The Role Net Carbs Play in the Keto Diet

The Keto diet is fantastic for helping you to improve your health, lose weight and possibly fight heart disease and diabetes. If you’re new to the Keto diet there are a lot of questions that you might have about this ultra-low-carb diet. One of the terms bandied around in Keto literature is “net carbs”. But what are net carbs and how do they differ from carbohydrates? The following article will give you a complete guide to net carbs and how they fit into your Keto diet.

Keto Overview

The Keto diet is, in simplest terms, a low-carb, moderate protein, high-fat diet. There are very few carbohydrates consumed on the Keto diet due to the purpose of Keto. Keto seeks to change how your body burns calories for energy. The typical diet involves a high or moderate amount of carbohydrates and our bodies have adapted by using glucose, which is formed from the carbs we eat, as its primary source of fuel.

The problem with glucose is that although it’s available as a quick source of energy, it’s also burned through relatively quickly leading you to experience hunger frequently. Keto reduces your carb intake so that your body has to switch to a different type of fuel. When your body is short on glucose it switches to a mode known as Ketosis. This is where your body begins producing ketones out of your stored fat. The ketones replace glucose as an energy source and there are a few good side effects that come from this.

First, you tend to lose weight on Keto because your body is burning away your fat and you’re not getting hungry as frequently. There are also signs that consuming a high-fat diet full of the right types of fat can lead to an increase in your good cholesterol levels and a decrease in your bad cholesterol levels. This leads to cleaner arteries and less risk of heart disease. The stabilization of your blood sugar levels through a reduction in carbs can also help those who are struggling with Diabetes or those looking to avoid it.

Net Carbs

Net carbs play a crucial role in your Keto diet. On the Keto diet, you’re allowed to eat 20g of net carbs daily if you’re male and 25g of net carbs daily if you’re female. If you go over this amount your body is kicked out of ketosis, it stops burning stored fat as fuel and it reverts back to burning glucose through the carbohydrates you just ate.

There are some people that can tolerate a higher amount of carbohydrates without their body being kicked out of ketosis. You can determine your own sensitivity to carbohydrates by taking a simple at-home urine test. Ketone test strips test for the number of ketones in your body. The stick will turn different colors depending on the number of ketones that the test senses. In order to stay in ketosis, you just need to see the presence of some ketones. Using these test strips you can experiment with your own personal sensitivity to carbohydrates. Start with the recommended 20 or 25g of net carbs and slowly increase it until you reach the limit where ketones are no longer present.

Net carbs and fiber

Although fiber is counted as a carbohydrate, it doesn’t count as a net carbohydrate. The reasoning behind this is that fiber is not digestible by your body. Instead, it passes through your body without breaking down and helps move waste through your intestines. Because it doesn’t break down it isn’t available to be turned into glucose and used as an energy source. This means that fiber will not kick your body out of ketosis.

Calculating net carbs

When calculating the net carbohydrates in a food item, locate the nutrition label. If the food is a whole food, such as a fruit or vegetable and doesn’t come with a nutrition label you can look this up online or through a nutrition app. Once you’ve found the nutrition label, locate the “Total Carbohydrates” section. Total carbs are often further broken down into “Dietary Fjber” and “Sugar Alcohols”. Sometimes there aren’t any Sugar Alcohols so don’t worry about them if they’re not there. Because both fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t absorbed by the body they don’t count towards your net carbs.

To calculate your net carbs from the nutrition label take the number of total carbohydrates and subtract the amount of fiber and sugar alcohols from this number. For example, if your total carbs are 12g and there’s 2g of fiber and 1g of sugar alcohols you’d be left with a total of 9g. This 9g is the number of net carbs that would be in your food.

Net Carbs Food Breakdown

Various food groups contain larger and smaller amounts of net carbs. The following is a basic guide into the different food groups so that you get a general sense as to which groups are Keto-friendly, which should be limited, and which should be avoided altogether.

Net carbs and grains

Grains are chock full of fiber and can be great for the average diet because they’re high in carbohydrates. In fact, when you think of carbohydrates you probably envision bread, rice, pasta or other types of grains. However, when you’re on the Keto diet, grains are not allowed. Oatmeal is one of the grains that has the lowest number of net carbs at 24.1g of net carbs per 1 cup serving. If you’re following a strict Keto diet and sticking to 20 or 25g of net carbs daily you can see how this would be difficult to squeeze in. It would be possible to have a 1/4 or a 1/2 a cup and consume only 6g or 12g respectively, but at such small quantities, the benefits don’t really make enough of a difference to justify this. Some of the other lower-carb grains are:

  • Soba noodles-24.4g net carbs per 1 cup serving
  • Cracked wheat-25.6g net carbs per 1 cup serving
  • Buckwheat-29g net carbs per 1 cup serving
  • Whole wheat pasta-30.6g of net carbs per 1 cup serving

Net carbs and meat

Meat is a Keto-diet’s best friend. It’s low in carbs, has a lot of protein and plenty of fat. In fact, the majority of meats come in at 0g of net carbs per serving. You can see how this would make it easy to get the nutrition you need while eating meat on a Keto diet without going over your carb limit. When it comes to meat, sugar-free deli meats and organ meat such as livers and hearts are pretty much the only type of meat that you have to count net carbs for. Deli-meats can contain up to 1g net carbs in a 4g serving while organ meats can contain up to 0.5g of net carbs per serving.

All other meats can be enjoyed without having to worry about their carb count interfering with your ketosis. Be sure to choose fattier cuts of meat and always opt for grain-fed organic meat products when they’re available.

Net carbs and vegetables

Although people often think of grains when they think of carbohydrates, other foods have carbs as well. Vegetables can be a sneaky source of carbs without you even realizing it. For example, one large potato can have as many as 57g of net carbs! The same is true of most starchy vegetables. Try to avoid corn, peas, squash and parsnips if possible because they’re too high in net carbs to fit into your Keto meal plan.

Instead opt for low carb vegetables such as leafy greens, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, celery and cruciferous veggies such as broccoli and cauliflower. Some great low-carb vegetable options are:

  • Spinach- 1 cup has 1g of net carbs
  • Garlic- 1 clove has 1g of net carbs
  • Kale- 1 cup has 1.4g of net carbs
  • Tomato- 1/2 cup has 3.5g of net carbs
  • Asparagus- 1/2 cup has 3.7g of net carbs
  • Onion- 1/2 cup has 3.4g of net carbs

Net carbs and dairy

Dairy can be a low carb addition to your Keto meal plan that adds in some essential calcium and other nutrients. Stick to full-fat versions of dairy products and avoid processed dairy such as cheese slices, cream cheese and spray cheese. These are not made from real cheese and you lack all of the nutrients that real dairy can provide. In addition, sugar is often added to these products which raises their net carb count. Processed foods are often full of chemicals that are bad for your body. Also, avoid pasteurized dairy products if possible because the pasteurization process removes a lot of the probiotics that full-fat dairy can offer. Some great dairy options are:

  • Whole milk- there are 5g of net carbs in a 100ml serving
  • Swiss cheese- there are 2.1g of net carbs in a 100g serving
  • Fresh Mozzarella- there’s only 1g of net carbs in a 100g serving
  • Ricotta- there are 3g of net carbs in a 100g serving
  • Greek Yogurt- there are 3.6g of net carbs in a 100g serving

Net carbs and fruit

Like vegetables, fruit can be another sneaky source of carbohydrates. In general, the sweeter the fruit is, the higher the carb content because carbohydrates, when broken down, are mostly sugar. However, fruit can also be high in fiber which can be difficult to get on the Keto diet due to the lack of grains. It’s a good idea to allow some fruit into your Keto meal plan; however you should steer clear of apples, blueberries, citrus fruits and stone fruits as these are higher in carbohydrates. Instead, try to choose some of the following fruits:

  • Avocado- 1/2 of an avocado has only 2g of net carbs
  • Blackberries- 6.2g of net carbs per 1 cup serving
  • Raspberries- 6.7g of net carbs per 1 cup serving
  • Starfruit- 5.1g of net carbs per 1 cup serving


Keeping a close eye on your net carb intake is the key to keeping your body in ketosis so that you continue to burn fat as fuel. Once you get the hang of it it’s easy to calculate the number of net carbs in a serving of food. Most foods can be enjoyed in moderation while on Keto; although you should avoid grains altogether and be selective about the types of fruit and vegetables that you chose. If you follow the above guide on net carbs you should have no trouble sticking to your Keto diet successfully!

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