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Keto vs Adkins Diet- Understanding the Differences and Similarities

Today I’d like to focus on a question that I receive surprisingly often around the ketogenic diet- “What is the difference between Keto and Adkins?”.

Lets first start with a brief history of the Adkins diet. Created by Dr. Robert Adkins in the years between 1963 and 1972, this diet peaked in popularity in the late 90’s-2000’s, offering a stark contrast to the low-fat fad that was also quite popular at the time. The Adkins diet’s primary focus is around severely restricting carbohydrates (cookies, candies, cakes, sugar, fruit) to below 20-50 grams per day in exchange for protein and fats.

The Ketogenic diet has been around much longer than the Adkins diet, with it first being used in the early 1900’s as a treatment for epilepsy. While not nearly as popular as the Adkins diet at the time, the Ketogenic diet re-gained recognition for its use as a natural treatment for epilepsy in the 90’s, around the same time that the Adkins diet was gaining momentum in the US.

When I mention Keto and lay out the basic premise of this way of eating, the most common response I receive is “Oh like the Adkins diet from the 90’s?” Yes, Keto is similar to the Adkins diet; both are strict low carbohydrate diets and both are commonly used for fat loss. However while certainly similar in respects to carbohydrate restriction, these diets are really quite different. Some argue that the ketogenic diet has an stronger emphasis on higher quality fats and proteins than Adkins. While I agree this is correct when it comes to the various forms of Keto being promoted by modern day influencers such as Dr. Mercola, Dr. Axe, Mark Sisson, Dr. Mark Hyman… and the list goes on… The truth of the matter is that there are still many following the Ketogenic diet who aren’t making the quality food choices. And, being that the Adkins diet was really peaking in popularity a good 20 years ago, its fair to say that we’ve come a long way in better understanding just how damaging things like trans fats, conventionally-raised meats and eggs, and polyunsaturated fats are to the human body. Thus, yes I will agree that when it comes to the Adkins diet that was popular 20 years ago and today’s version of the Ketogenic diet quality of food certainly is worth mentioning as a key difference between the two diets. However, as with all diets, there are versions of both Keto and Adkins that are healthier (or less healthy). I guess the point that I’m trying to make is that we have better information around our foods today than we had when Adkins was popular and while the Adkins diet from the 90’s may have included lower quality foods than many keto diets being promoted today, one could certainly follow an Adkins style of diet and make better choices.

Historically the Adkins diet's foundational rule was focused on replacing carbs with anything and everything that didn’t contain carbohydrates- bring on the pork rinds, cured and processed meats, fried everything and endless amounts of dairy! With today’s version of the Ketogenic diet (for those who have done their research) there is a much bigger emphasis placed on quality of foods with omega 3 rich olives/olive oil, avocado, coconut, grass fed/organically raised meats, uncured meats, and some nuts and seeds. However, that’s not to say that I haven’t seen my fair share of keto-followers binging on bacon, pork rinds, McDonalds hamburger patties and heavy whipping cream! With this said, one could easily incorporate the same variety of foods promoted on today’s Ketogenic diet when doing Adkins for a higher quality version of this diet.

Another key difference with Keto and Adkins is the amount of protein allowed. In fact this is probably the key difference. While the Adkins diet recommends keeping net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) less than 20-50 grams daily, it really doesn’t place any restrictions on protein intake nor does it recommend a range for fat intake. Meanwhile, the Ketogenic diet is much more specific in terms of carbohydrate, protein and fat intake with typical recommendations calling for 5-10% of daily calories coming from carbs, 15-30% from protein and 60-80% from healthy fats. Thus typical recommendations for a Ketogenic diet would be 10% of total calories from carbs, 20% from protein and 70% from healthy fats (or 10/20/70). Essentially the goal if the Ketogenic diet is to get and keep the body in a state of ketosis (a normal metabolic process created when the body lacks glucose for energy and thus transitions to burning fats instead) to encourage fat burning as well as glucose and insulin regulation. While some (possibly most) on a strict Adkins diet would likely find themselves transitioning in and out of ketosis simply as a result of the lack of carbs, the higher protein intake of the Adkins diet would prevent most people from getting and staying in a steady state of ketosis (the body can actually convert protein to carbs via a process known as gluconeogenesis).

To tag on to the point above, I would add that being that the keto diet does have more clear parameters around macronutrient intake, it does require a fair amount of calorie/macro counting in order to be successful. I suppose this is one downside that I could point out when it comes to keto. Of course not everybody needs to track macros, some will simply cut all carbs and replace them with loads of fats and fatty meats and instantly find their ketones measuring in the .6-2mmol/L range for ketones. However, as mentioned above eating too much protein, too little fat or two many carbs can prevent somebody from entering Ketosis, and thus becoming fat adapted. Thus, tracking macronutrients for at least a month or two can be helpful when transitioning to a keto diet to make sure ketosis is achieved. Meanwhile with an Adkins diet, one really just needs to keep carbs low and not worry too much about the fat and protein. The general rule is to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full with no limitations on protein or recommendations for fat intake.

Now comes the question- which diet is best? Honestly, given the explosion of latest research and popularity around the ketogenic diet, I'm more inclined to recommend the keto diet over Adkins. There is pretty extensive research showing the potential benefits for the ketogenic diet for everything from cancer to cognitive function, GI issues, fertility, blood sugar management and of course weight loss... meanwhile Adkins is most known for its benefits for weight loss. This is, of course, not to say that somebody following a well planned Adkins diet wouldn't experience health benefits; I would venture to guess that Adkins would also have positive effects on blood sugar, cognition, GI issues, and autoimmune conditions; simply as a result of the diets restrictions around processed foods, grains, sugars. And, speaking of restricting sugars, grains and processed foods I think its safe to say that anybody looking for a simple way to improve health and optimize body composition should consider removing these inflammatory components from their diet, via a ketogenic, Adkins or even Paleo style of diet.

For those interested in learning more or implementing a Ketogenic or Adkins diet.... or even Paleo or balanced Mediterranean feel free to call our office today (541-318-1000) to schedule an appointment with me, Cassie Kremer.

Yours in Health,

Cassie Kremer