You often see and hear the terms “low carb” and “keto” used interchangeably; however, it’s not necessarily proper to assume that a low-carb diet is the same as a keto diet. In fact, the two may be highly different depending on the context.
Defining a Low Carb Diet
Low-carb diets are not always going to make you enter ketosis. In other words, low carb is a relative term and has no inherent meaning to it without context.
For example, you might normally consume upwards of 300 grams of carbs per day when trying to build muscle mass. When it comes time to cut some weight, you might then drop your carbs to only 150 grams per day. While that’s a 50% decrease in your carb intake and you might call it a low-carb diet, it’s still way too much for a proper keto diet.
Thus, you must be cautious before labeling a low-carb diet as being a keto diet. Naturally, though, a keto diet is inherently low in carbs. In this sense, it’s probably more prudent to label low carb diets as being either keto or simply “lower carb”.
Is the Keto Diet Different Than Low Carb?
In short: Yes and no. If you had the chance to read our Primer on the Ketogenic Diet then you likely understand that the keto diet is (very) low in carbs. As iterated in the last section, the inverse statement isn’t necessarily always the case.
Hence, the keto diet is in fact low carb, but it’s still different in the sense that some people might consider a low-carb diet to be 100 grams of carbs per day (which is actually true for someone who’s active). Again, consuming 100 grams of carbs per day would be far too much to help you enter ketosis.
Most keto diets will contain no more than 30 grams of carbs per day, give or take a few depending on the individual. Anything more than that and you’re likely veering into the territory of being on a “low carb” diet instead of strictly keto.
What’s Better: Low Carb or Keto Diet?
Ultimately, context will again come into play if you’re trying to figure out whether a low carb diet or keto diet is best for you. For example, there are in fact numerous health benefits that being in ketosis brings about.
If your main goal is to enhance longevity, cognitive function, and just feel healthier overall, then you might do better with a keto diet.
Contrarily, someone who is extremely active and trying to get lean (especially doing anaerobic training like weight lifting), might fare better by just cutting carb intake to a degree (i.e. going “low carb”).
This doesn’t mean that people like powerlifters and bodybuilders don’t stand to benefit from a keto diet, though. Rather, this simply indicates that low-carb diets have a place in the world of health and fitness.
Something key to consider is that you can actually reap the benefits of being on a keto diet while consuming carbs (some days). This is achieved by following either Targeted Ketogenic Diet or a Cyclical Ketogenic Diet.
If you find yourself in the predicament of being a highly active person who likes an occasional carb indulgence, then we strongly recommend reading our TKD and CKD Guides.