How Many Daily Carbs Are Allowed On the Keto Diet?
Have you heard about the health benefits of a ketogenic diet? This low-carb diet methodology has been gaining in popularity over recent years. For people that want to lose weight and improve their health, ketogenic diets offer an alternative option from carbohydrate-based diets.
Our body relies on a metabolic process known as glycogenesis to create energy from our food. When carbohydrates are consumed, the gut breaks down the carbs into glycogen which is used to fuel physical and mental functions.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in the body where fat is metabolized by the liver to produce ketones for fuel in the absence of glycogen. Simply put, when you remove carbs from your diet, your body loses its primary fuel source, glucose.
With no carbohydrates to convert to glycogen, the brain changes the primary food source from carbs to fat. It begins to metabolize fat stores to produce ketones which are used for energy in place of glycogen.
The body will remain in a state of ketosis until carbohydrates are reintroduced into the diet and glycogenesis can resume. (1)
How Many Carbs Per Day to Stay in Ketosis?
To remain in a ketogenic state, where the body uses fat for fuel, consumption of carbohydrates should be limited to under 25 grams. This figure of 25 grams is not set in stone and can vary from person to person depending on their BMI and insulin sensitivity. Some individuals can eat as many as 100 grams of carbs a day and remain in a ketogenic state.
For new practitioners of ketogenic diets, finding your ‘sweet spot’ for carb intake can be done with a simple experiment. There are two common methods to induce ketosis;
Start Low and Increase Carbs Gradually
Assuming that your current diet contains carbs, your glycogen stores will be full. It takes roughly three to five days to enter ketosis when carbs are completely removed from your diet. During this initial depletion phase, you will begin to feel energy-less and lethargic as your body has less and less glycogen to fuel metabolic processes. When glycogen stores are completely depleted, the brain will signal the production of ketones from dietary fat that is consumed as well as fat stores in the body.
After the depletion phase, when you have confirmed the presence of ketones, add 20 grams of good carbs into your diet from unrefined sources. Many food products have trace amounts of carbs in them, so make sure to take this into account in your daily macronutrient consumption.
Begin to add 5 grams of carbs to your diet every two or three days and closely monitor your body’s reaction. You will know your carb number when you suddenly feel bloated and tired after your last meal. The body has reverted to glycogenesis and the limited number of carbs available are not sufficient to provide adequate energy to carry out the body’s metabolic processes.
Once you know your number, try to aim for 10 grams less than that figure for your daily carbohydrate consumption. As you begin to lose weight, your target carb number will also need to be adjusted to account for the fat loss.
This low to high strategy is the preferred route to take when starting your ketogenic diet.
Start High and Drop the Carb Number
If you want to avoid a total crash and the hunger that comes along with removing carbs from your diet, it is possible to ease into the ketogenic state by slowly removing carbs from your diet until you are in a ketogenic state.
However, this route is not recommended as starting high and lowering the carb amount leaves too much room for error. Glycogen stores will take some time to deplete, therefore, it will take you longer to identify your carb number. If you do choose this strategy, then make sure you only adjust your carbs every five to seven days to prevent over, or under consumption, of carbohydrates.
Don’t Overdo the Protein
Protein is metabolized by the body in a similar manner to carbohydrates. This means that protein, when used as the primary macronutrient for your diet, is digested into glycogen. When you glycogen stores are full, you will not be able to enter a ketogenic state.
Keep your daily macronutrient profile to 65% fat and 35% protein, with trace carbohydrates. This macronutrient split has shown the best general results for practitioners of ketogenic diets.(2)
Everyone is Different – Take a Customized Approach
As with any dieting strategy, there is no complete ‘cookie-cutter’ solution. When it comes to selecting the optimal macronutrient profile, or your daily carb number, your results will be individual to your body. While you will see benefit from implementing the guidelines to a ketogenic diet as described in this article, the real work comes in your personal adjustments to your diet plan.
Adjusting your diet plan for maximum efficiency and effect is critical to your success with the ketogenic diet. You may find that you function well on 50 grams of carbs a day while still remaining in ketosis.
Your own experience with the diet and your personal modifications to it will determine your success with the ketogenic state. Be sure to your track your baseline carb intake and macronutrients, as well as all of the adjustments that you make in the initial phases of the diet.
Trace Carbohydrates in Your Diet
It is important to note that carbohydrates are found in many food items. Trace carbohydrates can be found in foods such as nuts, salad dressings, and dairy products. All of these carbs need to be taken into account when planning your daily carb totals.
If you overdo the trace carbohydrates, you can easily knock yourself out of the ketogenic state. Pay attention to the nutritional information on food packaging and calculate the exact amount of carbs you are eating every day.(3)
The Difference between Carbohydrates and Fiber in a Ketogenic Diet
The only carb counts that you can leave out of your diet macronutrient totals come from fibrous carbohydrate sources. Dark, leafy green veggies such as kale and spinach have trace carbohydrates in them. However, these trace carbs can be considered fibrous and therefore ‘free’ on your diet, meaning that you can eat as much of them as you like.
Fiber is essential for anyone implementing a ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates provide us with a dose of fiber that cleans out the GI tract and keeps constipation away. We require 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day for the optimal health of the digestive tract. If you are struggling to hit this number, consider supplementing your diet with psyllium husk fiber, or a soluble form of fiber such as Metamucil.(4)
Good Sources of Fat for Ketogenic Diets
All fats are not created equal. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are completely different from saturated animal fats and trans-saturated fatty acids. The good fats found in healthy food products will benefit your health by reducing inflammation and improving your cholesterol profile.
The quality of your food determines the success and results of your diet. Eating quality fat sources will keep you in a ketogenic state and leave you with a feeling of well-being. Some of the quality fat sources to include in your ketogenic diet are;
- Avocados – Nature fat-filled superfruit. Rich in Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, avocados are a fantastic fat source for a ketogenic diet.
- MCT Oils – Coconut oil is great for cooking and has a high smoke point making it a superior choice to olive oil for frying.
- Nuts & Nut butter – Almonds, Macadamias, walnuts, and cashews are all examples of nuts rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Don’t forget to count the trace carbs to your daily macro totals!
- Seeds – Pumpkin, chia, and sesame seeds are great additions to your diet, with a host of antioxidant benefits.
- Fatty fish – Salmon, mackerel, and tuna are all examples of fatty fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These EFA’s are essential to the optimal health of the nervous system and brain.
Do we really need a carbohydrate based diet? Recent research into how our bodies operate under ketogenic states has shown promise in treating all sorts of ailments, from diseases of the GI tract such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), to life-threatening diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy.
Many of the negative health conditions we experience today come from a diet that is filled with refined carbohydrates and saturated animal fats. Reduce your exposure to these health risks by removing them completely from your diet. By replacing poor food choices with a ketogenic diet rich in quality fats and protein, you will experience better levels of health, elevated mood, high energy and a better quality of life.(5)