Today I am going to cover one of the most commonly asked questions from my clients “Should I count net carbs or total carbs on keto?”. This topic seems to be highly controversial among keto experts out there. I encourage you to watch the YouTube video all the way through because I’m also going to explain WHY different experts have different beliefs on this topic and wrap up with my personal recommendations for when you should count net carbs and when you should count total carbs. So, grab your notebook and get ready to jot down some notes.
Before we talk about which way is better, we need to understand the difference between net carbs vs total carbs.
The Difference Between Total And Net Carbs
Counting total carbs will help your body get into ketosis faster. Many people use this method because it is so simple to implement. All you have to do is search on Google for the food and you’ll get a macronutrient breakdown that includes total carbs. You’ll want to be in a range of 20-50g total carbs per day on a keto diet.
How To Count Total Carbs
To count total carbs, you include all of the carbohydrates on the nutrition label of a food. What you see as the total carbohydrate number on the nutrition label is what you count as the carb count of that food. This is a simple and straightforward method that many people use when first starting a keto diet.
Using net carbs for your keto diet is a perfectly acceptable approach but it does require some knowledge and a little math. You’ll want to aim for 20-40 net carbs per day on the keto diet.
Two Ways To Calculate Net Carbs
There two different ways of calculating net carbs. It’s also important to know that calculating net carbs can be confusing because of current labeling regulations. Today, I’m going to break this all down for you so you have all the information you need to choose the method for your keto diet.
We will begin with the most common method for calculating net carbs. You’ll want to write this down.
Net Carbs = Total Carbs - Fiber - Sugar Alcohols
Net Carb Calculation Example:
Let’s take a look at Lakanto’s Sugar-Free Chocolate Chips. Below, you’ll see the packaging for these as of the date this article was written.
To calculate net carbs we take 8g Total Carbs and subtract 3g fiber and then subtract 4g sugar alcohol to get 1 net carb per serving. So these sugar-free chocolate chips have 1 net carb per 1 Tablespoon serving.
Before I move on, beware of sugar-free chocolate as most brands on the market contain maltitol which should not be subtracted out as sugar alcohol. Studies show maltitol has an impact on insulin and blood sugar.
Lakanto is one of our favorite brands and if you want to try these out you can use coupon code TARAKETO to save on their website. Whole Foods has also come out with a store brand of sugar-free chocolate chips sweetened with erythritol that are darker chocolate than Lakanto’s.
Now, this formula will not come out correctly when allulose is on the label. Why? Allulose is a rare sugar that doesn’t have to be shown on the nutrition label because of FDA labeling regulations and guidance.
It used to be that allulose had to be counted as sugar. Now, the FDA labeling guidelines say that allulose doesn’t have to be listed on the nutrition facts under carbohydrates. So if the math isn’t coming out, take a look at the ingredient list and see what sugar substitute is being used.
Allulose is a great sugar substitute to use with the keto diet. Some studies and my own personal experience using allulose with myself and clients show that it actually reduces blood sugar. See the end of this article for a link to the study.
Let’s take a look at an example of a product that has allulose in it. The Perfect Keto Cookie package you see here below has 18g total carb in two cookies. The package has 4g of fiber and 5g of sugar alcohol.
Using the formula I provided would be 18-4-5 = 9g net carbs. Which would be 4.5g net carb per cookie. However, the company says there’s 2g net carb per cookie. Fortunately, Perfect Keto has done the math for us.
It is correct to take allulose out of the net carb calculation. You can see the full calculation in the next photo that subtracts out allulose making a package of 2 cookies 4 net carbs.
These cookies are very good and if you want to try them out you can head to their website and use the code TARAKETO to save 20% on your purchase.
If the sugar alcohol is maltitol or sorbitol only use half the amount in the calculation. So if there are 20g of sugar alcohols in the product and you see maltitol is the sweetener on the packages ingredient list. Only subtract out 10g of carbs in your calculation.
The other method for calculating net carbs is to include the sugar alcohol in the net carb count. Here, the equation becomes Net Carbs = Total Carbs - Fiber. You can see here that we are no longer subtracting out sugar alcohols.
So, in the Perfect Keto Cookie example that we just used, the equation would be 18g Total Carb - 3g fiber = 15g net carb for two cookies. Using this method we have 7.5g net carb per cookie. Compared to the method where we subtracted sugar alcohol and had 2 net carbs.
Many people choose to exclude sugar alcohols from the net carb count because they believe that tasting sweet things on the tongue can have an impact on blood sugar and insulin in the body. Other people exclude sugar alcohols because they have digestive issues such as gas, diarrhea. and bloating when they consume sugar alcohols.
Pros & Cons of Net And Total Carbs
Now let’s go through a pros and cons list of using net carbs or total carbs on keto. Then I’ll talk about why experts disagree on counting total carbs or net carbs and wrap up with my recommendations for you. I’ll tell you when you should count net carbs and when you might want to consider counting total carbs.
Counting Net Carbs
- If you have a strong sweet tooth, you’re able to eat sweets and be on keto, making the keto diet feel less restrictive.
- Less FOMO when you can include sweets in your keto diet
- The math can get complicated
- You may rely too heavily on sweets in your diet
Counting Total Carbs
- The math is easy
- You’ll usually get better results
- You might not get enough fiber in your diet if you aren’t eating fibrous vegetables which can result in loose stools.
- You may feel deprived and find yourself going off-plan and eating sugar. If this is happening, consider counting net carbs instead.
Why Experts Disagree On Net Carbs Or Total Carbs On The Keto Diet
After attending numerous conferences and listening to experts debate, I’ve come to realize they disagree on keto principles like net carbs or total carbs because they are each coming from a different place.
Patients Who Want To Lose Weight
For example, Dr. Eric Westman has a more flexible view on what foods are allowed on a keto diet because he primarily works with patients who want to lose weight in his clinics. And, to lose weight, you can count net carbs and be successful. It’s not so much about eating “The perfect keto diet”, it’s about not eating the standard American diet and turning your body into a fat-burning furnace.
Patients That Want Overall Health
Other experts will argue that the only way to do keto correctly is to count total carbs. They argue that net carbs are too confusing and marketing can be used to hide ingredients that undermine results. They may also argue that there are too many processed or junk ingredients hidden in packaged foods. These experts are looking towards the optimal human diet.
This Health Coach's Opinion
My opinion? They’re both correct. Working with clients over the years, I’ve learned that the best method is the one you are ready for.
Want Better Health, Total Carbs
When should you count total carbs? Count total carbs when you want better results and feel you are in a place to take the uncomfortable action required to give up sweets. Honor the fact that it will be a challenge for you and enter into it with that mindset.
Do A Personal 7-Day Challenge
I encourage clients to set themselves a personal 7-day challenge to count total carbs. Look at it as an experiment to see what happens in their body. Some clients opt for a full 30-day challenge and will use a resource like my 30 Day Keto Planner to track their progress and help them stay on-plan. If you’re ready to take a personal challenge, comment below and I’ll provide you some resources to help support you.
Great For Getting In Ketosis Faster
If you are just starting keto and want to get into ketosis faster, especially us women, consider 3-7 days of counting total carbs to kickstart things.
We also often recommend total carbs if you can’t get your blood ketone level to .5, or want to go deeper into ketosis for better physical benefits like mental clarity and more energy. Or, if you are stuck at a plateau and/or aren’t seeing any weight loss. All of these are reasons you may want to take that personal challenge and count total carbs for awhile instead of net carbs.
Feeling Overwhelmed, Net Carbs
If you’re just starting keto and feeling completely overwhelmed about giving up sweets. If you’re just not sure you can do this and you know that the FOMO might result in you constantly going off-plan or not doing keto at all, then count net carbs. Start there.
Enjoy the keto sweets and count net carbs. Don’t let the confusion around total carbs vs net carbs stop you from enjoying the benefits of a keto lifestyle. In other words, choose to do keto from where you are today and throw out the perfectionist mindset. Because, if your perfectionism is preventing you from starting, how are you ever going to reach your goals?
Celebrate Without Going Off-Plan
Counting net carbs over your birthday can allow you to celebrate without going off-plan. You can get my Keto Cupcake Cookbook and create some delicious cupcakes to enjoy and then freeze the leftovers for an occasional sweet treat.
My cookbook has 104 different flavors of cupcakes and includes filled cupcakes as well. My favorite is my hostess cupcake copycat recipe. The cupcakes aren’t just for the keto diet either, my teens prefer my keto cupcakes and request them for their birthday! It’s a great way to introduce your loved ones to a healthier treat option.
Whatever your decision, know that the keto diet is flexible. You can count total carbs for a month, lose some weight, and then go back to net carbs for awhile. Total carbs vs. net carbs doesn’t have to be a one-time decision. The best part of this is that The keto diet is flexible.
To wrap it up, remember that either method will support the keto diet. If you’re still confused about the different methods of counting net carbs, go back and watch again and take notes. I believe in your ability to figure this out.
Tracking Made Easy
Many people share with me that entering in recipes to an online calculator or an app is completely overwhelming and they just don’t want to do it. Well, because of this, I enter all of the recipes on my blog at wholebodyliving.com and on our YouTube channel into Cronometer.
If you have Cronometer Gold and friend request me at email@example.com then my entire database of recipes is available for you under custom foods. Here’s a link if you’d like to sign up for a free account and save 10% on Cronometer Gold which is currently just $35/year. This link is an affiliate link that earns me a small % on your purchase if you choose to use it and provides you with that 10% discount. It is a free-to-you way to support our efforts to make this information easily available to you through Cronometer.
Until next time, this is Health Coach Tara wishing you the very best of health.
Matsuo T, Izumori K. Effects of dietary D-psicose on diurnal variation in plasma glucose and insulin concentrations of rats. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2006 Sep;70(9):2081-5. doi: 10.1271/bbb.60036. Epub 2006 Sep 7. PMID: 16960391. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/bbb/70/9/70_60036/_pdf