When patients hear the word ketogenic for the first time, their mind wanders to protein instead of fat. It is true, most people confuse the ketogenic diet with the 1990’s Atkins diet, which is a high protein diet. Often, these two diets can get lumped together causing some confusion. However, there are some differences in the two diets that we will explain in this essay.
The keto experience
Dr. Russel Wilder of the Mayo clinic founded the ketogenic diet in 1924. He was treating children with epilepsy who were not responding to conventional medication. Dr. Wilder noticed that when dietary fats were increased, carbohydrate intake was lowered and protein was given in low to moderate amounts, the children’s seizures stopped. By adjusting the macronutrient ratios, those children who adhered to the diet began a metabolic conversion toward nutritional ketosis, a state in which the body produces and uses ketones as its primary fuel source. Since the discovery of the diet, lots of research has been poured into it, trying to understand its benefits.
Here are some of the benefits briefly listed:
- Stabilizes blood sugar
- Unlocks metabolic flexibility
- Improves brain health
- Decreases inflammation
- Optimizes heart function
- Can be used in the prevention of many metabolic illnesses such as, cancer, type II diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease to name only a few.
The Positives and Negatives of Ketogenic living
Adhering to a specific diet for any amount of time can be trying. The ketogenic lifestyle is no exception. Like other diets, there are some really good benefits from following a ketogenic diet as well drawbacks. In this section, we will list and comment on some of those pros and cons.
First the benefits:
- Ketones have a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect. This is true. Dr. Thomas Seyfriend of Boston College writes about how ketones are toxic to cancer cells. Other authors have come to similar conclusions as they too discover ketones stabilizing metabolism and promoting health benefits.
- Ketones improve mental performance and give protection to your brain. When people are in a true state of nutritional ketosis, their thinking becomes clear and sharp. This is the brain using a more efficient fuel source; ketones.
- Nutritional ketosis can increase lifespan and quality of life. Because of the anti-inflammatory nature of the ketogenic diet there are less reactive oxygen species (free radicals) swimming around.
Now for the drawbacks:
- The diet can feel constrictive. Individuals, who are coming from a Standard American Diet (SAD), may feel the most restricted since most of what those folks are eating is carbohydrate rich foods. Living a ketogenic lifestyle is restricting carbohydrates or foods that are anti-ketogenic.
- Monitoring food closely, counting macronutrients and measuring ketones can be overwhelming. To the free spirited foodie, this could mean trouble. Some people don’t like to count; however, counting is a must with the ketogenic diet, especially in the beginning when one is just starting. Once a person has been on the diet for some time, counting may not need to be strictly adhered to.
- Measuring ketones can be expensive. The cost of ketone strips to measure blood ketone levels can add up. There are a few ketone meters on the market. The one that we find most reasonable, and the meter recommended to our patients is keto-mojo.
The Atkins diet began to hit the spotlight in the late 1990s early 2000s. Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins, a cardiologist, created the diet. In 1963, Dr. Atkins discovered that by reducing carbohydrate intake, people were able to reduce their weight without significant hunger. Atkins’ dieters reduce high carbohydrate foods and are encouraged to eat as much protein and fats as they want. In 1972, Dr. Atkins published his first book: Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. The current Atkins diet is divided into two version with 4 phases. The first version is called the Atkins 20, which limits more carbs; the other version, Atkins 40 is a more liberal version and is designed for people who don’t need to loose as much weight.
The 4 phases are as follows:
- Phase 1: extremely low carb (20-25g)
- Phase 2: Moderate carbs (25-50g)
- Phase 3: Liberal carbs (50-80g)
- Phase 4 Abundant carbs (80-100g)
As one can observe from the phases, weight loss happens for a short period of time while in phase 1 and 2. Once the weight goal is achieved, one is able to maintain on the later phases.
Atkins’ dieters report:
- It being easy to follow in the early phases
- Reduces hunger and cravings
The one health claim of Atkins is that it helps individuals to lose weight; in its earlier phases, it may have some of the same antioxidant, anti-inflammatory benefits as the ketogenic diet.
Like the ketogenic diet, it also has drawbacks:
- No mental benefits
- Weight gain can come back
- Emphasizes weight loss over other health benefits
- Increasing blood lipid profile
Differences between Atkins and Keto
The Atkins and Ketogenic diet both begin in a similar fashion. Both reduce carbohydrates in the beginning to around 20-25 grams of carbs. However, it is after the initial stage that the diets begin to diverge from one another. The ketogenic diet maintains low carb of 20-25g daily while Atkins begins to increase carbohydrates. Another point of difference is that Atkins encourages as much protein and fat as the individual wants. This is not so for the ketogenic diet, which is low to moderate protein. The reason being is that protein can also raise blood sugar if eaten in large quantities in one sitting. This coupled with high fat could be disastrous to one’s health if maintained over a long period of time. It is no wonder some individuals were coming up with elevated lipid panels. High fat and high glucose/sugar is not a winning combination. Finally, the main difference between both is the ketogenic diet is more of a lifestyle that radically changes your metabolism and produces many health benefits that are not limited to weight loss. On the other hand, Atkins diet is mainly a weight loss plan.
Physicians founded both the Atkins’ diet and the Ketogenic diet. They were both trying to help their patients achieve a better state of health. One diet (ketogenic) is sustainable over a longer period of time, although it can seem more restrictive, while the other diet (Atkins) is restrictive only at the onset. The key difference is that Atkin’s encourages liberal amounts of protein and fat while the ketogenic diet promotes high fat and moderate/low protein. This is the fundamental difference between Atkins and Keto. Finally, because of the macronutrient structure of the ketogenic diet, one is able to reap many health benefits whereas with the Atkins’ diet one runs the risk of future health problems.