What is the Keto Diet, and is it the same as the Atkins Diet?

The ketogenic diet, the Atkins diet and South Beach diet are all considered low carbohydrate meal plans (I’ll call them low carb meal plans in this blog), although there are some differences. Before we talk about the differences low carb meal plans, let’s look at the history of the low carb diet.

A low carb diet was used initially to treat diabetes and epilepsy

The first low carb diets were used in the 1800s for kids who developed type 1 diabetes (juvenile diabetes). Insulin was not available for treatment of diabetes until 1922, so the only way to survive with type 1 diabetes was to eat a very low carbohydrate diet. Once insulin became available, then people with type 1 diabetes could eat a more balanced diet and also survived much longer.

The ketogenic diet was another very low carb diet that was found in the 1920s to treat epilepsy. Ketogenic means inducing ketosis, which means that fat is being broken down into ketones and used as energy.  In 1938, medication became available to treat epilepsy, and so the ketogenic diet was not used as often in the treatment of epilepsy.  However, there was a resurgence of the ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy in the mid 1990s. Jim Abrahams, a Hollywood producer, had a son had severe epilepsy that was not able to be treated with the usual medications, but his son’s disease responded to the ketogenic diet. The ketogenic diet for treatment of epilepsy was featured on NBC Dateline. Jim Abraham also produced a made-for-television movie about a child with severe epilepsy that was effectively controlled by the ketogenic diet. This movie, First Do No Harm, aired in 1997 and starred Meryl Streep.

When did the low carb diet start to be used for weight loss?

In the 1960s, the low carb diet began to be considered as an option for treatment of overweight and obesity. The first low carb diet that was popularized in the United States was in 1967 when Dr. Irwin Stillman published his book “The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet.” Then in 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins published his book “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.”

The low carb diet, however, did not really become popular in the United States until after 1992 when Dr. Atkins published an updated version of his book titled “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution.” Also, in 2003, Dr. Arthur Agatston published “The South Beach Diet: The Delicious, Doctor-Designed, Foolproof Plan for Fast and Healthy Weight Loss.”

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the low carb diet became very popular in the United States. There was some decline in the popularity of the low carb diet until a resurgence in the last few years because several celebrities have been following the ketogenic diet (now usually called the keto diet). The keto diet is currently one of the most popular weight loss diets followed in the US.  The popular magazine, Shape, called 2018 “The Year of the Keto Diet.”

What is a low carb diet?

There are low carb meal plans… and very low carb meal plans. A low carbohydrate meal plan recommends 50-150 grams of carbohydrates per day while very low carbohydrate plans recommend consuming less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.

In general, with a low carb meal plan, you are not limited to the amount of meat or low starch vegetables you consume. Typically foods include larger quantities of fish, poultry, meat, eggs, dairy, berries, seeds, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, greens, tomatoes, and asparagus. Some low carb meal plans allow fruit, although most low carbohydrate meal plans limit fruit intake because fruit generally has more carbs. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, grains, such as pasta and breakfast cereals, and sweets, including candy and chocolate sugar sweetened beverages, are avoided.

What is the difference between the Keto Diet, the Atkins Diet and The South Beach Diet?

Although the Atkins diet, the South Beach Diet and the Keto diet are all low carbohydrate meal plans, they differ in the amount of fat and protein suggested. Also, the Atkins and South Beach have phases over time of increasing carbohydrate, where as the keto diet remains very low carb over time.


In the Atkins diet, you restrict to 20-25 grams of carb per day and eat as much fat and protein as you want. Over time, as you get closer to your goal weight, you can increase the amount of carbohydrate up to as much as 100 grams of carb per day.

South Beach diet

In the South Beach Diet, you eat a low carb diet in phase 1 of the program. Although there is no set amount of carbohydrates that is specifically promoted in this diet, if you follow the suggested eating plan, you will be getting about 40 grams of carb or less in phase 1. Once you reach phase 2, you can add in some whole grains and other carbs.

Keto diet

In the keto diet, you aim for less than 5% of your calories from carbohydrates, 75% of calories from fats and 20% of calories from proteins. If you eat about 1500 calories a day (there are 4 calories per gram of carb and protein and 9 calories per gram of fat), then this is about 20 grams of carbs, 125 grams of fat and 75 grams of protein per day.

What are the advantages of the low carb meal plan

One of the advantages of a low carb meal plan is that generally people are less hungry. Because a low carbohydrate eating plan typically decreases hunger, people following this plan tend to eat less without much effort. Another advantage of a low carb meal plan is that once you understand which foods contain carbohydrates; this eating plan is fairly easy to follow. Also, people generally lose weight more quickly than with other meal plans. If you think that eating vegetables and meat could be enjoyable for the long term, then a low carbohydrate eating plan may be good for you. The low carb and very low carb diets also tend to offer some health benefits; they lower triglycerides and raise the HDL, the good cholesterol.

What are the disadvantages of the low carb meal plan?

The low carb meal plan does have some negative aspects also. Some people struggle to stay on a low carb meal plan for the long term because they miss the sweets, treats or pasta. Another disadvantage is that this plan usually includes a lot of meat, which makes this plan more difficult for someone who does not eat meat. Even though there are plenty of non-meat foods that contain protein, many vegetarian sources of protein (such as beans, legumes, dairy) contain carbs in addition to protein. There could also be long term negative health effects.

In summary, a low carb meal plan is a fast and effective method for weight loss. It can be enjoyable to follow, and some people do well with this way of eating for the long term.

If you need more information about how to lose weight and keep it off, check out my ebook, The Obesity Solution, A compassionate step-by-step guide to losing the weight and keeping it off.

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