The ketogenic diet and a low-carb diet are similar, but they aren’t the same. You could see a ketogenic diet as a more severe low-carb diet, but one isn’t inherently better than the other. Both have their own advantages and benefits, and, as with all diets, you should try to choose the one that’s right for you.
The ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet is about as low-carb a diet as you can go without cutting out carbs completely. Keto diets usually go for 5% to 10% carbs from your daily intake of calories. But many on the keto diet just stick to the rule of eating no more than 20 grams of net carbs a day. Net carbs are the carbs you eat minus alcohol sugars and dietary fibre. Depending on the food that you eat, this number could be drastically lower than the number of carbohydrates on the label.
However, eating just 20 grams of carbs isn’t the only way to get into ketosis for your keto diet. In fact, as long as you stay under 50 grams of carbs, you should still be able to reach ketosis and start producing ketones to burn fat rather than carbs.
The idea of the keto diet is to get your body to turn to fat for its energy source. Which means taking a large number of carbs out of the equation.
With a diet that consists of 5% to 10% carbs, 15% to 25% protein, and 65% to 80% fat, you should reach ketosis.
There are three main versions of the keto diet: Strict, Lazy, and Dirty. All three work a little differently but still advise the rule of 20 grams of net carbs.
The low-carb diet
Unlike keto, there are no strict rules about low-carb, high-fat diets. Low-carb is essentially still a keto diet, with a slightly higher carb intake. For a low-carb diet, you’d be looking at consuming 75 grams to 150 grams of carbs a day. To put that into perspective, the average adult eats up to 325 grams of carbs each day. Carbs in a standard lifestyle diet make up between 45% and 65% of your daily macros.
Low-carb diets won’t keep you in full ketosis, but you may stay in a mild state of ketosis between meals, reverting back to an average state once you eat carbs. You could enter ketosis while sleeping, after a hard workout, or if you’re fasting. Which is why you see many people on low-carb diets working out several days a week or combining the diet with intermittent fasting.
The diet for you
Depending on your goals, either diet could work for you. Low-carb diets are more relaxed, ketogenic diets will help you lose weight faster. There is however a difference in the levels of energy you experience. When you start eliminating carbs, your body will naturally complain, due to the lack of fuel. This will likely manifest as headaches and lack of energy, among other side effects. However, once you enter ketosis and your body makes the shift to burning fat as energy, these issues should subside and you will feel great levels of energy.
The problem with the low carb diet is that you will find yourself frequently in the region where your body is complaining about the lack of fuel, but you are never quite eliminating carbs enough to enter ketosis, where the complaining stops.
Nutrition is a very personal thing. There are also high-carb, low-fat diets which some people absolutely thrive on. It’s all about trial and error.