The ketogenic, or keto, diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet growing in popularity due to the many health benefits it can offer. The concept is to drastically reduce carbohydrate intake and increase healthy fat intake which puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain. 

But understanding what to eat can be tricky and personalization is important.

A common question about the keto diet is, “Do I count total carbs or net carbs?” The answer is, it depends. Your ideal carb count is a nuanced number; it isn’t arbitrary and it isn’t set in stone. Ongoing refinement and customization are required to increase your chances of success and determine how quickly you will meet your health and weight-loss goals. 

Many individual factors dictate your carb levels and whether you should track total or net carbs. How does this work? 

For most people who want to transition from eating the Standard American Diet (with an average of 250-300 carbs per day), it is better to ease into the keto diet and set a reasonable goal for lowering your carb count. When you give the body time to adjust, it makes the changes more manageable and sustainable.1 Other factors that come into play include your metabolism, insulin resistance, health, age, activity level, lifestyle, sociability, goals and mindset. 

What’s the difference between total carbs and net carbs?

Here’s where it can get confusing for keto newcomers: net carbs are not the same as total carbs. Net carbs are the total grams of carbohydrates minus grams of fiber and sugar alcohols which are subtracted because they are not digested by the body. Total carbs are exactly what it sounds like – the total amount of carbs consumed in a day. 

If you’re following a keto diet for weight loss or general health, staying within 20 net carbs per day is most often prescribed to stay in ketosis. However, this isn’t the case for everyone; some people need 20-30 total carbs per day to achieve and maintain ketosis. Which is better for you on a keto diet depends on your goals and individual body.2 

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to managing your health. What works for one person may not work for another, so you must be willing to intersect the standard rules of keto with your personal goals, results and current health.  

Michelle Borthwick is a keto lifestyle coach teaching women how to fall in love with keto by tailoring sustainable programs to meet individual needs. She can be reached at (760) 285.1241 or


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