Weight Watchers vs. Keto | U.S. News

With the ketogenic diet and WW (formerly Weight Watchers), weight loss is a numbers game. For keto, you subtract carbs from your diet and add in foods rich in fat. For WW, you carefully tally food points to keep within your individual target.

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Sticking with keto is challenging and it may work better as a short-term strategy than a long-term diet solution. However, with WW, you might come to lose weight and stay for the ongoing support.

WW (Weight Watchers) Overview

WW is a commercial diet focused on weight loss, along with healthy eating and lifestyle habits. WW is classified as a balanced diet in the U.S. News Best Diets rankings.

Program options rely on the SmartPoints system, which assigns a point value to every food and beverage based on its nutritional content. Within that system, numerous dietary options (like fruits, vegetables and certain lean proteins) can count as zero points.

Your SmartPoints target is based on your sex, weight, height and age. In WW’s newer line of customized plans, “Blue,” “Green” and “Purple” plans are matched to members’ eating styles, food preferences, activity levels and lifestyles.

“Our program takes a very inclusive approach to food,” says Michelle Cardel, director of global clinical research and nutrition for WW. “Each member has their own zero-points food list to ensure that they reach their goals while eating food they truly love. And importantly, no foods are off-limits.

In contrast to that, the ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates, which is a whole food group that is part of a healthy pattern of eating, including things like grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes.”

WW (Weight Watchers) Basics

Overall, the SmartPoints system encourages members to eat foods that are lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar, and higher in protein. Here’s a sample of daily menus from weightwatchers.com:

Green Plan

This plan has a large SmartPoints allowance, and members can incorporate fruits and veggies from ZeroPoint food options.

  • Breakfast: Mini bagel with whipped cream cheese and sliced tomato, and orange juice.
  • Lunch: Curry lime chicken salad.
  • Snacks: Latte made with low-fat milk, and basil-spinach dip with pita chips.
  • Dinner: Roasted chicken with squash and peppers.

Blue Plan

This plan offers moderate SmartPoints, and members can choose to add ZeroPoint fruits, veggies and lean proteins.

  • Breakfast: Steel-cut oats topped with pomegranate and pistachio.
  • Lunch: Honey mustard chicken salad on a whole-wheat sandwich and pretzels.
  • Snacks: Parmesan-herb popcorn, and apple slices drizzled with honey and cinnamon.
  • Dinner: Asian-style fish-and-veggie bowl.

Purple Plan

This plan has a modest amount of SmartPoints. Members can incorporate fruits, veggies, lean proteins and whole grains from the ZeroPoint foods list.

  • Breakfast: BLT on cheese toast with an orange.
  • Lunch: Pulled chicken chili and black bean soup with tortilla chips and homemade guacamole.
  • Snacks: Sliced pear or apple with almond butter, and buttermilk-herb dip with crudités.
  • Dinner: Beef and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice.

Keto Overview

You can find many versions of the keto diet. There are different definitions of keto depending on where you look and variations in how you approach it – some of which include incorporating a variety of whole foods or relying more on processed products. Some people stay on keto indefinitely, whereas others cycle in and out. Keto is classified as a low-carb diet in the U.S. News Best Diets rankings.

Keto emphasizes weight loss through fat-burning. You slash the carbs you consume and fill up on fats instead. By doing so, you safely enter a state of ketosis, according to diet proponents.

In ketosis, your body breaks down both dietary and stored body fat into substances called ketones. Your fat-burning system now relies mainly on fat – instead of sugar – for energy. That can lead to quick weight loss.

Urine or blood test results, fruity breath, reduced hunger, changes in exercise performance and weight loss can all indicate ketosis.

In general, keto plans call for restricting carbs to about 15 to 20 grams daily. Fat intake makes up roughly 70% of daily calories. In comparison, the 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for 130 grams of daily carbs and fat intake ranging from 25% to 35% of daily calories.

One issue is weight-loss maintenance. “The keto diet is a highly restrictive food plant that puts your body in a state of physiologic ketosis,” Cardel says. “When you eliminate an entire food group – in this case, carbs – you’re left with way fewer food options. You’re therefore likely to eat less overall as a result. And much of that initial weight loss is due to water loss, which is immediately reversed, basically, when carbs are reintroduced to the diet.”

Another issue is whether would-be keto adherents are truly reaching a state of ketosis. “A lot of people think they’re doing keto but they’re not,” says Carrie Dennett, a Seattle-based registered dietitian nutritionist. “They’re not actually eating low enough carbs and high enough fats to go into ketosis.”

Keto Diet Basics

Keto flips traditional thinking on diets because it encourages high-fat consumption. Here’s how a keto diet might look:

  • Instead of skinless poultry and lean cuts of meat, protein sources include rib-eye steak, skin-on chicken thighs, pork roast and snacks like bacon.
  • Whole-dairy foods are encouraged.
  • You counter sugar cravings with desserts like dark chocolate and nut butter.
  • For a salad, greens such as spinach, kale and lettuce, along with broccoli, cauliflower and cucumbers, are OK, but starchy veggies such as corn and sweet potatoes are too high in carbs.
  • Salad dressing could consist of oils like avocado, olive, canola, flaxseed and palm, or even mayonnaise.

Similarities Between WW (Weight Watchers) and Keto

Both WW and keto require you to count something, whether that’s food points or nutrients.

Health Benefits

Losing weight, however you do it, can reduce health risks – such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and cancer – related to being overweight or obese. Diabetes risk may be reduced by either diet.

Early research suggests that the keto diet may help lower blood sugar (blood glucose) levels and avoid blood sugar spikes, which may help prevent or manage Type 2 diabetes. Small studies in 2017 and 2018 found reductions in hemoglobin A1C levels, a measure of long-term glucose control, among people with prediabetes or diabetes who followed a ketogenic diet.

Some research suggests that low-carb diets, in general, can improve heart disease risk factors by raising blood levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering triglycerides.

Adhering to WW was linked with delayed onset of diabetes by 10 months in a 2013 study of overweight or obese participants who were assigned to the diet, compared with those who received standard care. A 2016 study found that WW helped adults with prediabetes achieve lifestyle changes associated with diabetes prevention.

Weight Loss Effects

Risks

Within both keto and WW, there’s room to make healthy food choices among permitted foods. However, it’s also possible to obsess over Keto carb counts or WW food points and sacrifice nutritional variety.

Differences Between WW (Weight Watchers) and Keto

“Keto is very strict, which is one reason so many people like it at first,” says Jill Weisenberger, a Virginia-based registered dietitian nutritionist and a member of the U.S. News Best Diets ranking panel. “It’s easy to know the rules and to omit a long list of foods. It’s also a reason people often give up on it – it’s hard to omit so many foods long term.” WW demands more decision-making, notes Weisenberger, who is the author of “Prediabetes: A Complete Guide.”

Support

If you’re looking for fellow keto followers, you can easily make informal connections online. However, if structured support is important to you, WW has it covered.

Support – via multi-modal access through in-person workshops, online chat or phone – from people who have lost and kept their lost weight off using WW, and who’ve been trained in weight-management techniques, is a hallmark of the WW plan.

Pricing/Cost

WW is a membership program that charges monthly fees depending on whether you choose a digital, workshop plus digital or personal coaching program.

You can find both WW-branded and keto-friendly food products in stores and online.

If you’re following keto, a 12-pack of high-protein, low-carb chocolate chip cookies can cost about $18. Soy spaghetti costs about $10 for a 7-ounce pack. The cost of keto meal delivery services ranges anywhere from about $10 to $22 per meal.

If you’re following WW, a 12-pack of chocolate caramel mini bars costs about $8 per box. A four-cup package of maple brown sugar oatmeal costs about $6 per package. WW Fresh quick-prep meal kits are available in select grocery stores at about $14 to $20 per meal.

Health Benefits

WW can promote heart health, according to several studies that looked at the diet alone or in comparison with other diets. (This research took place before keto emerged as a weight-loss diet.) Participants who followed WW between six months and a year reduced their blood levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, which are related to heart disease risk.

The ketogenic diet began as a medical approach for controlling seizures in some patients with hard-to-treat epilepsy. Otherwise, evidence on long-term health benefits for keto is in early, emerging stages, with potential benefits for blood sugar control and reducing some heart disease risk factors.

If you’re interested in trying keto in one of its healthier versions like clean keto, you could potentially incorporate that into your WW plan. The flexibility of the WW program, which does not mandate specific macronutrient levels, allows you to accommodate your individual goal structure, Cardel says.

Weight Loss Effects

WW claims you can shed up to two pounds weekly. With keto, initial weight loss is more dramatic. You could potentially lose up to 10 pounds on keto in the first week – however, that includes water weight, which can quickly return.

Immediate weight loss is an early keto attraction, Cardel notes. “It’s very reinforcing to see the scale go down so quickly, particularly in the first week, even if (followers) know that it’s due to water weight loss,” she says. “But, still, it’s positive to see that happen so quickly on the scale.”

Evidence backs WW for longer-term weight loss. WW participants have lost roughly 10 to 15 pounds in a variety of studies lasting from several months to a year. (Some participants may lose much more.) Again, for keto, there’s little evidence so far to support (or refute) its effectiveness for longer-term weight loss.

Risks

With keto’s sharp carb restrictions, some healthy foods are excluded. “One of my major objections with keto is that it doesn’t provide a large variety of plant-based foods in which to get those thousands of disease-fighters that are only found in plants,” Weisenberger says.

Each plant food has a different array of nutrients, Weisenberger adds. “They’re important for cancer prevention, diabetes prevention, heart disease prevention – all kinds of things,” she says. “They’re packed with anti-inflammatories, antioxidants and antimicrobials. In keto, you’re not getting that.”

Diets with higher fat content, like keto, can pose risks for heart health. The keto diet may not be indicated for people with certain medical disorders and is not considered safe for those with liver or kidney conditions. Hormonal changes may include dramatic effects on insulin and reproductive hormones. The use of keto for people with diabetes, especially among those taking insulin, remains controversial.

While only temporary, keto also can initially reduce energy and mental clarity. “People, especially in the first few weeks, often report just overall feeling not great – with brain fog and (lethargy),” Cardel says.

Although no serious risks or side effects have been reported with WW, it’s not considered safe for everyone. Children under 18 can no longer sign up for the program, because of the potential for unhealthy fixation on weight and dieting in this age group. Pregnant women and people with a current medical diagnosis of an eating disorder should not participate, either.

It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any weight-loss program.

Which One Is Better?

If you’re looking for quick weight loss and fewer food decisions, keto might work better for you. If you’re looking for steady weight loss over time and a strong support system, WW may be a better fit.

Weight Watchers Keto
Weight Loss Two pounds weekly is a standard goal.  Up to 10 pounds in the first week (includes water weight). 
Food Point system encourages foods higher in protein and lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar.  Extremely low-carb, high-fat plan with many versions.
Cost Varies with food choices. Membership ranges from about $20 to $55 per month.  Varies with food choices. 
Support In-person workshops, personal coaching, digital tools and 24/7 chat with coaches available. Access varies by membership. Informal support online.
Health Benefits May reduce heart disease and diabetes risk factors.  May reduce blood sugar levels and spikes. 
Health Risks Not advised for pregnant women or children under 18. Not advised for people with liver or kidney conditions.