What’s the Difference Between the Keto Diet and Atkins?

It’s a tricky question. And a new one. In the “olden days,” established science was too busy attacking the low carb approach to make these fine, keto vs. Atkins distinctions. But now, low carb living has become a crossover hit.

Keto vs. Atkins: Histories

Keto was developed in the 1920s as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. Though often successful, even in difficult cases, keto was largely forgotten as pharmaceutical remedies were discovered. At one point, only one hospital in the country used the protocol. Without those who recognized its value, its benefits for epilepsy might have been lost permanently.

The Atkins diet was developed out of the clinical experience of Dr. Robert Atkins. His experiences with treating patients for metabolic issues, including obesity and diabetes, led him to “think out of the box.” And for many health professionals, he became the poster boy for junk science.

Keto vs. Atkins: Macronutrients

  • Carbohydrates: Both diets are low carb. But keto is often used for medical issues (epilepsy, chronic cluster headaches, chemo). Especially in those cases, the ongoing carb level can be extremely low – in the 20 grams, and even into the 12 grams per day range.
  • Fats: Keto often puts more emphasis on fats, including “fat fasts” – short periods of eating almost nothing but fats – for weight plateaus.
  • Protein: Atkins tends to be a little higher on the protein side.

Keto vs. Atkins: Phases

The Atkins diet consists of a very low carb induction phase, the basic diet, and a maintenance phase. The keto method sometimes recommends starting with a fast, but beyond that, it’s steady state – the same diet throughout.


Keto vs. Atkins is really a comparison of closely related approaches. Low carb, moderate protein, high fat. And they’re becoming more closely related, as both research and personal experiment lead to more refinements. In fact, researchers are now studying the Modified Atkins Diet as an alternative to keto for treating childhood epilepsy. For now, the best one is simply the one that works for you.

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