Keto vs. Atkins: The Difference and the Winner
Diet fads and trends come and go — and hopefully, we’ve all forgotten the ones that failed to show us results! Still, there is a reason why Atkins (now called “Atkins-20”) has dominated the diet sphere for decades, and it has often been compared to a ketogenic diet.
But what is the real difference between Atkins and keto, anyway? Is one of these diets better than the other, and who comes out on top?
Today, we’re uncovering the facts on both the keto and Atkins diets and sifting through misinformation to help you spot the differences between these heavy hitters. We may even discover who the real winner is when it comes to sustained weight loss: keto or Atkins.
What Is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins diet gets its name from its creator: cardiologist Robert C. Atkins. Dr. Atkins created the Atkins diet in the 1960s, and the Atkins diet launched the trend of low carbohydrate diets that are high in healthy fat intake.
Dr. Atkins started the Atkins diet because he saw it as a solution for those struggling to lose weight, dealing with type 2 diabetes, or managing the other side effects of obesity. Dr. Robert Atkins believed that carbs were the reason many people struggled to reach their goal weight, even while restricting daily calories.
By limiting carbs on the Atkins diet, he hoped people could begin a weight loss journey. Atkins threw the low-fat diet philosophy of the time out the window in favor of a completely different type of diet plan.
Portion control and counting calories aren’t a requirement on an Atkins diet’s meal plan. You just need to calculate the number of carbohydrates you’re eating. When you adhere to an Atkins diet, you will need to calculate net carbs. Net carbs are carbohydrates with the fiber content removed.
Start with this simple formula for calculating net carbs: Subtract the total grams of fiber of a food item from the carbohydrates it contains. You’ll also want to subtract some (but not all) sweeteners, like erythritol. Ultimately, your net carb formula will look a little like this:
Net Carbs = Carbs - Fiber - Sugar Alcohol/2
As an example, our Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar has only 2 grams of net carbs! (This makes our Peanut Butter Chocolate Bar Atkins-compliant, BTW.)
If you have any questions, you can always check out our full explainer on how to calculate net carbs on our blog!
There are different phases of the Atkins diet — the first phase normally allows you to eat only up to 20 net carbs per day. The reason for such severe carb restriction is to jump-start weight loss.
As the weeks go on and you graduate to different phases of the Atkins diet, you can add up to 10 net carbs a week into your diet. Once your ideal weight is achieved, the Atkins diet allows up to 120 grams of carbs per day. The Atkins eating plan isn’t a high-carb diet at this point, but in its maintenance phase, the diet becomes much more manageable in the long term.
What Is a Ketogenic Diet?
The main principle of a ketogenic diet is the notion of obtaining a metabolic state of ketosis. Carbohydrates like glucose and sucrose are what our bodies normally use for energy and to sustain ourselves. When not enough carbohydrates are readily available for your body to use as fuel, what does our body turn to as an energy source? Fat!
Once your body is burning fat instead of the usual carbs, the magic of short-term ketosis occurs. Ketones are made by the liver when fat is used for fuel. Think of ketones as the coal that our bodies use to power our engines.
What’s the big deal about achieving ketosis, though? To put it simply, burning fat helps you lose weight. Still, there are a lot of people who stick with a keto diet for non-weight loss-related advantages, too. In fact, the ketogenic diet was developed in 1924 to lessen the symptoms of those with epilepsy. The keto diet is used to this day to help people who have epilepsy, and other health benefits have come to the surface as well.
With a keto diet, you will have to cut carbs just like with Atkins, thus changing your eating habits. Even so-called “healthy” carbs like whole grains and legumes are mostly off-limits. Keto diets put a lot of emphasis on very low carbs, moderate protein, and high fat. Keto dieters can expect to eat a high-fat diet that often combines both whole foods and processed foods.
Is Atkins Considered a Keto Diet?
According to some, the Atkins diet is a type of ketogenic diet due to its status as a restrictive diet that significantly limits carbohydrate intake. There are a lot of nuances that come about with this approach. The Atkins foundation considers the Atkins diet to be a kind of keto diet due to the high fat, low total carb standards that both diets use.
When you first enter the beginning phase of the Atkins diet, you may find that the carbohydrate and fat requirements closely mimic those of ketogenic diets.
This could possibly send your body into ketosis, but not necessarily. Atkins is slightly less strict in terms of your macronutrient split — there’s no cap on your protein intake, and you’ll gradually increase your carb intake over time. This means that the early phases of keto might send you into ketosis, but because ketosis isn’t the goal of the Atkins diet, it’s more of a possible added benefit during Atkins’ early phases than a guaranteed result.
Pro-keto dietitians and nutritionists will often say that Atkins isn’t technically a version of a keto diet for this reason.
What Is the Difference Between Keto and Atkins?
Atkins and keto are both low-carb and high-fat, but there are many differences between these two diets that you should be aware of if you are looking to start a new diet! Let’s examine what sets keto and Atkins apart.
Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counts
The Atkins diet favors protein and pretty much calls for no limits on the amount of protein you are allowed to include in your daily diet. Meanwhile, ketogenic diets are referred to as more of a moderate protein diet.
If you follow the Atkins approach, you may find yourself eating higher amounts of protein than you would if you were on a keto diet. Regardless, protein is an extremely important macronutrient. Adequate protein intake combats anemia, immune system issues, and weakness.
On the other side of the coin when it comes to protein, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing! You should be mindful of how much protein you include in your diet. Too much protein has the potential to result in digestive and cardiovascular issues.
Many folks gravitate towards both the keto diet and the Atkins diet to accomplish their weight loss goals. Both Atkins and keto have the evidence to back them up: You can achieve weight loss on either low carb diet. But which diet comes out the winner as far as weight loss is concerned?
Keto diets may win here, consistently showing more effective weight loss for longer bouts of time. That victory comes with a caveat, though. Ketogenic diets have proven to be a little more restrictive (we will explore this more below), so it makes sense as to why sustained weight loss may be easier to fulfill while on a keto diet.
If you are looking for a low carb diet that allows for a little more wiggle room in your day, Atkins may be for you. While Atkins starts off just as strict as keto, that begins to change as you move through the different phases of an Atkins diet.
With each different phase of Atkins, you can begin to reintroduce more carbs into your life. The same cannot be said for keto, which calls for consistent restriction of carbs. And for good reason! Ketosis can only be maintained by having fat to burn for fuel instead of carbohydrates.
The sustainability of both Atkins and keto will depend on the individual. Only you will know if one of these low carb diets resonates with your lifestyle better than the other!
Atkins places significance on a person’s ability to add more carbohydrates into their diet after the initial phase, with the aim of making the diet easier to maintain over long periods of time. Even though theoretically not having to fret as much about counting carbs sounds great, there is the potential of gaining some weight back with that more relaxed approach.
Some people find that the structure of a keto diet helps keep them (and their weight!) in check.
This is where Atkins and keto really show their differences. The winning diet that keeps you in ketosis? The ketogenic diet, of course.
When you are in the first phase of Atkins, you will limit your carb intake close to that of a keto diet. But that does not necessarily mean you will land in ketosis. When you begin the addition of more carbohydrates as you move through the phases of Atkins, any ketosis you may have achieved will then cease. Your body will stop burning fat for energy and begin burning its preferred energy source of carbohydrates.
Which Snacks Are Keto- and Atkins-Friendly?
If you’re on the hunt for snacks that fit into both a keto lifestyle and an Atkins one, anything low carb will fit the bill. Here are some tasty ideas to get you started!
- Nuts. Pecans, almonds, walnuts … nuts have so many benefits and are deliciously low-carb.
- Avocados. Spread avocado on some low-carb bread, make guacamole and serve with a low-carb veggie such as celery, or enjoy straight out of the skin!
- Lettuce Wraps. Lettuce wraps are a super fun party food that everyone will enjoy.
- MiiRO’s Low Carb Chocolate. You can eat silky smooth chocolate on an Atkins diet and while following a ketogenic diet, too, as long as you choose the right option!
- Berries. Berries are the perfect dessert for a warm summer’s day, not to mention low carb and friendly to an Atkins and keto diet.
The ketogenic diet and Atkins diet have a lot of similarities, but they also have a lot of differences. Who is the winner that comes out on top when we pit these two low carb forces against each other? Spoiler alert: Both of these low carb diets have their advantages.
Whether you’re an Atkins amigo or of the keto kind, there is no denying that you can reach your weight loss goals on either low carbohydrate lifestyle. And the fact that you can easily snack on some low-carb white chocolate on either diet? Now, YOU are the real winner here.
What Is the Atkins Diet? | Cleveland Clinic
What is Ketosis? | The Charlie Foundation