For many people trying to lose weight, manage health conditions (like diabetes, for example), or adopt a healthier lifestyle, there are plenty of diets and options out there. Two of the most popular include the ketogenic diet (or the keto diet) and the Whole30.
While some view these as ‘fad diets,’ the two are more like guidelines for a healthy lifestyle, meal planning, and relationship to food, if used appropriately. Some people turn to keto and Whole30 for a short-term boost while others employ principles from the diets in the long-term. So what are the key differences between keto and Whole30, and which one is right for you?
The ABCs of the Ketogenic Diet
The Keto diet is explosively popular right now—and with good reason. Dozens of studies have proven its benefits in helping to fight against obesity, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It is important to note that a keto-friendly diet may not be ideal for everyone due to the potential effects on cardiovascular and liver function that we outline later, and you should consult with your physician before undertaking such a lifestyle change.
But first, what is the keto diet, exactly? It’s similar to Atkins and low-carb diets, but it’s also a high-fat diet. According to the National Institutes of Health, “A ketogenic diet primarily consists of high-fats, moderate-proteins, and very-low carbohydrates. The dietary macronutrients are divided into approximately 55% to 60% fat, 30% to 35% protein and 5% to 10% carbohydrates. Specifically, in a 2000 kcal per day diet, carbohydrates amount up to 20 to 50 g per day.”
A macronutrient (also known as a macro) is a carb, fat, or protein—and this is important, because the keto diet, if done exactly as designed, relies heavily on your understanding of macros and reading nutrition labels.
The interesting thing about the keto diet is that many have regarded fat as an enemy of health, a relic of the past’s lack of research around fat. The National Institutes for Health, however, states this: “The popular belief that high-fat diets cause obesity and several other diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, and cancer has not been observed in recent epidemiological studies. Studies carried out in animals that were fed high-fat diets did not show a specific causal relationship between dietary fat and obesity. On the contrary, very-low-carbohydrate and high-fat diets such as the ketogenic diet have shown to [be] beneficial to weight loss.” The key is to eat lots of high-protein foods and healthy fats, like ghee, eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed butter and grass-fed meat, avocados, olive oil, fish, chia seeds, and nuts. Here’s a list of keto-approved foods.
The entire goal of keto—again, if done properly and to its full extent, rather than taking principles of it—is to get your body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is the goal here, and getting into ketosis means shifting your body into a state where it burns fat in the form of ketones rather than burning glucose from carbs (hence the low-carb aspect). It typically takes a few days to enter into ketosis, although it can take weeks for your body to really kick it into gear. Your macros will need to be carefully monitored in order to shift into ketosis.
Ketogenic diets can cause serious drops in blood sugar and insulin, which is why some people living with diabetes turn to the diet. However, it is extremely important to involve your healthcare provider here, as there are some risks, including ketoacidosis or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is when your body produces too many ketones. This can be particularly troublesome for someone with diabetes.
Other general risks include liver problems, nutritional deficiencies, constipation, and fuzzy thinking, according to Harvard Health.
If you want to go keto, it’s best to talk to a healthcare professional about how to implement the diet healthily and to understand the potential long-term effects. There are some studies that suggest the keto approach isn’t right for the long term and can cause cardiovascular and liver risks. Some people, however, do keto cyclically, meaning “adhering to a standard ketogenic diet protocol 5–6 days per week, followed by 1–2 days of higher carb consumption,” according to Healthline.
The ABCs of the Whole30 Diet
The Whole30 is a clean-eating plan that is designed to help you cut out foods that make you feel not so great (like sugar, alcohol, and grains). So it’s sort of like an extension of the popular Paleo diet (which focuses on eating real food), but it takes things a bit further (by excluding honey and maple syrup, for example).
While it’s not about counting macros or getting into ketosis, it will deprive you of some of the things that you may be used to eating.
On the Whole30 diet, which you’ll do for 30 days, you can eat loads of meats, all the veggies (great for plant-based diet lovers), fish, poultry, fruits, and healthy fats. However, you’re not allowed to have alcohol, any sugar of any sort (not even honey or syrup), no grains at all (not even healthy ones like quinoa), no soy, dairy, beans, legumes, additives of any sorts, and absolutely no processed foods. However—like Keto, you can have ghee as the only form of dairy. Basically, it’s the cleanest you’re going to get. Here’s a list of Whole30 foods.
According to Diana Rodgers, RD, at the Sustainable Dish, “The reason these diets work is because they force people to invest in a complete dietary transformation… The Whole30 is designed to reset your metabolism and taste buds, break your sugar addiction, and get folks back in the kitchen cooking real food instead of relying on convenient but unhealthy processed foods.”
Rodgers also states, “Countless people have found that when they eliminate grains, legumes, sugar and dairy for 30-days, it’s the beginning to a whole new way of relating to food. After their 30-day intro, they’re usually able to reincorporate a small amount of ‘modern’ foods in moderation (like rice or full fat, plain yogurt, or the occasional treat or glass of wine) with no problem, while sticking to a general real food template as their base. Many people report that their blood sugar issues go away, food cravings disappear, acne improves, they sleep better, lose weight, perform better in the gym, and they just feel fantastic.”
It’s important to note that it’s a 30-day program, so it’s not going to support sustainable weight loss unless you keep elements of it intact after the 30 days. If you learn to eat cleaner by being on this diet, that can certainly help you keep weight off, though. After the 30 days, you’re supposed to reintroduce certain food items to see how they make you feel.
You won’t step on a scale for 30 days, either, and this is because the Whole30 is all about rewiring your brain and relearning your relationship to food, not thinking of the diet as a deprivation solely for the purpose of weight loss.
Keto vs. Whole30: What Is Right for You?
It seems like both diets are pretty similar, right? They’re both very low-carb, after all. According to Brigitte Zeitlin, RD, for Women’s Health, the keto diet “focuses on keeping your intake from carbohydrates to less than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake and increasing your fat intake to more 70 percent of your daily caloric intake.” That’s the core of Keto. You’re counting macros down to the smallest percentage, so you’re really ensuring your body is going into ketosis.
On Whole30, you’ll be resetting your approach to food entirely, cutting out processed and refined foods entirely—and then reintroducing certain foods.
In the end, both of these diets are fairly restrictive (especially if you’re not used to cutting food groups), but they can be rewarding in major ways both physically and psychologically, since both require determination and care for your body. Everybody is different, so be sure to chat with your doctor or a BodyLogicMD-affiliated physician to determine what works best for you.