Should I Count Total Carbs or Net Carbs on Keto?

Keeping your carb intake in check is one of the most important factors for getting into and staying in ketosis. This is why counting carbs is such a popular strategy among keto dieters. However, not everyone counts carbs the same way.

One of the biggest debates regarding counting carbs is whether you should count total or net carbs on a ketogenic diet. Let’s dive in.

What are net carbs?

Net carbs are the carbs you have left when you subtract fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carb count in a food. In most cases, this leaves you with total sugar. This carb counting approach comes from the understanding that fiber and most sugar replacements should not cause a spike in blood sugar.

While this seems like a logical approach to managing carbohydrate intake, it may not be the best approach for everyone.

Should I count total or net carbs? 

The answer to this question depends on where you are in your keto journey. Counting net carbs runs the risk of higher total carb intake and especially higher sugar intake. This can be harmful to ketosis.

If your goal is to keep carbs below 30 grams but you are tracking net carbs, that could mean 30 grams of sugar and 50+ grams of total carbohydrates.  While more experienced ketogenic dieters may be able to tolerate this, others cannot. Especially beginners, which is why I do not advise new ketogenic dieters to count net carbs. Instead, beginners should count total carbs and aim to keep them under 30 grams or even 20 grams.

Counting net carbs can also lead to a stall in weight loss progress. To optimize fat loss, you want to prevent increases in blood sugar. Counting net carbs may lead to some accidental blood sugar spikes that can get in the way of the results you are looking for.

If you have been following keto for a while, your body is better at using carbohydrates and you are typically more resilient to being kicked out of ketosis. In this case, you may be able to make the transition to tracking net carbs instead of total carbs. Before you do this, take time to test your tolerance to ensure that you are not kicking yourself out of ketosis by taking this approach.

There are a lot of companies that are making products containing various fibers and sugar replacements that don’t have to be accounted for when tracking net carbs but can still cause a spike in blood sugar nonetheless. This means that you should test your blood sugar after eating a product that has higher total carbs but low net carbs to make sure that you can tolerate this product.

If you notice a dip in energy levels, increase in hunger, stall in progress, lower ketone levels, or high blood glucose, chances are you are overdoing it with your carbs and you should go back to tracking total carbs.

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Conclusion

Keto is a low carb diet and keeping carbs low enough is important for ensuring that you get in and stay in ketosis. Don’t let counting net carbs cause you to miss out on all of the benefits of keto. If you are new to keto or not seeing the results you want, stick to tracking total carbs.

If you are more experienced with keto and can handle the higher carb intake then feel free to transition to counting net carbs but know that this isn’t going to be providing any additional health benefits!

Christopher Irvin