Low-Carb vs. High-Carb Diet

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

Imge of Low-Carb vs. High-Carb Diet



There are many approaches to achieving your weight loss or muscle gain goals. What may work for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. Everyone’s lifestyle, dietary habits, and health goals are unique. This is why any dietary approach needs to be customized to each individual's needs.

In this article we will compare two popular diets and see how they fare against each other. We will discuss their benefits, side effects, and finally which one is healthier and cheaper to sustain.

What is a high-carb diet?

This type of eating plan includes a significantly higher proportion of carbohydrates than other types of diets. The specific amount of carbohydrates that constitutes this plan can vary depending on a person's individual needs, but it typically ranges from 65% to 85% of total daily calories. While there are many different ways to structure this way of eating, common foods include grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, legumes, and dairy products. 

Some people choose to eat large amounts of carbohydrates for the benefits they can offer in terms of energy levels. Others may feel that it helps them perform better athletically or provides them with more sustainable energy throughout the day. 


Similarities between high-carb diet and keto 

A carb-heavy approach and a keto diet are two very different things. A carbohydrate-rich eating plan is one that contains a lot of sugars and starches, which the body breaks down into glucose or blood sugar. Glucose is then used for energy. 

A keto diet, on the other hand, is a low-carb, high-fat way of eating. When you eat very few carbs, your body goes into a state called ketosis. In ketosis, your body uses ketones (which are produced when you burn fat) for energy instead of glucose. Because of this, keto diets and carb-heavy diets have very different effects on the body. 

Keto diets can be helpful for people who want to lose weight or control their blood sugar levels, while carb-rich diets may be recommended for people who need more energy or who frequently participate in strenuous activity. 


Differences between high-carb diet vs. keto

As mentioned above, a meal plan that is primarily rich in carbohydrates will include foods that are high in sugars and starches, and possibly fiber, e.g., if you are eating whole grains. The body breaks down these carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used for energy. 

A keto diet, on the other hand, is a low-carbohydrate diet. The goal of keto is to put the body into the state of ketosis where the body starts burning fat for fuel instead of glucose. The two diets also differ in the types of foods that are consumed and the macronutrients that are emphasized. 

A high-carbohydrate approach typically includes more fruits, starchy vegetables, and grains than a ketogenic one. A keto diet emphasizes fatty meats and fish, oils, and low-carbohydrate vegetables. You can check which foods are keto-friendly here.

The two diets also vary in their effects on blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. Depending on what you choose to eat on a high-carb diet (as well as how sensitive your body is to insulin), you may experience blood sugar levels on the higher side of normal. Meanwhile, a keto diet has minimal effect on blood sugar levels due to its low carb content.

Benefits of high-carb vs. low-carb

By following either of these two eating regimes, an individual may experience the following benefits.

Benefits of eating HC

Freedom to eat more carbs
While some people might think that carbs only come in the form of bread, rice, potatoes, and grains, this is not the case. Even though it's not always easy to identify what kind or quantity of carbohydrates specific food contains, there are plenty around for your diet! Some examples of high-carb foods are fresh fruits, dried fruits, milk, oatmeal, beans, peas, lentils, and corn.

Variety in fruits
In that sense, a carb-heavy diet is not only less restrictive but also more likely to provide a greater variety of fruits and vegetables than a keto diet. In addition to their nutritional value, fruits and vegetables are also a great source of fiber.

Optimizes athletic performance
Carbohydrates are especially required for those who want to maximize their physical performance. They can help your workouts by providing an instant source of energy that our bodies can use as fuel during exercise. 

Benefits of keto

The benefits of a high-fat, low-carb diet are many and varied. They include an increase in fat burning through oxidation as well as possible inflammation reduction, which can lead to improved insulin sensitivity for those with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes.

When you restrict carbs and focus on eating healthy fats, protein, and vegetables with every meal, your body begins burning fat for energy. Ketones are also produced at higher levels as a result, which helps promote weight loss.

Some people also find that a low-carb high-fat diet is the best way to optimize their mental health. A recent study also suggests that a low-carb diet may have positive effects on mood and hunger hormone regulation; however, more research needs to confirm these findings before drawing any conclusions.


Side effects of high-carb vs keto

In addition to their benefits, both also have some side effects, let's find out what they are.

Side effects of HC

We are all aware that protein is critical for muscle growth and maintenance, Furthermore, protein-rich foods can contribute to keeping you full for longer, which aids in weight loss. However, a plan high in carbohydrates may not prioritize protein. You must make a special effort to make sure you are getting enough protein to maintain your muscle mass.

An increase in carbohydrates can also mean a decrease in the intake of healthy fats, which are good for your heart. 

A carb-heavy diet also does not specifically restrict refined carbohydrates, such as sugary, processed foods. Many high-carb foods are unhealthy, such as potato chips, candy, soda, doughnuts, cakes, and cookies.

These foods not only contain zero beneficial nutrients, but their calories are far higher than those from healthier carbs. These foods may also cause you to feel hungry again soon after eating due to their lack of fiber, which may cause you to overeat.


Side effects of keto

One of the biggest concerns with this way of eating are the potential for nutritional deficiencies. When carbohydrate intake is severely restricted, you need to pay special attention to eating nutrient-dense foods to make sure you are getting enough of certain vitamins and minerals. 

Additionally, depending on what foods you choose,the keto diet can lead to constipation and other digestive issues due to the lack of fiber. This being said, there are definitely keto-friendly high fiber foods that can be incorporated into your diet, like nuts, seeds and avocados. And while ketosis can be beneficial for some people, it can also cause side effects like bad breath, headaches, and fatigue.


Keto vs. high-carb diet foods  

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

Beans and legumes In moderation Yes
Condiments and sauces Yes
Dairy Yes
(in moderation)
Sugar-free drinks Yes Yes
Sugar-sweetened beverages No Yes
Alcoholic drinks Yes
Eggs Yes Yes
(in moderation)
Fish and seafood Yes Yes
(in moderation)
Fruits Yes
(in moderation)
Grains and starches Yes
(in moderation)
Herbs and spices Yes Yes
Meat and poultry Yes Yes
(in moderation)
Nuts and seeds Yes Yes
(in moderation)
Oils and fats Yes Yes
(in moderation)
Processed foods Yes
(low-carb, in moderation)
Sugar-free sweeteners Yes Yes
Natural sweeteners Yes
(low-carb, in moderation)
White and brown sugars No Yes
Starchy vegetables No Yes
Non-starchy vegetables Yes
(low carb, in moderation)


There are numerous differences between these two ways of eating, the most notable being that you need to restrict your carb intake when following a keto diet, while when you follow a HC plan you may eat less fat or protein.


Which is cheaper?

On a high-carb diet, you'll likely consume more grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables than on a keto diet. While these foods are generally less expensive than meat and healthy fats, they can still add up to your overall bill. 

In contrast, a keto diet involves limiting your carb intake and eating more fats and proteins. This means that you'll probably spend more on meat, avocados, nuts, and seeds. However, you may be able to offset the cost by buying in bulk or cooking at home more often. 

Ultimately, the cost of either diet will depend on your food choices, health goals, and lifestyle.


Which one is healthier?

Any poorly planned diet  can leave you feeling lethargic and put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. 

If you aim to eat a variety of nutrient dense food options and limit highly processed ones, both diets are equally healthy, and the one you choose will depend on your goals. 

Those who take part in a lot of exercise may opt for a higher carb diet (if they don’t want to take the time to fat-adapt), whereas those who want to lose weight more quickly may opt for the low-carb diet.

A downside of eating high carbs is the increased chance of eating refined, sugary, or processed foods, which can be harmful to your health. 

On the other hand, healthy low-carb eating focuses on healthy fats and proteins, but it's important to plan your meals carefully to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

It’s clear that low-carb and high-carb diets each have their pros and cons. The question is, which one is healthier? 

The answer largely depends on your individual health goals, lifestyle, and how you follow the diet. 

Both eating plans can be healthy, but it’s also possible to make unhealthy food choices even while staying within the guidelines of each one. So, it’s up to you to make good decisions and eat the right types of foods.


Bottom line 

So, which is better? Well, there isn't a straightforward answer. It really depends on your individual needs and preferences. 

If you're looking to lose weight, then a low-carbohydrate approach may be a good option for you. However, if you're more interested in running, high-intensity exercises, and maximizing your physical performance, then a diet high in carbohydrates may be a better choice.

Ultimately, you may want to experiment and see what works best for you. There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition. So, don't be afraid to try out different approaches before deciding what you like best.