Keto and Atkins are both popular low-carb diets.
Both keto and Atkins share a central idea: you can improve your health by limiting your carb intake — cutting out high-carb food groups like whole grains, carb-heavy processed foods, starchy vegetables like potatoes, and desserts.
As low-carb dieting becomes more widespread, a lot of people wonder about the difference between keto and Atkins.
If you’re new to low-carb diets, they may look quite similar. But while there is some overlap between these diets, there are a few key differences that set them apart from one another. This article will compare keto vs. Atkins and help you figure out which one is better for you.
The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, high-fat diet plan.
The goal of keto is to get your body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which you burn primarily fat for fuel, instead of sugar or carbs.
When you’re in ketosis, your body runs on ketones, little bundles of energy that come from either the fat you eat or your stored body fat.
Ketosis comes with a wide variety of health benefits, ranging from weight loss to stabilized blood sugar to better brain function.
In order to get into ketosis, most people have to eat under 50g of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) a day. A typical macronutrient breakdown for keto is:
- 75% fat
- 20% protein
- 5% carbs
The Atkins diet is also a low-carb diet, but it works a little bit differently than keto does.
Atkins is broken down into four phases geared toward weight loss. You set yourself a goal weight, then move through four phases, depending on how much weight you lose:
- Induction Phase. During this first phase, you eat under 20 grams of net carbs a day, until you’re within 15 pounds of your weight loss goal. You’ll almost certainly be in ketosis during this phase of Atkins.
- Phase 2. You increase your carb intake to 25-50 grams of net carbs a day until you’re within 10 pounds of your goal weight.
- Phase 3. To lose the last 10 pounds, you increase your carb intake to 50-80 grams of net carbs a day, until you hit your weight loss goal and maintain your goal weight for one month.
- Phase 4. Once you’ve stayed at your goal weight for a month, you can eat up to 100 grams of net carbs a day. You stick to phase 4 indefinitely to maintain your weight loss.
With Atkins, you gradually increase your carb allowance as you lose weight.
Keto and Atkins are similar in some ways, but they also have key differences that lead to significant changes in how they affect your health and weight loss goals.
Keto and Atkins overlap in a few different ways. For once, they’re both low-carbohydrate diets that emphasize high fat intake and moderate protein intake.
In fact, the induction phase and phase 2 of the Atkins eating plan are nearly identical to keto. In those two phases, you’re limiting your net carbs to under 50 grams a day (~5% of your daily calories), which should put you into a state of ketosis.
Both diets focus on eating moderate protein and higher fat, and they’re both centered around avoiding carbs, especially refined carbs and sugar.
The main difference between keto and Atkins is that a ketogenic diet keeps you in ketosis.
On Atkins, you’re likely in ketosis for the first two phases (you may see these phases called Atkins 20 and Atkins 40). That means you’re burning primarily fat for fuel, not sugar and carbs.
But in phase three and the maintenance phase of Atkins, you eat too many grams of carbs to stay in ketosis.
Keto, on the other hand, is very low-carb all the time, which means your body is in a consistent state of ketosis.
While both keto and Atkins seem to be good for weight loss, being in ketosis comes with an additional set of benefits that you won’t see in the later stages of Atkins.
Keto is also generally more focused on food quality. It focuses on whole foods, plenty of veggies, and healthy fat sources like olive oil, avocado, grass-fed meat, wild salmon, and full-fat dairy.
Keto-friendly protein bars and other snacks are usually made with simple, high-quality ingredients and are free of fillers, artificial sweeteners, etc. On keto, you’re encouraged to eat mostly whole foods, with the occasional keto snack as a supplement or indulgence.
Atkins is more purely focused on macronutrients (how many grams of carbs, fat, and protein you eat) and less focused on food quality.
You can see this in the Atkins product lines. Atkins offers bars, meal replacement shakes, candies, desserts, and frozen meals, and most of their products use ingredients like artificial sweeteners that are discouraged on a keto diet.
A lot of the benefits that keto and Atkins share are due to ketosis.
This is where keto outperforms Atkins — by staying in ketosis all the time, you enjoy additional benefits that you may not see on an Atkins diet. Benefits of ketosis include:
When you’re in ketosis, you burn fat as your main fuel source instead of sugar. Your body turns fat into ketones, little bundles of energy that power your cells.
Ketones are a great energy source, but they also help with dieting. Ketones turn off ghrelin, your body’s main hunger hormone, which suppresses your appetite[*].
This is one reason there are so many keto success stories when it comes to weight loss (here, here, and here, for example). On a keto diet, you can stay in a mild calorie deficit and gradually, sustainably lose weight, without the constant hunger that you feel on other diets.
People in ketosis also burn an average of about 300 extra calories a day, compared to people on a low-carb diet with macros similar to Atkins phase 3/4[*].
When you eat a ketogenic diet, you burn more calories and feel full on less food. That’s a great recipe for weight loss — but it doesn’t happen with higher carbohydrate intake, like on Atkins or a low-fat diet.
Keto’s extra calorie-burning benefits can also guard against weight gain when you stop trying to consciously lose weight.
Blood Sugar Levels and Type 2 Diabetes Management
Carb restriction, in general, is a good choice if you get blood sugar crashes or sugar cravings, or if you have type 2 diabetes. Limiting carbs and sugar keeps your blood sugar more stable, and keto and Atkins are both good for blood sugar control[*][*].
However, a ketogenic diet seems to be the best choice for managing blood sugar.
Atkins also controls blood sugar and can help people reduce their type 2 diabetes medications, but in studies, it didn’t help people get off their medication entirely, the way keto can[*].
Improves Brain Health
Because ketones easily cross the blood-brain barrier, your brain can use them efficiently for energy, leading to sustained mental performance. Early research even suggests that a ketogenic diet may protect your brain against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and overall neurodegeneration[*].
- Preserving neurons and synapses, which improves short-term memory, focus, attention, and learning
- Lowering neuroinflammation
- Improving cognition in people with dementia
Again, these benefits are specific to a ketogenic diet.
Decreased Risk of Heart Disease
Your cardiologist might be happy if you switch to keto, too. Ketones have antioxidant effects on the lining of your blood vessels, improve blood circulation, and increase the efficiency of your heart.
Ketosis also reduces risk factors for heart disease, including lowering your triglyceride levels and increasing your “good” HDL cholesterol levels[*].
Which is Better: Keto or Atkins?
Keto and Atkins are similar diets, but the key difference that sets them apart is ketosis.
On a ketogenic diet, you’re in ketosis all the time, which comes with additional benefits to your overall health that you won’t necessarily see on Atkins. Ketosis is particularly useful for weight loss, heart health, brain function, and blood sugar management.
That said, what matters most is how a diet works for you. Nutrition is quite individual, and the best way to figure out your ideal diet is to try a few and see what works.
Why not give keto a try? Our beginner’s guide to keto has everything you need to start a ketogenic diet and improve your health right now.