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

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

How Many Carbs per Day on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet?ShareFollow us 152.0k

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 (or up to 50 grams of total carbs) per day. Remember, more ketones won't help you lose more weight. 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. Instead, calorie restriction is more likely what leads to thyroid issues, especially if it's over a long period of time.

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 grams of 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. Following a very low-carb diet (less than 20 grams of total 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.

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By Martina Slajerova
Creator of KetoDietApp.com

Martina Slajerova

I changed the way I ate in 2011, when I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. I had no energy, and I found it more and more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.

That’s when I decided to quit sugar, grains, and processed foods, and to start following a whole-foods-based ketogenic approach to food.

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Comments (157)

What is the condition you developed from dieting years ago? And how did you find out what it was? I used diet pills years ago but have stopped using them about 3 years ago. Now I’m finding it extremely hard to lose weight and fear I’ll have to eat hardly any calories (1000 or less which seems like nothing on Keto) to finally lose weight. I’m just curious how you found out about yours.

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Hi Kim, there are several factors for developing autoimmune diseases, including Hashimoto's. I believe that in my case it was a combination of high-carb & low-calorie dieting that have contributed to it. I found out by accident because I went for allergy testing where they discovered I had thyroid antibodies. You should definitely avoid following a low-calorie diet (1000 kcal is not enough). Have a look at this tool: KetoDiet Buddy - Easy Way to Calculate Your Macros on a Ketogenic Diet
Here's more about keto & thyroid: Are Keto and Low Carb Suitable for People with Thyroid Disease?

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Hi can you explain why some tbing on boxes etc say 2% of total carbs or they say 17total cab but on front say 3% i dont understand thankyou

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I'm sorry but I'm not sure I understand?

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Thank you for sharing this information and your own process.  I'm trying a low carb life style recently and your article was helpful.  (I hope I can stick to it.)  😊

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I can maintain 20g daily carbs and lose weight fast if I remain mostly sedentary. I get weak very fast when I try exercise and even though I get all the electrolytes I get muscle burn. I did this for 5 weeks..went from 248 to 217. Am starting a modified diet tomorrow with 1500 total cals/150 g protein/50 g carb. I hope to tolerate exercise better and the extra carbs will basically be burnt on exercise. If I still feel the carb level impedes my biking and walking will add 10 carbs until I feel comfortable exercising.

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Hi Jeff, I might be wrong but this sounds like too much protein. I hope this helps: KetoDiet Buddy - Easy Way to Calculate Your Macros on a Ketogenic Diet
For more about exercise and how to adjust your macros, have a look at these posts: ketodietapp.com/Blog/Filter

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As someone with Hashimoto's, I appreciate your comments on the matter. I had mostly just entered Keto for the weight loss, would've never considered it could have a side effect on the Thyroid.

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CAN I DO A CHEAT DAY ON THIS DIET?

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Hi Norma, here's what I have about cheat days: Ketogenic Diet FAQ: All You Need to Know

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Dear Martina, I wasn’t sure how to contact you. I am a final year undergraduate Human Nutrition student. I was also a keto diet follower and your app and blogs were a great help. For my final year project I‘ve chosen to study the present awareness of the ketogenic diet. I would like to ask if you would be interested to present my questionnaire to your followers. I will of course send you the questionnaire personally first for your approval. Please let me know if you are interested. Thank you for your hard work. You are a great help for many of us.

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Hi Helena, I'm sorry for the delayed response. If you can please contact me via: ketodietapp.com/Blog/contact, I will make sure to get back to you asap. I'm afraid I can't guarantee I will reply to all blog comments. I try to but sometimes I do that with a delay. Thank you!

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I have been on a keto diet for over a year. I lost 60 pounds and got off five different meds and a shot in the stomach for the last 25 years. Fasting sugar under 150 was considered good control. A1C was usually around 7. Now sugars are rarely over 80 and A1C is 5.4. THEN I PLATEAUED AND EVEN GAINED BACK 10 pounds. Little did I know I have been shooting myself in the foot. It didn't help that I quit a job that required seven miles of vigorous walking each day, but I begin my day with a big glass of half and half. I didn't realize I was adding 16-20g hidden carbs over my 25g allotment. I am switching to making my own with heavy whip cream and almond milk. That drops carb count to 6.4g per cup.

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Indeed, there are "hidden"carbs in many seemingly "zero-carb" foods! 7 Surprising Sources of Hidden Carbs

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uhm so, ...I think I might eat too many vegetables to really go into ketosis. I live in China, so I can go meat/eggs/vegetables OK ... but my problem is that I eat too many vegetables? (...)
I'm kind of nervous about eating so much meat. even if I body build. ...and I can't eat peanuts or sunflower seeds either? .....omg....

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I tried the strict lo-carb and my sugar kept dropping too low. My doctor told me to stop the diet. I still want to try the keto diet. I want start at 100 grams of carbs and slowly bring it down by 10s, I’m hoping my body will accept the change better without sugar drop out. My question is, how long between drops would you suggest?

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I would like to point out that ketosis does not guarantee weight loss. It is also not necessary to enter ketosis to lose weight but reducing lipids will result in ketone production.

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True, higher ketone levels won't result in greater fat loss (it is not what matters most when following a low-carb diet for weight loss): Do Ketones Matter?

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Where does the 20g - 100g to enter ketosis come from? Did someone measure this in a study?

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Studies by Dr Volek, Dr Phinney and Dr Westman focus the effects of low-carb and ketogenic diets and their effects on our health. When it comes to the carbohydrate intake that will allow you to enter ketosis, this is different for individuals and it's a matter of conducting a few n=1 experiments. Most people can enter ketosis at 20-30 g net carbs.

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it is really a percentage based on the total calories coming from your food. i am having 1700 calories per day from which 60% is supposed to come from fat, 30% from protein and 10% carbs. That translates to about 115g fat, 125g protein and 40g carbs. i'm only on week two and might try and drop carbs later but i think i was given sound advice.  

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This might be too much. Having said that, I can tolerate a higher carb level too. My daily intake is anywhere between 20-40 grams, occasionally 50 grams of net carbs. I tend to eat more carbs on my "active" day. From what I've seen, for most people the optimal level is 20-30 g net carbs (or up to 50 g total carbs).

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Thank you for this guide.
I was low carb mostly do to a gluten intolerance, and I began losing a lot of weight. I decided to try the Keto diet since I still had a lot further to go. Started at 210 lb and initially lost 30 lb. After going Keto I got down to 160 lb within a short amount of time.(Short compared to how long I had struggled to lose fat years prior on other diets.)
The struggle now is nutrition checking everything. Most things have carbs in them, and I suppose the next step is cutting out all processed foods since those are where I find the most sugars!
The biggest issue though is my friends and family. They never know what I can eat. It's sort of a joke now. But visiting or going out to eat, ordering food... it's just a nightmare!  

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Can you tell me what your carb I take was?

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Hello Martina 😊 your blog is amazing thank you for all the wonderful info.
I need a moderate / flexible opinion so I thought I would ask you what you think.  
I have been keto for 1,5 month, lost up to 20 pounds and felt it was overall easy to do. passed the keto flu :  20gr net carbs, 70 % fat and max 20% protein from fish and eggs mainly  ... I drink 3 ltrs of water in which I add lite salt, lemon and some green like parsley ... my blood markers are super healthy except for cholesterol but it was when I was overdoing the dairy which I barely eat anymore ..
Except : I feel like &$@! Almost everyday... not all day but at some point mid afternoon onwards I start feeling discombobulated, uncomfortable, weak and a little anxious  ... electrolytes, more fat or calories i tweaked everything to no avail. it's a weird discomfort in my body and I'm wondering if it just doesn't enjoy ketosis. Last night I felt so bad like i was about to collapse I ate 4 spoons of plain white rice just to kick myself out of keto ( was still only 40gr of total carbs though ) and I felt significantly better and as per keto sticks I'm still dark pink.
Is there a possible middle ? Where I can still lose weight, eat low carb but without having to be paranoid about electrolytes  and feeling like I'm possessed by the spirit of keto doom ? Can I up my carbs to say 50 - I don't need rice, bread and stuff I do great with just veg and protein ... but Im supposed to feel great in keto ... though I really love the benefits I hate how it makes me feel 🤔  Would love your feedback !

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Hi. That happens to me at work sometimes and i was like omg i need carbs. But nope i needed WATER.  Yep water and after i drank a bottle of water in like 15 min WHAM im on fire, moving and grooving. Next time u feel week and unfocused drink water🤗

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How many calories are you eating a day? Maybe your caloric deficit is too great and you’re just hungry!
Also - could you be suffering from light lead poisoning? Too much fish per week can cause mild symptoms

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Yeah so there definitely is a sweet spot for maintaining ketosis and the weight loss benfits(via body getting energy by burning fat for ketones and fatty acids as opposed to carbohydrates for glycogen.) yet still consuming enough carbs where you aren’t suffering from malnutrition or whatever it is that’s causing your fatigue every afternoon. Their are are couple ways to find and ride within this “golden” range. Possibly easiest is to take some coconut oil or similar high fat, high calorie, medium chain triglyceride supplement. This will likely ensure sufficient caloric intake and you can also eat more carbs while maintaing a sufficient fat:carb ratio to remain in ketosis. I hesitate to toss out a number but maybe 40-50g net carbs per day will be okay as long as your taking the supplement. Another way(the one I’d probably reccomend) is to slowly increase your carb intake 5g / day / week. As you do this continue to test ketone levels in the pee to determine at which amount of carbs per day you slip out of ketosis then just eat a little less carbs per day then that number. This is best because it requires no supplement, you’ll learn more about your body, and it will lower ketone levels which, although good for the brain in smaller amounts, in large amounts WILL cause ketoacidosis and raise the bloods Ph in which can cause kidney stones via bone demineralization along with a whole host of other complications including coma (likely one of the reasons you’ve been feeling crappy-too many ketones) third: eat the amount of carbs just above your ketosis inducing threshold level, you’ll still likely lose weight because even at carb levels just above ketosis range you’ll still experience less hunger sensations(a benefit of burning ketones and fatty acids for energy and not glycogen) and so eat less. I hope you find this helpful. *note: I am not a medical professional this information is the result of personal curiosity and independent reaearch.

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I think you may be experiencing what I did on an ultra low carb diet. I did try to follow the "20 grams of carbs" approach but it didn't work for me. I felt sluggish, I was tired, and anxious (especially that anxiety!). Having said that, I have Hashimoto's (autoimmune hypothyroid condition) and I can't do very low-carb for that very reason. These days I eat 20-30 grams of net carbs, sometimes up to 50, especially after a workout when my body naturally craves carbs. Keep in mind that some people tend to overemphasise the importance of high ketones while it's not as simple and most people don't even need high ketones: The Ketone Craze - Who Really Benefits From High Ketone Levels? I hope this helps!

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I went on low carb diet to lose weight. And it's working - though slowly - at 20 to 30 g of carbs a day. Sometimes a little more. I've been losing about a pound a week. What's really remarkable is I have also reduced my migraines, which were almost nightly. Now the only time I have one is if I happen to drink a beer or glass of wine in the evening. Those I can live without.

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What pre-existing condition do you think was caused by your low-carb eating?

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Hi Heather, I suppose you may have misunderstood. It wasn't caused by low-carb eating, I started following a low-carb diet after I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's.

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Are the total and net carbss the same amount for everyone or does your weight determine the amounts?   In addition does an increased activity level like running allow more of each type carb.
Thanks

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Hi Kevin, the amount of carbs you can consume will vary for individuals (usually 15-30 g net carbs). I suggest you start with about 25 g net carbs and see how that works for you. To calculate your macros: KetoDiet Buddy - Easy Way to Calculate Your Macros on a Ketogenic Diet

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I'm intrigued about the keto way and noticed you have hashimotos as well as I do. I am totally gluten & nightshade free. Do you go AIP 100% of the time?

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Hi Jen, I'm following a keto & primal diet with limited dairy but I do eat nightshades, eggs, nuts, etc. When it comes to autoimmune diseases, you will need to try and see what works for you. Some people need to go dairy-free, some full AIP, some are doing great by simply avoiding gluten and carbs.

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Hi Martina.
With less & less fruit & veg, where does one get their vitamins from?. Should people be taking supplements.
Kind regards
Paula

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Hi Paula, you don't need to avoid vegetables and fruits completely. Here's a post that explains more - you don't basically need to go "zero-carb": Total Carbs or Net Carbs: What Really Counts?
If you eat 20-30 grams of net carbs, you will be able to get all the nutrients you need, apart from magnesium which is best supplemented.

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I went sub 15 carbs for like 12 weeks straight..was feeling good and vibrating w/ energy for most of the time until i hit a huge brick wall! smack! 0 energy, lifeless, brain fog, couldn't think, couldn't function, move..horrible and worst feeling ever! i didn't even feel like a human being and was jealous of everyone in the world..keto is great and all BUT do NOT be afraid of carbs..like the article states: you need to find the optimal level to maintain sanity, satiety, stabilized leptin level and dopamine receptors. Carbs is the ONLY macronutrient that can do this. So please don't fall into this same pitfall..start adding a bit..do not fear; 50-75 per day is fine..and in kept mode, even just half a slice of pizza for example, is ok. it'll satisfy craving, you'll maintain keto mode and feel well..too low carbs too long = epic failure! oh plus I was NOT losing any weight; matter of fact I was gaining! I think b/c of the severe restriction of carbs I OVER ate everything else, almond butter, nuts, avocado, coconut oil..not smart

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Hi I have a question for you? First your posts are amazing you are very articulate and the articles are great reads thanks for the info.
So I'm just learning about keto and was curious what should people who work out 2-4 hours a day do about carb intake. I'm curious if excercise depletes glucose so that I could eat extra carbs? Kinda confused thanks

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Hi Jillian, for some types of exercise, it's better to carb-up (I think that will be your case). You can learn more here: How to Exercise on a Keto Diet
and here: Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Carbs
I hope this helps!

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Thank you for this information.  I assumed that my carbs had to be 30 or below to be in ketosis, but I've discovered that I can eat at least 45 carbs daily and stay in moderate ketosis.  I thought I was weird!

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Same for me! I usually eat about 50 g of total carbs a day (30-35 g net carbs) and stay in moderate-light ketosis.

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How do you know when you're in optimum ketosis?

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Hi Tiffany, you can use a blood ketone meter - I have already learnt my "ideal" carb level so I don't measure any more: Ketosis & Measuring Ketones

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Where did you buy your ketone monitor?

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I think it was Amazon.

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Hi,
I am on second day of keto. I am strarting with 25 gm carb. But I am confused that whether I should keep eye on carb content of the food or sugar content also. for example 100 gm curd contains 4 gm carbohydrates but half of that comes from sugar. will it be ok for keto if I am not crossing my total limit?

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Hi Sanika, always count net carbs (carbs without fibre) - Do not count just the sugar content (it's only part of net carbs). Here's more about carbs: All You Need to Know About Carbs on a Low-Carb Ketogenic Diet and also total vs net carbs: Total Carbs or Net Carbs: What Really Counts?

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I am on 8 months or so into the diet, I had a break december to Jan where i was at under 80g total a day.. but I had gotten a major sinus infection and that had me pretty much wiped out..
I restarted 20-30g a day NET in Feb 2016 and I have dropped 21 lbs since then.. still going.. I am at 235ish lbs at the moment with a goal of 200lbs .. I started last year in June at 290lbs
I have had one full physical in 2015 .. cholesterol: 161 LDL 99 and HDL 48 .. blood sugar 80   the LDL could be better, and thats just more exercise, I have only been tread milling about 3x week..
--- i figured i am in that plateau stage . but I am trying to stay in trace to small levels of ketosis and not, for those concerned with counting macro's .. it eventually becomes second nature after awhile, but if you revert back to bad habits the weight will come back, no question about that its a fact.  

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i'm starting out on the keto diet, currently on day 3.  does not seem overly taxing, perhaps i was not over-consuming carbs to begin with.  in any event i already feel lighter, even though the scale shows only a 1-2 kg weight loss, now weighing 95Kg.  at those small values I tend to chalk it up to water weight more than anything.  The quick calculator seems to be a good estimate of the amount of carbs i should be consuming.  I certainly hope that my life won't be about constantly counting macros, intending to wing it while watching out for carb counts mostly.  

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I don't think you need to do that. It's better to watch your macros for the first few weeks, just to get an idea of how to follow the keto diet. Once you learn what to eat and avoid, just listen to your body's signals and eat when you feel hungry.

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