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Despite all the popular terminology surrounding the keto diet, “net carbs” remains elusive. Many nutrition labels don’t clearly label them, but they’re important to keep in mind if you’re tracking carb intake. This begs the question: What are net carbs, are total carbs vs net carbs the same thing, and why should you know how to calculate them?
This article does the deep diving for you. You’ll learn how to figure net carbs, the difference between total carbs vs net carbs, how sugar alcohols impact carb counts, and a handy net carb calculator to determine the ideal amount you should have each day.
What Are Carbs?
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are a form of macronutrients that your body uses for energy. On a nutrition label, you can find carbs broken down into some combination of these components:
- Sugars, such as glucose or fructose. There is also a separate line for added sugars, meaning those not naturally occurring in the food.
- Fiber, which your body cannot digest (but may help feed “good” bacteria in your gut).
- Sugar alcohols, which are explained further below.
- Starches, which convert to glucose when you digest them.
On a nutrition label, starches are not listed separately, but they are the remaining carbs that are not any of the other above types. You’ll always see sugars and fiber broken down separately as this is legally required by the FDA [*], but sugar alcohols sometimes don’t get listed separately. Fortunately, most keto products have been listing them separately lately. You may also see allulose listed separately, which we’ll discuss below.
The main goal of a keto diet is to reach a fat-burning state of ketosis, which is accomplished by reducing carb intake and stabilizing blood glucose.
However, not all carb sources are created equal. Starches and sugars carry far more impact on blood glucose than fiber, which is why many keto dieters choose to calculate net carbs instead.
What Are Net Carbs?
Net carbs only count the carbohydrates that directly contribute to your body’s energy production.
Some carbs, due to their molecular structure, are either not digested or not metabolized in your body and have no energy value or blood sugar impact — so these are not included in net carbs. When comparing total carbs vs net carbs, pay attention to this key difference.
Net carbs do not take fiber or (some) sugar alcohols into account, because your body does not fully digest them and they do not impact your blood sugar.
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How To Calculate Net Carbs vs. Total Carbs
Learning how to figure out net carbs is easy! You don’t need a net carb calculator – the basic formula looks like this:
Net Carbs = Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols & Allulose
For example, a keto pancake with 13 grams of total carbs, 9 grams of fiber, 2 grams of erythritol, and 1 gram of allulose would have 1 gram of net carbs. (13g – 9g – 2g – 1g = 1g)
Sugar alcohols (including erythritol and xylitol) are carbohydrates, but most of these don’t metabolize fully in your body – more on that below. Allulose is not a sugar alcohol (and is in fact is a rare type of sugar), but since your body does not burn it for energy as sugar, you can subtract it the same way.
Examples: How To Calculate Net Carbs From Nutrition Labels
It’s easy to learn how to calculate net carbs on keto, because you can find all this information on your nutrition label. Here are a couple of examples of how to calculate net carbs from labels:
Example 1 – With Allulose:
The nutrition label below is for Besti monk fruit sweetener. It contains 4g total carbs and 4g allulose. You subtract the allulose from the total carbs.
Therefore, the net carbs per serving is 4g – 4g = 0g net carbs per serving.
Example 2 – With Fiber:
The nutrition label below is for Wholesome Yum almond flour. It contains 3g total carbs and 1g fiber. You subtract the fiber from the total carbs.
Therefore, the net carbs per serving is 3g – 1g = 2g net carbs per serving.
What About Sugar Alcohols?
Not everyone agrees about the impact of sugar alcohols on your metabolism — that’s because some sugar alcohols behave differently than others, and they can affect people differently as well. Some of us absorb and metabolize sugar alcohols quite a bit, while others don’t, and the type of sugar alcohol makes a big difference, too.
Sugar alcohols such as erythritol and xylitol have a negligible impact on blood sugar. [*][*] Allulose is classified as a “rare sugar” rather than a sugar alcohol, but also demonstrates minimal impact on blood glucose.[*]
Some prepackaged or sugar-free foods claim to be keto, but may spike your blood sugar instead because they use sugar alcohols with a higher glycemic index. (Glycemic index is the measure of how much a certain food will affect your blood sugar. White table sugar or simple carbs, such as white bread or potatoes, have a high glycemic impact. Foods containing carbs that also contain fiber or protein, have a moderate glycemic impact. Foods with very low or no net carbs typically have zero glycemic impact.)
In particular, tread with caution on foods that contain maltitol, sorbitol, or isomalt, all of which can spike blood sugar. [*]
In general, you can safely count erythritol and allulose as 0 net carbs, and count half the carbs in other sugar alcohols. However, testing your blood sugar after consuming these sweeteners is the only true way to know their impact on you.
Do You Count Net Carbs Or Total Carbs On Keto?
There’s no single answer on whether to count total carbs vs net carbs on keto. The ideal number of carbs you should consume every day depends on the type of keto diet you follow and your health goals.
Many keto followers consider net carbs a more sustainable way to track macros and this method works well for most people. Counting net carbs also encourages eating more veggies (since they contain fiber), which we consider a good thing here at Wholesome Yum. However, some people prefer to count total carbs to reach ketosis more quickly or to avoid weight loss stalls.
My recommendation? Start with focusing on net carbs, and only switch to total carbs if you have to. This way, you can enjoy plenty of leafy greens and low carb vegetables, which are filled with fiber.
If you don’t get the results you want, start by reducing sugar alcohols and low carb treats before switching to total carbs. Some people choose to count the carbs in sugar alcohols and sweeteners, but still subtract the fiber from total carbs.
Ultimately, test different counting methods to decide what works best for you! Focus on results such as how your clothes fit, how you feel, and the scale if you need to, but if you want to test the impact on ketosis specifically, you can use a blood monitor or ketone test strips to check if you’re in ketosis.
How Many Net Carbs On Keto?
Staying under 20-25 net carbs on keto will help you reach ketosis faster.
However, it’s a sliding scale and varies from person to person. Some people may be able to enjoy up to 50 grams of net carbs and still enter a fat-burning state.
People who are more active can usually get away with more carbs, while people who are insulin resistant or have been eating a carb-heavy diet for a long time might need a lower threshold to start.
How many net carbs should you eat?
The best way to tailor how many carbs to eat is to use a macro calculator. Select keto or low carb depending on the diet you want to follow, as well as your goal of weight loss, gain, or maintenance. The calculator will tell you how many carbs to eat.
Learn more about the benefits of going keto or low carb with this keto beginner’s guide. You can also get handy printable keto cheat sheets that include the most important info about net carbs, foods to eat, keto swaps for carb-filled foods, and more.