How low must you go when you cut the carbs? In this post, I’ll share the pros and cons of following a low carb, keto, and no-carb diet so you can decide which one is right for you.
Low Carb vs. Keto vs. No Carb – Summary
- Low carb diets provide a wider range of food choices than keto or no carb diets.
- Due to the restriction of food choices, the risk of nutrient deficiencies increases with keto and no carb diets.
- Weight loss is enhanced as the level of carbs in your diet decreases.
- Testing is required to know for sure that you’ve entered ketosis. This involves either a finger prick blood test or urine strips.
- A no-carb (carnivore) diet can be used as an elimination diet to reveal food sensitivities.
Low Carb vs. Keto vs. No Carb: Which Diet is Right for You? [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The pros and cons of the low carb, keto and no carb diets.
- Advice on which diet may be best for you.
- Helpful resources and 21 Day Challenges that will motivate you!
Low Carb Diet
We’ll start by looking at the pros and cons of following a low carb diet, which is the way of eating that I follow. I eat around 80 carbs per day to maintain my weight, but the range for low-carb falls anywhere between 50 to 125 total carb grams per day.
The main thing I enjoy about low-carb dieting is that it allows me to eat a variety of plant and animal foods. Because plants are the living organisms that make carbohydrates, they are the primary foods that contain carbs. So, as you move into lower-carb diets, like keto, your food choices get more restricted.
If you are eating a well-formulated low carb diet, there is room for a reasonably wide range of fruits and vegetables and even a small amount of beans or whole grains if you enjoy having them in your diet. This variety is not only satisfying but provides you with a good amount of fiber and a wide range of nutrients.
Jumpstart Weight Loss with Limited Carb Withdrawal
Many people find that starting with a low carb diet jumpstarts their weight loss while limiting the carb withdrawal or keto flu symptoms that are common when moving away from a high-carb lifestyle.
Because you’ve replaced the quick-digesting and carb-dense refined foods like cereal, bread, and pasta, with slow-digesting whole foods, your body can ease into the diet and slowly adapt to burning fat for fuel without fatigue and ill-feelings. By simply dropping your carbs into the low carb range, you stabilize your blood sugar and keep insulin low, allowing for fat loss.
Depending on your metabolism, this fat loss level might be enough to get you to your goal and stay there. However, this is where the cons of low-carb dieting come into play.
Possibly Slow Weight Loss
A person with a stubborn metabolism may find that following a low carb diet results in slow or no weight loss. Slow weight loss requires some discernment. Weight loss will be fast at the start of a reduced carb diet because carbohydrates hold water in your body.
But, as your body adapts, weight loss will slow down. How much it slows will depend on your metabolism. However, if you are losing slowly but steadily and enjoying what you are eating, sticking with a low carb diet is a good option. If weight loss stalls, you may need to drop your carbs to the keto range.
To be in the range of a keto diet, you must drop your carb intake below 50 grams of total carbs per day. Keto is the style of eating that my husband Keith follows, and we share a second YouTube channel (2 Fit Docs) that chronicled his 80-pound weight loss if you’d like to check it out.
Enhanced Weight Loss
Keith is one of those individuals with a stubborn metabolism. He started with a low carb diet but needed to drop into a keto diet to continue weight loss. To maintain his weight, he currently keeps his carb intake under 30 total grams per day.
You may find that you have a similar metabolism and similar results. A nice thing about the keto diet is that you know that you are burning fat due to the presence of ketones. A keto diet gets its name because it forces your body to produce energy-rich molecules called ketones.
When this happens, you are said to be in a state of ketosis. The liver makes ketones from fat, so if your body is producing ketones, you are burning fat.
Enhanced Health Benefits
Adhering to a keto diet may also provide health benefits that go beyond a low carb diet. The diet originated back in the 1920s as a treatment for children with epilepsy, which is a seizure disorder caused by abnormal brain activity (1).
Over the years, it has become evident that ketones are a preferred fuel source for the brain, which may be why many people experience enhanced mental clarity on a keto diet.
Those who have trouble stabilizing their blood sugar on a low carb diet may find that going keto works for them, reducing their fasting blood glucose and HbA1c levels.
Testing Ketones (Finger Prick)
To know if you are in ketosis, you need to check your blood ketones. This requires a finger prick, which can be uncomfortable, and therefore a deterrent for some people interested in following a keto diet.
There are ketone-detecting urine strips that you can use to get started, but they become less accurate as your body changes over time. You can follow a keto diet without testing for the presence of ketones, but testing is the only way to know for sure that the food choices you are making are moving your body into ketosis.
Reduced Food Choices & Increased Tracking
Another consideration if you are thinking about following a keto diet is that it will reduce your food choices. You must also be diligent in avoiding hidden carbs, and you need to carefully track your carb intake to avoid going too high. That means that most fruits, nuts, seeds, and milk-based foods will need to be avoided, which may reduce the enjoyment of the diet for you.
The restrictive nature of the keto diet also means that you need to work harder to keep your diet balanced. If you rely on a lot of processed meats and keto snacks, you could open yourself up to nutrient deficiencies. These can manifest in different ways, from fatigue to hair loss.
The lower you drop your carb intake, the more susceptible you are to nutrient imbalance, which brings us to the no-carb diets.
No Carb Diet
Enhanced Weight Loss
One of the benefits that may pique your interest in this way of eating is the potential for faster weight loss.
As long as you are avoiding carbs and not overeating protein, your body will have a hard time maintaining insulin levels high enough to block the release of fat.
Works as an Elimination Diet
Another perk of a no-carb diet is that it can be used as an elimination diet to pinpoint food intolerances or sensitivities. An all animal-food diet would naturally eliminate gluten, sugar, and FODMAPs, which are inflammatory foods that can cause digestive problems.
By temporarily avoiding all plant foods and then slowly adding them back into your diet, you could discover the trigger foods that cause you issues.
As I mentioned, a no-carb diet would omit all plant foods. For some, this lack of variety is a non-issue. However, for many people, the lack of food choices can lead to boredom with the diet.
To follow a carnivore diet, you need to avoid all fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, as well as natural flours, yogurt, and nut butter, which are ingredients that can make a well-formulated diet more interesting.
Potential for Nutrient Deficiencies
Another factor to consider is the potential for nutrient deficiencies. While many people state that they feel good following a no-carb diet, there is little research to support or refute the diet’s long-term health.
There are groups of people who have thrived on this eating style, but if you rely on muscle meat and processed meats and limiting more nutrient-dense choices, like organ meats, then the potential for nutrient deficiencies exists.
We have seen a movement away from high-carb diets. This movement is fueled by testimonials from those who share how their lives have been changed by getting rid of refined carbs and reducing the overall carbohydrate content of their diet.
If you have struggled with dieting in the past, start by cutting your current carb intake in half. For many of you, that means bringing the number of total carb grams you eat in a day below 100. By starting this way, you will be able to bypass many uncomfortable carb withdrawal symptoms, enjoy a variety of plant- and animal-based foods, stabilize your blood sugar, and jumpstart your weight loss.
If you are happy with the way you’re progressing, you can stick with low carb dieting like me. To speed up slower than desired results, you can drop your carbs to the keto range. If you have some food sensitivities, you may find that a dip into no-carb dieting provides you with the clues you need to get offending foods out of your system.
On my website, I provide 21-day challenges that guide you through a low carb diet or keto diet. These challenges send you daily emails that tell you exactly what to eat to go low carb or keto, so you can learn the diets by doing the diets. You can follow the navigation bar’s links at the top of this web page if you’d like to learn more about the challenges. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
(1) Wheless, James W. “History of the ketogenic diet.” Epilepsia 49 (2008): 3-5.
About the Author
Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.