Keto vs. Calorie Counting

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Written by Rahul Malpe, Certified Nutritionist and medically reviewed by Abby Courtenay

Imge of Keto vs. Calorie Counting



We have often heard about people keeping a track of their calories to achieve their weight loss goals, however when you pit it against the keto diet, which one is better? 

In this article, you will find out what exactly is calorie counting and how it fares against keto.


What is calorie counting?

It is the process of tracking the number of calories you consume in a day. This can be done by keeping a food diary or using a calorie tracking app. 

The goal of tracking your calories is to create a calorie deficit, which means you are burning more calories than you are consuming. 

This can be accomplished by eating fewer calories, exercising more, or a combination of both. 

Creating a calorie deficit is essential for weight loss, as it forces your body to burn stored fat for energy. 

When it comes to counting your calories, you have to use the principle of "calories in, calories out." If you're trying to lose weight, then you must be burning more calories than you consume. A popular theory states that in order to lose 1 pound of fat, your body needs to be in a 3500 kCal deficit.

The theory behind it is that tracking calories will help you lose weight by setting a daily calorie intake target for you to follow. For instance, you could cut 500 calories from your diet each day. This would be the equivalent of approximately 1 pound of weight loss during the course of the week.


Similarities between calorie counting and keto 

Both calorie counting and keto diets can help people to lose weight. 

Both require that the dieter track their food intake in order to be successful. Both also restrict the types of foods that can be eaten, although the restrictions are different. 

On a calorie-counting diet, the dieter must stay within a certain number of calories per day. Depending on which calorie controlled diet you follow, you may or may not be encouraged to eat certain foods as long as you can stay below your calorie limit. 

On a keto diet, the dieter must have low-carb foods and plenty of fats. This usually means eating lots of vegetables, along with eggs, cheese, meat and seafood, and nuts and seeds, while avoiding carbs like bread and pasta. 

Both diets can be effective for weight loss, but they require different levels of commitment and self-control.


Differences between calorie counting vs. keto

With keto, you mainly keep track of carbohydrates. This is because the goal is to achieve a state of ketosis, so you burn fat for fuel and enjoy health benefits of increased ketone production.

With calorie counting, you track the number of calories you eat. The goal is usually to lose weight by maintaining a caloric deficit, but it's also possible to use this technique to eat enough calories to gain weight. 

On keto, the type of foods you eat matter. You limit carbs, moderate protein, and increase healthy fats. You are encouraged to eat whole foods and avoid highly processed foods.

When calorie counting, there are no set guidelines on what types of foods to eat or avoid, as long as you meet your calorie goals.


Benefits of calorie counting and keto

The counting of calories can be viewed as providing a framework and discipline for dieters. Tracking your food intake and its calories teaches you to take into account what you are eating and how much you consume.

You can train yourself to switch from high to lower calorie foods if you keep a food journal while counting calories. 

A food journal can be very helpful for any kind of diet if you track additional information like when and where different foods are eaten. This will help you to notice triggers that can lead you to binge on unhealthy foods.

For example, some people like to drink sugary beverages or eat processed foods like ice cream or a bag of chips whenever they are stressed out. So, by tracking your calorie intake with a food journal, you become more aware of your overall food intake, and ideally this will help you to replace these triggers with something healthy. 

Instead of reaching for a bag of chips when you are stressed you may opt to meditate or go for a walk.

Benefits of keto

When following a keto diet, your body enters a state of ketosis, which is when it begins to burn fat for energy, instead of carbohydrates. 

This can lead to a number of health benefits, including weight loss, improved mental clarity, and decreased inflammation. 

Additionally, the keto diet has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels and triglycerides, and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. 

While more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the keto diet, it can be a helpful tool for losing weight and potentially achieving better health.


Side effects of calorie-counting vs. keto

You may find it tedious to continuously track calories, especially if you are always on the go or eating out. In addition, limiting calories can create feelings of anxiety for some people. Being excessively careful about the number of calories consumed may cause one to abandon the diet or develop an eating disorder.

As calorie counting doesn’t guide you with regards to what kind of foods to choose, some people may make the wrong choices. If you choose to eat mainly highly processed foods that are low in nutrients, then you may suffer from nutrient deficiencies. This can harm your health in the long run, even if you remain below your calorie count. 

The side effects of keto 

The keto diet is not for everyone. Some people may not do well on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. Keto may cause side effects such as bad breath, headache, constipation, and dizziness. 
When you cut out carbs, you also cut out many healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, and legumes that are high in fiber and other important nutrients. If you follow the diet for a long period of time, you may not get enough vitamins and minerals. It is also possible to make the wrong food choices while on keto. For example, if you choose highly processed foods that are high in saturated fats, then you may be increasing your risk for heart disease.


Keto vs. calorie counting foods  

In the following chart you'll see which foods are allowed (✓) or not allowed (X) in both these eating regimes.

Beans and legumes In moderation
Condiments and sauces Yes (low-carb)
Dairy Yes (low-carb)
Sugar-free drinks
Sugar-sweetened beverages X
Alcoholic drinks Yes (low-carb)
Fish and seafood
Fruits Yes (in moderation)
Grains and starches In moderation
Herbs and spices
Meat and poultry
Nuts and seeds
Oils and fats
Processed foods Not encouraged, but ok in moderation
Sugar-free sweeteners
Natural sweeteners Yes (low-carb, in moderation)
White and brown sugars X
Starchy vegetables Yes (low-carb, in moderation)
Non-starchy vegetables


One of the primary differences between these two eating plans is the calorie-counting method does not specifically restrict any foods, rather it focuses more on accountability and reaching one's caloric goals regardless of whether it is a weight loss or weight gain goal. 

When on keto, you may need to avoid or limit the consumption of foods that contain high quantities of carbohydrates. If you’re unsure of the carb count in specific ingredients, you’ll have to look it up.


Which is cheaper?

Counting calories requires you to track your intake of calories and make sure you're staying within your daily limit. This can be done by keeping a food diary or downloading a tracking app. 

The main disadvantage of this approach is that it can be time-consuming to track your intake, and you may need to purchase some tools like a food scale. This is not something you’d generally want to carry around with you, which can make eating out at restaurants or other peoples’ homes inconvenient.

A ketogenic diet, on the other hand, involves cutting out carbs and focusing on eating healthy fats and protein. When eating out, you can generally eat what you want as long as you stay away from carbs. In terms of cost, the time saved may be the biggest benefit. 


Which one is healthier?

Both diets are popular methods for managing weight, but which one is more effective? 

Keto is more effective in the short term (6 months) when it comes to weight loss, but in the long run, most diets are equal as long as you continue to follow them.

Ultimately, the best diet is the one that you can stick to in the long run. If you're feeling discouraged by a strict diet plan, it may be more realistic (and healthier) to focus on making small changes that you can sustain in the longer term.

Whichever you choose, it is in your power to make your diet healthier by choosing nutritious foods, limiting saturated fats, and avoiding highly processed products.


Bottom line 

To lose weight faster, don't let yourself go too low on calories when you are counting calories. It will leave you feeling weak and lethargic. 

If you go with keto, you have to make sure that you are monitoring your carb intake and keep it at least under 50 g of net carbs per day. Also, it will be helpful if you plan out your meals for the day beforehand.