The idea that restricting carbs might be good for our waistline, as well as our general health, has been around for a long time. While Dr. Robert Atkins was certainly not the first to tout this concept, the eponymous Atkins diet garnered mainstream attention when his Diet Revolution book sold millions of copies in the early ‘70s.
It’s safe to say the Atkins diet isn’t as popular as it once was. But the idea that high-fat, low-carb diets are beneficial hasn’t disappeared. Indeed, the ketogenic diet has been touted by an increasing number of athletes and industry voices in recent years. Interestingly, the keto diet is older than the Atkins diet by more than half a century.
In this article, we want to definitively answer the question: which is better, keto or Atkins? In doing so, we shall examine the key similarities and differences between the protocols; ask which diet is best for beginners, and whether either is sustainable; and ultimately help you make an informed decision.
Firstly, let’s state clearly that there are many more similarities shared by keto and Atkins diets as there are differences. The primary one being that the Atkins diet is, well, ketogenic.
Both diets ensure that insulin drops so low that the body enters ketosis, a metabolic state typically triggered by prolonged fasting or starvation. In lieu of carbs, our muscles and tissues use up stored fat to satisfy their energy requirements, and the brain follows suit, in the form of ketones generated by the liver during ketosis.
Ketosis, incidentally, is reached when the individual consumes approximately 20g of carbohydrates per day (along with moderate protein and with the majority of calories coming from healthy fat). This differs from the generic “low-carb” approach, which advocates anything less than 100g of day. If you’ve ever stuck to both rules, you’ll have noticed a massive difference.
The most-cited benefits of ketosis (not ketoacidosis, a variant that occurs in untreated diabetics and can actually be fatal) tends to be weight loss, greater energy and athletic performance, and brain health.
However, there is also compelling evidence that the heart runs more efficiently on ketones than blood sugar.
Still with us? Good. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between Atkins and keto.
In the first phrase of the Atkins diet, it is virtually indistinguishable from keto. However, in subsequent phases the dieter is encouraged to gradually increase carbohydrates, eventually hitting around 100g per day: still “low-carb” but certainly well outwith the ketogenic zone.
While in the Atkins diet protein and fat are given similar weight, ketogenic firmly favours fat, with adherents urged not to go overboard on the protein (20-25% of daily calories). Why? Because the more calories that come from fat, the higher your production of ketones, the better your ability to enter ketosis. Also, excess protein can be converted to glucose in the body.
Of course, proponents of the Atkins diet contend that graduating from ketosis to moderate/liberal low carb still yields results, and indeed it may be a better choice for beginners.
The Atkins diet has gotten something of a bad rap due to it being the preferred choice of crash dieters, but its results are sustainable providing your insulin sensitivity is regular.
Tolerance to carbohydrates will vary from person to person, so the best rule of thumb would be to listen to your body and modify your intake accordingly.
On a ketogenic diet, meanwhile, the macros remain consistent: there is no second or third phase, with carbohydrates staying at 20 or perhaps 30g depending on your caloric intake.
Thus, keto can be considered a sustained metabolism reboot, whereas Atkins is more fluid.
There are a great many studies worth citing that underline the health benefits of Atkins and keto style diets, whether for people battling cognitive decline or obesity. In studies of the latter, subjects who adhered to a high-fat, low-carb diet tend to lose much more weight than those on a low-fat, high-carb diet, sometimes by as much as 50%.
Low-carb adherents also tend to experience greater improvements in blood triglycerides and HDL, important biomarkers of heart health.
As for brain health benefits, ketogenic diets have been variously shown to improve verbal memory performance, reduce physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and delay motor neuron death.
One of the reasons for this neuroprotective effect is that ketones increase the number of mitochondria, the energy factories of brain cells. Another is that ketones help to reduce neuroinflammation and preserve synapses.
Remember, on a calorie-for-calorie basis, carbohydrates are the cheapest, most profitable nutrients for the food industry. It’s worth bearing this in mind whenever you hear keto or Atkins diets demonised. Oh, and if you are every told that ketosis being “life-threatening”, kindly inform the speaker that nutritional ketosis cannot achieve the level of ketones which would induce mortality. It is a fantasy.
From an evolutionary perspective, these diets make perfect sense. Storing surplus calories as fat was an undeniable advantage to our Palaeolithic antecedents who had to contend with frequent famine, and much of their food came from fatty meat and fibrous vegetables. Our earliest forebears did not have the luxury of freely available food (and certainly not freely-available sugar) in the form of well-stocked cupboards.
Although real food should always be the focus, several supplements can be of benefit to individuals embarking on a ketogenic or even Atkins style diet. We have listed a few options below.
• KetoFit Protein: A unique blend of plant-based protein and medium chain triglycerides, this is the perfect accompaniment to a keto diet. KetoFit Protein contains 15g of protein, 15g of fat and just 2g of carbohydrates, or 10% of your daily carb allowance on the keto diet. The MCTs come from organic coconut oil and avocado oil, while the protein is from pea, pumpkin and quinoa. As a bonus, you get 20% of your daily iron, a thermogenic (fat-burning) and glucose management nutrient blend and an assortment of trace minerals.
• MCT Oil Powder: Supplying a minimum of 95% caprylic acid (C8) from medium-chain triglycerides, this powder from Ground-Based Nutrition ramps up production of ketone bodies: 400% more ketones than coconut oil and 21% more than regular MCT! Add to any hot or cold drink to augment your keto protocol.
• Plant-Based Electrolytes: Electrolyte imbalances caused by the keto diet can be remedied by focusing on getting your sodium, magnesium and potassium in balance. This will also help to address symptoms of the dreaded “keto flu”. These organic vegan electrolytes are a great option, deriving as they do from organic coconut water, organic banana, organic pineapple, Himalayan sea salt, organic tart cherry and trace minerals. Especially recommended if you’re coupling your keto or low-carb diet with intense or even moderate exercise!
Other supplements you might consider using while on keto include vitamin D, alkaline salt pH capsules, exogenous ketones and, since most of your calories will be coming from protein or fat, a nutrient-rich greens powder such as Green Vibrance. Green Vibrance has won more awards than any other greens supplement, and was the original product in this category when first released in 1992.
To be sure, there are very many benefits to be gained from adopting a ketogenic or Atkins diet. Just remember the key differences: keto is a higher-fat diet, and more restrictive long-term. However, the benefits are likely to be greater, and thus it is the preferred option.
Pick whichever diet works for you and focus on getting some variety in the foods you consume. Vary your protein (while always opting for grass-fed) and fat sources and use supplements as and when required, as much as to nurture that variety as anything else.
Don’t forget, both diets emphasise restricting inflammatory foods and significantly reduce the carbohydrate/sugar content, so while they may seem challenging in the short-term, they provide serious long-term benefits and become much easier to manage as time goes on.
Of course, if you find keto or Atkins too difficult, you will almost certainly benefit from moderating your carbohydrate intake in general: 50-100g per day is enough for many people, a far cry from the 250g+ customary on the typical Western diet fuelling our obesity crisis.
The most-cited benefits of ketosis tends to be weight loss, greater energy and athletic performance, and brain health.