Net Carbs or Total Carbs— Which to Count?

The issue of net carbs vs. total carbs seems to be an ongoing debate in the ketogenic community. While some experts, such as Dr. Berg suggest counting net carbs others, such as Dr. Phinney discourage this practice. Unfortunately, the question, “Should I be counting net carbs or total carbs?” warrants more than a two-word response.

I’ve had a fair share of clients that were struggling to achieve success on the ketogenic diet until they made the switch from counting net carbs to total carbs. On the other hand, plenty of people achieve incredible results on the keto diet by counting net carbs.

Personally, I achieve much better results with keto when counting total carbs. Perhaps it has to do with my archaic blood type (oh heeeey O-blood types), or it could be that my body is particularly sensitive to carbohydrates. Regardless, today I’m going to share 3 reasons I suggest counting total carbs over net carbs. Plus, I’ll reveal some of my personal tips in order to ensure your ketogenic experience is not only SUPER successful, but also designed for optimal health. Before diving into the reasons, I want you to have a clear understanding of net carbs, and how to calculate them.

What are net carbs?

Net carbs are the digestible carbohydrates in food that you can use for energy. For the most part, carbohydrates are composed of sugars and starches— both of which are digestible. Most other types of carbohydrates, such as fiber or some sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol, mannitol, lactitol) have no energy value or impact on your blood sugar. Therefore, fiber and (some) sugar alcohols are not factored into net carb counts.

How do you calculate net carbs?

Essentially, calculating net carbs can be as simple as this formula:

Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs

Although, with “keto-approved” sweets and packaged food products populating, we’ve got to take sugar alcohols into account as well. In which case, the formula would look more like this:

Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols + (maltitol, sorbitol, isomalt OR glycerin) / 2 = Net Carbs

Do you see how this can get super tricky? I mean, I don’t even understand this formula. Although, I never made it past Algebra II in my whole college experience. Of course, there are a number of apps such as Keto Diet Tracker or Keto Diet that will do the work for you. However, if you get to the point in your ketogenic journey (and you will) where you don’t want/need to log every itty bitty anything that crosses your lips— good luck with your calculations.

Now that you have a better understanding of what net carbs are and how to calculate them. Let’s discuss the reasons why you may want to disregard net carbs (almost) entirely.

3 Reasons to Count Total Carbs

1. The term “net” carb is not regulated by the FDA

Now, to be quite honest— the FDA and I don’t really get along too well. There are plenty of supplements I’ve taken over the years (generally rooted in ancient medicine) that weren’t FDA approved. However, in the case of food labeling and food handling standards, I’ll put my faith in the FDA.

From what I understand, there is no legal definition of the terms “net,” “active,” or “impact” carbs. These terms have been made up by food companies,” says Wahida Karmally, DrPH, RD, director of nutrition at the Irving Center for Clinical Research at Columbia University.

Why?

I can only imagine to dupe more of the low-carb community into purchasing their products. I mean, you don’s see net carbs plastered on produce, right? I’ve only seen it displayed on processed food products.

2. Counting total carbs leads to more effective weight loss

As I mentioned, I’ve had many clients complain that while they were losing weight on the ketogenic diet, they just weren’t losing fast enough. One of the first things I look at when troubleshooting, is whether they’ve been calculating net or total carbs.

The thing is, there’s a bit of a discrepancy when it comes to keto carb calculations; and depending on which tool you use to calculate your macros, you could be looking at anywhere between 20-50g of daily carbs.

As a rough rule of thumb, in order to maintain ketosis you’ve got to stay under 20g of net carbs or 50g of total carbs.

The problem often occurs when people misunderstand the difference between net and total carbs and allow themselves excessive net carbs. The other problem that can occur (rightfully so), is a miscalculation of net carbs. Again, if you’re not using an app that accounts for net carbs you’re left doing the unreasonable calculations yourself.

3. Counting total carbs leads to a “cleaner” ketogenic experience

If you’re counting total carbs, you’ll quickly learn that your grace for “keto-approved” sweets is far less. Now I know what a blessing peanut butter cheesecake fat bombs are while you’re “dieting.” Only problem is, they’re not exactly healthy. Unfortunately, Dr. Mark Hyman likes to remind us that,

“Artificial sweeteners trick your metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way. This causes your body to pump out insulin, the fat storage hormone, which lays down more belly fat.”

I’m not saying don’t eat the monkfruit, erithritol or xylitol— as far as keto is concerned these sweeteners are your best options because of their limited effect on blood sugar. Just understand that “keto-approved” sweeteners will still keep you in that craving loop. Therefore, keto sweets are best reserved for the occasional treat.

My personal approach

Earlier, I mentioned I’d be sharing a few personal tips when it comes to carb counting. Personally, I choose to count total carbs (with a few exceptions). I aim to keep my total carb count at 20g a day with the exception of leafy greens and avocados.

How does that work exactly?

Basically, I input everything I eat into the Keto Diet Tracker App, except for green leafy vegetables and avocados. The reason I don’t account for them is because they’re chuck full of fiber, and in the past I’ve had my fair share of keto-induced constipation (oh my!). Therefore, making sure I consume enough fiber on a daily basis is extremely important to me (and my GI tract).

If you’re interested in this approach, but not a huge fan of leafy greens or avocados, the following is a list of other low-carb, high-fiber vegetables that you could consider for your personal exemptions.

10 Low-Carb, High-Fiber Veggies

  1. Cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts)
  2. Leafy greens (including micro greens and alfalfa)
  3. Asparagus
  4. Mushrooms
  5. Artichokes
  6. Celery
  7. Radishes
  8. Garlic
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Green beans

The other thing I might suggest if you suffer from constipation, is to add a fiber supplement to your daily regimen. I’m a big fan of the brand Benefiber. It’s one of the cleanest fiber supplements on the market and it contains gut-nourishing prebiotics.

Ultimately, whether you choose to count net carbs or total carbs is entirely up to you. You know your body best. I suggest you try experimenting with both— see which approach works best for you.


Whether you’re well-versed or brand spankin’ new to keto life and looking for some help, you should check out Katie’s coaching program. Coach Katie lives keto all day, errryday. She keeps up to date on the latest science, so you don’t have to. But more importantly, she addresses your specific goals to help you achieve ultimate success on your keto journey. And it’s always better to have someone in your corner, guiding you along. So if you’re ready for total life transformation and ultimate keto success, schedule your FREE initial keto consultation today!


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