Should I count net carbs or total carbs on keto?

When following a ketogenic (keto) diet, monitoring your carb intake is crucial for entering and maintaining ketosis. Many keto dieters find themselves asking: “Should I count net carbs or total carbs?” The answer depends on your specific goals and which method fits best with your lifestyle.

What are net carbs?

Net carbs refer to the total carbohydrates in a food minus the fiber content. To calculate net carbs, you subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates. For example, if a food contains 15g total carbs and 5g fiber, the net carbs would be 10g (15g – 5g = 10g).

The idea behind net carbs is that fiber is indigestible and does not impact blood sugar levels like other carbs. Fiber simply passes through the body undigested. So for keto, where you want to limit carb intake and their effect on blood sugar and ketosis, you only need to count the digestible carb content, i.e. the net carbs.

What are total carbs?

Total carbs refers to the complete carbohydrate content of a food, including fiber, sugars, and starch. This is the carb count you will find on a nutrition label.

When counting total carbs on keto, you do not subtract fiber, you count the entire carb content. So using the example above, you would count 15g total carbs rather than 10g net carbs.

Should I count net or total carbs on keto?

Whether you should count net vs total carbs depends on your specific keto goals:

Count net carbs for basic keto

For most people following a standard ketogenic diet for weight loss or health benefits like improved blood sugar control, counting net carbs tends to be preferable.

Net carbs provide a more accurate count of the carbs that actually impact ketosis. Total carbs include fiber, which has negligible effects on blood sugar and ketone production for most people.

Counting net carbs allows you to fit more low-carb, high-fiber foods like leafy greens, nuts, and seeds into your daily limit. This promotes vegetables intake and gut health.

The exception would be if you have a medical condition like gut dysbiosis where excess fiber exacerbates symptoms. In this case, total carbs may be better.

Count total carbs for therapeutic keto

For therapeutic keto used to manage conditions like epilepsy, cancer, or neurodegenerative diseases, counting total carbohydrates tends to be recommended.

Therapeutic keto requires stricter carb control to prevent seizures or starve cancer cells. Going by total carbs guarantees you stay under a very low carb threshold.

Additionally, some research indicates fiber can disrupt ketosis in those following a strict medical ketogenic diet, likely by providing gut bacteria with fermentable carbohydrates.

Talk to your healthcare provider about whether counting net or total carbs is best for your medical keto protocol.

Count total carbs for weight loss plateaus

If you’ve hit a weight loss plateau on keto, you may consider switching to total carbs for a short period. This can help restrict carbs even further and break through the plateau.

Once weight loss progresses, you can return to counting net carbs for everyday keto.

Net carb vs total carb maximums

The recommended maximum carb intake differs for net carbs vs total carbs on keto:

Carb Type Daily Limit
Net carbs 20-50g
Total carbs 30-50g

Net carbs have a higher upper limit because fiber is excluded from the count, allowing more food variety.

Foods to avoid for net vs total carbs

Certain foods need to be restricted or avoided depending on your chosen carb counting method:

High-fiber foods

If counting total carbs, high-fiber foods like flaxseed, avocado, and non-starchy veggies should be measured and potentially limited if your total numbers are too high.

With net carbs, these foods can be eaten more freely within reason because much of their carb content comes from indigestible fiber.

Keto-labeled products

“Keto” labeled products like bars, baked goods, and ice creams often use net carb counts for marketing. But the total carb content tends to be higher.

If counting total carbs, many of these products may not actually fit into your diet despite being labeled keto-friendly.

Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol, and maltitol are low-calorie sweeteners often used in low-carb products. They contribute minimally to blood sugar but can be counted differently for net vs total carbs.

For net carbs, sugar alcohols are often excluded from the carb count. But counting total carbs requires including them.

How to count net carbs

Here are some tips for successfully counting net carbs:

  • Check labels for fiber and total carb amounts. Subtract fiber from total carbs.
  • Use a net carb tracking app or online database to lookup net values for common foods.
  • Weigh foods on a kitchen scale for the most accurate counts.
  • Aim to get 20-30g of fiber per day from low-carb vegetables, nuts, seeds and berries.
  • Verify packaged food claims of “Net Carbs” by checking the fiber and total carb amounts yourself.

How to count total carbs

Here are some pointers for tracking total carb intake:

  • Use nutrition labels and count the entire carbohydrate amount listed.
  • Look for hidden carbs in condiments, dressings, nuts, dairy and keto treats.
  • Weigh and measure high-fiber foods instead of estimating.
  • Consider counting sugar alcohols towards your daily total.
  • Log serving sizes accurately, especially with high-carb foods.
  • Plan meals and snacks ahead of time to ensure you stay under your total carb target.

Tips for keeping carbs low

Here are some tips to keep net and total carbs low on keto, no matter which counting method you use:

  • Choose non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus and zucchini.
  • Opt for high-fat dairy like cheese, sour cream and heavy whipping cream.
  • Include healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, coconut, nuts and seeds.
  • Select nut and seed flours for baking instead of grain-based ones.
  • Avoid processed low-fat foods, sugary drinks, grains, legumes, fruits, starchy veggies and desserts.
  • Check labels and watch out for sneaky carb sources like sauces, dressings and condiments.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • If needed, use keto-friendly sweeteners in moderation like erythritol, stevia or monk fruit.

Common myths

Here are some common myths about net vs total carbs on keto:

Myth: All fiber can be subtracted

While most dietary fiber has minimal impact on ketosis, some fibers like chitin from mushrooms or soluble corn fiber can be digested and may need to be counted on stricter keto protocols.

Myth: Net carbs aren’t accurate

For most people, net carbs provide an accurate reflection of the carbs that impact blood sugar and ketone levels. The exception would be therapeutic keto requiring very strict carb control.

Myth: Total carbs are too hard to track

Counting total carbs simply involves using nutrition info as is without any fiber math. High-fiber foods just need to be carefully measured. With practice, tracking total carbs becomes second nature.

Myth: Net and total carbs are the same

Net and total carbs differ by the amount of fiber, so they will rarely be identical unless a food contains no fiber. Most foods will have different values.

Special considerations

Here are some special cases to be mindful of when counting carbs:

Medical conditions

Those with conditions like diabetes, gut issues, or dysbiosis may need to tailor carb counting to individual needs. Work with a healthcare professional.


Athletes may benefit from more carb intake around workouts. Consider cycling between higher-carb and lower-carb days.


Pregnant or breastfeeding women may need more carbs for baby’s development. Discuss carb intake with your doctor.


Growing children often require more carbs than adults. Seek guidance from a pediatrician for appropriate carb targets.

Sample meal plans

Here are sample meal plans counting net carbs vs total carbs:

Net Carbs Meal Plan

Meal Foods Net Carbs
Breakfast 2 eggs, 1/4 avocado, 1 oz cheddar 2g
Lunch Tuna salad with greens, olive oil, 5 olives 6g
Dinner 6oz salmon, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 tbsp butter 4g
Snack 1 oz pecans 2g
Total 14g net carbs

Total Carbs Meal Plan

Meal Foods Total Carbs
Breakfast Bacon, egg, 1/4 cup berries 10g
Lunch Bunless burger with slice cheese, mustard, pickle 5g
Dinner Meatballs with zucchini noodles, 1/4 cup tomato sauce 13g
Snack 1 stick mozzarella string cheese 3g
Total 31g total carbs

Finding what works for you

Counting net vs total carbs comes down to personal preference and keto goals. It may take some experimentation to find the approach that optimizes your results while fitting your lifestyle.

Track your energy, cravings, and ketone levels and see how they respond when switching your carb counting method. Finding the right balance will help make keto more sustainable in the long run.

The bottom line

Should you count net or total carbs on keto? In most cases, counting net carbs by subtracting grams of fiber is perfectly suitable for achieving ketosis. But some find better success tracking total carbs for optimal carb restriction. Try each method and stick with what provides the best results for your body and keto regimen.

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