How low carb is keto?

On a keto diet, how many carbs do you need to cut? How many carbs can you eat? The answer varies a bit depending on you as an individual and your goals.

In general: the fewer the carbs the bigger the impact. Weight loss will be faster; cravings reduced; hunger lessened. If you have type 2 diabetes, the fewer carbs you eat, the faster your blood glucose and insulin resistance will improve. Some, however, find a very low carb diet too restrictive and challenging.

These three images, below, depict varying levels of carbs on a plate with a similar meal of steak, vegetables and salad with medallions of herb butter.

 

Ketogenic

Under 20 grams per dayKeto low carb(this meal: 6 grams)

Moderate low carb

20-50 daily carbsmoderate low carb(this meal: 16 grams)

Liberal low carb

50-100 daily carbsLiberal low carb(this meal, including
sweet potatoes: 37 grams)

 

The plate on the left would be ketogenic for most people. The other two, while very healthy, would not likely be ketogenic, but could still contribute to gradual weight loss and improved blood glucose and insulin sensitivity.

We define low carb is anything under 100 grams per day. Note that most Western diets have at least 250 grams of carbs per day.

 
 

How we define low carb and keto

At Diet Doctor, we define the different levels of carbs this way:

  • Keto low carb: less than 20 grams of carbs per day. This level will be ketogenic for most people — if protein intake remains moderate. In our keto recipes, less than 4 per cent of its total energy is coming from carbs, and the rest will come from protein and fat.1 In keto recipes we also keep the protein level moderate, as excess protein can be converted to glucose in your body. See note* below.
  • Moderate low carb between 20 and 50 grams per day. In our moderate low carb recipes, energy derived from carbs will be between 4 to 10 per cent. The rest will come from protein and fat.
  • Liberal low carb: between 50 and 100 grams per day. In our liberal low carb recipes, energy derived from carbs will be 10 to 20 energy percent. The rest will come from protein and fat.

*Note: the limit of 4 per cent of energy coming from carbs in a ketogenic recipe means that if you are eating 3 meals a day, at a range of about 2,000 calories a day, you will easily stay below 20 grams of carbs. Many of our keto recipes will have you eating significantly less than the maximum amount of carbs each day.

Our keto recipes also limit protein, as too much protein can be converted to blood sugar and impact levels of ketosis. That means in recipes with a maximum 4 per cent of energy derived from carbs, protein is capped at 25 per cent of energy — and the rest, 71 per cent or more, is energy from fat.

If a keto recipe has lower carb percentages (or macros) then we will allow slightly more protein, keeping fat at a range of at about 70 per cent or more.2

If a recipe has too much protein, it will be classified as moderate low carb rather than keto.

Fiber

Carb counts are the amount of digestible carbs, not counting the fibre. Fibre is subtracted from carb counts. You can eat all the fibre you want from keto vegetables, for example.

Digestible carbs are also sometimes called “net carbs” but be very careful of this term on labels of low carb products, processed foods, protein bars and energy/chocolate bars. Manufacturers often use “net carbs” as a way to disguise sugar alcohols that slow weight loss and impact blood sugar. In fact, try to avoid any processed product that list “net carbs” on a label.

The most effective keto diet — and the healthiest — is based on real food. Learn more

 

What carb level to choose?

Do you need to stick to a keto diet, consuming under 20 grams of carbs a day? Or would you have good results with a moderate low carb diet, consuming 20 to 50 grams of carbs a day?

People with a lot of weight to lose, type 2 diabetes, or sugar and/or food addiction, will likely find that they get their best results on a keto diet, keeping carbs very low. To start, however, they may experience keto side effects, like the keto flu, until they are adapted to burning more fat.

People who want to lose pounds but still have good insulin sensitivity, have less weight to lose, or still have good blood sugar levels can often do very well on a moderate or even liberal low carb diet. They are unlikely to experience any side effects. Lean, active, and healthy individuals can also do very well on liberal low carb.

At Diet Doctor, we suggest you start on a strict keto diet. This will give you the best idea of whether you like how you feel, how it impacts you and what sort of results you get. Then, as you achieve your health and weight goals, you can decide whether to add more natural carbs back into your diet to a level where you feel your best and can maintain your health goals.

Here’s a two-week get-started guide to a keto diet.

Meal plans

Get lots of weekly keto meal plans, complete with shopping lists and everything, with our premium meal planner tool (free trial).
 

 
 

More

A ketogenic diet for beginners
14-day keto diet plan
Ketogenic diet foods – what to eat

 

Keto basics videos

 

  1. Carbs, fats and protein are sometimes called your “macros” — the percentage of the three macro nutrients.

  2. Here are the exact protein limits we use to classify recipes as keto:

    • 4 percent carbs = max 25 protein
    • 3 percent carbs = max 27 protein
    • 2 percent carbs = max 29 protein
    • 1 percent carbs = max 31 protein
    • 0 percent carbs = max 33 protein