Should You Go Low-Carb or Keto?
It seems like everyone is “going Keto” these days. And you hear a ton of conflicting advice surrounding it. Should you go low-carb or keto?
If you have been following my posts on intermittent fasting, you know that I started with fasting for weight loss and then moved on to trials of intermittent fasting with varied diets to compare weight loss results.
My results with a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet with intermittent fasting were slightly superior for weight loss to the other diets I tried. I say slightly because I did lose weight with all diets accompanying fasting (even not changing my diet at all!) but the numbers did vary.
I truly believe, and the evidence would support, that the BEST diet is the one that works for you and your family. It is the diet you can stick with over time. And for some, low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet makes a lot of sense.
What is a low-carbohydrate diet?
Carbohydrates are actually complex sugars. They feed our body with energy through glucose – that’s a good thing. I don’t think anyone would debate the fact that too much sugar is NOT a good thing. And you will find debates on almost all things diet. That is pretty much fact at this point.
Too much carbohydrate or sugar in your diet will lead to problems like weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. The problem with the typical American diet is that it is VERY high in carbohydrates. That stems back to the 1970’s and the introduction of the “lower fat and increase carbohydrate” era stemmed by the Food Pyramid. (For more on this history, see my post: https://doctormome.com/post/intermittent-fasting-results-for-weight-loss/ )
A simple low-carbohydrate diet is just that, low in carbohydrates. The typical American diet today is comprised of around 50% carbohydrates or around 200-300 grams of carbohydrates a day.
How Many Carbs in a Low-Carbohydrate Diet?
Most low-carbohydrate diets recommend limiting your carbohydrate intake to either 50 TOTAL carbohydrates a day or 20 NET carbohydrates a day.
The difference between total carbohydrates and net carbohydrates has to do with the fiber in each food item. Fiber is considered a GOOD carbohydrate. It helps with digestion, fullness, and general health. So, limiting fiber is not necessarily a good thing even though it is a carbohydrate. And most labels today will give you both numbers. Simply subtract your dietary fiber from total carbs to get your net carbs.
I prefer NET carbs over total carbohydrate limitations. It will allow you to have the good fiber in your diet. Some experts vote against it mainly because they feel that the net carb calculations are not exact. In my opinion, decreasing from 200 to 23 carbs is a heck of a lot better than not decreasing at all. Just saying.
That really is the goal of a low-carbohydrate diet. Lowering carbohydrates leads to weight loss. Lowering carbohydrates decreases insulin levels as well. This decreases insulin resistance in the body and aides in increased weight loss per calorie. More on this to come.
What is a Ketogenic Diet?
And this is where the results get a little more grey. It truly depends on how you define a “ketogenic diet.” Annoying, right?
Here is my take on it: Ketogenic diet, inherently by the name, means that you are producing ketones as an energy source for your body. No one would debate that. In order to produce ketones for energy in your body, you must decrease glucose, or sugar, and put your body into “ketosis.” Ketosis is simply the state of your body making and using ketones for energy.
Ketones come from fat and, with weight loss, that goal is stored fat. The problem with keeping your sugar intake too high is that your body will use sugar first if it is available. You can’t make ketones, or burn stored fat, if you have too much sugar easily available through your diet.
Allow Me To Illustrate …
Think of it like this: You are at a donut store. On one side you can pick the pretty chocolate frosted donut. You can grab it, gobble it up, and be out the door in 5 minutes. Instant energy through carbohydrates.
On the other side you have a delicious looking pound of bacon with butter and a pan to cook it in. But it isn’t cooked. You can make it and then eat it just the same but you know it will take more work and more time to get there. Which do you pick when you are in a time crunch?
Your body will pick the quick and easy source if available every time. That is simply biology – it is trying to keep you alive. So if sugar is available, you will not be burning fat. If too much sugar is available, you will be making fat.
That is the basis of the ketogenic diet – low-carbohydrate and high fat diet allows your body to go into ketosis or burn stored fat for energy.
What Does it Take to Get Into Ketosis?
In order to get into ketosis, you must decrease your carbohydrate intake. Period. For some people, that may be enough.
For others, they will need to increase their fat intake significantly along with limiting carbohydrates in order to put their bodies into ketosis or fat-burning state. You can do this a few different ways. Intermittent fasting can definitely get your body into ketosis quicker. Putting butter on everything can put you into ketosis quicker. Eating lard can put you into ketosis quicker. And using MCT oils (that’s the keto coffee you are hearing about) can put you into ketosis quicker.
And that, my dear readers, is where you start to lose your medical professionals in their support of the ketogenic diet. Many physicians, dieticians, and health advocates just can’t get behind eating exorbitant amounts of fat in order to lose weight.
We worry about the increased cholesterol levels and heart disease risks that come with that. As you know, heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the United States today and increasing these risks through diet does not make a lot of sense. Not losing weight doesn’t either. I have promised to be unbiased and try to get to the bottom of this for you. The ultimate question to ask ourselves remains …
Do You Need to Increase Your Fats In Order to Achieve Ketosis?
This is the most fascinating aspect to me. I have spoken to so many successful ketogenic dieters and asked about their diets. I have done this myself. And what I have found is that “keto” means a lot of different things to different people.
The traditional ketogenic diet includes increasing fats to 70-80% of your diet. And that’s a lot of fat. For many people to get there, they then resort to putting butter on EVERYTHING. Or adding it as a supplement through oils.
Other’s simply limit their carbs and ignore the increased fat component all together. They simply stay at 20 net or 50 total carbohydrates a day for ketosis. That diet brings you back to a simple low-carbohydrate diet really.
How Can You Check for Ketosis?
So, if the goal of the ketogenic diet is the state of ketosis, how do you know if you are in it? There are a few different ways to test. The most widely used tests are urine ketone strips. You can get them on Amazon and they are not very expensive. If you are spilling ketones into your urine, then you are making them and your body is using them. That simple.
There are also more expensive blood tests available. They are more expensive but also more accurate. It typically takes 3-5 days of ketogenic diet in order to achieve ketosis. Just remember that for those of us who struggle with consistency, it will take a few days (after you are keto adjusted) to get back into it if you cheat.
My Own Experience with Ketosis
Here’s one win for us ladies – women tend to get into and maintain ketosis easier than men. I know unbelievable. When my husband and I did our trial of the low-carbohydrate diet with intermittent fasting (24hours 3 days a week), I decided to start checking urine ketones for ketosis.
As I stated above, low-carbohydrates alone will be ketogenic for many. And it was for me. Within 5 days, I was in ketosis with the low-carbohydrate diet alone and stayed in it fairly easily.
My husband was a different story. He struggled to get into ketosis with a low-carb intermittent fasting diet. He did achieve minimal ketones but mine far surpassed his. But he lost more weight than I did despite that.
And isn’t that the point for most of us in the end?
My Recommendation on Low-Carb vs Ketogenic Diet
After all of my research, discussions, and personal trials, I truly believe there is less difference between low-carbohydrate and ketogenic diet than you would think.
Many successful “keto” dieters are simply going low-carb, checking their urine for ketones, finding them, and calling it keto. Others are using “keto”as an excuse to eat extremely large amounts of high fat foods. And others are monitoring their macros so tightly that they ruin their week with an extra bite. It is too wide and inexact to call “keto” a one-size-fits-all formula.
If you are looking for weight loss, start by limiting your NET carbs. That will allow for fiber in your diet. You can also start monitoring your urine ketones. If you are losing weight, great. That is likely all you will need. For a checklist on my low-carb/keto plan, sign up for my Freebie below!
Simple Solution: Low-carb and keto diets are more similar than you would think. For many, they may actually be the same. For others, you may need to take it a bit further. Remember, your goal is weight loss and general health. And let’s not make that an excuse for steak with butter 3 meals a day.
For More blog posts on My Diet Trials, check out: https://doctormome.com/post/whats-the-best-diet-with-fasting/
For More on Low-Carbohydrate Diet, check out: https://www.dietdoctor.com/low-carb/guides
For More on Healthy Ketogenic, check out: