Total Carbs Vs. Net Carbs - What's the Difference?
Total Carbs Vs. Net Carbs: Everything You Need to Know To Make the Keto Diet Work For You
Don’t be intimidated by a diet with a little math. The difference between total carbs vs. net carbs is easy to understand!
If you’re going to be doing the keto diet then you’re going to be doing keto math. That’s when you take the total number of carbs in your food and subtract the grams of fiber from your meal to end up with your net carbs. Net carbs are the actual number of carbs that affect whether you’re going to be in ketosis or not. And that’s all you’ll need to know about total carbs vs net carbs. It’s that easy!
You’ll be checking a lot of food labels because that’s just what it means to have a restrictive diet. But a restrictive diet doesn’t mean you can’t eat the foods you like What if you want fried chicken, battered cod,or guacamole? I want one or more of those things right now because I’m writing this article hungry! So, let’s do the keto math on some of the things I want to eat and then I’ll use that information to make my dinner.
Believe it or not, there’s keto friendly fast food, and KFC has plenty of it. I don’t want broiled chicken, though; I want fried! According to KFC’s nutrition guide, Original Recipe fried chicken has 11 grams of carbs total, and two grams of fiber. That means the net carbs is 9. Great, PUT IT IN ME! I WANT TWO BREASTS. Mmm, yes. But no sauce because I know that sauce is a food with added sugar.
Long John Silvers is another place where I can get some keto friendly fast food, but I want the more indulgent battered cod. One piece has nine carbs total and one carb of fiber, which makes the net carbs eight. The tartar sauce only has three carbs per serving, so I’m going to enjoy me some of that too! Euch, such a mistake to write this hungry because all I’m doing is thinking about stuff I want to eat!
Berries require special attention because they’re a great source of macronutrients as well as an excellent way to enjoy sweets during keto. One cup of blackberries has 14 grams of total carbs and eight grams of dietary fiber, so that's six net carbs. One cup of raspberries has 15 grams of total carbs and eight grams of fiber, so that's seven grams of net carbs. A cup of strawberries is 11 total carbs with three grams of fiber, so that's eight net carbs. And 50 blueberries have 10 total carbs and 1.6 carbs of fiber, which gives you 8.4 net carbs. Not bad for that many berries! I should be responsible and eat a cup of berries. Since I live in New York, often times when I’m in need of a snack I will just buy berries from a street vendor. BUT I AM TOO HUNGRY AND BERRIES DON’T FIT INTO MY FOOD FANTASY!
Sugar alcohols aren’t digested in the same way that other sugars are, so you the net carbs play out a little bit differently. Not all sugar alcohols are the same, though, so you need to be cautious. For every 100 grams of erythritol you end up with only five net carbs, which is good news because erythritol is the sugar alcohol used in a lot of sugar free chocolates that I like, such as Lily's or Russell Stovers. Meanwhile, Maltitol, Xylitol, aspartame, are 67, 60, and 85 net carbs per 100 grams respectively. That’s way more! That’d throw you out of ketosis and you’d have to start from scratch to get back to running off those sweet, sweet ketone bodies.
Avocado is the best friend of keto. A cup contains 12 total grams of carbs, 10 of which are fiber, so that's 2 net carbs. Turn it into guac, put it in your salad, eat it with your eggs, grill it with your steak; it truly is a miracle fruit!
Salad greens are a great place to understand the significance of total vs net carbs because not all salad greens are created equal. One cup of shredded romaine is 1.5 grams of carbs and one gram of fiber. That's half a gram of carbs per serving! That's why making lettuce wraps or putting protein on lettuce is a great idea. Meanwhile, one cup of spinach is around seven grams of carbs, with roughly four grams of fiber. That's three net carbs, which means that now you have to weigh your options between macronutrients and eating something other than a big salad with five cups spinach. Kale has roughly seven grams of total carbs with around one gram of fiber, which is nearly six grams of net carbs. I’d say no thanks to kale!
You come home late from a night of drinking zero carb, clear alcohols like vodka or tequila and you want yourself a snack. You don't want to make anything and you don't want to go out, so you reach for some smooth peanut butter in your cupboard. Two tablespoons contain six grams of carbohydrates and two grams of fiber, which means four grams of net carbs. It might not be a good idea to eat this late at night if you want to maintain your caloric deficit (especially not peanut butter!), but at least you won't be knocked out of ketosis.
If you’re at an event or snacking at a friend’s house, there might be hummus. It’s like Schrodinger's Snack! Two tablespoons of hummus have four total carbs and two carbs of fiber, which equals two net carbs. So, feel free to enjoy some hummus! But, be careful, those net carbs add up! There’s ten fluid ounces in a container of classic Sabra Hummus, which is 20 tablespoons. That’s 40 net carbs. I always want to eat the whole container!
You might be able to swing that if the rest of your daily caloric intake is steaks, but how likely is that? For me? There have been plenty of days where all I ate was meat, and a container of hummus and whatever I dipped into it.
Half the carbs in a stalk of celery come from fiber. So if the total carbs are 1.2 then the net carbs are .6. So, if you're going to be dipping anything into your guac, peanut butter, or hummus, celery is the best choice. Baby carrots contain 4.5 net carbs per every 85 gram serving, which is around 8.5 baby carrots. If I’m eating hummus, guac, or peanut butter I’m going to go through way more carrots than that! Meanwhile, one stalk of broccoli, weighing 151 grams, contains six grams of net carbs. Celery wins again!
Understanding the difference between total and net carbs takes no time at all, and calculating net carbs is something you can do in your head. That modicum of effort is worth it because low carb diets like keto provide a structure that makes weight loss easier for a lot of people. I would weigh all of my meals on a scale and keep a daily consumption log just so I knew I was maintaining the right ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs and maintaining a good caloric deficit. It worked for me, and it may work for you. Just don’t let simple math keep you from achieving your weight loss dreams!