Quick Summary tl;dr
This article addresses common issues with macro tracking on the keto diet and provides solutions for each specific area (carb limit, protein target, and fat limit/target).
Staying below the designated carb limit is essential on a low-carb diet. Tips include being mindful of hidden carb sources, checking potential culprits like sweeteners and processed meats/condiments, and monitoring whole foods that contain some carbs.
Protein intake is vital on keto to prevent muscle loss and control appetite. Excessive protein isn't a concern, and slightly exceeding the target won't disrupt ketosis. Recommended protein sources are listed.
Fat intake can be a limit or target based on weight goals. It's crucial not to force-feed fat when not hungry. Tips to reduce fat intake include adjusting added fats, choosing leaner meats/fish, moderating your consumption of fatty foods, and being mindful of high-fat coffee or keto treats.
Occasional deviations from the diet won't hinder progress. Moderation is key, and occasional indulgences can support long-term adherence. Finding balance and not stressing over occasional slip-ups is important for sustainable success.
Barcode scanning for tracking can be highly inaccurate. Our app offers a unique "trust level" system that ranks and eliminates unreliable product data. While not 100% error-free, it significantly reduces inaccuracies, providing users with reliable tracking and dietary information.
For more detailed information, please refer to the corresponding sections in the article below.
We've all been there: diligently following the keto diet, tracking our macros, and making conscious choices about what foods to consume and avoid. Yet, despite our efforts, sometimes we find ourselves falling short of our targets for carbohydrates, protein, or fat.
In this post, I'll provide you with valuable insights to help you overcome these challenges and ensure you're meeting your macro goals effectively.
When we discuss "not meeting macros", we're typically referring to three scenarios:
- Exceeding your carb limit: If you're struggling to stay within your designated carbohydrate limit, it can hinder your progress on the keto diet.
- Not hitting your protein target: Adequate protein intake is crucial for maintaining muscle mass and supporting various bodily functions. Failing to meet your protein target can impede your overall progress.
- Exceeding your fat limit for weight loss, or not meeting the fat target for weight maintenance or gain: Balancing fat intake is a vital aspect of the keto diet, depending on your specific goals. Consuming too much fat when aiming to lose weight, or insufficient fat when maintaining or gaining weight, can disrupt your desired outcomes.
If you're new to the keto diet, I recommend starting with our KetoDiet App. It provides a convenient platform to track your macros, monitor your diet, and even customize your own meals. Plus if you are premium subscriber, we even offer the option to create custom diet plans so you never have to worry about hitting your macros!
Let's dive deeper into each aspect and equip you with the knowledge to address these macro challenges effectively.
Trialed & tested for best results
Optimized for nutrition
Never feel hungry
Track all macros including net carbs
Create your own meals
Track ketones, blood glucose & lipids
Stay hydrated with water tracking
Track your mood & energy levels
Calculate your ideal fat, protein & carb intake
Set any goal: weight loss, maintenance or weight gain
Your macros update based on your progress
Monitor your macros, water intake, mood & energy
Body weight, body fat and body measurements
Ketones, blood glucose & lipids
Expert articles to help you make informed choices
Guides & free diet plans
New daily content
Complete Keto Diet guide
Integrated shopping basket
Restaurants & guide to eating out
1. Exceeding Your Carb Limit
One of the fundamental principles of the ketogenic diet is limiting your carbohydrate intake to induce ketosis. For most individuals, this means staying below 20 to 25 grams of net carbs per day.
When it comes to carbs on a keto diet, it's important to view them as a limit. If you set a specific limit of, let's say, 25 grams of net carbs, you have the flexibility to consume less than that amount, but it's advisable to strive to stay below your designated limit. Occasionally exceeding your limit by a few grams is not a cause for significant concern; what truly matters is maintaining consistency in your overall carbohydrate intake.
In certain cases where ketosis is used as a therapeutic approach for managing health conditions like epilepsy or diabetes, further reducing carb intake or tracking total carbs may be a more suitable approach.
Moreover, it's crucial to be vigilant about potential sources of hidden carbs in your diet. Some common culprits include:
- Certain "low-carb" sweeteners such as Maltitol, Sorbitol, and IMOs: These sweeteners can have an impact on blood sugar and ketone levels, so it's essential to be mindful of their inclusion in your diet.
- Processed meats and condiments: Many processed meats and condiments contain starches and sugar, which can contribute to carb consumption. It's advisable to scrutinize ingredient labels to ensure you're making low-carb choices.
- "Low-carb" and "keto" bars and products: While marketed as suitable for a keto diet, some of these products may contain sweeteners and starches that can cause blood sugar spikes. Reading product labels and being discerning about your choices is essential.
- Restaurant meals: When dining out, it's often challenging to gauge the precise carb content of dishes. Sauces, dressings, and hidden additives can all contribute to your carb intake. Opt for simple, whole food options or request modifications to reduce their carb count.
- Medications and supplements: Certain medications and supplements may contain carbohydrates or have an impact on your blood sugar levels. Consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist to ensure they align with your goals.
Lastly, even some whole foods, such as liver and seafood, contain a considerable amount of carbohydrates. While these foods offer valuable health benefits, it's worth monitoring your consumption to ensure they aren't inadvertently impacting your ability to meet your macros.
By staying mindful of these factors and being diligent in tracking your carb intake, you can troubleshoot and address any issues related to not meeting your carb limit on the keto diet.
If you're finding it challenging to stay below your carb limit, it's crucial to assess the primary sources of your carb intake. If you're already following a well-formulated ketogenic diet, the solution may involve swapping higher-carb vegetables for lower-carb alternatives.
Animal Products with Minimal Carbohydrates
Most animal products are either devoid of carbs or contain very low amounts. As a result, you typically won't need to be concerned about the carb content in animal products. Here are some of the lowest-carb options:
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.)
- Red meat, including beef, lamb, pork, and venison
- Fish and some seafood (not all seafood is zero-carb)
- Dairy, especially heavy whipping cream, butter, and hard cheeses
Soft cheeses such as mozzarella or goat's cheese may contain slightly more carbs. While they are still suitable for a keto diet, it's worth checking their carb content if your carb limit is below 10 grams of net carbs.
Low-Carb Plant Choices
Plants are the primary source of carbs, so making slight adjustments can significantly impact your overall carb intake. Here are some of the lowest-carb plant options:
- Leafy greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, bok choy, lettuce, chives, endive and radicchio
- Cruciferous vegetables such as radishes, dark leaf kale (cavolo nero), kohlrabi, and cauliflower
- Other vegetables like zucchini (courgette), celery stalks, asparagus, cucumber, and bamboo shoots
- Fruits such as avocado, olives, rhubarb and coconut
- Nuts including macadamias, pecans, almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts and walnuts
If your carb intake is below 20 grams of net carbs, it's advisable to avoid root vegetables except for parsley roots, butternut squash, swede (rutabaga), and beetroot.
Easy Swaps to Reduce Carb Intake
Considering you are already following a keto diet and have replaced most high-carb options with low-carb foods, here are some additional swaps that can help you further decrease your carb intake:
- Use more green vegetables as they are generally lower in carbs
- Use green (spring) onion instead of white, yellow, or red onion
- Opt for white mushrooms instead of brown mushrooms
- Substitute cauliflower for broccoli
- Substitute turnips for rutabaga (swede)
- Choose zucchini (courgette) instead of eggplant (aubergine)
- Substitute pumpkin for butternut squash
- Enjoy macadamias, pecans, and almonds instead of cashews or pistachio nuts
- Select green bell peppers instead of red, orange, or yellow bell peppers
- Consider using shirataki noodles/rice as a partial replacement for zucchini noodles or cauliflower rice
These simple swaps can help you reduce your carb intake while still enjoying a varied and satisfying ketogenic diet.
Finally, as you'll learn below, if your goal is weight loss, be mindful of the fat content (and therefore calories) in foods like full-fat dairy, butter and nuts.
2. Not Hitting Your Protein Target
Another common challenge for beginners on the keto diet is not meeting their protein targets. But why is protein intake so crucial on keto?
Protein plays a vital role because insufficient intake can lead to muscle loss and increased appetite. When you consume a high-protein meal, your body releases glucagon, a hormone that counterbalances insulin and significantly contributes to feelings of satiety.
However, it's important to note that excessive protein consumption is not recommended either, as protein is not an especially efficient fuel source. This is why setting a protein target is crucial (Volek & Phinney).
But what if your goal is ketosis? The good news is that slightly exceeding your protein target will not kick you out of ketosis. Not all excess protein converts into glucose through gluconeogenesis. This is especially important for those whose aim is therapeutic ketosis.
Finally, no diet fits all. When traditional keto fails, a high-protein diet may help break through a stubborn weight loss plateau.
Foods to Increase Your Protein Intake
If you need to increase your protein intake, opt for lean meats and fish that contain higher protein and less fat per serving. Include the following foods in your diet:
- High-protein meats: Chicken breasts, skinless chicken thighs, turkey, beef filet mignon steak, sirloin steak, top round steak, skirt steak, pork tenderloin, and venison
- Ground (minced) meat with no more than 5% fat
- High-protein fish and seafood: Cod, haddock, prawns, crab meat, lobster, squid, octopus, mussels, and more
- Collagen powder: Bovine or marine collagen peptides, also known as hydrolyzed gelatin powder
- Eggs, especially egg whites
- Plain, full-fat yogurt without sweeteners
- Cheeses, particularly Parmesan, Pecorino, Edam, Gouda, Halloumi, Colby, Gloucester, Mozzarella, and Swiss cheese
- Almonds and pumpkin seeds
- Peanut butter (if you eat peanuts)
- Whey protein powder, egg white protein powder, or plant-based protein powder (look for protein isolate and preferably avoid products with sweeteners, unless they are keto-approved sweeteners
Note that if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, your protein options will be more limited. In such cases, refer to our Guide to a Vegetarian Keto Diet for further guidance.
Foods to Reduce Your Protein Intake
In most cases, consuming excessive protein is not a concern. However, some individuals with specific health conditions like Type 1 Diabetes may experience issues after consuming a high-protein meal.
To decrease your protein intake, consider the following swaps (please note that most them will increase your fat intake):
- Exchange high-protein cheeses for varieties with lower protein content, such as ricotta, cream cheese, Brie, Camembert, feta, goat's cheese, and cheddar
- Use more egg yolks and fewer egg whites, for example, make an omelet with 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk instead of using 3 whole eggs
- Choose ground meat with 10-20% fat content
- Pork: Select pork belly, pork chops, or pork shoulder instead of pork tenderloin
- Beef: Consider ribeye or New York strip steak instead of leaner cuts like fillet mignon or sirloin
- Lamb: Utilize lamb shank or ribs rather than lamb steak or rump with trimmed fat
- Poultry: Opt for dark thigh chicken or turkey meat (preferably skin-on) instead of breast meat, and include higher-fat options like duck and goose
- Include some fatty fish (SMASH): Salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring
- Watch out for protein from seafood. Most seafood is high in protein and low in fat. While seafood offers numerous health benefits, it's important to be mindful of its protein content when aiming to reduce overall protein intake on a keto diet.
3. Exceeding Your Fat Limit
When following a ketogenic diet, your fat intake can serve as either a limit or a target, depending on your specific goals.
It's often mentioned that fat acts as a filler on a keto diet. This means that you regulate your energy intake by adjusting your fat consumption. If your aim is to lose body fat, you need to maintain a calorie deficit, and therefore, your fat intake becomes a limit. Conversely, if your goal is to achieve healthy weight gain, you should be in a calorie surplus, and your fat intake becomes a target. (You can use our Keto Calculator to find your ideal macros.)
It's important to note that you should never force yourself to consume more fat when you're not hungry. Always eat until you feel satiated, even if it means falling significantly below your recommended fat intake. If you don't feel hungry, there's no need to eat, unless your objective is to gain weight. Allowing your body to utilize its own stored body fat for energy is one of the key advantages of low-carb eating.
Tips to Reduce Your Fat Intake
If you find it challenging to stay below your fat limit on a keto diet, here are some helpful tips to reduce the amount of fat in your diet:
- Reduce added fats: Start by decreasing the amount of added fats in your meals. Butter, ghee, or avocado oil used in cooking, mayonnaise or olive oil or olive oil in salads, and cream in your coffee can add significant calories to your daily intake.
- Swap for leaner meats and fish: If you're exceeding your fat limit but haven't met your protein target, consider opting for leaner cuts of meat and fish instead of fattier options.
- Adjust bacon consumption: If you enjoy bacon for breakfast, you can choose leaner types of bacon like Canadian bacon or reduce your serving size to moderate your fat intake.
- Mindful avocado consumption: While avocados are a nutritious source of potassium and healthy fats, they are also high in fat and calories. Be mindful of your avocado consumption if you're looking to lower your fat intake.
- Consider alternatives to Bulletproof coffee (BPC): Bulletproof coffee, a popular keto beverage consisting of coffee blended with fats like butter or MCT oil, can contribute to exceeding your energy requirements on a keto diet. It may be better to avoid BPC altogether if you're struggling to stay within your fat limit.
- Limit keto treats and desserts: If you're trying to reduce your fat intake, it's advisable to skip keto treats and desserts for a while. These sweet treats are typically high in fat and even lower-fat options can trigger cravings, potentially leading to a higher calorie intake.
- Avoid fat bombs: Fat bombs, which are high-fat snacks commonly consumed on a keto diet, should typically be avoided if you need to decrease your fat intake. While no diet fits all, this approach generally works for most people.
By implementing these strategies, you can effectively manage and reduce your fat intake while maintaining the principles of a low-carb or ketogenic diet.
Don't Stress Over Cheat Days or "Bad" Days
While maintaining focus on your diet is crucial, it's essential to recognize that occasional deviations from your plan are not only harmless but may actually contribute to long-term adherence.
Consuming foods that are not typically recommended for a healthy low-carb diet becomes problematic only when it becomes a regular occurrence. As long as these deviations are reserved for special occasions, having a few "cheat days" or "cheat meals" is unlikely to significantly hinder your progress.
It's important to understand that strict adherence to a diet can sometimes create feelings of deprivation or restriction, which may increase the likelihood of eventually giving up or abandoning the diet altogether. Allowing yourself the flexibility to enjoy occasional indulgences can help create a sustainable approach to your eating habits.
Remember, the key to long-term success lies in finding a balance that works for you, both physically and mentally. So, if you have a "bad" day or stray from your diet on occasion, don't stress over it. Simply acknowledge it, move on, and continue with your healthy eating habits.
Unveiling the Reality Behind Barcode Scanning Apps
Finally, let's not forget the possibility that what your tracker is saying may be far from the truth. Barcode scanning has become a popular feature in many food tracking apps including ours. However, there is an ugly truth that these apps may not openly disclose to users. Here's what you need to know.
First, avoid barcode scanning as much as possible. What this means in practice is that when you add foods like avocados, eggs, meat or cauliflower, you should avoid using branded products. Instead, use generic foods which have been verified and are far more accurate. Only scan items and use branded products to track your diet if there is no alternative (e.g. in cases of a particular brand of keto crackers).
To ensure more accurate barcode scanning results without compromising on reliability, we also recommend downloading our app. Unlike other apps that solely rely on available food databases, we have developed a sophisticated system that assigns a "trust level" to product data. This unique approach allows us to offer users the most dependable and accurate results by carefully evaluating and ranking data from various sources.
By implementing this system, we have taken a proactive step to eliminate products with clearly incorrect nutritional data from our database. While we cannot guarantee that the data you find will always be 100% accurate, we have significantly reduced the chances of encountering errors. Our goal is to help users make informed decisions about their food choices.
Don't settle for subpar barcode scanning experiences. Choose our app to ensure reliable and trustworthy results that help you effectively monitor your nutritional intake!
Created in collaboration with doctors and scientists
100 delicious recipes starting at the intersection of Mediterranean and Keto & Evolved with Science
Garnished with recipe Fun Facts to feed the mind!
My latest keto cookbook!
75 Delicious Treats for Your Low-Carb Diet
Chaffles are the epitome of simplicity and versatility
Meal-prepping, planning, and shopping strategies
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Quick & easy, no stress, no complication
Easy keto guide
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Whole foods, optimized for nutrition
My best keto recipes
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Quick and easy meals
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Sweet treats & savory snacks
100+ delicious keto recipes
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Ideal for batch cooking and meal prep
150+ delicious low-carb recipes
Quick guide to keto
Keto food list
100+ delicious low-carb recipes
Tasty paleo treats and snacks
Ultra low-carb fat bombs
Have any of my books?
Do you like this post? Share it with your friends!
Let us know what you think, rate this post!