To figure out how to calculate net carbs, let’s take a look at a simple U.S. nutrition label:
The two values (and only two values) that you will be focusing on to calculate the net carb content of foods are “Total Carbohydrate” and “Dietary Fiber.” Total sugars and added sugars don’t matter as much because they don’t give you all the info you need to find the net carbs.
To find the net carb content of any food item, you will subtract the number of grams of “Dietary Fiber” from the number of grams of “Total Carbohydrate.”
To put this in another way:
Total Carbs – Fiber = Net Carbs
For this particular food label, you would calculate net carbs with this simple equation:
37 grams of total carbs – 4 grams of dietary fiber = 33 grams of net carbs per serving
Keep in mind that this indicates the number of net carbs per serving (which is 2/3 cup or 55 grams in this case).
If you need help tracking your net carbs throughout the day, try using a macro tracking app like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer instead. You can find out how to use these apps to track your carbs and net carbs on keto by using this free guide.
(Note: If you live in Europe, Australia, or Oceania, the carb content on the label reflects the net carbs in a serving of that food, so you will not have to subtract fiber from that number because it already has been done.)
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Pros and Cons of MyFitnessPal
MyFitnessPal is one of the most popular calorie tracking apps, and it’s free (unless you want extra features that are helpful for keto dieters). The app prioritizes social networking and progress sharing with friends, which sets it apart from other apps.
With a massive food database, you can find almost any food you desire on MyFitnessPal. However, the main reason for their massive database is that anyone who uses the app can submit anything they want. This makes it difficult to know which food item in the database you should choose.
The free MyFitnessPal app also doesn’t know how to track net carbs, only total carbohydrates and fiber. This makes it a bit more tedious for keto dieters to use because they have to make their own net carb calculations.
Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of MyFitnessPal:
- Social sharing
- Weight loss/gain progress graph
- Huge food database
- Great for tracking packaged foods with barcodes
- Option to add recipes directly from your favorite keto recipe websites
- Inaccurate food database
- Can’t track net carbs on the free app
- Can only use macronutrient percentages (not specific gram targets)
- Advertisements throughout the app
Pros and Cons of Cronometer
By comparison, there’s Cron-O-Meter (hereafter referred to as Cronometer), which is a $2.99 app. The biggest differences between Cronometer and MyFitnessPal are the food database and social media aspects of the apps.
Cronometer’s food database is curated — it only has validated, correct entries with a lot more detailed information (like micronutrients and amino acids). The app also lacks a social sharing side to it unless you buy the gold subscription.
However, there is one thing that sets Cronometer apart MyFitnessPal for ketoers — a ketogenic diet mode that tracks net carbs (more on this later).
Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of Cronometer:
- Ketogenic diet mode with net carb tracker=
- More precise and accurate food database
- Can change macronutrient and micronutrient goals by grams and percentages
- No ads
- Limited food database
- Costs $2.99
- No weight loss/gain progress graph
Why Track Your Carbs?
You might be asking me, “What’s the point of using a calorie counter?” Well, there are numerous reasons to, including:
- Portion Control: As you increasingly read nutrition labels, you’ll realize that serving sizes are tiny. Manufacturers do that on purpose to get their counts low, and to get more people to buy. This app can help you follow proper portion control, resulting in proper diet control.
- Ninja Carbs: Some labels show that their products have 0 carbs, but you’d be surprised at how many things actually have carbs in them. Remember, 1g of carbs can really add up over a day’s worth of eating! Splenda used to be one of my favorite things to use because it had no carbs in it, but it actually has quite a few carbs if you are using it a lot.
- Delusional Beliefs: Oh come on, we all do it. You might drink a glass of milk and call it a cup – most of the time we don’t measure our foods out and that can be a big problem.
- These are the main reasons why some keto dieters don’t get the results they are expecting. Luckily, as
- long as you use a calorie tracker like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer, you won’t have to worry about any
- of these issues getting in your way.
How To Find Net Carbs For Each Food Entry on MyFitnessPal
Before we leave this screen, let’s see what other information it has. By scrolling down, we can access all the nutrition info available on that food item. We can also use this information to calculate the net carbs of that item to make sure it fits into our daily net carb limit.
To do this, subtract the grams of fiber from the grams of carbs. For example, the four eggs I ate had 1.4 total grams of carbs and 0 grams of fiber. The net carbs = 1.4 – 0 = 1.4 grams.
This is such a small amount for four eggs! This is why eggs are a staple of the keto diet.
A Quick Overview of Low Carb Ketogenic Mode on Cronometer
According to Cronometer’s website, here is what the different presets for low carb ketogenic mode do:
- Rigorous is recommended for people doing a ketogenic diet for therapeutic reasons (cancer, epilepsy, etc…) where limits on carbs and protein need to be very tight. This is also a good setting for people who are very sensitive to carbohydrates and cannot easily maintain nutritional ketosis without very strict limits.
- Moderate should be a good range for most people practicing a ketogenic diet for weight loss or health benefits.
- Relaxed can be used by people who are very athletic and/or have determined through self-monitoring that they can maintain ketosis at higher levels of carbs and protein.
- Custom lets you edit any of the values as you and your healthcare team sees fit.
For those who want more in-depth info about how they calculate protein intake and net carb limits, here is how the people at Cronometer describe it:
Your maximum protein is set based on a multiplier for each kilogram of lean body mass. For strict ketogenic diets, this is typically 0.8 grams of protein per kg, and the Moderate setting has it at 1 gram per kg. Pregnant and lactating women will have an additional 25 grams of protein added — but please note that this should only be done with the approval and close supervision by a medical professional.
Their protein target is set based on your lean body mass, but feel free to use the keto calculator to find your protein needs and plug it into Cronometer.
When it comes to setting your carb limit, here is what Cronometer does:
Your maximum carbohydrates are set again based on the strictness setting, and an additional 1 grams of carbohydrates are added for every 50 kcal of exercise, as those that are highly athletic can typically handle more carbohydrates without hampering ketosis. This can be toggled on or off with the Athletic Bonus checkbox.
Whether you choose “Default (Fixed Targets)” mode or “Low Carb Ketogenic” mode, make sure you click the save button at the top right of the screen. Your settings will not be automatically saved.
After you adjust these macronutrient targets, you will go back to the settings menu where you can set your goals for other nutrients by tapping “Nutrient Targets” as well.
Here you can fine-tune your goals for nutrients like water, vitamins, minerals, and specific amino acids, fats, and carbs, as well as your daily calorie goals.
Now that you have all of your daily goals set and ready for a successful ketogenic diet, let’s learn how to track food consumption on Cronometer.
My Personal Side by Side Review of Cronometer vs. MyFitnessPal
If we compare the results of tracking the same meals side by side, we can see that MyFitnessPal and Cronometer are within 100 calories and 4 grams of net carbs of each other. The most significant discrepancy between the two apps was in the calories of the meat. Chicken and beef were both highly variable between the two apps. For example, 12 oz. of 85% lean ground beef on MyFitnessPal has 720 calories, while 12 oz. of 85% lean ground beef on Cronometer has 792.7. A small difference that may become significant if you eat a lot of meat every day.
It was also difficult to find the same type of chicken (shredded chicken breast) in Cronometer that I used in MyFitnessPal. When it put it all together, the differences between the macronutrient breakdowns of the beef and the chicken is what is to blame for an almost 100 calorie difference between the apps.
With that being said, a less than 100 calorie and 5 net carb difference isn’t much. So, when it comes to macronutrient accuracy, you are probably safe with MyFitnessPal and Cronometer.
From my perspective, the fact that Cronometer prioritizes accuracy and has many keto diet specific settings gives it a slight edge. However, if you like the extra functionality of MyFitnessPal (adding recipes straight from websites like Ruled.me), its vast food database, and the social aspect of the app, then I’d suggest trying MyFitnessPal out.
How To Figure Net Carbs: The Science Behind It
When you eat food that is high in fiber carbohydrates, the food can take hours to be absorbed by the body instead or minutes. Take coconut flour for example. While a white flour bagel would enter the body and immediately start breaking down into sugar (glucose) to be used as energy, right now, a coconut flour muffin doesn’t do the same. Your body quickly breaks down the bagel because there are not a lot of fibers to slow down the digestion process, and you will experience insulin spikes and increased blood sugar relatively quickly. The coconut flour or berries take longer to process and release less glucose into the blood stream because of the fiber they contain.
How To Figure Net Carbs: A Blackberry Example
So to figure net carbs you would simply subtract the fiber carbohydrates from the total carbohydrate count.
Take a look at the carbohydrates listed in blackberries for example (Source: Driscolls). You can see that the total carbohydrates count is 10 grams. Then that number is broken down into fiber and sugar both totaling 5 grams each. If you subtract the fiber, you have five net carbs. That means that only carbs you have to worry about in blackberries come from the natural sugar found in them (assuming your fruit has no sugar added). That is a pretty significant difference.
Thankfully natural sugars found in foods like fruits and vegetables do not affect our bodies the same way other sugars do. It is, however, important to note that people with insulin resistance should seriously limit all forms of sugar until your body can tolerate and regulate sugar consumption in a healthy way.
How To Figure Net Carbs: What I Do
If you’re following me on my journey and using my recipes, you will see that I give both counts. When I review my totals for the day, I always subtract the fiber from my carbs! Either way, if you’re even paying attention to your carb intake, you’re making better choices for your body. You know your body better than anyone so only you can make the choices that will work for you.
One way to test your reactions to the different sugars we recommend is to purchase a Blood Glucose and Ketone Monitoring Device. I’m currently waiting on mine to arrive. I plan to use these sugar alcohols in my foods and then test my body’s reaction. If you have insulin resistance, I would recommend you do the same. I will then use it to check my blood after eating fruit as well. Then I will finally know what causes changes in my body and be able to plan my diet accordingly. Be sure to read the reviews before purchasing.
You can read an excellent Q&A interview done on Reddit with Gary Taubes here. He talks a lot about sugars and their effects on the body.
If insulin is a core contributor to fat storage, it is vital to pay attention to what causes insulin spikes in your body. The last thing you want to do is sabotage yourself by consuming foods that derail your progress or kick you out of ketosis.
Looking for ketogenic diet recipes click here.
* I am not a doctor or a scientist! I only share what has worked for me, and many others. If you have questions related to your health, you should speak with your doctor or favorite scientist if you have one.
~ This post contains affiliate links to help you find the products we use.
BONUS: Keto Recommendations
As an added bonus, here are some keto products to help you get started:
Dash Rapid Egg Cooker – This is the PERFECT appliance for picky eaters, large families, or those who have busy schedules. Hard-boiled eggs, soft boiled eggs, poached eggs, scrambled eggs, individual omelets, and all within minutes of the push start button – it couldn’t be easier!
Perfect Keto Chocolate Exogenous Ketones – Perfect Keto exogenous ketones get you in ketosis. Our beta-hydroxybutyrates (BHB) formula was designed for those on a ketogenic diet, or others who may struggle to get back into ketosis after eating carbs. Perfect Keto raises blood ketone levels, improving athletic endurance, mental performance, and energy levels.
Perfect Keto Ketone Testing Strips – Quick easy and reliable urinalysis testing for ketosis after you have had a keto snack or other keto products. Easy for on-the-go testing analysis after keto diet supplements or low carb food.
Keto Made Easy: 100+ Easy Keto Dishes Made Fast to Fit Your Life – Everything can be made keto! That’s the message that food bloggers Matt Gaedke and Megha Barot want to deliver with their new book, Keto Made Easy. No more missing out on classics or favorite dishes, no more added costs with exotic new ingredients—in Keto Made Easy, Matt and Megha show you how to re-create non-keto recipes in easy, cost-effective, and delicious ways.
56 Insanely Delicious Fat Bombs Recipes for Keto & Why You Need Them
8 Charts That Will Turn You Into a Keto Expert
200+ Cheap and Easy Keto Recipes
30+ Beautiful & Trending Spring/Summer Outfits You Need To Get Right Now
Total carbohydrates combine all of the carbs and include fiber, sugars, starches, sugar alcohols and glycerin. The label will show the amount found per serving and is measured in grams. They are found in starches, vegetables, fruits, sweets, and milk.
Dietary fiber is the amount of indigestible or partially digestible bulk from plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, oats, nuts and seeds and is measured in grams.
Sugar alcohols are found most often in foods labeled “sugar-free,” including candy, cookies, chewing gums, and soda, but have recently become popular in packaged health foods. Sugar alcohol gets its name from its molecular structure, which is a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule. Biochemically speaking, sugar alcohols are structurally similar to sugar but are either poorly digested or poorly metabolized.
Sugar alcohol has grown in popularity as a sugar replacement in foods because they contain few calories, have a minimal impact on insulin levels, and are safe for those with diabetes
Here’s a list of some popular sugar alcohols so you can identify them when you look at a nutrition label:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
It can be confusing, at first, when trying to calculate net carbs on your own, but now that you have the basic information you can practice it at home first. Soon you will be confident in your ability to count net carbs during your next trip to the grocery store.
Creating a Healthy Carb Balance
Start viewing high GI carbohydrates as a useful tool for mostly enhancing any physical activity or sports performance, as opposed to something you would need to consume for “everyday” energy. For anyone following a relatively sedentary lifestyle, the energy from high GI carbs is typically far too abundant in nature and not necessary.
However, for those who are very active or athletes, high GI carbs can provide a highly beneficial spike to your physical exercise and boost your productivity in training sessions.
Not only that, but some people believe high GI carbs can help shuttle vital nutrients into the bloodstream at an accelerated rate post-exercise due to their effect on the body’s circulatory system. This is certainly worth considering if you enjoy regular exercise and are training for a specific goal.
Low GI Carbs
Low GI (low-impact) carbs should be used for meeting your everyday energy needs and keeping your state of mental alertness and physical readiness primed for the daily tasks of modern life. They are far superior to high GI carbs for daily life.
If you were to consume high GI carbs all of the time, not only would your waistline begin to bulge, you’d also be faced with constant peaks and declines in your energy levels, and productivity. You’d soon start to feel lethargic, tired, and potentially even depressed.
Now that you know the difference between the two carb types, you can use both of them to serve their very unique purposes instead of completely casting them out.
Measuring Net Carbs
One area of carb counting that can get a little confusing is the “net” carbohydrate situation. Don’t worry, though — it’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds.
Net carbohydrates are what you’re left with after subtracting the grams of fiber per serving from the total carbohydrate amount per serving. For example, if an item has 20 grams of carbohydrates and it contains 8 grams of fiber, then the amount of net carbs the item contains is 12 grams.
This is a great way to measure the potential “damage” an item could cause you. Since fiber is essential for successful internal function of the body and contains no calories because it’s not absorbed, what you’re left with is the true caloric content and carbohydrate content.
The ketogenic diet is based on this system, and it allows you to successfully gauge whether you’re taking in enough fiber and eating the right kinds of carbs.
High GI carbs are typically very low fiber, so you’re typically just consuming sugar and not anything that will serve a practical purpose in your body when you eat them. You really want to be sure the carbs you eat for energy have a low “net worth” once the fiber has been removed.
Now that you know the difference between carb types; you can use this information to integrate them into your daily diet and form a wholesome plan.
Completely removing any nutrient from your diet is never the best way to ensure overall vitality; a balance, however, especially if you’re very physically active, is certainly going to serve your needs effectively.
Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.
After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.
What and Where are Carbs Found?
- Carbs found in foods such as bread, rice and cereal will generally go through the digestive system pretty quickly.
- Many carbs found in those types of items are simple carbs, or carbs that convert to sugars in the body very quickly and easily.
- This equals insulin spikes in the body.
How is Fiber and Low Carb Diet Connected?
- Fiber slows down the speed at which the body processes these foods through the digestive system, and in some cases, doesn’t get digested at all. This undigested type of fiber is called insoluble fiber and it is your friend.
So basically, it’s the difference between spiking your insulin with a glass of orange juice, or slowing things down by eating a whole orange instead, which has lots more fiber in it. The more fiber a food has in it, the more you can subtract from the total carb count, making it a lower carb food.
What are Net Carbs and How to Count Net Carbs
In order to count net carbs, you simply have to look at that nutrition data and subtract the fiber count from the carb count. That gives you your net carbs.
So on the label here, you would subtract the 2 grams of fiber from the 5 grams of carbs for a count of 3 net carbs.
A Note On Food Products
Many food manufacturers are jumping on the low carb / net carb band wagon. Some processed foods may have the net carbs listed on the packaging. But buyer beware! There is no legal definition of the term “net carbs” where nutrition labels and packaging is concerned. So always do the math yourself, and better yet, stay away from processed foods completely.
Low Carb Veggie Examples
- Broccoli contains 6 carbs in each cup or 7 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Tomatoes contains 7 carbs in a large tomato, or 4 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Onions contains 11 carbs in each cup or 9 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Brussels Sprouts contains 6 carbs in each 1/2 cup, or 7 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Cauliflower contains 5 carbs in each cup and 5 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Kale contains 7 carbs in each cup or 10 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Cucumber contains 2 carbs in each half cup or 4 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
Low Carb Fruit Examples
Be very aware that fruits are much higher in carb content when compared with veggies thanks to their higher levels of sugar.
- Strawberries contain 11 carbs per cup or 8 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Apricots contain 8 carbs in 2 small apricots, or 11 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Avocados contain 13 carbs per cup or 8.5 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
- Grapefruits contain 13 carbs in 1/2 of a grapefruit or 11 carbs per 3.5 ounce serving.
You can easily calculate the approximate number of grams of net carbs in any food. If it's a packaged food, go ahead and look at the food label:
Total Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber – Sugar alcohol = Net carbs
Most food labels will break down the carbohydrate content into total carbohydrates, sugar and fiber.The total carbohydrate listing combines all of the carbs and therefore includes sugars, fiber, starches, glycerin and sugar alcohol. The food label lists the number of grams in each serving.
Dietary fiber is the amount of indigestible or partially digestible bulk from plant-based foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, oats and seeds.
Sugar alcohols are typically found in foods with labels that say “sugar-free” on them, and may include things like candy, baked goods and juices. However, sugar alcohols have become a popular ingredient in packaged low carb foods.
Sugar alcohols get the name from the molecular structure – a hybrid between a molecule of sugar molecule and a molecule of alcohol. Sugar alcohols are similar in structure to sugar. However, they're are poorly metabolized or poorly digested by the body.
The reason sugar alcohol has become so popular is because they don't contain many calories (if any) and they have only a minimal impact on insulin levels. So they're safe for diabetics.
Here’s a list of some popular sugar alcohols so you can identify them when you look at a nutrition label:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
When you're first learning how to calculate net carbs by yourself, it can be confusing. However, you now have the information you need to understand what net carbs are. Before you know it, you'll be counting net carbs in your sleep.
What are Net Carbs?
Net carbs are total carbs minus fiber. For example, if your breakfast has 20g of total carbs and contains 5g of fiber, then the amount of net carbs would be 15g.
Some people bolus of net carbs and others bolus off of total carbs. But why would someone bolus off of Net Carbs instead of Total Carbs?
WHAT ARE MACROS?
For our purposes, macros or macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. All of your food can be thought of as different combinations of C/P/F. Much of keto is maintaining the desirable balance between these macros, and for Keto Diet Plan Week 4 you need to understand this.
On a typical keto diet plan, you want between 20-40 gms of carbs, you want enough protein to maintain muscle mass, and you want enough fat to provide satiety.
Here’s a high-level view of which foods contain a lot of carbs.
- Starches such as pasta, rice, potatoes, bread, oats
- Sugars such as sugar, honey, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup
- Grains such as quinoa, wheat, amaranth, millet
- Beans and legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas, blackeyed peas (except black soy beans)
- Fruits, especially tropical fruits (berries are lower carb than other fruits)
- Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, sweet potatoes, winter squash etc.
WHY DO MACROS MATTER ON A KETO DIET PLAN?
There’s a reason you are calculating macros. It’s because they serve as a proxy for things that will keep your insulin and your blood sugar in check. By themselves, they don’t mean that much.
People argue endlessly about whether this ingredient or that “is keto”. It’s not an ingredient per se you should worry about—you should worry about being in ketosis. There are ways to get into, and stay in ketosis.
The ways to do that are:
- control what you eat
- control when and how often you eat.
For more info on how to follow a keto diet including week by week tips, click here.