Low Carb Diet Net Carbs Or Total Carbs – The moment you start researching the keto/low carb diet, you will learn that in order to follow it successfully, you need to significantly limit your carb intake. But for how much? Some sources say you should limit your intake to 20 total carbs per day, while others say 20 net carbs per day. What is the difference between total carbs and net carbs and why is it important? Here we’ll explain everything you need to know so you can decide on the daily carb intake that’s right for you.
To understand why you need to know about net and total carbs, it’s good to have a solid understanding of the role that carbohydrate restriction plays in the keto diet:
Low Carb Diet Net Carbs Or Total Carbs
The whole point of the ketogenic diet is to get your body into and maintain a state of ketosis. This is where the body relies on fat for energy instead of carbohydrates (sugar) and ketone levels are at least 0.5mmol/L when you test them (blood glucose also drops significantly as the sugar/carbs know that increase blood sugar).
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The only way to achieve ketosis is to drastically restrict your carbohydrate intake long enough so that your body is trained to produce ketones from stored and consumed fat and use them for energy. Once you’re in ketosis, the goal is to stay there and optimize its many benefits. The only way to do this is to continue to restrict your carbohydrate intake.
Fortunately, the amount of carbs you should eat on a keto diet is not arbitrary. In fact, it is scientific, although there is some confusion due to nuances, which we explain here:
Doctors widely agree that people following a ketogenic diet for medical therapeutic reasons, such as cancer or epilepsy, should limit total carbohydrates to 20 grams of total carbohydrates per day. Strict adherence ensures maximum benefit from higher ketone levels.
Here, “total carbs” is exactly what it sounds like – the total number of carbs consumed in a day (To be successful, it’s important to track your food intake, also known as macros or macronutrients, and keep a close eye on your carb count with a tracker , because carbs can easily creep into your diet.)
Beans And Legumes Low In Net Carbs
For the general population, there is consensus among experts that almost anyone can stay firmly in ketosis (ie, maintain ketone levels of at least 0.5 mmol/L or higher) if they consume 20 grams of net carbohydrates per day.
Here’s where it can get confusing for keto newcomers: “Net carbs” are not the same as “total carbs.”
Net carbohydrates are the total grams of carbohydrates in any given food minus its grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. (Sugar alcohols and fiber are removed because the body does not digest them.)
1 cup of cauliflower rice contains a total of 4.8 grams of carbohydrates and 3.2 grams of fiber. So to get your net carbs, you subtract the fiber (3.2 grams) from the total carbs (4.8 grams), which leaves you with 1.6 grams of net carbs (ie 4.8 grams of carbs – 3 .2 grams of fiber = 1.6 grams of net carbs per 1 cup of cauliflower rice).
Total Carbs Or Net Carbs: What Really Counts?
If you’re following a keto diet for weight loss or general health reasons, your best bet is to stay within 20 net carbs per day. It’s easier to do, allows you to eat a lot more vegetables and other healthy carbohydrate foods, and, as mentioned, still allows you to stay in ketosis.
Now let’s try an example of calculating net carbs with foods that contain sugar alcohols. There are many keto and low-carb products that use sugar-based sweeteners to sweeten food products without adding carbs (or in the case of some sugar alcohols, adding minimal carbs). But there are also recipes that call for sugar alcohols. Although there are many (maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol, etc.), we recommend the sweetener erythritol, which, unlike some sugar alcohols, contains absolutely no carbohydrates and does not tend to affect blood sugar levels. So for this example we’ll use homemade keto whipped cream (2 cups of heavy whipping cream and 2 teaspoons of erythritol whipped together).
Here, whipped cream contains 32 grams of carbohydrates and 0 dietary fiber (or 32 total carbohydrates), while erythritol contains 8 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of fiber. So the net carb count is 32 – 0 + 8 – 8 = 32 total carbs for enough whipped cream to serve 16 people (so 2 net carbs per serving).
After you’ve been in stable ketosis for three or more months, some people like to test their “carb work” to determine if they can consume more than 20 net carbs per day and stay in ketosis. You can do this by gradually increasing your daily carb intake and testing your glucose and ketones daily to see if you get spikes in glucose or push yourself out of ketosis by eating more carbohydrate foods, including carb-rich vegetables. Learn more about testing your carbs here.
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It’s also common to get tested for bioindividuality, or how your unique body reacts to certain keto-friendly or processed foods. Some people get a glucose spike with certain sugar alcohols or dairy products, for example. Testing your glucose and ketones before and after eating questionable foods allows you to discover if food sensitivities are interfering with your ability to stay in ketosis and achieve keto success.
To help you keep track of all your test results and follow-ups, Ket0-Mojo offers a free app where you can sync your readings to your smartphone and then mark or make notes on your readings. This means you can either note or make notes about the food you ate before testing or how many net carbs you had for the day. You can even filter your readings by tags. To get an even better idea of your readings with graphs and trends, or integrations with other health apps like Cronometer and Carb Manager, you can sign up for MyMojoHealth in the app. Learn more here.
Total carbs are just that – the sum of all the carbs you eat in a day. Net carbs are calculated by taking total carbs and subtracting fiber and sugar alcohols. You can do these calculations by reading food labels or by calculating the macros of the ingredients in the recipes you make.
Whether total or net carbs are better for you after a ketogenic diet depends on your goals. Bottom Line: If you are following a ketogenic diet for medical therapeutic reasons, it is best to start with a TOTAL of 20 carbs per day. If you’re dieting to fight obesity or insulin resistance (helps stabilize insulin levels), for weight loss, or preventative health measures, 20 NET carbs should do the trick.
How To Calculate Net Carbs In Your Low Carb Diet
However, it’s a good idea to test your ketones along the way to find your carbs and find out if any food sensitivities are affecting your success. It’s also important to eat whole foods, avoid foods with added sugar (ie, no sugar), read nutrition facts and nutrition labels, and consult with your primary care provider or nutritionist before to start any diet.
Disclaimer: It’s always a good idea to consult with a nutritionist and your primary care provider before starting a new diet.
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Difference Between Keto And Low Carb Diet
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