Low Carb or Keto?

With the world of keto exploding in every possible form from social media to podcasts to books to programs to blog posts, it is time to look at what makes keto actually keto. And is keto different from low carb? Good questions.

It’s interesting how we all want to name our diet or way of eating — fit it into a box and call it good. But just because it has a name doesn’t mean it is for you and your body.

Low Carb

As you may have figured out low carb doesn’t necessarily equate to keto, but low carb can be keto. Confusing? You’re not alone. Many of my clients want to change how they eat, but don’t want to follow a strict 20 grams of carbs to get into nutritional ketosis. Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients used by the body for energy (think fuel to operate all your cells, tissues and organs). Low carb come in different levels: a moderate LC diet is generally a total number of carbs of 20-50 grams and a liberal LC diet consists of 50-100 grams of total carbs.

For many individuals, following a low-carb diet means moderating their carb intake to what is tolerable for their body — doesn’t cause notable symptoms. This dietary choice doesn’t need any kind of monitoring with a ketone meter either because ketones are not the focus. Additionally, low carb is more manageable for most people in the long term.


Keto is low carb too. That’s right. A well-formulated ketogenic diet for weight loss has about 20 grams of carbs and around 30 grams for maintenance. When carbs are kept this low, the body uses up its glycogen (glucose stored in the liver and muscles) and needs an alternate fuel source. The alternate fuel source is ketones made in the liver from fatty acids which are building blocks of fat from the food you eat (dietary fat) and your body fat.

According to Dr. Stephen Phinney, if you’re insulin-resistant you probably have to get your daily total carbohydrate intake down somewhere between 20 and 50 grams of carbohydrate per day.[1]

An even lower carb diet is the carnivore diet, which is often called zero carbs. Truthfully, there are still carbs in most carnivore diets especially if dairy is being consumed.

What is a well-formulated keto(genic) diet?

A well-formulated ketogenic diet consists of three macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. As Maria and Craig Emmerich outline in their various books, carbs are a daily maximum, protein is a daily target and fats are a lever to aid in satiation. With any kind of metabolic dysfunction or excess body fat, it is best to start with a maximum of around 20 grams of carbs. The amount of protein and fat depends on a few factors. Check out this macronutrient calculator or hire a keto health coach like me.

With carbs low and protein moderate, your body will be using stored body fat when it has run out of glucose for fuel. Of course, this does mean you need to keep fat grams above 30-40 grams (amount needed for hormone and cellular function) and for weight loss keep fat grams equal to or less than your protein grams. Most people wanting to lose weight just want to lose body fat to enhance their body composition.

Let’s briefly look at the concept of nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is different from ketoacidosis (when a diabetic has extremely elevated blood glucose and ketone levels that could lead to death). Nutritional ketosis is usually defined as have a blood ketone level between 0.5-3.0 mmol/L. However, it has been discovered that after you’ve been following a low carb/keto diet for a while your body becomes efficient at using the ketones for fuel that it produces leaving little to no ketones leftover in the blood to be measured.[2] I find that many clients prefer to use observation of symptoms like less hunger or being able to go longer between meals without a need to eat. Keep in mind that being keto doesn’t mean chasing high ketone levels to achieve optimal weight loss or health.

Can I lose weight following a low carb protocol? Or is keto my only choice?

By starting with a very low carb diet (20 grams or less of carbs), you will kick start your weight loss. To become fat-adapted or keto-adapted, you will need to follow this protocol for several months.

I often find that discovering your carb tolerance (where your body is happiest and in balance) is more important. We are all unique and finding your body’s personal carb amount is more important than fitting a diet protocol. You possess a tolerance for metabolizing carbohydrates that is unique to your physiology. [3]

So the short answer is — it depends on your body.

As for Me —

As for me, I know that my carb tolerance is very low and keeping my carbs to 20-30 grams means I feel my best and my body stays in a healthy state. So I tend to make sure I eat adequate protein, keep carbs low and use fat as a vehicle for taste and satiation. Bottom line, I needed to figure out how to eat to nourish my body, stay healthy and have the energy to live the life I want to live.

Your Turn

Do you want to figure out how to personalize your optimum way of eating? You can start the process by arranging a free Discovery Chat with Brenda by emailing. For more information about Watt Works Nutrition’s programs hop on over to HERE. Feel good in your own body again.


[1] Stephen Phinney, PhD., “Nutritional Ketosis and Ketogenic Diets,” Jan 7, 2021, ketogenicexplained.com.
[2] “Long-Term Effects of a Novel Continuous Remote Care Intervention Including Nutritional Ketosis for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Non-randomized Clinical Trial,” Frontiers in Endocrinology, 05 June 2019.
[3] Dr. Natasha Turner, ND, The Carb Sensitivity Program, (Toronto, ON: Random House Canada, 2012) 107.

About Brenda

Brenda loves learning and sharing what she's learning with you. She is a certified keto/carnivore coach with Keto-Adapted (Maria and Craig Emmerich, a certified holistic nutritional consultant (CHNC), and a natural nutrition clinical practitioner (NNCP).