I recently tried the keto diet in the name of research, and pretty much all I talked about over the course of the week was keto. And, more specifically, everything I couldn't eat. While my increased banter on all things low-carb probably made me a bit of a buzzkill, it actually led to an influx of keto-related questions from family, friends, and colleagues. And there was one question I was asked more than any other: is there a difference between keto and Atkins?
Although I knew they were both fundamentally low-carb diets, I felt embarrassed to admit I didn't actually know the ins and outs of what made these two diets different (if there were, in fact, any differences at all). So feeling the need to investigate — mostly so I could correctly answer people's questions, but also out of my own curiosity — I set out to discover if there really is a difference between the two diets. Here's what I found out.
They Aren't Actually the Same Thing
Although both diets put your body in a state of ketosis (i.e., the lack of carbs forces the body into a state of ketosis, during which it burns fat instead of glycogen for energy), they are not exactly the same diet with two different names. The keto diet originated in 1924 and was initially designed by Dr. Russell Wilder as a nonpharmacological option for treating epilepsy. The Atkins diet came along later in the 1960s as the brainchild of Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins (where the name originates from), with the sole purpose of creating a diet that restricts carbohydrate intake to "fast track" fat loss.
Fat Burning Is the Aim of the Game
For both diets, the pillar of their success centers around the purpose of lowering the body's carbohydrate (glycogen) intake so the body will utilize fat as an energy source and start to break down (burn) fat stores. However, there are differences between the protocol these two diets follow in order to achieve this process. Atkins focuses on a specific "introductory" phase when carbohydrates are strictly limited (normally below 15 to 30 grams per day) to induce ketosis. This is initially similar to the keto diet; however, after this introductory phase is complete, the Atkins diet then transitions to an ongoing weight-loss stage, a premaintenance stage, and then finally a lifetime maintenance stage, all with different nutritional requirements and breakdowns. In contrast, the keto diet maintains the same requirements from beginning to end.
Protein Is the Deal-Breaker
The key differences between both diets are the nutritional breakdown and guidelines. Atkins can rely on you getting the majority of your calories from protein, whereas the keto diet centers around a moderate protein intake with more calories coming from fat. Both diets follow strict nutritional protocols, but the Atkins diet offers more flexibility within the balance of food groups and therefore can be easier to follow for most people. Alternatively, food intake on the keto diet needs to be closely measured and the state of ketosis constantly monitored by the individual, making it a more high-maintenance option.