Now that grilling season has kicked off, the idea of eating an unlimited amount of barbecue sounds like a dream. I mean, who wouldn’t want to pile up a plate of burgers, ribs, and steaks? The prospect of meat-heavy meals, while still dropping pounds, may attract dieters to two popular low carb eating plans: the keto diet and the Atkins diet.

But focusing on the meat-heavy parts of both eating plans is selling them short—and actually a major misconception. Both the keto diet and the Atkins diet are actually centered on consuming fat. (Yes, really, fat, not tons of meat. More on that later.)

The two diets actually have a lot in common and overlap in some stages, says dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, M.S., R.D.N., who specializes low-carb diets.

“The Atkins diet is not different from the ketogenic diet,” Mancinelli says. “The only difference is that Atkins starts you in a ketogenic diet and over time adds carbs back in. So when you are in the ‘induction’ phase of the Atkins diet, which is the beginning, you are absolutely on a ketogenic diet. No difference at all. Atkins says you should stay there for a couple of weeks but recommends you stay longer if you want more aggressive weight loss. It’s really left up to the dieter to decide how long they want to be in be induction [or ketogenic] phase before they move on.”

So what exactly does a ketogenic diet consist of? The keto diet is a very high fat diet, with moderate protein intake designed to put the body into a state of ketosis, says Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D., registered dietitian and consultant in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “This means the body uses ketones as a source of energy instead of glucose or carbohydrate,” Goodson says. (Ketones are a result of the body breaking down fat for energy, which happens when carb intake is very limited.)

What is the keto diet? (With keto recipes.)

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To successfully put the body into a state of ketosis, you would have to consume 70-80 percent fat, 20-25 percent protein, and 5-10 percent carbohydrates, Goodson says. The Atkins diet relies less on ratios, but the concept is similar: You can eat unlimited protein and fat, and in phase one, you only eat 20 grams of carbohydrates, ideally from veggies, according to Goodson. “The idea is that protein and fat make you feel more full and you will, by default, feel satiated and eat less,” she says.

And sorry to burst your bubble, carnivores, but neither diet is all-you-can-eat meat. “Many people mistakenly believed that the Atkins diet is a high protein diet, but that is just a misconception,” Mancinelli says. “If they read the instructions for following an Atkins diet they would see that it’s not so. You do eat meat, but most of your calories come from fat.”

In addition to protein sources like eggs, fish, poultry and meat, you’ll end up filling up on many healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, tree nuts, and seeds, and low-carb veggies like spinach and kale, if you’re trying to follow either eating plan closely.

Bottom line?

The Atkins diet is a branded ketogenic diet, with a slight twist. “Again, there is no difference and no choosing one over the other,” Mancinelli says. “The Atkins diet provides a plan for increasing carb intake over time, whereas a ketogenic diet is technically ‘all in,’ and once you start reintroducing carbs then you would say you’re no longer on a ketogenic diet…the main difference between the two is that one provides a stepwise process for going off the diet and the other does not.”

Trying to figure out which is best for you? Speak with your doc or go see a registered dietitian to see if the finer points of the eating plans work for you.

Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Kelsey Butler is a reporter and editor based in New Jersey. She has written for a number of health and lifestyle publications, including Women's Health, Brides, and NBC News Better. Hot sauce, black coffee, and bacon make up 50% of her diet.
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