The ketogenic or keto diet is all about cutting carbs and increasing protein, and especially fat. You’re interested in trying keto, but then you’ve heard a fellow keto buddy talking about net carbs. You’ve never heard of net carbs before, how do you calculate them for your diet? To calculate net carbs for keto, look at the total carbohydrate content in the food you’ve eaten that day. Take the sugar alcohols and fiber in grams and subtract them from your total carbs to get the net carbs.
This number should be lower or the same as the total carbs consumed. Total carbs and net carbs, what’s the difference? How many net carbs should you eat on the keto diet? We’ll answer all those questions and more. So what are net carbs and how do they differ from total carbs? A carbohydrate or carb is a unit of energy, but not all carbs are measured the same way. Certain diets including the keto diet incorporate net carbs.
Net Carbs 101
Net carbs are a carbohydrate calculation that emits the sugar alcohol and fiber in your food. By removing these ingredients from the equation you have a better understanding through net carbs of how your blood sugar may increase or decrease when you eat certain foods. This can help you determine which foods may impact your weight loss. While on the keto diet, the goal is to enter a state of ketosis.
By forcing your body to burn through its carbohydrate supply and then providing few to continue burning through, you start torching fat instead. Since a higher blood sugar indicates you have sugar or carbs in your system, you want to keep your blood sugar down. Remember, carbs are energy and everyone needs energy, which is why the ketogenic diet doesn’t cut carbs completely.
By eating certain types of carbs such as low glycemic foods or those that are nutrient dense, you won’t increase your blood sugar. That’s the opposite of what happens, if you notch on simple carbs like those in white bread or potatoes. Not only will your blood sugar skyrocket, but any extra carbs you ingest become fat.
Let’s talk about the components that net carbs exclude. Which are sugar alcohol and fiber. You’re probably pretty familiar with dietary fiber, a type of carb that our digestive enzymes cannot process in full. The longer digestion time can increase satiety if you eat fiber rich foods. Both soluble and insoluble fiber should be removed when calculating net carbs.
What is sugar alcohol though? No, it’s not alcohol like beer or wine, rather sugar alcohol is a type of sugar based organic compound that occurs when sugar is hydrogenated. You may also see sugar alcohol referred to as glycerol or polyhydric alcohol on food labels. If a food manufacturer wants to decrease the amount of sucrose or table sugar in their products without removing the sweet flavor, they’ll add sugar alcohol.
Besides its role as a sweetener, sugar alcohol is also used to thicken foods. Since your body absorbs sugar alcohol up to 50% slower than it does regular sugar, the sugar alcohol doesn’t affect your blood sugar as much as sucrose does, but it will still induce a change.
So net carbs are carbohydrates, when you remove the sugar alcohol and fiber. What about total carbs? What are they? Measuring total carbs is far easier than net carbs. At the end of the day after you’ve had your last keto meal or snack, you should calculate all the carbs you’ve consumed. That number is your total carbs. There’s no need to omit sugar alcohols or fiber here. Before you can determine what your net carbs are for the day, you need to have calculated your total carbs first.Using a carb tracking app will make it easier to count the precise number of carbs you eat.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of net carbs, especially compared to total carbs, it’s time to talk more about the formula we shared for calculating net carbs. The formula is this
Total carbs – sugar alcohols – fiber = net carbs
If you have the pertinent information you can check any food label to find the fiber in it. If that information isn’t printed on the box or a packaging, then a quick Google search can produce the results you want. So how do you know how much sugar alcohol is in food? It’s still on the label, but only in foods that contain sugar alcohol. They’ll typically be marketed as having no sugar added or being sugar free.
As for total carbs, those are printed as clear as day on the food label as well. For example, here are the nutritional facts for a can of Coca-Cola. You wouldn’t drink coke on your keto diet and one look at the nutrition label tells you why. The beverage has 65 grams of total carbohydrates, 24% of your recommended daily allotment. Compare that to an avocado, which is keto friendly. One Cup of sliced avocado contains 12 grams of total carbs, which is 4% of the daily recommended allowance.
Let’s do a real net carbs calculation, so you can see how it works. Broccoli is allowed on the keto diet, so that will be our example food. According to USDA data, one stock of broccoli which is approximately 151 grams, contains 51 calories, 10 grams of total carbs, 3% of your recommended daily allowance, 3.9 grams of dietary fiber, 15% of your daily recommended allowance, and no sugar alcohol. Once you know this all, you have to do is plug the information into the formula. So you’d subtract 10 by 3.9 which is 6.1 grams of net carbs.
So how many net carbs you should consume per day on the keto diet to remain in a state of ketosis? Experts recommend no more than 20 net carbs daily. That’s not the same as total carbs, as you’ll recall, but net carbs are always equal to or just slightly under your number of total carbs. So when you go back and look at the nutrition facts for that can of coke, you can see why drinking it would be egregious, if you were trying to stay on the keto diet.
We did discuss the total carbs for a serving of avocado, so why not calculate its net carbs. Now a 1 cup serving of sliced avocado (which is 146 grams) contains 234 calories; 12 grams of total carbs, 0 sugar alcohol, and 10 grams of dietary fiber, 40% of your daily recommended allowance.
This time you subtract 12 by 10 to get two net carbs. This is a pretty fascinating example, since the total carbs are so much higher than the net carbs, you’d have to eat 10 servings of avocado to reach your recommended 20 grams of net carbs a day.
So now you know broccoli and avocado are low carb foods that are ideal for the keto diet but what other foods can you eat that are low in net carbs? Some of those foods are: shirataki noodles, berries, nuts, eggs, meat and poultry, cheese and vegetables.