KetoDiet
☰ Menu

How Many Carbs per Day on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet?

21. November 2013|Martina|22

Although my initial plan was to include this post in All You Need to Know About Carbs on Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet, I decided it deserves to be discussed separately.

How Many Carbs per day to stay in ketosis?

As described in my post How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work? Weight Loss and 3 Main Effects of Ketosis, weight loss on a ketogenic diet is achieved by limiting the daily intake of net carbs and getting your body in a metabolic state known as ketosis.

While in ketosis, your body effectively uses fat for fuel. In general, the daily intake of net carbs required to enter ketosis could vary from 20 to 100 grams per day (and very rarely over 100 grams per day). Most people, who have experienced ketosis, claim to have reached that state at about 20-50 grams of net carbs per day. I'd suggest you start at 20-30 grams and see how you can adjust it for your needs.

There are two ways to find your ideal net carbs intake:

  • Low to high method
    Start from a low level of net carbs to ensure you quickly enter ketosis (~ 20 grams of net carbs per day). When you detect ketosis after about 2-3 days, start adding net carbs (about 5 grams each week) until you detect a very low-level or no ketones (using Ketostix or blood ketone meter). This is usually the most reliable and quickest way to discover your net carbs limit. It could be a bit hard the first couple of days, as you have to give up almost all carbs from one day to another but it will be worth it. This method is highly recommended.

  • High to low method
    Assuming you're not in ketosis, start from a relatively high level of net carbs (~ 50 grams) and keep reducing (about 5 grams each week) until you detect presence of ketones. This is a less difficult approach but not recommended, as you may spend a long time out of ketosis before you find you net carbs limit.

If you can't see any ketones, be patient. It typically takes 2-3 days for your body to deplete glycogen stores, so don't expect to be in ketosis after just a day of low-carb. Remember, ketosis is a favourable condition and an indication that your body uses fat for fuel but you can lose weight even without being in ketosis. Diet high in fat, adequate in protein and low in carbohydrates is naturally sating, making you less hungry and, therefore, help you lose weight.

Why You Should Think Twice Before Going "Zero-carb"

There is no need to go "zero-carb" eating unless you are doing Restricted Ketogenic Diet for therapeutic reasons. Most people experience all the great fat loss and health benefits of the Ketogenic diet at 20-30 grams of net carbs per day. Remember, more ketones won't help you burn significantly more calories. You simply need to find your optimal carbs level to sate your appetite and feel good.

How About Thyroid Issues on a Low-carb Diet?

It's a common myth that low-carb diets cause hypothyroidism. There is no such evidence. Low-carb diets may cause decreased hormone levels but this is not always indicative of a thyroid disease. As someone who has hypothyroidism (Hashimoto's), I can confirm that low-carb / paleo diet has not made my condition worse. In fact, it had the opposite effect and my thyroid function has improved. Although I still have to take levothyroxine, I feel better and my antibody values went down. I'm not saying that LCHF eating can reverse hypothyroidism but I'm willing to try and see if it improves my condition even further.

No diet plan fits all and not everybody can follow a very low-carb diet. Even Dr Volek and Dr Phinney noted that there is not enough evidence that a very low-carb diet (such as less than 20 g net carbs) is beneficial for those with preexisting thyroid or adrenal conditions. Dr. Broda Barnes, who spent over 50 years on thyroid research, suggested in his book “Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness” that the minimum amount of carbohydrate intake for patients with hypothyroidism should at least 30 grams of net carbs.

I personally don't follow a very low-carb diet because I have such a preexisting condition which may have been caused by my calorie-restricting dieting many years ago. My "ideal" level is somewhere at 30-50 g net carbs (light ketosis). By "ideal" I mean a level at which I feel great and maintain a healthy weight. I sometimes eat less carbs out of habit, not because I force myself to follow a very low-carb diet. Eating less carbs doesn't help in my case: it made no difference to my appetite or energy levels but I felt worse. You simply need to try it yourself and find your "ideal" carb intake.

As I mentioned in many of my previous posts, you don't necessarily need to be in ketosis to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. The main reason people lose weight on a low-carb diet is its natural appetite control. You can find out more about measuring ketones in my post here: Ketosis & Measuring Ketones.

I hope you enjoyed reading my post. To find out more about the ketogenic diet and keto-friendly recipes, check out my apps KetoDiet, KetoDiet Basic and my Kindle book!

Comments (22) -

=Randal L. Schwartz 11/22/2013 12:20:31 AM #
=Randal L. Schwartz

Please don't put "ketostix" as a possible way to detect ketosis.  Read this for details: ketopia.com/.../

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 11/22/2013 3:39:41 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Thank you for your comment. I know what you are saying and I'm fully aware of this issue - I've also read "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living" by Volek and Phinney. However, I've been on a low-carb, ketogenic diet for 2 years, use ketostix every now and then and can't complain about them Smile

I've read the post you linked to and I know ketostix detection strips are not accurate but they are not useless. The only other options you have is to use blood ketone meter (quite expensive and not everybody likes to use it) or nothing. Also, it's not really important how strong the readings on ketostix are (darker colour does not indicate more fat loss). I'm working on a post devoted to measuring ketones and I'll include all the relevant information.

Reply

ZebaT 11/30/2013 9:58:36 PM #
ZebaT

I started at 50 grams of net carbs and it took ages before I got to ketosis. I finally found that the "limit" for me is at 25-30 grams, so I try to keep it at that level. If I knew how difficult it would be, I'd probably start at 20 and slowly go up. It's hard, I won't lie but you get used to it after a week. Thanks for this post!

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 12/1/2013 5:18:30 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

You're welcome Smile It is better to start low, I'd say at 20-25 grams of net carbs and add them slowly until you find your ideal intake.

Reply

Pinkie 3/25/2014 9:08:27 AM #
Pinkie

i have been reading a lot about keto diet..even tried it on and off for a few days; my main issue is reaaly the carb intake..how do i keep it around 20-25g? is there a menu you can suggest me for 1 week lets say? especially cause in my coutry i can't fine these ketostix.. Thank you!

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 3/25/2014 12:36:58 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi Pinkie, have a look at my diet plan here (7-Day Grab & Go Keto/Paleo Diet Plan): ketodietapp.com/.../7-Day-Grab-Go-KetoPaleo-Diet-Plan. You can include dairy (full-fat yogurt, cheese, cream) - this depends on how you tolerate it but I didn't include it. Only count net carbs and eat meat, eggs, avocados, non-starchy vegetables, some nuts, raw dairy and low-carb fruit like berries.

Reply

nell 6/9/2014 1:21:18 PM #
nell

Question: Should I be counting total carbs or net carbs to factor in ketosis?

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 6/9/2014 1:49:28 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi Nell, it depends. Some people prefer to stay at or below 20-25g of NET carbs while others at or below 50g of TOTAL carbs. Here is what Franziska Spritzler, who is a registered dietician, wrote in my post here: ketodietapp.com/.../Experts-Insight-Is-Very-Low-Carb-Ketogenic-Diet-Healthy

"Many people count net carbohydrates by subtracting fiber from total carbohydrates, but there are differences of opinion regarding whether fiber should be counted. Soluble fiber may be absorbed and therefore could affect ketosis and blood glucose levels, while insoluble fiber simply passes through the GI tract unabsorbed... Dr. Steve Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek recommend 50 or fewer grams of total carbohydrates per day on a LCKD and do not mention fiber or net carbs in this regard. However, it stands to reason that consuming 50 grams of total carbohydrate where half or more of the carbs come from fiber will lead to higher ketone levels than if the same person consumes a 50-gram total carbohydrate diet containing only a few grams of fiber."

I personally prefer to use the "net carbs" count, because it works great for me but others may prefer to count total carbs. I eat loads of avocados, at least one a day and still stay in ketosis (avocados are very high in soluble fibre).

Reply

nell 6/9/2014 2:10:10 PM #
nell

Thanks Martina.

I have another problem. Today is day 5 of being on the ketogenic diet. I have not yet hit ketosis I am so discouraged! My stick shows no change at all!! (regular beige colour). I tested 3 times today.
Every day so far of the 5 days, this has been my diet:
B: coffee with table cream, 2 eggs, 1/2 avocado and I slice hard cheese, 2 slices bacon
L: 1 cup romaine lettuce, goat cheese (wedge), hard cheese (wedge), 1/2 avocado and some sort of meat or fish (tuna, roast pork, steak)
D: same as lunch or sometimes none as I am full from lunch

I drink 1 diet iced tea a day and drink lots of water. I also walk my dog every other day.

Any advice would be appreciated.

Reply

Jennifer 6/17/2014 2:43:37 PM #
Jennifer

Hi Nell,

I'm following a LCKD with Dr. Eric Westman at Duke - he's one of the people you find in the media concerning this diet.

I am only allowed a half an avacado a day per Dr. Westman - I see that you may be eating almost 2 a day?  I'd cut back on the avocado to start.

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 6/17/2014 3:11:36 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

I think you may want to try blood ketone meter. I noticed you said that you use ketone sticks and drink a lot of water. This may dilute your readings and you may actually be in ketosis: ketodietapp.com/.../Ketosis-Measuring-Ketones.

When it comes to weight loss, give it some time. Not every one experiences instant drop in weight during the first week on keto. Give it 2-3 weeks and see what happens.

Most of the carbs in avocados come from fibre, so this shouldn't be an issue. On the other hand, some health professionals, like Dr Westman, recommend counting total carbs rather than net carbs and going on a very low-carb diet (more about it here: ketodietapp.com/.../Experts-Insight-Is-Very-Low-Carb-Ketogenic-Diet-Healthy). The ideal carbs intake depends on how you can tolerate carbs and everyone has a different level. I can eat up to 40-50 g net carbs and still be in ketosis but I'm quite active.

Reply

nell 6/13/2014 1:34:18 PM #
nell

So now on day 9 and only once (2 days ago) did I show moderate ketosis. But that's it! I am back to no sign of ketosis and no weight loss.  Still following above diet to the T.

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 6/17/2014 3:03:30 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi Nell, there are many factors affecting weight loss on a low-carb diet. You can find more information here: ketodietapp.com/.../Not-Losing-Weight-on-Low-Carb-Ketogenic-Diet-Dont-Give-Up-and-Read-Further

Are you using ketostix or blood ketone meter? What is your carbs limit? You may be eating too much protein if you can't get to ketosis. This may help you to find your ideal macros: http://ketodietapp.com/Blog/page/KetoDiet-Buddy

Reply

Duke 10/17/2014 9:46:35 PM #
Duke

50% of coffee drinkers have huge BG surges from coffee. I accidentally found my BG was 230 after sipping coffee in the AM! Try removing that.

Reply

Paul 6/30/2014 4:00:45 AM #
Paul

Hey all I started a keto diet about 3-4 weeks ago and in that time I only have had a reading of 0.7mmol on the ketone metre. Im doing a bodybuilding comp in 10 weeks so I'm trying to get ripped.my carbs are 20g total my fats are 200g and protein 170g. My lean muscle mass is 89kg so I'm unsure when articles say moderate protein how much should I eat. As I have cut it down from 230g to 170g to see if I get a better reading. So any advice is helpful thanks.

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 6/30/2014 9:23:04 AM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi Paul, with the details provided, I can't tell you whether your protein intake is adequate. Here is a keto calculator you can use to check your macros: http://ketodietapp.com/Blog/page/KetoDiet-Buddy

I suspect you are VERY active, so I won't be surprised if 170 g of protein is fine but it does sound quite high. Have you seen any results yet? The readings don't necessarily need to be high, it's actually enough if you see trace ketones. I have more about it here: ketodietapp.com/.../Ketosis-Measuring-Ketones

Hope this helps - good luck!

Reply

Michelle 8/27/2014 3:07:21 AM #
Michelle

Hi Martina, I'm new to keto and was wondering if it's important for the "average" person (not a body builder) to strictly count ALL macros and calories daily or just keep carb count low. I was doing regular low-carb for a while and hit a plateau, so moved onto high-fat/low-carb and still don't seem to be losing...any advice would be much appreciated!

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 8/31/2014 11:02:51 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi Michelle, not necessarily. You can start by counting your carbs and just get an idea of your protein and fat intake. You don't need to match them precisely but you shouldn't go too much over or under your goal. If you are not losing weight, start monitoring your overall macronutrients. For instance, you may not be eating enough protein (which may cause increased appetite) or too much fat (and therefore calories). Have a look at my tool here: http://ketodietapp.com/Blog/page/KetoDiet-Buddy

Reply

John Theobald 8/31/2014 9:42:54 PM #
John Theobald

The important thing is not just the carb level but the ratio of fat, carb and protein. There is a calculator on the above website. For example if one went over on their number of carbs they can still maintain ketosis if the add enough fat (although at a higher caloric amount) how much fat can be determined on the calculator which used the Woodyatt formula originally designed for epilepsy.

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 10/7/2014 11:58:42 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Based on Volek's and Phinney's book, there is a limit of carbohydrates that you need to maintain to stay in ketosis. Yes, the macronutrient ratio is important too, but so is the carb intake.

Reply

GettingWaisted 10/28/2014 4:54:19 PM #
GettingWaisted

I'm still a bit confused as to how to do this if I start off low. Lets say I start off taking in about 20g carbs and then I slowly increase. When I use the Ketonstix will I be looking for the presence or the absence of Ketones?

Reply

Martina @ KetoDiet 10/28/2014 11:14:13 PM #
Martina @ KetoDiet

Hi, you will always be looking for the presence of ketones, otherwise you won't be in ketosis. Ketostix may not be accurate, especially after you get keto-adapted but they're still useful. I have more about ketosis & measuring ketones here: ketodietapp.com/.../Ketosis-Measuring-Ketones Hope this helps!

Reply

Add comment

biuquote
  • Comment
  • Preview
Loading