck with meals.
The Keto Diet
Keto has a longer history than the Atkins diet. The diet type was developed in the 1920s, as a way to decrease seizures in epilepsy patients. It has been historically used for this role with great success (5). Keto’s popularity has surged in recent years, as a healthy approach for the general population.
While research is still ongoing, current evidence suggests that a low-carb diet is at least as effective for weight loss as a low-fat diet. Many users find it particularly powerful, as they are able to lose weight while focusing on foods that they enjoy. Keto foods are often filling as well, due to their fat and protein content.
The basic idea of keto is simple – you’re dramatically decreasing carb intake to force your body into a fat burning mode called ketosis. For most people, this involves consuming somewhere from 20 to 35 grams of net carbs per day.
While exact ratios vary, the keto diet normally ends up being high fat, moderate protein and very low carb.
The variation in ratios occurs because there is no ‘official’ keto diet. The main differences include:
- The number of carbs per day
- Whether net carbs or total carbs are counted
- The targeted macro levels
- Whether calories are counted or ignored
- Which specific foods are consumed
Many dieters use a macro calculator, like the one from KetoDietBlog, to determine the best macro distribution for them. Testing for ketosis is also important – as this helps you determine your ideal carb intake.
At the most basic level, keto foods are anything that fits within your macros. This means that you’re focusing on foods that are low in carbs. Many of them will also be high in fat.
Some keto dieters also follow additional restrictions, like the following examples:
- No heavily processed food
- No grains
- No artificial sweeteners
- No pre-prepared meals
- Only buy local and organic produce
As long as you are remaining in ketosis, you can decide which approaches to follow and which ones you want to ignore.
Many people find keto powerful for weight loss. The diet keeps you in a fat burning state called ketosis. Not only has this been linked to many health benefits, it is also an effective way to lose weight and keep it off.
Ease of Use
Keto can feel very restrictive at first. The low carb intake is one reason for this, along with the fact that you can’t eat many common meals or ingredients.
Beginners often struggle with this, although the process gets easier with time. There are also many different keto recipes that can make the diet very enjoyable. Many people find that in the long-term, the energy they feel and the food they’re eating more than makes up for any initial discomfort.
That being said, keto is a strict approach and going over your carbs can kick you out of ketosis. This means that it won’t suit every personality type.
Keto vs Atkins: Which Wins?
Keto and Atkins both have advantages and disadvantages.
Keto arguably offers the most health and weight loss benefits, as you remain in ketosis for as long as you follow the diet. It is also simpler, especially because you’re focusing on carb content overall.
However, keto is a strict diet approach. Some people find it difficult to keep their carb intake as low as it needs to be, especially in the long-term. This is where Atkins shines. Many people will find the approach more sustainable. After all, the final net carb intake is 80 to 100 grams. That’s considerably easier than the requirements for keto.