Counting carbs on keto

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What Is Your Individual Carb Limit on a Keto Diet?

If you’re on a keto diet, you know that staying and getting into ketosis (the whole goal of going keto), is achieved by eating a higher fat, moderate protein, and low-carb diet. You probably also know that the perfect amount of daily carbs is different for each person; some people can easily get into ketosis and stay there on 50 grams of toal carbs per day while others need to stay at around 20 grams of total carbs per day. So how do you determine the right amount of carbs for you? Read on to learn everything you need to know.

Carb Limits for Keto Beginners

The fact is, the amount of carbs you can tolerate and stay in ketosis depends on your particular body, how long you’ve been living keto, your exercise regime, and more. So, when you’re first starting a keto diet, it’s recommended to stick with 20 grams of net carbs per day or 20 grams of total carbs for therapeutic purposes. While 20 grams of total carbs is the amount that can get pretty much everyone into ketosis provided you eat within your daily macros, 20 grams of net carbs is the starting point for most people trying to achieve weight loss or general health benefits. To learn more about the difference between total carbs and net carbs, see below or read more here.

To ensure your body completely acclimates to the keto lifestyle, it’s recommended that you stick to 20 grams of net carbs per day for a full three months before you set out to explore your own personal carb edge.

Quick Net Carbs Primer

Net carbs are the total carbs minus the fiber (minus sugar alcohols if applicable). For example, a medium red bell pepper has 7 grams of total carbs and 2.5 grams of fiber. Therefore, the net carbs in a red bell pepper are 4.5. This is the number you would track to monitor your carb intake each day.

How to Determine if You’re in Ketosis

The best way to see if you’re in ketosis is to regularly test your blood using a blood-ketone testing meter. (For the most reliable results, be sure you follow the guidelines on exactly how to test and when to test.)

When you first embark on a ketogenic diet and begin testing your ketones, you’ll see your ketone levels start to rise from “Lo” to 0.1 mmol/L (the first measurable result) and higher. You’re in nutritional ketosis at 0.5 mmol/L.

Other signs your in ketosis can include some common (but temporary) discomforts known as keto flu symptoms. They’re common among people transitioning out of a high-carb diet and can include:

    • Fatigue
    • Dizziness
    • Nausea
    • Brain fog
    • Headaches

Meanwhile, your body may give other indications, too, including:

    • A slight fruity or acetone smell on your breath, also known as “keto breath”
    • Increased energy (this typically happens once you’re in full ketosis)
    • Decreased sugar cravings
    • The ability to go longer between meals

How to Test Your Carb Limit

Once you’ve been steadily in ketosis for three months, you’re in a good position to test your carb edge, i.e. figure out whether you can tolerate more net carbs each day yet still stay in ketosis.

So that you don’t kick yourself out of ketosis or, if you do, you can recover quickly, it’s important to test your carb limit methodically. The best way to do this is to gradually increase your net carbs, test your ketones and glucose with your Keto-Mojo blood-glucose testing meter along the way, and stop when your test results come too close to pushing you outside of your optimal ketosis range.

Start by increasing your daily net carbs by 5 grams, so that your daily net carbs become 25 rather than 20. Stay at this increase for at least 3 days, testing to monitor your tolerance and ensure you remain in ketosis. If you get kicked out of ketosis, immediately dial back to 20 net carbs per day and know that you are already at your edge.

If you successfully stay in your desired range of ketosis on 25 net carbs per day for one week, bump your net carbs up to 30, try that for a week, and see how you fare.

Remember, we all have different carb tolerance. Some people easily get kicked out of ketosis when going above 20 grams of net carbs per day. Others can eat many more carbs yet remain in ketosis. Along with lifestyle, such as exercise, bio-individuality determines your carb edge. You can learn more about it from this quick, nifty video: Self Experimentation & Bio-Individuality on the Keto Diet

Step-By-Step Guide to Testing Your Carb Limit

Here are some easy to follow steps to help you determine your daily carb limit:

Day 1 through 3:
Increase your daily carbs by five net grams (i.e. from 20 to 25 grams), then test your ketones and glucose (see below for best times to test) to see how your body is responding. If your ketones drop significantly (and especially if they are below .5 mmol) and glucose rises more than 30 mg/dL after several hours, go back down to 20 grams of net carbs and know that 20 grams of net carbs are your daily limit.

If you remain in ketosis on 25 net grams of carbs per day (0.5 mmol or above, but ideally higher), stay at this level and continue testing for three full days. Ketone changes don’t show up as quickly as glucose does in test results, so this allows you time to ensure you’re truly still in ketosis before adding more carbs to find your edge.

Day 4 through 6:
If you’re still in ketosis at 25 net grams of carbs per day, Increase your daily net carbs by 5 grams again, so you’re daily net carb consumption is 30 grams of net carbs. Again, test your ketones and glucose to see how your body is responding as described above. If you continue to stay in ketosis throughout the day, continue consuming 30 net carbs per day for three days.

Three day increments:
If you’re still in ketosis at 30 net carbs per day, you can continue to increase your net carbs by 5 grams every three days until you reach your personal carb limit or “carb edge” (the amount of carbs you’re able to consume without getting kicked out of ketosis). Keep in mind that your ketosis levels can be affected by other factors as well (see below), so be sure to test your ketones and glucose frequently until you know for sure what your upper limit is.

The Best Time to Test

The best way to get the clearest results from testing your ketones and blood glucose is to test before you eat and 30 and 120 minutes after you’ve eaten and to be consistent about your testing times. (You can read more about the best times to test ketones and glucose here.) So, pick a time to test that works best for you, and try to be consistent with that same time each day. Then you can compare your results to the days prior at the same time. At a minimum, when determining your daily carb limit, you may want to test two hours after you wake up (while fasted) to get your baseline test result, and again two hours after meals.

Factors That Can Influence Your Daily Carb Limit

Your carb limit can change based on your bio-individuality and other lifestyle factors. The following are some influences and what you can do to help ensure they’re working in your favor:

Emotional Stress Levels

Emotional stress can impact your insulin response to the stress hormones, so if testing your ketones and glucose on a stressful day, you may notice a rise in glucose which can suppress your ketones. Finding ways to manage stress, such as going for walks, yoga, deep breathing, and making changes in your life to decrease your stress levels, can help your glucose and your overall well-being.

Coffee

The effects of coffee on glucose and insulin are bio-individual. For some people, coffee consumption can raise glucose, while other people see no change and others find it improves glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. To find out how coffee affects you, test your glucose before drinking coffee and 30 minutes after coffee to see how your glucose levels react.

Exercise/Athletes

Exercise can have an impact on insulin in two ways. First, stress from overtraining (long intense workouts without taking recovery days) can raise cortisol, which impacts insulin and can raise glucose. So be sure to take rest days and allow your body to recover. Second, exercise/muscle contraction activates glucose transport. As this acute effect of exercise on glucose transport wears off, it’s replaced by an increase in insulin sensitivity. So right after exercise, you may find a slight rise in glucose. If this is the case for you, test again 1 hour later, to see if your glucose drops back down. That said, light exercise can help burn more fat and get you into ketosis faster. Once again, test your glucose and ketones before and after exercise to see how your body is responding.

Sleep

Researchers found that a single night of partial sleep loss impairs fasting insulin sensitivity. So the best measurement results are after a full night of sleep. To determine if interrupted sleep affects your glucose, test each morning around the same time, while fasted, and record whether you had a full night of sleep or an interrupted night’s sleep.

Type of Carbs

Different forms of carbohydrates can affect insulin in different ways. Eating simple sugars from candy and juice will rapidly increase insulin and glucose, which can affect your ability to remain in ketosis. Complex carbs are digested more slowly, and therefore will have less of an impact on your glucose and insulin. Be sure to eat plant-based, low starch, above ground vegetable sources of carbs (such as broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and zucchini). If you’re eating fruit, stick with low glycemic fruit like berries.

With so many factors and tests in play to determine your carb edge, it’s a good idea to track your data so you can analyze your results. Once you determine a pattern, you can make the appropriate lifestyle changes based on what you know about your body and your various activities. For example, if your sleep is disrupted one day and you know your glucose rises with coffee yet you meet a friend for coffee that day, consider giving yourself a buffer by decreasing your carbs for that day. With some investigation and exploration, you’ll get a very clear sense of how to ride your carb edge without exceeding it.

How Many Carbs On Keto Can You Eat Per Day?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carb, moderate-protein diet. The goal of eating this way is to induce ketosis, which is a metabolic state that enables you to burn fat (converted into ketones) for fuel instead of carbs (glucose).

You get into ketosis by drastically reducing carbohydrates long enough to deplete the body’s glycogen stores.

One of the most common questions when people are looking to start the ketogenic diet, is just how low carb does “low-carb” mean? How many carbs per day for ketosis can you eat?

How Many Carbs on Keto Can You Eat Per Day?

Ketosis is the goal of eating a ketogenic diet. To encourage your body to enter ketosis, your daily caloric intake with the ideal macronutrient breakdown is:

  • 5% carbs
  • 70-75% fat
  • 20-25% protein.

On the ketogenic diet you should be consuming no more than 5% of your total calories from carbohydrates.

Your caloric intake will depend on many factors, including:

  • Whether you’re starting the ketogenic diet for weight loss, and are eating at a caloric deficit
  • Your age, gender, body fat composition, stature, and current weight
  • How active you are and your resting metabolic rate.

But for most people, that will be less than 50 grams of net carbs per day, and most days you should aim to be closer to 20 to 30 grams. You can see an example calculation below.

Net carbs are simply the total amount of carbohydrates in a food, without fiber and sugar alcohols. So to calculate net carbs on keto, use the formula: Net Carbs = Total Carbs – (Fiber + Sugar Alcohols)

Example

Let’s say you weigh 160 lbs, and need 1400 calories per day to lose weight at a rate of about 1 pound per week.

One gram of carbohydrates and proteins contain about 4 calories, and one gram of fat provides 9 calories. You’d require:

  • 108g fats,
  • 22g net carbs
  • 81g protein

If you’re not sure how many carbs are in the foods you eat, check out the carb counter and play around. It can be eye-opening!

If you are male, have a lot of muscle mass, work hard at the gym, or live an extremely active lifestyle, the number of carbohydrates you can get away with in grams without kicking yourself out of ketosis will be elevated compared to this example.

Our partner, Tim Tebow, shared that of his caloric intake, he eats:

  • 5 percent (or less) from carbs
  • 20 to 25 percent from fatty protein sources like pork, chicken (dark meat), fish, and grass-fed beef.
  • 70 to 75 percent from healthy fats!

Also read: Tim Tebow: 6 Reasons to Take the KETO 30 Challenge

The reality about the ketogenic diet is that you could follow the exact formula above and still not achieve ketosis…

Or you could eat 40g of carbs per day of a certain type of food and remain in ketosis. It just depends on you, your body, your starting point, and when and what foods you’re eating.

If your goal on the ketogenic diet is to achieve ketosis so that your body can burn fat for fuel, you need to test your ketone levels daily, at least at first, so you can see what works with your body and how many carbs you can get away with on keto. Using a blood ketone monitor (the most popular one being Keto Mojo) will provide the most accurate results.

Remember: even a fairly strict keto diet will include some carbohydrates; they’re in just about every vegetable you eat (and you’d be ill-advised to stop eating veggies!). Most nuts and cheese, which are definitely on the keto food list, and enjoyed by keto-ers regularly have some carbs in them.

A “zero-carb” diet is impossible and probably not healthy, either. Aim for the carbs you do consume to be from high-quality foods like nuts and vegetables.

If you’re still stuck with how many carbs to eat on keto, you’re welcome to join us in the KetoLogic Life Community.

Or, take the KETO 30 Challenge for free. We’ll guide you through the process of figuring out exactly how many carbs to eat and provide you with printable and downloadable meal plans, food lists, and grocery lists to make it simple:

To enter ketosis, you need the right ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Which leads to a common question: Just how many carbs on keto should you eat?

In a Standard American Diet (SAD), you might eat between 100-150 carbs per day and still be considered low-carb. Unfortunately, this won’t transition your body into a fat-burning state of ketosis. On the keto diet, your carb count will be far lower, often between 25-50 grams of carbs per day.

Below, you’ll learn how many carbs on keto most people consume, why your macro goals may vary, and how to calculate your carb, protein, and fat intake. You’ll also learn some healthy sources of carbs to consider for your keto diet.

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How Many Carbs on Keto Should You Have?

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. The goal on keto is to enter a metabolic state known as ketosis, where you burn ketone bodies — rather than glucose — as your primary energy source.

On the keto diet, most people consume 70-75% of their daily calories from fat, 20-25% of calories from protein, and just 5-10% of calories from net carbs. That’s a ballpark range — your individual macronutrient goals will vary depending upon your age, body composition, activity level, and any fat loss goals you may have.

How to Calculate Your Carb Intake

To understand your daily carb allotment, take the above percentages and translate them into grams (something far more useful when scanning those nutrition labels).

For example, if you’re consuming 2,000 calories per day and aim to get just 10% of your calories from carbs, you’ll multiply 2,000 by .10, to get 200 calories per day. Since one gram of carbs is equal to four calories, you’ll then take 200 divided by 4, to get 50 grams of net carbs per day.

How to Calculate Your Protein Intake

Protein is very beneficial to your body, providing amino acids to help gain muscle mass and burn body fat. On keto, roughly 20-25% of your calories will come from protein. While you may need more protein if you’re an extremely active person, too much protein may cause gluconeogenesis.

Depending on activity level, most people consume between .6–1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. For example, a female may weigh 150 lbs, but have just 112.5 pounds of lean body mass. For her, 90–112.5 grams of protein per day would be suitable.

How to Calculate Your Fat Intake

One of the main mistakes on keto is not eating enough fat. For the longest time, nutritionists declared that fat — particularly saturated fat — was bad, which lead to the low-fat craze of the 1980s and 1990s. However, this science has since been debunked, lacking any significant data showing a connection between a high-fat diet and an increased risk in heart disease.

After you calculate your protein and total carbs, your remaining calories of the day will come from fat sources. As stated earlier, this is typically 70-75% of your total calories of the day.

To give you an idea, 70% of 2,000 calories is 1,400 calories. If you divide 1,400 by 9 (since one gram of fat equals 9 calories), you get 155.56 grams of fat per day.

Keto Macro Calculator: Know Exactly How Many Carbs on Keto You Should Eat

Admittedly, these percentages alone aren’t the best guide. Your macro guidelines will vary depending on your body type and weight loss goals.

To calculate your individual macro needs, use the Perfect Keto Calculator. This keto calculator takes a number of variables into account, including weight, gender, height, activity level, BMR, and body fat percentage.

Targeted Ketogenic Diet and Carb Intake

If you engage in regular, intense physical activity, note that the above ratios might not cater to your performance needs. That’s where targeted ketogenic diets come into play.

In targeted keto — and during training times only — you might want to integrate a carb “boost” before and immediately following your training sessions. This will ensure your muscles have enough glycogen to perform their necessary tasks, both during competition and within in-season training.

When adopting this targeted principle, you’ll follow the above macro guidelines throughout the day. However, after you leave the gym (or training site), you’ll consume 15-30 grams of fast-acting carbohydrates. These should be consumed within a half hour after training ends.

Theoretically, your body uses these carbs immediately to repair and restore itself. Therefore, your ketogenic state won’t be adversely affected.

Carb Foods to Eat on the Keto Diet

On a keto meal plan, you’ll fuel up on plenty of healthy fats and high-quality protein sources. You’ll get the bulk of your calories from foods like olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and MCT oil, and you’ll get protein from both plant-based and animal sources.

When it comes to carbs, you’ll want to keep your blood sugar levels in check by consuming foods that rank low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index ranks foods 0-100, where higher numbers cause a higher spike in insulin levels. Avoid high-carb grains, starchy vegetables, and high-sugar fruits, instead building your diet on keto foods such as:

  • Green leafy veggies, including kale, lettuce, asparagus, and arugula
  • Low-sugar berries, including blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries
  • Cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli

On a low-carb diet, you’ll also want to avoid all sugar, including soda, candy, baked goods, and even sugar alcohols. If you’re craving something sweet, use a keto-friendly sweetener, such as stevia, Swerve, monk fruit, or erythritol.

Testing Ketone Levels

The best way to know your how many carbs on keto you should consume is to test your blood ketone levels. Check out this guide for testing ketone levels to learn more.

While the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator is an incredibly accurate estimate, it’s still an estimate. Remember: The goal of the keto diet is to enter ketosis.

Even if you’re losing body weight, feeling great, and seeing improvements in your body composition, there’s a chance you might not be in ketosis. The only way to know if your current diet is reaching your goals is to test your ketone levels.

How Many Carbs on Keto Varies From Person to Person

On a ketogenic diet, your goal is to enter the fat-burning state known as ketosis. To do this, you’ll eat a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, where your daily carb intake hovers between 25-50 grams.

That said, carb consumption will vary from person to person. Depending on genetics, body composition, and exercise routine, your carb intake may be higher or lower than the average.

To get an accurate estimate of your individual macro guidelines, you can either use the Perfect Keto Macro Calculator or continuously test your ketone levels.

Now that you how many carbs on keto you should consume based on your calorie intake, the rest is up to you. View the Perfect Keto recipe library for plenty of low-carb recipe ideas, tips, and tricks to help you enter (and stay in) ketosis.

Answers to 15 Burning Questions About the Keto Diet

2. Is the Keto Diet Safe to Follow?

Even though following an extremely high fat diet can feel like a radical way to eat, “the research looking at ketosis via diet has not shown any real negative consequences when done in the short term,” says Scott Keatley, RDN, of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy in New York City. (Ketosis is the natural metabolic state that makes keto lead to weight loss.)

But there have been few long-term studies, adds Kendra Whitmire, a nutritionist and dietitian in Laguna Beach, California, who practices functional and therapeutic nutrition. It’s difficult to definitively say that it’s safe, and it also largely depends on the types of foods you’re eating on a keto diet. (For instance, olive oil is a healthier choice than butter; salmon is healthier than bacon.) That said, following the keto diet properly, and particularly with help from a medical professional, should reduce negative health effects, says Whitmire.

RELATED: What Are the Benefits and Risks of the Keto Diet?

3. Is Ketosis Bad?

Typically, your body breaks down carbohydrates as its preferred fuel source. Ketosis is when your body has switched into a fat-burning state and breaks down fat into ketone bodies that are used as energy. Beyond the keto flu, “many studies have shown that entering ketosis via diet does not have any real negative consequence in the short term,” says Keatley.

But long-term studies are needed to truly assess the impact, he adds. Bottom line: Putting your body into ketosis for a limited time is likely not harmful.

RELATED: Should You Use Exogenous Supplements to Put Your Body in Ketosis?

4. How Many Carbs Do You Actually Eat on a Keto Diet?

A keto diet is generally made up of 70 to 75 percent fat, 20 to 25 percent protein, and 5 to 10 percent carbohydrates, says Jill Keene, a registered dietitian nutritionist in private practice in White Plains, New York. The exact number of grams (g) of carbohydrates will be different for everyone, but is generally around 20 to 50 g per day. Many people on a keto diet count “net carbs,” which is total carbs minus fiber. Fiber isn’t “counted” in the carbohydrate total, because it’s not digested. Either way, this number of carbs is very low and requires careful planning. Eating a little fruit, starchy vegetables, sugary foods, or whole grains can easily kick you out of ketosis.

5. Can You Drink Alcohol on the Keto Diet?

Yes. “Even though there are carbs in alcohol, you can still drink it in limited amounts,” says Keatley. Realize that on days when you do choose to consume alcohol, depending on what you choose, you may have to adjust your carbs from other sources. This may mean making tough decisions, like having a drink but skipping a small amount of fruit or Greek yogurt.

In general, the simpler the better: Spirits are the best choice (avoid mixers that have calories), followed by wine. Your best bet is to stick with a half drink, says Keatley. Because of their lower alcohol percentage and other ingredients, beer and wine “can eat up a lot of your carbs, and they don’t give back in terms of vitamins and minerals. It’s a waste of your carbs,” he says.

Here’s what each alcoholic drink contains, carb-wise:

Spirits: gin, rum, vodka, whiskey, 1.5 fluid ounce (fl oz), 0 g carbs (1 serving)

Red wine, 5 fl oz, 4 g carbs (1 serving)

White wine, 5 fl oz, 4 g carbs (1 serving)

Light beer, 12 fl oz, 6 g carbs (Stick to half of a beer if this is your choice.)

RELATED: A Complete Keto Food List and 7-Day Sample Menu

6. How Much Weight Can You Lose on the Keto Diet?

There’s no doubt that a ketogenic diet may help spur weight loss — and anecdotal reports of drastic transformations are easy to find. “I have clients who have lost a significant amount of weight on a keto diet, but they were obese when starting and had quite a bit of fat to lose. These individuals have fairly drastic body transformations,” says Keatley.

In a study published in February 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 20 people with obesity who followed a very low calorie keto diet for four months lost an average of 44 pounds (lb), mainly from body and visceral fat. (It’s important to note that there was no placebo group and this was a small sample source, so the findings are limited.) In another study published in February 2017, in Nutrition Metabolism, normal-weight adults who followed a non-energy (calorie) restricted keto diet for six weeks lost about 4 lb in both fat and lean body mass.

But long-term studies show that there’s not much of a difference in weight loss between keto and other diets. One meta-analysis published in October 2013 in the BMJ compared adults on a ketogenic diet (eating less than 50 g of carbs) with those on a conventional low-fat diet. After at least a year, those on the keto diet lost an additional two pounds compared with the group who slashed fat. The bottom line is that diets, including keto, may help you lose the same amount of weight in the long run. With that news, know that there may be a better option out there for you, says Keatley.

RELATED: 21 Tips for Weight Loss That Actually Work

7. What Fruits Can I Eat on the Ketogenic Diet?

Fruit is generally not a mainstay of the keto diet. With so much natural sugar, fruit generally has too many carbs to be included. But you can have small amounts of lower-carb fruits, like berries, says Whitmire. And if you’re really getting technical, avocado and coconut, two higher-fat foods, are, in fact, fruits. Based on U.S. Department of Agriculture carb counts, here’s what can fit on keto:

Raspberries: 3 g net carbs per ½ cup

Strawberries: 2 g net carbs per ¼ cup slices

Blueberries: 4 g net carbs per ¼ cup

Blackberries: 3 g net carbs per ½ cup

Coconut: 2.5 g net carbs per ½ cup, shredded, raw (unsweetened)

Avocado: 3 g net carbs per 1 cup, cubes

*All carb values are net carbs, which is total carbs minus fiber. Fiber is often not counted in net carb totals, as the nutrient isn’t digested.

8. Can I Eat Snacks Like Popcorn, Oatmeal, and Yogurt on Keto?

Unfortunately, high-carb foods like popcorn or oatmeal probably won’t fit in the keto diet. One cup of air-popped popcorn contains 5 g of net carbs, which may be ¼ of your carb allotment for the entire day. It’s also worth mentioning that one cup of popcorn is not a large serving; it contains just 30 calories and no fat, so it won’t be filling. Oatmeal likely doesn’t fit, either. About ¼ cup of plain dried oats (about ½ cup cooked) has 12 grams of net carbohydrates for 77 calories and just one gram of fat.

As for yogurt, it depends on what type you choose and whether it’s keto-compliant. About half of a 7 oz container of Fage plain 5 percent milkfat Greek yogurt, for instance, contains 3 g of carbohydrates. Remember to choose plain versions, as flavored will add more sugar (and, therefore, carbs).

Better keto-compliant snacks include nuts (1 oz almonds has 3 g net carbs), seeds (½ cup of sunflower seed kernels has 3 g of net carbs), and small amounts of low-carb fruits like berries, says Whitmire. Beef jerky and nonstarchy veggies such as broccoli and cucumbers are other good snack options on keto.

RELATED: 10 Quick and Easy Keto Snacks Probably Already in Your Fridge or Pantry

9. Should I Be Concerned About the Keto Flu?

If you’re interested in the keto diet, you have probably read about the keto flu, one not-so-fun side effect. “The keto flu is definitely real,” says Keatley. “Your body functions really well on carbohydrates — that’s what it was designed for. When it switches to fat burning, it becomes less efficient at making energy,” he says. On keto, you have less energy available and you may feel sick and sluggish, kind of as if you have the flu. As your body naturally adjusts to this new way of drawing energy, you will come out of it. This may take a couple of weeks, says Keatley.

10. Will the Keto Diet Give Me Kidney Stones?

The development of kidney stones is certainly a concern if you’re switching to a diet in which you’re eating more protein. (Though, again, the keto diet is more of a moderate-protein diet.) “Consuming high levels of red meat and not drinking a lot of water may make stones more likely,” says Whitmire. She adds that on a keto diet, you need to stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes (minerals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium). “If not, this can increase your risk of side effects like stones,” she says. Past research gives a small glimpse into how likely stones may be. A study published in the Journal of Child Neurology on children using the keto diet to control epilepsy found that about 1 in 15 developed kidney stones, though supplements of oral potassium citrate reduced this risk. Talk to your doctor if you have risk factors, like a family or personal history of stones, about any precautions you should take when on the keto diet.

RELATED: The Short- and Long-Term Effects to Expect on the Keto Diet

11. How Might the Keto Diet Affect My Period?

There’s a possibility you may see a change in menstruation. “Studies on younger women who eat severely low-carb for an extended period of time end up with irregular periods or missed periods,” explains Whitmire. Severely limiting carbohydrates may be taxing on the adrenal system, leading to hormonal imbalances that disrupt a woman’s cycle. Similarly, rapid weight loss can also have this effect. The takeaway? “Women may need more carbs on a keto diet compared to men, especially if a woman is noticing a change in her ,” she adds.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is limited evidence that for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a ketogenic diet may improve their hormonal balance. The small study, published in Nutrition & Metabolism, found that a small group of women with PCOS who followed a keto diet for 24 weeks lost 12 percent of their body weight and reduced testosterone and insulin levels. Again, talk to your doctor, especially if you’re using the diet as part of your treatment.

12. How Long Do You Need to Stay on the Keto Diet to Lose Weight?

Anecdotally, many people report losing weight quickly on a keto diet, says Keatley. Research in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology found that obese dieters lost an average of 44 lb over four months when following a very low calorie keto diet. That said, Keatley suggests to clients that they spend no more than 12 weeks in ketosis because of the uncertainties of following it long-term and the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies.

When people go off a keto diet and begin to incorporate more carbs into their day, they tend to regain some weight during this adjustment period, he says. They also stand to regain all the weight they lost, and potentially more, if they return to their pre-keto ways of eating after feeling deprived on the plan.

RELATED: The 10 Most Famous Fad Diets of All Time

13. How Will the Keto Diet Affect Your Cholesterol Levels?

The interesting thing about a keto diet is that it often leads to weight loss, something that by itself can improve blood lipid levels. At the same time, you may be consuming more saturated fat than ever, in the form of butter, bacon, cream, and coconut oil.

We’ve long been warned that eating excess saturated fat can raise cholesterol, and thus put us at risk for heart disease. For that reason, many experts express concern that increased fat intake may be especially harmful for people who already have heart disease or have risk factors for it.

A study on obese patients on a keto diet found that after 24 weeks, total cholesterol levels dropped, while “bad” LDL cholesterol decreased and “good” HDL cholesterol increased. This could be reflective of the fact that any weight loss, no matter how it’s achieved, tends to lower cholesterol. Also, as already mentioned, people who have risk factors for heart disease need to consult their doctors before attempting a keto diet. Research, as in this study in the British Journal of Nutrition in April 2013, has concluded that a diet low in carbs but high in fat and protein impaired arterial function in those who were at risk for cardiovascular disease.

What it may come down to is what type of fat you’re consuming on keto. A review and meta-analysis in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics looked at the effect of a low-fat versus a low-carb diet on blood lipids. While lower intakes of saturated fat were associated with lower cholesterol levels, higher intakes of monounsaturated fat (like olive oil or avocado) in the context of a high-fat diet was associated with increased levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol.

14. How Much Protein Will You Eat on the Keto Diet?

A typical keto diet may include 20 to 25 percent of calories coming from protein, says Keene. One common misconception is that this is a high-protein diet, when in reality, it’s moderate in protein. “Too much protein can be converted and broken down as sugar to be utilized as an energy source,” she says.

That said, you don’t want to go too low in protein. “You want to be able to stay in ketosis without sacrificing lean body mass if you lose weight,” says Whitmire. This can loosely equate to 1.2 to 1.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. (The recommended daily allowance is currently 0.8 g per kg of body weight, according to Harvard Health Publishing, so under keto it’s significantly more.) Therefore, a 140-lb woman may aim for 76 to 95 g per day. For reference, one 3.5-ounce skinless chicken breast offers 31 g of protein.

One of the best sources of protein on a keto diet is fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel), says Keene, as it offers a source of heart-healthy protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs are another good choice; one large egg contains 6 g of protein and 5 g of fat.

While a keto diet may focus on fat, that doesn’t mean you have to eat bacon and sausages all day. There is room for leaner proteins, like chicken or cod; just remember to add fat (for example, roast the chicken with olive oil) to these lower-in-fat sources, she says. Many cuts of beef are also considered lean or extra lean, as they contain 10 g or less of total fat, as well as a modest amount of saturated fat (4.5 or 2 g or less, respectively). These include eye of round roast and steak, sirloin tip side steak, top round roast and steak, bottom round roast and steak, and top sirloin steak, notes the Mayo Clinic.

RELATED: What Is Keto Cycling and Can It Help You Stick With the Keto Diet?

15. Can the Keto Diet Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?

“Though this isn’t the first tool I’d use to help someone control their insulin — carb counting, evenly distributing carbs throughout the day, may be easier to commit to — it’s not off the table, especially with stronger emerging research,” says Keene.

It’s true: Some preliminary research suggests keto may be a good approach for some people with type 2 diabetes. For example, one small February 2017 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research randomized overweight adults with type 2 diabetes into two groups: one that consumed a keto diet, and a control group that ate a low-fat diet recommended by the American Diabetes Association. After 32 weeks, the keto group saw their A1C (a measure of average blood sugar over a three-month span) fall more compared with the control group, and half lowered their A1C to less than 6.5 percent (less than 5.7 percent is considered normal). The keto group also lost 28 lb compared with about 7 lb for the control group.

But long-term studies are needed, and keto can pose health risks to people with diabetes, especially if you’re following it without supervision from a medical professional. Importantly, anyone who is on medication to lower blood sugar or who is using insulin should be aware that drastically cutting carbs, as you must do on keto, can lead to dangerously low blood sugar, research shows. Unaddressed, this condition, called hypoglycemia, may lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and blurred vision, according to the Mayo Clinic. (People with type 1 diabetes should not try the keto diet, experts warn.)

The takeaway? Be sure to work with your doctor if you have type 2 diabetes, and manage your expectations. Not only is there no consensus on whether keto is an effective diet approach for diabetes, it’s also tough to stick with, according to research published in the European Journal of Nutrition in March 2018. Keep in mind that type 2 diabetes cannot be reversed, but it can be put into remission.

RELATED: Does the Ketogenic Diet Work for Type 2 Diabetes?

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If you are looking for a keto calculator or low carb macro calculator for weight loss (or not!), you’ve come to the right place!

The Low Carb & Keto Macro Calculator will help you figure out how much of each macronutrient to eat to reach your goals.

What makes this macro calculator unique is that you can use it for both a low carb diet and a keto diet. Along with entering your information, you can select the diet type you want to follow, and even customize it to fit your needs.

How To Calculate Macros

Just fill out the form below and hit “Calculate Macros”!

The Best Low Carb & Keto Macro Calculator

Have questions about macros or this macro calculator? Check the FAQ below!

I have questions about the low carb & keto macro calculator!

Check the FAQ below first. Then, if you still have a question, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. We cannot offer 1-on-1 support here, but I’m happy to answer general questions.

The BEST Free Low Carb & Keto Macro Calculator:
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More Low Carb Recipes To Love

Macros means macronutrients – fat, protein and carbohydrates. These are the building blocks of the foods we eat.

Fat has 9 calories per gram, and protein and carbs have 4 calories per gram.

A low carb or keto diet is based upon the principle of restricting carbohydrates. This has lots of benefits, including hunger control, hormone regulation (including insulin), weight loss, mental clarity, and more. You can read more about the low carb and keto diet here.

Why do I need to calculate my macros?

A low carb or keto lifestyle can be life changing, and has huge benefits. But, everyone’s requirements are different.

This low carb and keto macro calculator will define for you how much you should be eating, and the answer is tailored just for you.

Can’t I just eat low carb or keto foods?

Yes, you can, and many people have had success in doing so. This is sometimes called “lazy keto” or “lazy low carb” – not because you are lazy, but because it’s much easier to just eat the right foods than to count everything.

But, if you are just starting out, have not achieved desired results by just eating low carb foods, are already relatively close to goal weight, or want to follow a more strict low carb or keto diet, then getting your exact macro requirements will be a huge help.

What is the difference between low carb and keto?

The main difference between low carb and keto is that the primary goal of keto is to get into a state of ketosis. This happens when the body switches from burning glucose for fuel to burning fat for fuel, and ketones are the byproduct of this metabolism.

You can read more about low carb vs keto in the guide here.

From the perspective of what you eat, the difference between low carb and keto is the distribution of macronutrients and how they are calculated. You can read a bit more about that in the next question below.

How is the macro calculator different for a low carb versus keto diet?

Your calorie needs are the same whether you follow a low carb diet or keto diet. But, the macronutrients will be different.

For a low carb diet, the low carb macro calculator will determine your macros by taking recommended percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates. These are based on percentage of total calories, and you can adjust the percentages if you want to.

For a keto diet, the low carb macro calculator first sets your net carbs to an absolute amount. You can change this, but the default is 25 grams. Then, it calculates your protein requirement, which is based on your lean body mass and a protein ratio based on your activity level. The remaining calories come from fat.

Which options should I select for low carb? What options for keto?

The Macro Calculator will automatically pre-fill the recommended values for low carb or keto diets based on your inputs and activity level. If you want to, you can modify them to suit your needs.

For a low carb diet, here are the recommended macro percentages:

  • Fat: 40 to 70%
  • Protein: 15 to 30%
  • Net carbs: 15 to 30%

For a keto diet, if you are sedentary this is recommended:

  • 25g net carbs – typically between 20g and 30g is a good starting point
  • 0.6 protein ratio – this will be higher if you are active

How are macros calculated? Why do you need all this information? Are you sure the calculation is right?

The calculator above does everything for you, so you don’t have to know how to calculate macros manually. If you want to know how it works or why we need the information, here is an overview…

The majority of information you need to enter is to find your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), which is the number of calories you burn per day. This is determined by your gender, age, height, weight, and activity level.

We use the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation for calculating Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the number of calories you burn for basic, life-sustaining functions. This equation has been shown to be most accurate .

Then, your activity level combined with BMR determines the TDEE.

Your body fat percentage is used to determine lean body mass, which affects how much protein you need.

We do not store or save any information you enter into the macro calculator.

The low carb and keto macro calculator provides accurate macros as long as you enter the information correctly, in the right units.

What is the protein ratio?

The protein ratio determines the number of grams of protein you should eat per day. It’s measured as # of grams per kilogram of LEAN body weight (meaning everything except fat).

Protein is a goal on keto, meaning you should strive to meet your daily protein goal, but not exceed it. Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of cells. Amino acids help us maintain or build muscle, and are crucial for hundreds of cell processes we need to live.

Why does protein ratio matter? Because too much protein can kick you out of ketosis (and is not good for your kidneys), but not enough protein can cause you to lose muscle.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure out your own necessary protein ratio unless you want to. The amount of protein per pound of lean body mass that you need depends on how active you are, and the keto macro calculator above will automatically set the best protein ratio for you, based on the activity level you select.

Here are general guidelines for protein ratio based on activity level:

  • Sedentary – 0.6g to 0.8g protein per pound of lean body mass
  • Lightly Active – 0.7g to 0.9g protein per pound of lean body mass
  • Moderately Active – 0.8g to 1g protein per pound of lean body mass
  • Very Active – 1.0 to 1.2g protein per pound of lean body mass
  • Athlete / Body Builder – 1.2g protein per pound of lean body mass

Notice that each has a range, and you can experiment with what feels comfortable for you and gets you the results you want.

What about your lean body mass that is mentioned several times above – how do you figure out what that is? This is the weight of everything in your body that isn’t fat. The calculator will automatically figure this out based on the body fat % that you enter, which you can estimate using the chart below. You could also manually calculate it if you’re curious:

Lean Body Mass = Your Total Weight – (Your Total Weight X Your Body Fat %)

How do I get my body fat percentage?

Body fat percentage can be calculated using various scanners (like a DEXA scan at a gym or doctor’s office) for the highest accuracy.

If you want to measure at home, the easiest way is to use skin calipers.

If you don’t have these either, compare how you look visually to these to get a very general estimate:

Image source: https://www.builtlean.com/2012/09/24/body-fat-percentage-men-women/

What’s the best way to meet the macros I got from this macro calculator?

You can get a full low carb keto food list here, which says how many net carbs in each food.

That’s a good starting point in choosing which foods are good for a low carb or keto diet. Beyond that, a tracker app can help.

What does the “Deficit” or “Gain” in the macro calculator mean?

This is the percentage of calories that you want to go over or under what you’d need to maintain your weight.

If you select Lose Fat (lose weight) as your goal, then you can select the Deficit. The macro calculator will then recommend that you eat this percentage fewer calories than you need. Eating less calories than you need will result in weight loss. For example, if you select 15% as the deficit, the calculator will output 15% fewer calories than your body needs for maintenance.

The recommended Deficit for losing weight is 10-20%, because more than that may result in nutrient deficiencies, difficulty sticking to the plan, and/or muscle loss.

If you select Gain Muscle as your goal, then you can select the Gain (surplus). The macro calculator will then recommend that you eat this percentage more calories than you need. Eating more calories than you need will result in weight gain, which will be in the form of muscle if you do weight training. For example, if you select 10% as the gain, the calculator will output 10% more calories than your body needs for maintenance.

The recommended Gain for building muscle is 5-10%, because more than that may result in fat gain.

If you select Maintain Weight as your goal, you will not need a Deficit or Gain.

Where can I get more info about low carb & keto?

The best place is in my starter guide!

Read all about how to start a keto diet or low carb diet here.

You might also like these related keto resource articles:

  • Keto quick start guide
  • Keto food list – you can also sign up to get a printable pdf!
  • Keto flu symptoms and remedy
  • Keto sweetener guide and conversions
  • Guide to alcohol on keto

Where can I find low carb & keto recipes?

Wholesome Yum has hundreds of low carb and keto recipes to support your macros! You can find them in the low carb keto recipe index here.

Where can I get more support or specific questions about my macros answered?

The best place to get support is in our low carb & keto support group here – it’s FREE!

Is there a meal plan to help me stick to my macros?

The Wholesome Yum Low Carb & Keto Meal Plan is designed to work with both low carb and keto. It includes a set lunch and dinner, designed to save you time and with few enough net carbs to fit virtually any low carb or keto diet. Then, you can complete the rest of your macros with breakfast and snacks, which the plans give you lots of ideas for.

Want to try them free?

Get my FREE TRIAL of low carb & keto meal plans!

How to Read a Food Label in 3 Steps to Make Sure It’s Keto

Total Carbohydrate (4 grams) – Dietary Fiber (1 gram) = 3 grams Net Carbs

The Total Carbs for ⅔ cup of this packaged cauliflower is 4 grams, and the Net Carb is 3 grams.

Why the 2 camps

The reason there’s an impassioned debate about whether to count Total Carbs or Net Carbs is because both camps are right.

I know. I can see the {collective eye roll} around the world. But hear me out.

Each side believes they’re right simply because it’s what’s worked for them. Which means they both work. Hence, the strong feelings.

The question then for you, isn’t:

Who is right?

The question you need to ask yourself is:

What’s right for me?

This is where our whys come in.

Why some people count net carbs

Again… insulin.

It all goes back to keeping your insulin levels low. Low enough that access to stored fat is granted so it can be used for energy to allow fat loss.

You know that increased blood sugars will raise insulin. But other factors can raise insulin, too (but that’s a whole other epic story).

For now, let’s focus on the fact that increased blood sugars will raise your insulin.

Given that your goal is to keep insulin low, here’s why counting net carbs work:

  • Erythritol, a sugar alcohol, doesn’t raise blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Fiber can’t be digested so it’s believed to have little to no impact on blood sugar.
  • Both soluble and insoluble fiber reduce blood sugar spikes and improve insulin sensitivity which promote fat loss.

The effects of fiber and sugar alcohol (in this case, erythritol) have either little to no effect on insulin levels.

This is why the net carb folks don’t count them and they lose weight.

Why some people count total carbs

You guessed it… still insulin.

What will raise your insulin levels to a point that it results in blocked access to your stored fat and keep you from losing weight?

Since your goal is still to keep insulin low, here’s why counting total carbs work:

  • Sugar alcohols sorbitol, xylitol, and maltitol do raise blood sugar so it also raises insulin. They’re commonly used in products that have “low carb”, “sugar free”, or “net carb” labels.
  • Carbohydrate intolerance. People with metabolic issues like obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes can’t tolerate carbs like others do. So they have to count all carbs in order to lose weight – especially those “fibers” that don’t come from real, whole foods like “low carb” bars and treats.
  • The Cephalic Phase Insulin Response. The mere taste of sweet in your mouth can raise your insulin. Even if it doesn’t have any calories, even if it doesn’t raise your blood sugar, and even if you just swished it around your mouth and spit it out. Yes, it’s a thing.

The effects of metabolic issues, some sugar alcohols, and the taste of “sweet” can raise insulin levels.

This is why the total carb folks count fiber, sugar alcohols, or eliminate sugar alcohols from their diet to lose weight.

3. What’s the Serving Size

There’s no official definition on how many carbs a day a ketogenic diet is, but a vast majority lose weight around 20 grams per day (give or take).

This will vary depending on your activity level and your carbohydrate tolerance.

But let’s just say you’re trying to stay around 20 grams per day. How much cashews can you eat to stay around this daily limit?

Net Carbs vs Total Carbs: How do you count them?

Why understanding net carbs is important on a low-carb or keto diet

As the makeup of foods differ, understanding the net carb count of your meals is important, as misinterpreting it can lead to overconsumption of carbs and getting kicked out of ketosis.

What are the benefits of carb restriction?

As carb restriction is becoming more popular, the number of studies conducted on the benefits of it have also increased. The big idea behind it is that the quantity and quality of carbohydrate sources we eat nowadays cause unhealthy insulin and blood glucose responses. In practice, this leads to an epidemic of metabolic syndrome spawning diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, cancer and so on. It follows then, that restricting or eliminating carbohydrates may help prevent or resolve many of these conditions.

Following a low-carb diet has also been shown to :

  1. Reduce hunger and cravings
  2. Decrease triglyceride levels
  3. Increase HDL
  4. Lower fasting glucose and insulin levels
  5. Aid fat loss
  6. Reduce chronic, systemic inflammation
  7. Decrease levels of C-reactive protein, a general marker of inflammation

Specifically looking at how the body benefits from ketosis, the furthest end of carb restriction, there are further benefits:

  1. Improves brain health — Ketones appear to have a protective effect on the brain. They help to optimize oxidative stress derived signaling and improve mitochondrial function, suggesting they are beneficial for the treatment of some neurological disorders and brain conditions .
  2. Increased energy — Ketones burn as a cleaner source of fuel than glucose does, as they provide more energy and use less oxygen during metabolism

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the impact of certain foods on blood sugar levels. It compares the rise in blood glucose evoked by specific foods in response to an equivalent dose of glucose pegged at 100 .

Foods range from 5 to even above 100. The higher the number, the larger the response that is elicited, meaning the larger the rise in blood glucose. On the flip side, foods with a low GI value cause a more gradual change in blood glucose and insulin levels.

Should the glycemic index matter to you?

You would think so, since one of the main things a keto diet helps with is stabilizing blood sugars. However, there are many foods that will score low on the glycemic index but high on the insulin index. In other words, you can be sure that the foods that skyrocket your blood sugar are bad for you but you can’t be sure that those that don’t are good for you (as you don’t know how high your insulin is rising).

The insulin index is a better indicator of a healthy metabolic response than the glycemic index.

What is the insulin index?

When we consume carbs, the body breaks the sugars and starches present in those foods into glucose or other small sugars (monosaccharides).These are absorbed into the bloodstream. The rate at which foods are broken down and absorbed differs drastically depending many factors about the food; some are broken down quicker and thus send a bad metabolic signal that exaggerates increases in blood sugars. Other foods, however, break down more slowly and thus signal a more appropriate increase.

But the blood sugar response is only part of the equation.

Even before blood sugars increase, the pancreas releases insulin to anticipate and optimize its food, including blood glucose.

So what is the insulin index?

It’s similar to the glycemic index in the sense that it measures the bodies response to specific foods. However, the insulin index focuses on how much insulin the body normally releases in response to a specific food or meal. Certain foods need more insulin to utilize them, whereas others need much less.

The insulin index is a great (but partial) indicator of whether or not a food prompts healthy metabolic responses. See our post on the insulin index for more.

Can you eat carbs and stay in ketosis?

The general breakdown of a ketogenic diet by calories from macronutrients is as follows:

75% fat
20% protein
5% carbohydrates

This is a general indication, not a hard and fast rule for every person at every meal. For instance, many people naturally gravitate towards eating a higher percentage of protein on their ketogenic diet whilst in a fat loss phase. Other times, lean ketogenic athletes may gravitate towards particularly fatty meals when they’ve got lots of training to recover from.

There are no strict guidelines about how many carbs an individual can consume on a daily basis while following the ketogenic diet. It varies from person to person. There are, however, certain carbohydrates sources that are easier to eat than others while still remaining ketogenic.

For example, you could easily eat lots and lots of low-starch leafy green vegetables and stay in ketosis. But a meal with a normal amount of mashed sweet potato (280g) contains 50g of net carbs, enough to kick most people out of ketosis. More people could consume that 50g of net carbs and stay keto if they spread them over 2 to 3 meals and had them at the end of a meal (after the meat and veggies).

How many net carbs can I eat to stay in ketosis?

To get the most benefits from a low carb diet, sticking to the sensationally named ‘extremely low-carb diet’ (or keto) is your best bet. In terms of grams, most keto diets will recommend 50 to 60g of total carbohydrates per day, lumping in sugars and fiber. The net carb count on that will range roughly from 20 to 30g, with room for slight variation depending on the individual.

When you choose carbs, it’s best to tend towards those that are low in net carbs and dense in micronutrient. These foods will typically contain less than 10g of net carbs per serving. For a more detailed picture of what kind of carbohydrates you can eat on on a keto diet, check out our Ultimate Keto Diet Guide for Beginners here.

Net carbs food list

As a rule of thumb and as mentioned above, it’s best to stick to carbohydrates that have a net carb count of less than 10g per serving. We’ve outlined below some different choices available for consumption on the keto diet. But remember, it’s not just potatoes and fruit that contain carbs. Dairy contains a little and so do fattier plant foods like avocados and nuts/seeds.

FOOD SERVING SIZE TOTAL CARBS NET CARBS
Kale, raw 100g 9g 5g
Carrot, raw 100g 10g 6.8g
Rutabaga, raw 100g 9g 6.3g
Arugula, raw 100g 4g 1.6g
Broccoli, raw 100g 7g 4g
Brussel sprouts 100g 9g 5.2g
Peppers, raw 100g 6g 3.9
Mozzarella 100g 2.2g 2.2g
Ricotta 100g 3g 3g
Yogurt, whole milk 100g 5g 4.7g
Cream cheese 100g 6g 5.5g
Mayo, avocado oil 100g 0g 0g
Olive oil 100g 0g 0g
Avocado 100g 9g 1.8g
Macadamia nuts 100g 14g 5.2g
Cashew nuts 100g 30g 26.9g
Coconut meat 100g 15g 6.2g
Beef, ground (15% fat) 100g 0g 0g
Salmon, wild 100g 0g 0g
Chicken, thigh 100g 0g 0g
Pork belly 100g 0g 0g
Blueberries, fresh 100g 14g 12.1g
Strawberries, fresh 100g 8g 5.7g
Pineapple, fresh 100g 13g 11.7g
Banana, fresh 100g 23g 21.1g
Cranberries, fresh 100g 12g 8.4g

As you can see by the foods listed above, the total carb count and net carb count in certain foods varies quite drastically. Nutrita always make clear what the net carb content of a food is for over 6,000 foods and growing. It helps you learn to confidently determine whether your food choices align with your diet and health goals.

Watching your carb intake may be second nature to many of you by now, but if you’re new to eating keto you’ll probably start to hear words like carb count, macros, and net carbs thrown around a lot. Today, we’re going to go over net carbs vs. total carbs, and which you might want to focus on counting on your keto diet. If you haven’t read our post on keto and fiber, we recommend you read it now!

This post will cover:

  • The difference between net and total carbs
  • Which carbohydrates to focus on when tracking macros
  • When to be cautious about net carbs
  • How to starting tracking your carb macros

Counting Macros

Before we get started, lets discuss why we’re talking about counting carbs. When you switch to eating a ketogenic diet, you will need to keep your macronutrients, aka ‘macros’ within a certain range. Macros are just a fancy word for the three nutrients the human body needs in the largest quantity. The three macronutrients are protein, fat and carbohydrates (carbs). On a ketogenic diet, you’re getting about 70-80% of your calories from fat, 20-25% from protein, and 5-10% from carbs. This is why there is a large focus on tracking your carbohydrate intake. Coming from a standard diet you’re greatly reducing your carb intake, and unless you track, it can be easy to over eat this macronutrient in the beginning.

The Difference Between Net Carbs and Total Carbs

When reading a standard nutrition label, it is important to note the total carbohydrate count will include additional components that count towards the total carbohydrate number. In other words, the total carbohydrate number is referring to the carbs from all sources. Usually included on labels are sugar, fiber, and sometimes sugar alcohols. Taking the label below as an example, we can see the total carbohydrates equals 37 grams. You do not need to add fiber and total sugar to this, they are included in the total carbohydrate count.

Total carbohydrates: the total number of carbohydrates from all sources

When we talk about net carbs, we’re talking about everything included in that total number, minus the fiber. Put simply, net carbs = total carbs – fiber. Using the same label, we can see the total carbs are 37 grams, and the fiber is 4 grams. To get our net carb count we’re going to minus 4 from 37, giving us a net carb count of 33 grams. Note: the words dietary fiber and fiber are used interchangeably.

Net carbohydrates: the total carbohydrates minus the fiber

Which carbohydrates do you focus on when tracking macros?

Fibre: As we discussed in our previous blog post, fiber is the portion of carbohydrates found in plants that passes through your body undigested. In other words, fiber is not absorbed by the body, and generally does not impact blood sugar like other carbohydrates. Net carbs are the carbs left over that will be absorbed by the body. While we do know that insoluble fiber leaves the body completely undigested, the role of soluble fiber in the body is a little more complicated. Soluble fiber may be partially digested and doesn’t necessarily have zero impact on blood sugar.

Sugar: On a nutrition label, sugar also falls under the category of carbohydrates. This number will include both added sugar and sugars found naturally in foods. So a food with a number other than zero isn’t automatically banned from a keto diet, it just depends where the sugar is coming from. Avoiding all adding sugar is recommended, but natural sugars found in foods will not be. Even cauliflower has natural sugars! Reading the ingredient list if you’re buying pre-packaged food will be a habit to form now that you’re eating keto.

Sugar Alcohols: Sugar alcohols include xylitol and erythritol. They are derived from plant sources, and generally speaking do not impact blood sugar levels. Like fiber, they pass through the digestive track undigested, and therefore do not need to be counted toward your total carb count. There are some sugar alcohols that have been shown to increase blood sugar – Maltitol and sorbitol being two. If you see these listed, just know they may impact your blood sugar levels, although still not to the degree that real sugar would.

So which should you count? When eating a low-carb high-fat diet, we generally want to avoid all added sugar as a rule of thumb. After that, sticking to the net carb count will usually allow us to maintain nutritional ketosis and not go over our carb count. However if you’re particularly carb sensitive, or eat a lot of high fiber foods, you may want to watch your total carb intake if you’re not able to maintain ketosis.

Cautions

There are instances when net carbs may not be the best marker for counting carbs on a low-carb keto diet. In people with type 1 diabetes, fiber may still influence blood sugar, although the research is not conclusive. Those dealing with this condition may be better off counting total carbs.

Additionally, some processed foods labelled as low-carb or keto-friendly may also have an impact on blood sugar. This is because some companies add fiber into products in order to be able to decrease the total carb count. However, if these products contained ingredients that already raised blood sugar to begin with, adding fiber will not cancel the effect of the other ingredients.

Example: Let’s say you’re eating a protein bar with a total carb count of 20 grams and 15 grams of fiber. We can see here the net carb count of this bar would be 5 grams, not too shabby. However, let’s say one of the ingredients in this bar was dextrose, or even cane sugar juice. These ingredients are still pure sugar, and will raise blood sugar despite the bar having a high fiber count.

So, how to you avoid this? We recommend always reading the label, and looking at the ingredient list as well as the nutritional information. Unfortunately, on some products the net carb count can be misleading. Sticking to unprocessed whole foods can also be a good way to stay clear of this trap.

Tracking Carbohydrates

Although there is no one correct limit for carbohydrates, and sensitivity to carbs will vary from person to person, there are some general rules you can use as a starting point. When counting net carbs, usually sticking below 25 grams per day will be effective in achieving nutritional ketosis. If you’re counting total carbs, keeping your total to around 50 grams or less will be a good place to start.

Ultimately, it is up to the individual to determine his or her own carb tolerance. There is no short cut, but rather trial and error can be used find your own sweet spot. If you do plan to count carbs, there are some great tools like carb manager and my fitness pal that can help you get started. We’ve add all our Ketolibriyum products to these apps to make tracking our food easy and hassle free! Additionally, those focused on eating low-carb high-fat rather than strict keto will have more flexibility with the number.
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