Keto is a dieting approach that centers on drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake and replacing it with healthy fats and calculated protein.
For some people, the idea of following a keto carb limit can seem daunting. However, it doesn't have to be this way.
If you're considering starting this journey but aren't sure what to expect, or what you'll need to give up, read on.
Today, we're taking a closer look at the role that carbohydrates play in the keto diet and how you can best manage yours.
Ready to learn more? Let's get started!
Understanding the Role of Carbs
Along with protein and fat, carbohydrates are a macronutrient. Particularly Fat and Carb macros provide your body with the energy it needs to get through the day.
There are two different kinds of carbs present in your food. These include:
Before we dive into the kinds and amounts of carbs you can have on the keto diet, it's important to know how to distinguish between these two groups. Let's take a closer look.
Starches are long chains of individual glucose (sugar) units linked together.
Though they don't usually taste sweet, your body still treats them like the sugar chains they are. This means that as your gut digests a starch, your body absorbs all of it into your blood as pure glucose. In turn, this raises your blood sugar levels.
Some examples of foods with a high starch content include:
Sugars are comprised of chains that aren't nearly as long as starches. In some cases, they're only a single molecule of glucose or fructose! When it comes to your diet, sugars usually consist of two sugar molecules linked together.
The two combinations include:
- Glucose + Fructose = Sucrose
- Galactose + Glucose = Lactose
You can find natural sugar in some whole foods, specifically plants and dairy products. In addition, vegetables, nuts, and seeds will often contain small amounts of sugar.
While some of these items (ie: root vegetables) might have a marginally sweet flavor, most aren't as sugary as you'd expect them to be.
On the other hand, that spike of sweetness that most of us associate with sugar is often in the form of added sugar, mostly present in processed and packaged food.
Added to food to give it a touch of sweetness, these added sugars include:
- Refined white sugar
- All other sugars (e.g. brown sugar, raw sugar, beet sugar, turbinado sugar)
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Maple syrup
- Agave nectar
How Does My Body Use Carbs?
After you've eaten and digested carbohydrates, all of the cells in your body can use glucose as an energy source. This includes those in your muscles, brain, and heart.
If any of those cells don't immediately need glucose, your body stores it in your liver and muscles in a form called glycogen. The only issue? There's only a limited amount of glycogen it can store.
Once all of your designated glycogen storage sites are filled to capacity, any extra glucose created when excess carbohydrates break down is converted to fat, which is then stored in your body.
Why Should I Restrict My Carb Intake?
Many recent diet movements, including the keto diet, focus on limiting the number of carbohydrates you consume on a regular basis.
When your body doesn't have an adequate amount of carbs to burn for energy, it will burn fat instead, creating substances called ketones that it uses for fuel.
There are several health benefits to this approach, especially if you're a diabetic trying to monitor your blood sugar levels or someone looking to begin a weight-loss journey.
When you adopt a low-carb diet, a few of the benefits you'll reap include:
- Lower insulin and blood sugar levels
- The eventual elimination of carbohydrate cravings
- The reduction or elimination of sugar cravings
- More robust appetite control
- Improved risk factors for heart disease
- Help irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, reflux, and other digestive issues
- Improved mental clarity
- Lower blood pressure
- Improvements in skin and complexion
Do I Need Any Carbs?
Technically, your body doesn't require carbohydrates to function properly.
When you restrict carbs, your body makes a shift and begins using fat and ketones as its main energy source rather than sugar. For most of your body, ketones or fatty acids can serve as ideal fuel sources.
While there are a few parts of your body, including your red blood cells, kidneys and a portion of your brain, that can run only on glucose, your body takes care of this.
Even if you don't consume a single carb, your internal system can still create the glucose that these areas depend on to thrive.
How is this possible?
Your liver is capable of converting amino acids (present in protein) and glycerol (present in fatty acids) into valuable glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
This could explain why protein contains nine essential amino acids and there are also two essential fatty acids, but there are no "essential" carbohydrates! However, your doctor will likely recommend against eliminating carbs from your diet altogether.
In addition, restricting yourself to a zero-carb diet can lead to frustration and resentment, which could derail your health goals. Keeping your carb intake within the required limits means enjoying a wider range of foods to make this lifestyle as sustainable as possible.
Keto-Friendly Carbs to Try
Now that you know what carbs are and how your body uses them, let's get into the fun part! What are some of the best carbs to eat on a keto or low-carb diet?
Choosing any of these can help you regulate your blood sugar while you nourish your body with critical vitamins and minerals. The top ones to reach for at the grocery store include:
- Leafy greens
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
Calculating Net Carbs
If you've spent time with anyone who's following a keto diet, it's likely you've heard the words "net carbs."
In short, these are the carbs that remain in a whole food source when you subtract its fiber and sugar alcohol content.
Why take the time to determine this calculation?
Most dietitians and healthcare professionals agree on the fact that your body can't digest and absorb the fiber present in whole foods, although not everyone is in agreement on this point. Either way, most will contend that dietary fiber does not have a significant metabolic effect and as such, it cannot contribute to an insulin spike.
At the same time, persons with Type 1 diabetes need to keep a close eye on their fiber intake, as the nutrient could distend their stomach, triggering the release of a hormone that can cause a blood sugar spike.
For both of these reasons, subtracting fiber carbs in whole foods to get the net carbs is a logical process.
If you're less concerned about fiber intake, you can also count total carbs depending on your personal preference.
Sometimes, it's easier to grasp a concept with a real-world scenario. Here's one that can explain how to calculate the net carbs in 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cauliflower:
Say the cauliflower contains 5 grams of total carbs. Two of those five grams came from fiber.
So, the formula is:
The grams of total carbs (five) minus the grams that came from fiber (two).
That leaves a net carb count of three.
What about sweet keto products?
I personally wear a continuous glucose monitor to ensure our treats don't spike blood sugar. Some of the treats we produce have a "high carb count" - However, they have little to no impact on my blood sugar. In fact, some of our products actually lower my blood sugar. These results are personal but they typically apply to the most.
This "high carb" count is offset partly due to the fiber but mostly due to the sugar alcohol and allulose content (sweetness) in the products. Here's a look at how our cupcakes impact my blood sugar.
Basically, counting net carbs in products (like we offer) is perfectly A-OK due to the fact that blood sugar doesn't rise, you stay in ketosis, and you can still reach your goals.
Here at Explorado Market we make keto treats that taste just as good if not better than the sugar and grain filled garbage available out there. We do this so you NEVER feel the need to eat carb rich food you’ll regret later. Our goal is to provide you with options. We don’t believe you should ALWAYS eat treats. But for the times you want a treat, you can grab one of our products and have limited to no impact on your glucose.
How Many Carbs Can I Eat on Keto?
Before we begin this discussion, understand this does not apply to everyone.
This is especially true if you're an active, healthy individual within a normal weight. In this case, you might be able to have a higher consumption of carbs due to the fact you're using them immediately (for power output).
On the other hand, individuals with health issues or weight concerns might require a different approach. In these cases, carb consumption must remain low for therapeutic and weight loss results.
While you might come across slight variations of these formulas during your research, the following three categories are general ones to follow:
- Strict Keto: Fewer than 20 grams of net carbs per day
- Low Carb: 20-50 grams of net carbs per day
- Active Low Carb: 50-100 grams of net carbs per day
In most cases, if you stick to the ketogenic diet, wise health professionals will recommend that you consume 15 to 30g of net carbs per day, equaling 5% to 10% of your total calories.
Tallying Macros on the Keto Diet
There's another buzzword associated with a low-carb diet: macros.
As mentioned: protein, fat, and carbohydrates are the three macronutrients. The keto diet defines which percent of your overall diet should come from these groups. The amounts to aim for are:
- High Fat: 60%-80% of your total calories should come from fat.
- Moderate Protein: 15%-35% of your total calories should come from protein. And this is debatable too. If you're actively working to increase muscle, your protein consumption should be high.
- Low Carbohydrate: 5% or less of your total calories should come from carbohydrates.
Figuring all of these numbers up manually would be an exhausting and time-consuming process. Thankfully, there are plenty of online macro calculators that make it a cinch. There are even apps for your smartphone to tally up everything on the go.
To track the amount of food you're consuming and make macro calculation easier, you can also invest in a simple food scale!
Understanding and Meeting Your Keto Carb Limit
A low-carb diet doesn't have to be bland, there's are so many options. In fact, it can be even more delicious and fulfilling than any weight-loss approach you've tried before!
Little things like our Keto Bake Box will help you stay in ketosis and won't impact your blood sugars negatively like sugar and grain filled baked goods will.
Keeping your keto carb limit in mind, it's time to set this path in motion. If you're serious about losing weight and taking control of your health, a keto diet can get you there.