Keto and Low-Carb: What’s the Difference?

kale salad with an avocado and egg yolk
Note: Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.

The difference between low carb and keto is in the semantics really. 

You can be low carb and keto, but you aren’t always keto if you’re low carb.

Some people do say they’re the same, but it really comes down to a few key differences…

  1. What is the carbohydrate intake threshold?
  2. Are you still eating foods that are considered “high carb” (ie. starchy vegetables or bread)?
  3. Are you producing ketone bodies?

Those are pretty much the questions you need to answer.

Keto and Low-Carb: What’s the Difference?

Let’s first take a look at what a low-carbohydrate diet looks like.

Low-Carb Diet

When someone starts a low-carb diet their overall goal is to drop their carb levels to lower than what is typical.

But, if you ask around there isn’t a set number of carbs you should restrict to when you eat low-carb. It’s just where you aim to cut your carbs down.

But, when you cut your carbs down you have to up your calories somewhere else, and typically people up their protein section.

This isn’t always great. All the side effects you’ll experience from the keto flu will likely be what you experience here.

– Read More About the Keto Flu –

If your fat intake is still low, you’ve cut your carbs low and upped your protein levels you’ll likely start something called gluconeogenesis.

This is where the body turns to protein to find glycogen. This is something that people on a keto diet try to avoid. Read more about gluconeogenesis here.

If you’re eating too much protein it will stall your body from ever going into ketosis, or at least it will make it harder.

Is the Low-Carb Diet Bad?

Low-carb diets aren’t the same as low-fat diets.

People will say that even eating a large number of healthy fats in a greater quantity isn’t great. Or that low-carb diets are restrictive diets that are similar to the Atkins diet.

So, does this mean eating a low-carb diet is bad?

Nope, actually, they’re just as good as any other healthy diet.

They can also be a great way to set yourself up for switching to a ketogenic diet.

You’re already cutting your carb levels, so the next step is to up your fat intake and to make sure you don’t go over your daily net carbs.

But, a lot of times people aren’t eating enough calories or they’ll eat too much protein.

If your daily calories don’t match what you need to function then your body will suffer.

image of a man that's stressed

Don’t worry though, lowering your protein intake won’t make you wither away!

Amazingly enough, you don’t need gobs and gobs of protein for your body to build muscle.

You can do so with the proper amount of protein for your activity level. The best way to figure this out is a keto calculator like the Keto Diet App’s KetoDiet Buddy.

You can figure out your exact ratios based on your goals. Whether your goal is weight loss, weight gain, or maintenance. Pretty much like every other calculator, but geared towards the keto diet!

The Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet, known as the keto diet, is one where someone restricts their carb intake to 20-30 grams of carbs (or if you’re in the more strict camp they calculate that as all carbs).

Or, aka the high-fat diet.

By restricting your carbs so low, you, in turn, need to eat high fat so your body won’t be starving.

When you restrict your carb intake so low, your body will deplete its glycogen stores and turn to the fat source.

This allows your body to convert fat resources into ketones and that’s what your body uses to run itself.

The ketones are the key here.

Once your body produces ketones anywhere from 0.5mmol/L to 3.0mmol/L you’re in a state of ketosis. You can test for this either on a blood meter or with ketone strips.

You’re aiming to get into ketosis because this is where all of the benefits are at.

You’ll start to feel more energized, clear-headed, your blood sugar will stabilize and if your goal is to lose weight you can do that too!

Why Is Keto Better for Our Bodies?

By restricting yourself to just low-carb and not increasing your fat intake your body can’t reach a state of ketosis.

So, you’re putting your body in a state of starvation without replacing the fuel unless you’re upping your protein intake.

If you are eating more protein then you’re feeding your body glucose via gluconeogenesis, but you’ll likely feel like crap.

Your body is trying to find a way to run itself, but without eating fat for the body to use ketones for energy it will start eating your muscles if your protein intake isn’t super high.

Also, you’ll likely feel like complete crap.

Headaches, blood sugar inconsistencies, cravings for everything, water retention, and so much else.

You’ll have keto flu for a long time in this state.

By upping your fat intake you’re helping your body to get into a state of ketosis. It will be able to swap over to ketones for fuel more easily than if you were low-carb.

Being in ketosis has so many benefits that unlock once you’re efficiently using ketones for fuel.

You’ll have consistent energy, clear thinking, balanced blood sugar, weight management, hormone balancing, and many other things.

How to Transition From Low-Carb to Keto?

Since there is a difference between low-carb and keto, a lot of times people that eat low-carb will find their way over to eating more keto.

They hear stories about the energy spikes and clear thinking and just overall feeling like a super person and it gets intriguing.

So much so that they start researching keto and realize that all they have to do is increase their fat intake to replace their carb decrease.

Don’t forget to figure out your macros here: Keto Diet App’s KetoDiet Buddy

It will help you understand just exactly how much you need to eat on a daily basis.

Once you know how much fat, protein, and carbs you need to eat you can create your meal plan for the week or however long you need.

Best Way to Test for Ketones?

There are different ways to test for ketones…

  1. You can test your blood for ketone levels with a blood test
  2. You can test your urine for ketone bodies
  3. Or, you can test your breath

The most accurate way to test though is using a ketone meter to test blood ketone levels.

Some folks will also test their insulin levels at the same time to see how their blood sugar levels are doing.

This allows people to track their insulin resistance levels.

The ultimate goal is to make sure you’re accurately testing your ketone levels on a regular basis with the same method.


TL;DR Difference Between Low Carb and Keto…

The main difference between low carb and keto is the amount of carbs eaten really.

Low-Carb is decreasing your carb intake low or lower in comparison to your protein intake.

By going keto, you’re decreasing the amount of carbohydrates to a set amount with the intention of getting into a state of ketosis.

This will allow you to improve your overall health while also improving your metabolic state.

Don’t forget to pin this post!

two compartment meal prep container with chicken, rice and greens

Similar Posts