Deciding to make changes to your diet often comes with a set purpose in mind – whether it be specific health concerns or weight loss. Whatever the motivation in mind, getting informed on the many different diet options out there is crucial to finding the best fit for your particular goals and preferences.
Keep reading if you’d like to know about the key differences between one of the most popular diets to come up recently, the keto diet, and a tried and tested regime, the Mediterranean diet, which has been around long enough to have established a dependable reputation to boast of.
The Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet intended for putting the body in a state of ketosis – a metabolic state in which ketone bodies are formed as a result of the body burning fat instead of glucose derived from carbs. The glucose starts being pulled from the liver until the stores are depleted, consequently the blood levels of insulin decrease, and the body has nothing left but to burn fat in order to fuel itself, producing the coveted ketones .
The keto diet consists primarily of fat, making up to about three quarters of the diet, followed by protein taking up about 10 – 20%, and typically limiting the carbs to less than 20 grams a day.
There are many variants of the ketogenic diet, so the recommended foods might vary between different sources. However, the focus on achieving ketosis remains a constant principle throughout, which is why anything that might disrupt it, such as high-carb foods, is quite literally off the table, as well as anything with substantial amounts of starch or sugar.
What is recommended instead are foods rich in healthy fats like avocados, healthy oils, fish rich in omega-3, seafood, fatty nutts and nut butters, along with animal proteins from meat and eggs, and occasionally full-fat dairy and certain fruits and vegetables (either medium-carb or not too sugary).
The Mediterranean Diet
As the name suggests, modeled after the diet of people living in the Mediterranean in the mid 20th century, more particularly in Crete, Greece, Southern Italy, and to an extent Spain and France, as the population of the time showed a higher than average life expectancy and lower rates of chronic illnesses.
The Mediterranean diet suggests about half the diet to be made up of carbs, with a lower amount of fat in comparison to keto, at about 30%, and about the same amount of protein.
Think olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts and beans, wholegrains, and seafood with the occasional glass of wine. Some dairy products, in small amounts, are on the menu too, particularly yogurt and cheese.
How to choose?
Keto and the Mediterranean diet share some similarities – both favor unprocessed, fresh whole foods, excluding any sources of added sugar as well as chemicals and additives. Both lower cholesterol levels and might lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Where keto and the Mediterranean diet differ is in the suggested amounts of carbs and fat to be consumed. This is where your personal preferences, health goals, and metabolism play a deciding role.
If carbs make up a significant amount of your current diet, you might find switching to the Mediterranean diet a far smoother transition. While keto recommends very low amounts of carbs, even when unrefined, the Mediterranean diet permits a much higher intake, allowing you to occasionally enjoy your pasta or whole grain breads and plenty of fruit.
On the other hand, if your diet is made up of a lot of fats, keto might be a more convenient option. Both diets are higher in fat than any low-fat diet, but keto allows a much higher intake in comparison to the Mediterranean diet, as well as more variety – it does not restrict saturated fats.
You also might lean towards one or the other according to you taste preferences – while keto caters well to meat lovers, the Mediterranean diet might be more attractive to seafood lovers, those on a pescatarian diet or those looking to reduce meat consumption, as it recommends fish as the main source of protein with very low consumption of meat products. Same goes for those who like to take a sip every now and then, as a bit of wine in moderation is also recommended.
What the studies say
When it comes to research, some studies on the effects of ketogenic diets on cardiovascular risk factors suggest short-term improvements for obesity, type 2 diabetes and HDL cholesterol levels. Likelihood of negative effects in the long term from high intake of fats remains undetermined, as do any long term outcomes of ketogenic diets, which is why further research is necessary .
It is often noted, however, that the weight loss facilitated by a keto diet can only be beneficial for any overweight individuals, and might be an easier option for that specific purpose than the Mediterranean diet because of its carb restrictions.
What about your Heart Health?
As far as heart health is concerned, recent studies suggest that low-carb diets might be more effective for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease than low-fat diets .
There is also an increasing interest in the effectivenes of a ketogenic diet in improving cognitive functioning, particularly in Alzheimer’s patients .
There is still not enough research to know the long-term effects of keto diet, nor whether it is appropriate for all ages, during pregnancy, or for individuals with certain health conditions, particularly kidney and liver diseases. Additionally, there is debate on the health effects of consumption of saturated fats which are contained in the keto diet, but which can be mitigated by opting for foods low in said fats. Further research is necessary in order to properly evaluate the overall safety of keto diet, and as always, consulting with your physician is recommended for taking into account any particularities of your body’s metabolism and genetics.
The Mediterranean diet is often prescribed as a complementary treatment for heart disease or high blood pressure, as well as recommended for lowering the risks of dementia and depression. There has been a substantial amount of research on its effectiveness in reducing mortality and lowering the risk of cardiovasular illnesses [5, 6], as well as an increasing number of studies indicating a link between the Mediterranean diet and healthful aging [7, 8].
At this stage, it is difficult to make fair comparisons between the Mediterranean diet and keto based on existing research as the former has been around for much longer. What you can be certain of, however, is that both can be a decisive step towards a healthier body if you haven’t been that mindful of your food choices so far. If you desire to make changes to your diet but prefer to have some assurance, consult with your physician in the process and monitor your body as further research kicks in.
 Paoli A, Rubini A, Volek JS, Grimaldi KA. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;67(8):789.
 Kosinski, C., & Jornayvaz, F. R. (2017). Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. Nutrients, 9(5), 517. doi:10.3390/nu9050517
 Bazzano LA, Hu T, Reynolds K, Yao L, Bunol C, Liu Y, et al. Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial. Ann Intern Med. ;161:309–318. doi: 10.7326/M14-0180Read More
 Fung TT, Rexrode KM, Mantzoros CS, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Mediterranean diet and incidence of and mortality from coronary heart disease and stroke in women. Circulation. 2009 Mar 3;119(8):1093-100.
 Lopez-Garcia E, Rodriguez-Artalejo F, Li TY, Fung TT, Li S, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Hu FB. The Mediterranean-style dietary pattern and mortality among men and women with cardiovascular disease. AJCN. 2013 Oct 30;99(1):172-80.)
 Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Prescott J, Julin B, Du M, Sun Q, Rexrode KM, Hu FB, De Vivo I. Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2014 Dec 2;349:g6674.
 Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, Chiuve SE, Okereke OI, Willett WC, Stampfer M, Grodstein F. The Association Between Dietary Patterns at Midlife and Health in Aging: An Observational Study. Annals of internal medicine. 2013 Nov 5;159(9):584-91.