Low-carb diets have been around for a long time (almost as long as the leftovers in your fridge). Even so, there are a few that are the talk-of-the-town these days. Not only is the keto diet gaining new fans all the time, so is the paleo diet. Heck, even the Atkins diet, around since the 1970s, continues to be a popular low-carb diet.
But how do all of these diets relate?
There is one common misconception going around: Most people think that Keto is just another one of these diets, like Paleo or Atkins. Instead, ketosis is the science behind low-carb diets. Paleo and Atkins are two forms of low-carb diets. While they can classify as ketogenic, they don’t always. Dieters could be following all the rules of paleo or Atkins, but never hit ketosis.
Just because a diet is low-carb, doesn’t mean it qualifies as ketogenic. Before you choose a low-carb diet to follow, it’s time to learn more about ketosis and why it’s so awesome.
What is Ketosis?
With modern diets, we get a large portion of our meals from carbohydrates, whether from bread, grains, noodles, fruits, candy–the list goes on. When you have a carb-heavy diet, you extract energy from the carbohydrate molecules in your body.
But, with a diet high in fat and low in carbs, you start burning fat molecules in your body. The fat molecules become ketones. When you use ketones for energy, you’ve entered a state of ketosis.
What does this mean for you? A keto diet has been known to improve insulin sensitivity, reducing risk of diabetes and obesity. It can also make you feel fuller than a carb-heavy diet, giving you a better chance of losing weight.
You can learn more about the science behind ketosis from our article, What is Ketosis? A Simple Guide.
In order to enter ketosis, you need a large percentage of fat in your diet, along with a moderate amount of protein and a small amount of carbs. A keto diet has 86% to 90% of its calories coming from fat. (1) Because of this, while many low-carb diets have the ability to fit into the definition of a “keto diet,” it all depends on the ratio of fat, protein and carbs in your diet.
Is Paleo a Keto Diet?
The paleo diet is all the rage right now. You might have heard about it from fellow gym-goers or a well-meaning coworker. It has a rustic and old-school appeal because of the reasoning behind the name. Short for “paleolithic,” the paleo diet hearkens back to the caveman days when early humans stuck to foods they could easily find in nature, like meat, fruit and nuts. Since our historic ancestors didn’t usually find a Twinkies tree right outside their caves, carbs are almost non-existent in the paleo diet. The same goes for dairy and processed foods.
While paleo is a good benchmark and can certainly be considered a ketogenic diet, it all depends on the types of foods you’re consuming. If you’re low-fat in addition to low-carb–instead focusing most of your diet on protein–you likely won’t enter ketosis. But it can be done. In fact, Lebron James rocked a keto-style paleo diet in the summer of 2014.
If you like the paleo diet, but want to keep it keto, make sure you have enough fat in your diet, even if that means going against the hardcore rules by adding a butter to your meals.
What About Atkins?
Created by Robert Atkins, the Atkins diet has been a popular form of weight loss since the 1970s. Just ask your parents!
The diet includes several phases in order to reduce carb intake. The most important aspect of the Atkins diet is low-carb. For the bulk of the diet, you are encouraged to eat whatever you want as long as it’s low in carbohydrates.
When it comes to ketosis, only the induction phase of Atkins is typically keto. The induction phase, usually lasting two weeks, is the dieter’s introduction to the low-carb lifestyle. It’s the most stringent when it comes to the foods that you eat, and has a long list of rules. Because of these rules, ketosis is a near certainty. But after this phase? Since the rules are relaxed, there’s a very good chance that Atkins dieters will leave the keto state once the induction phase is over. (2)
Bottom Line: Focus on Ketosis
While low carb diets are good because they reduce the overindulgence in harmful sugars, a high-fat diet is just as important. In fact , a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that ketogenic diets produce much greater weight loss than a diet low in fat. (3)
A truly keto diet–a must if you want effective and healthy weight loss–will have a much better affect on your blood sugars, weight and overall health. Whether you want to go with paleo, Atkins or any other low-carb diet, make sure that your percentages for fat, protein and carbs will keep you in the ketosis state.