When searching for low-carb diets, the two that you are most likely to come across are keto and Atkins. You’ll also notice a growing number of keto vs Atkins discussions across wellness forums. That’s because keto and Atkins diets have a lot in common. Both are low-carb, high-fat diets and both boost weight loss. But despite their many similarities, keto and Atkins are not one and the same.
Firstly, Atkins is easy to follow because it allows for moderate carb intake at specific points in time. Keto, on the other hand, is difficult for most people because it drastically restricts carbs and is very different from your standard health diet. Secondly, weight loss is the primary goal of Atkins, while the goal of keto is better overall health. And lastly, the goal of keto is switching to ketosis, while Atkins does not lead to drastic metabolic changes. So, the question of keto vs Atkins really boils down to what you are trying to achieve.
To learn more about keto vs Atkins, read our quick overview below. We explain the main differences between these diets and go over their different benefits. We'll go into the science behind each and explain which one you should go for.
The Atkins Diet is formally called the Atkins Nutritional Approach. Medical experts classify Atkins as a fad diet. But unlike many other so-called fad diets, it was developed by a doctor and has persisted for almost half a century. Many credit the Atkins diet for launching the low-carb trend.
Cardiologist and nutritionist Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins started developing his namesake diet in the late 1960s. After years of research, he published: Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution in 1972. In this book, Atkins explains his findings on low-carb eating and sets the rules that have shape the Atkins diet. The book became a big success and kicked off decades of research and debate within the medical community .
Since then, hundreds of scientific publications found that low-carb diets are much more effective for weight loss than low-fat diets . The Atkins Diet restricts carbs while emphasizing fats and protein. It involves several phases, starting with a very low carbohydrate eating plan similar to keto.
Atkins: Principles & Types
The Atkins website offers two diet plans which are essentially the two main Atkins diet types:
1 Atkins 20
This is the original Atkins diet. It is ideal if you want to lose weight quickly or if you're carrying a lot of excess weight. The Atkins 20 is divided into 4 distinct phases:
- Induction Phase – During the induction phase, you eat only 20 grams of net carbs per day (10% of your daily calories). The source of these carbs also matters. As a rule of thumb, always go for low-carb vegetables like broccoli, cucumbers, celery, and green beans. You also need to include protein at every meal, ideally from healthy sources like fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. There's no need to restrict fats, though. You should definitely drink 8 glasses of water a day as well. Alcohol you need to avoid completely.
Timing:The induction phases should last the first 1-2 weeks.
- Balancing Phase – At the beginning of this phase, you start introducing moderate-carb foods. Berries, nuts, seeds are good examples. However, do continue eating low-carb vegetables you ate during first phase and keep avoiding high-carb foods. Make sure to monitor your weight loss as this will help you determine when it's time to move on to the next phase.
Timing:You should remain in this phase until you're 10 pounds away from your goal weight.
- Pre-Maintenance Phase – Time to introduce some high-carb but clean foods like fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains. During this phase, also start eating up to 10 grams more of net carbs per week. You'll still need to monitor your weight loss. If you notice staling, it's time to cut back a bit on the carbs.
Timing:This phase should last until the point where you reach your goal weight.
- Lifetime maintenance – Once you've finally reached your goal weight, you move into the lifetime maintenance phase. This phase should last a lifetime, that is if you want. You can eat as much curb as your body can handle to maintain your ideal weight, but up to 100 grams is realistic for most people.
2 Atkins 40
Atkins 40 is the newer, simpler version of the classic Atkins diet. Its main principles are portion control and eating 40 grams of net carbs daily. This version is best when you only need to lose only a little bit of weight. It's also suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women and great if you don't like restricting your food choices.
Unlike the Atkins 20, this version of the Atkins diet is not divided into phases. The diet starts with 40 grams but allows you to add 10 net grams of carbs per week once you are 10 pounds away from your target weight; however, this is purely optional. The Atkins 40 also allows for moderate alcohol intake (one drink per day).
3 Modified Atkins
Another version of the Atkins diet is the Modified Atkins Diet. It's the one that's most similar to keto and the version with the most health benefits. The diet is called "modified" because it limits carb intake to a maximum of 20 grams per day while encouraging a higher fat intake. It also does not put any emphasis on calorie restriction just like keto.
The effects of modified Atkins are similar to the ketogenic diet. It can also help with epilepsy and is great for blood glucose control as well as weight loss. The only thing that sets this Atkins version from the ketogenic diet is protein intake: the modified Atkins does not restrict protein.
How the Atkins Diet Looks Like
When following the Atkins diet, your meals should include most of these ingredients:
- Meats:Any type of meat will do. But unprocessed and fresh meat is best.
- Fish: Fish and other seafood is a good source of protein and essential Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Vegetables: Low-carb vegetables like broccoli and spinach are important early in Atkins. Later on, you can also starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and parsnips as well as whole grains.
Full-fat dairy:Butter, cream, aged cheese, and full-fat yogurt provide both fat and Eggs: Another great source of both fat and protein with the additional benefit of omega-3s.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and sunflower seeds are all great choices.
- Healthy fats: Cold-pressed oils like olive oil and butter are the preferred source of fat on Atkins.
Do not eat:
- Sugars:All types of sugar are excluded from Atkins. This includes honey, agave nectar, and foods sweetened with sugar.
- Refined oils:Sunflower, soybean, and corn oil are all refined oils that lead to inflammation and can stall your weight loss.
- High-carb vegetables and fruit: Potatoes, carrots, turnips, bananas, apples, and mangoes are all high in carbs. You want to avoid them in the induction phase but eat them moderately later on.
- Grains and legumes: Also avoid in the induction phase but include later on.
- Trans fats:Partially-hydrogenated oils and some margarines contain trans fats. These are bad for cardiovascular health so avoid them when following the Atkins diet.
Sample Meal Plan
Breakfast– A bowl of oatmeal in full-fat milk topped with blueberries.
Lunch – Apple muffins from Almond flour and pecans sweetened with stevia.
Dinner– Beef stroganoff with broccoli on the side.
The keto (ketogenic) diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet. Doctors originally developed this diet to treat unmanageable epilepsy in children. This was way back in the 1920s after several studies found that reducing carbs causes nutritional ketosis, which was long considered a cure for epilepsy. Later on, the diet became popular for weight loss and overall health.
The goal of the keto diet is ketosis — a metabolic state of enhanced fat burning and a greater ketone levels. Ketones are molecules that replace glucose from carbs. They're a more efficient and cleaner fuel source than carbohydrates. Studies also show that ketones provide health benefits beyond weight loss. Examples include better brain health and a reduced risk of heart disease [3, 4].
While the goal of Atkins is mainly weight loss and the prevention of obesity-related diseases, the Keto diet provides benefits beyond weight loss. Some of these benefits include:
- Enhance mental clarity
- Greater energy levels
- Reversal of type II diabetes
- Cancer prevention
- Appetite control
- Increase longevity
As you can see, keto and Atkins share a lot in common. They also have many differences that set them apart. To help you choose between keto vs Atkins, below we explain a bit about keto as well.
Keto Diet Principles & Types
The keto diet is very strict when it comes to macronutrient intake. The macronutrient ratios of ketogenic diets are based on years of research. This research shows that our metabolism changes drastically on carb intake below 50 grams per day . The macronutrient ratios on keto look something like this:
- 5-10% of energy from carbs
- 20-30% of energy from proteins
- 65-80% of energy from fats
By following these nutrient ratios, you are more than likely to enter nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is a direct result of carb scarcity and resulting drops in insulin. In turn, drops in insulin stop fat accumulation. After a few days of eating this way, you don't have enough glucose in your body to fuel the brain or even to burn fat (fats burn in the flame of the carbohydrates). That's why your body makes ketones as replacement fuel.
One of the goals of the keto diet is also to make you metabolically flexible. This means that your body can easily switch from sugar burning to fat burning and vice versa. Most people aren't metabolically flexible which makes it hard for them to lose weight.
Keto-adaptation is another goal of the keto diet. It means that your body is adapted to running on fat and ketones. The advantages of being keto-adapted include having consistent, long-lasting energy, and maintaining normal weight. Keto adaptation is closely related to metabolic flexibility.
There are different types of ketogenic diets, all made to meet specific needs:
- The standard keto diet: This is the original version of the keto diet. It comes with a wide range of benefits; however, weight loss, blood glucose control, and increased energy are its main ones.
- The cyclical ketogenic diet (CKD): Developed for bodybuilders and high-intensity training, this version involves periods of carb-loading refeeds (50 gram of net carbs, 5 days a week) and carb-loading days (up to 600 grams of carbs, 2 days a week).
- The targeted ketogenic diet (TKD):This diet allows you to eat more carbs 30 minutes before or after workouts. It's great if you do moderate workout daily.
- The high-protein ketogenic diet:The diet allows for a slightly higher intake of protein (5%). The amount of protein you take in should be low enough to keep you in ketosis.
The keto diet allows for lots of fat-rich foods and advises eating very few carbs. With those rules in mind, the foods your diet should be based on include:
- Fatty cuts of meat:beef brisket, beef ribs, T-bone steak, and sandwich steaks are good examples. Ground beef is also high in fat.
- Fatty fish:salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are great options to boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake. Omega-3s are deficient in our diets. We need them for cardiovascular health protection and normal brain functioning.
- Full-fat dairy: butter is a keto staple. But cream, cheese, and full-fat yogurt are also good. Dairy is an important source of calcium for keto dieters.
- Low-carb vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, and asparagus are all low in carbs but high in fiber. It's important to eat vegetables on keto to meet your demands for essential vitamins and minerals but also fiber. Just make sure they're always low in net carbs.
- Berries:Berries are allowed on a keto diet but only in moderation. They're usually low in carbs and high in health-boosting antioxidants. Examples of keto berries include blueberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.
- Healthy fats:Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter, and lard are all great on a keto diet. Avoid refined oils and margarine.
- Substitutes:Almond flour, coconut flour, coconut milk, almond milk, and stevia replace high-carb ingredients to bring versatility to your keto meals.
Sample Meal Plan:
Breakfast:Mushroom and feta omelet with full-fat yogurt.
Lunch:Tuna salad served on keto bread.
Dinner: Garlic butter chicken with asparagus on the side.
The question of keto vs Atkins is mostly a matter of personal preferences. Both diets have their pros and cons, so we can't really tell you which one you should go for. Here are some similarities and differences between the two to help you choose.
Similarities & Differences
Keto vs Atkins #1
The Atkins diet is the same as Keto in the induction phase. Carb intake is extremely low and is likely to induce ketosis. Whether or not the induction phase of Atkins will lead to ketosis depends on your protein intake. Eating more than 700 calories worth in protein can prevent ketosis due to a metabolic process called gluconeogenesis (metabolizing proteins into glucose). The greater intake of carbs and protein later in Atkins makes it a more sustainable type of diet.
Keto vs Atkins #2
Studies show that both diets lead to weight loss [6, 7]. However, most research notes that keto is superior to weight loss compared to Atkins. The Atkins diet does not turn you into a fat-burner for the long haul simply because you are allowed to eat 100 grams of carbs per day during its later phases. This amount is sufficient for your body to keep burning sugar for fuel. The keto diet, on the other hand, requires sticking to 30 grams of net carbs per day all the time, turning you into a permanent fat burner.
Keto vs Atkins #3
The keto diet is mostly highfat, while Atkins is a low-carb diet. The keto diet places great emphasis on fat intake. Up to 80% of your calories come from fat on a keto diet compared to 20 to 30% you usually see being recommended . The Atkins diet is also higher in fat than your typical recommended diet but not as much as keto. Atkins focuses on removing carbs while equally boosting protein and fats.
Keto vs Atkins #4
Both diets focus on clean eating. This is both for practical and health reasons. When you eat real, clean foods, you know how many of each macro you are taking in. Unprocessed foods are also higher in valuable nutrients that support your health and keep nutrient deficiencies at bay which could easily happen on restrictive diets.
Keto vs Atkins #5
Sugar and honey are non-existent on both diets. These sweeteners cause spikes in blood glucose like no other. Go for stevia and erythritol with both diets. These are non-nutritive sweeteners, meaning they don't contain calories and they also don't affect blood sugar.
We know we stated earlier that both diets have their benefits and setbacks. However, where research is concerned, the ketogenic diet scores higher in terms of weight loss and overall health benefits. Studies show that keto is also safe in the long-run but no such studies exist on Atkins [9, 10].
Researchers believe that the problem with Atkins is its inconsistency with carbs. This explains why most people on this diet lose weight only in the induction phase. This is when blood sugar levels stabilize and appetite drops. But once you start increasing carb, you run the risk of gaining weight through the yo-yo effect. This doesn't necessarily happen to everyone, but the risk is there and depends on your metabolic flexibility.
The keto diet, in comparison, is consistent with macronutrient intake. It leads to long-lasting ketosis and subsequent keto-adaptation. On a keto diet, you have a greater chance of transforming your metabolism from a sugar burner to a fat burner. The diet is much more difficult to maintain, though. Not everyone feels like this diet is suitable for them, so Atkins may be a good alternative. You just have to be careful not to go overboard with carbs in the last 3 phases of Atkins.
Another reason why keto is better than Atkins is because it provides additional benefits beyond weight loss. The diet boosts mental functioning, reverses diabetes, and even stops cancer cells from growing . The keto diet doesn't just melt fat, it has a powerful effect on the way your whole body works.
The question of keto vs Atkins is a difficult one to answer. Both diets have their pros and cons. However, research does show that keto is superior to Atkins in term of efficiency. But keto is also difficult to stick to, so Atkins can serve as a sustainable alternative.
The efficiency of Atkins also depends on your metabolic flexibility and goals. If you are fairly metabolically flexible, then Atkins can help you keep the weight off in the long run. Atkins also allows for more carbs, so you'll find eating out easier and have a wider range of food choices available.
To conclude: whether you should go for keto vs Atkins depends on how willing you are to stick to low-carb eating and your metabolic flexibility. Keto is great in terms of efficiency, but some people find that a life without carbs is unbearable. We suggest switching between both diets and finding what works best for you.