Keto diets have become increasingly popular for weight loss and health, but there is still debate around how many carbs can be eaten while remaining in ketosis. The standard keto recommendation is to limit carbs to 20-50 grams per day. So is 30 grams of carbs still considered keto? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
What is the Keto Diet?
The ketogenic or “keto” diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that forces the body to burn fats for fuel instead of carbs. This metabolic state is called ketosis. On keto, carbs are typically reduced to under 50 grams per day. This reduction in carbs helps the body transition to using ketones derived from fat for energy instead of glucose from carbs.
How Keto Works
On a normal higher carb diet, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is used for energy. Insulin is released to transport the glucose from carbs into the cells.
When carb intake is drastically reduced on keto, glucose levels drop and insulin levels go down. The body starts looking for an alternative fuel source, so the liver begins converting fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies through a process called ketogenesis.
The ketones can be used by the cells for energy. This metabolic state of ketosis means the body has transitioned from using carbs as the main fuel source to using fat and ketones.
Benefits of Keto
The keto diet offers a number of potential benefits:
- Weight loss – Ketosis suppresses appetite and reduces hunger. The high fat intake also helps burn fat stores.
- Reduced blood sugar and insulin – Lower carb intake can help manage blood sugar and insulin levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
- Other health benefits – Keto may provide benefits for epilepsy, PCOS, neurological diseases, and more by reducing inflammation.
What is the Standard Keto Carb Limit?
The standard keto diet recommends limiting net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) to 20-50 grams per day. The exact amount of carbs can vary based on individual factors:
- 20-30 grams for drastic weight loss
- 25-50 grams for more moderate weight loss
- 50 grams for weight maintenance
The 20-50 gram range helps most people reach and sustain nutritional ketosis, which is considered to be blood ketone levels of 0.5-3.0 mmol/L.
Why a Carb Limit on Keto?
The keto carb limit exists because carbs are broken down into glucose, which raises insulin levels and provides an easy energy source for the body. Ketosis occurs in the absence of glucose and insulin when carbs are restricted to 20-50 grams.
Without the carb limit, it would be easy to accidentally eat too many carbs and get knocked out of ketosis. The keto macros typically recommend getting 60-75% of calories from fat, 15-30% from protein, and 5-10% from carbs.
Can You Stay in Ketosis at 30 Grams of Carbs?
In general, 30 grams of net carbs per day is still considered within the keto carb range. However, daily carb needs can vary significantly based on the individual.
Factors That Affect Carb Tolerance
Some of the key factors that affect carbohydrate tolerance on keto include:
- Metabolic health – Metabolically healthy people may tolerate more carbs.
- Activity levels – Active individuals often handle more carbs.
- Weight loss goals – Lower carb intake promotes faster weight loss.
- Ketone monitoring – Blood ketone readings indicate if in ketosis.
- Insulin resistance – Those with insulin resistance may need lower carbs.
- Medical conditions – Some conditions like diabetes require carb restriction.
Individual Responses to Carbs
Some people can remain in ketosis at 40-60 grams of carbs or more, while others may get kicked out at 30 grams. There is no carb threshold that universally induces or prohibits ketosis.
The only way to know your personal carb tolerance is through self-experimentation with carb intake and testing ketone levels. Ketosis is defined as blood ketone levels between 0.5-3.0 mmol/L.
Pros and Cons of 30 Grams of Carbs on Keto
Let’s examine some of the key pros and cons of sticking to around 30 grams of net carbs on a ketogenic diet:
- Allows for a wider variety of low-carb foods
- Can be more sustainable long-term
- Provides enough carbs for moderate activity
- Avoid feelings of carbohydrate restriction or deprivation
- May be too many carbs for some people to stay in ketosis
- Higher carb intake can slow fat adaptation
- Not low enough carb for therapeutic or medical keto
- Possibility of reduced weight loss compared to 20 grams of carbs
Foods You Can Eat at 30 Grams of Carbs
Here are some examples of foods that can fit into a 30 gram keto diet:
- Leafy greens – Spinach, kale, lettuce
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts
- Asparagus, green beans, peppers
- Cucumber, celery, zucchini
- Tomatoes, onions, eggplant
- Cream cheese
- Hard cheeses
- Plain Greek yogurt
- Meat – Beef, chicken, pork
- Fish – Salmon, tuna
Nuts and Seeds
- Almonds, walnuts, pecans
- Nut butters
- Chia seeds, flaxseeds
- Olive oil, avocado oil
- Coconut oil, MCT oil
- Olives, avocado
- Dark chocolate (in moderation)
- Sugar-free snack bars
Sample Menu for 30 Grams of Carbs
Here is a sample menu that comes out to around 30 grams of net carbs:
|Breakfast||2 eggs, 1/2 avocado, 1 oz cheese||4g|
|Lunch||Tuna salad with mayo, lettuce, tomato, 1 oz almonds||6g|
|Dinner||6oz chicken breast, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 tbsp butter||6g|
|Snack||1 oz dark chocolate, 1 tbsp peanut butter||8g|
|Beverages||Water, unsweetened tea, black coffee||0g|
|Total||~30g net carbs|
Testing Ketosis at 30 Grams of Carbs
The best way to know if you stay in ketosis at 30 grams of carbs is through testing. Here are some options:
Blood Ketone Meter
A blood ketone meter measures serum ketone levels. Levels of 0.5-3.0 mmol/L indicate nutritional ketosis. Test when waking up, before meals, and about an hour after meals.
Urine Test Strips
Urine ketone test strips indicate excess ketones not used for energy. A result of moderate or large ketones suggests ketosis. Test first morning urine.
Breath Ketone Meter
A breath meter tests acetone levels exhaled through the breath. Higher readings over 0.5-1.0 mmol/L indicate ketosis. Test any time of day.
Track carbohydrate intake along with ketone readings to identify your carb tolerance threshold.
Tips for Success with 30 Gram Keto
Here are some tips to succeed on keto with 30 grams of carbs:
- Choose healthy, nutrient-dense carbs like vegetables, berries and nuts
- Include plenty of high-fat foods like meat, fish, eggs and healthy fats
- Drink lots of water
- Monitor ketones and adjust carbs as needed
- Be active to have some carb flexibility
- Manage stress and get enough sleep
- Plan meals and snacks ahead
The Bottom Line
Thirty grams of net carbs per day can potentially keep most people in ketosis. However, daily carb needs vary significantly. The best indication comes from checking blood or breath ketone levels after limiting carb intake to 30 grams. Ketosis is generally defined as 0.5-3.0 mmol/L on a blood ketone meter. If ketone levels drop below this range, cut back on carbs. If ketones remain high, carbs may be able to be increased. Individual testing is needed to determine if 30 grams of carbs allows for sustained nutritional ketosis.