How to Find Hidden Carbs on a Ketogenic Diet

As its name suggests, hidden carbs are those you can’t see, and often the ones responsible for sneaking up and kicking you out of ketosis. Falling victim of hidden carbs on a ketogenic diet is all too common and can occur for a number of reasons, from deceptive food labeling to plain ignorance on what you’re eating.

Hidden carbs can have a pretty big impact on your ability to lose weight on keto, so it’s important to be mindful. This article will cover all the bases so you can begin making more informed decisions.

Don’t Get Kicked Out of Ketosis

Remember, in order to stay in ketosis on your keto diet, your want to keep your carb count to 30 grams or less of carbs per day, and this can vary somewhat from person to person. This number can often be overlooked, especially if you’re strictly eating keto-friendly foods, such as nuts, avocados, or meat. However, despite these all being low-carb foods, the numbers can add up quickly, and if you’re not careful, they can keep you from ketosis.

It can be surprising how many healthy foods contain the keto carb limit in just a single serving. Let’s take a closer looks at some of the more common foods we consume on a daily basis.

Hidden Carbs in Food

To help you get accustomed to intuitively understanding the amount of carbs in basic food items, we’ll be reviewing some of these foods and their carb count. The carb amounts listed below are the net carbs, meaning non-digestible carbs like fiber are not counted.

Snacks and Beverages

Snacks and popular drinks are often the biggest culprits of hidden carbs, especially those posing as “healthy”.

Drinks

  • Red Bull, 12 oz can — 40g
  • Naked Green Machine Smoothie, 15 oz bottle — 63g
  • Coca Cola, 12 oz can — 35g
  • Starbucks latte, grande size with 2% milk — 19g

Cereals

  • Shredded Wheat, 1 cup — 17g
  • Cheerios, 1 cup — 17g
  • GoLean Crunch, 1 cup — 20g

Health Bars (always check the nutrition label!)

  • Chocolate Chip Clif Bar — 41g
  • Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Kind Bar — 13g
  • Lenny & Larry’s Chocolate Chip Cookies, 1 cookie — 40g

This is just a glimpse at some food items so you can get an idea, and hopefully it helps demonstrate just how many carbs these snacks contain.

Sugar Alcohols and Alternatives

The statements “sugar-free” and “carb-free” are fairly prevalent in grocery stores and markets all over the country. The truth is, they are not zero-carb as suggested, and many are even associated with elevated blood sugar levels and insulin spikes.

A few of these polyols (sugar alcohols) include xylitol, maltitol, splenda, honey, agave[1], yacon syrup, molasses, sorbitol, and vegetable glycerin.

A few great alternatives include Stelvia, erythritol, and pure liquid sucralose.

Salad Dressings

Keep in mind that while your homemade salad may be packed with keto-friendly and healthy ingredients, you’ll also want to pay attention to the salad dressings you use. Dressings are notorious for how many sugars and added carbs they contain, not to mention the presence of hydrogenated oils.

Dressings that masquerade as being low-fat or low-calorie are never as healthy as they’d like you to believe. They taste good for a reason! And that reason often has to do with their replacing fat for sugar. This includes low-fat condiments and “light” dressings.

A typical serving size on a salad dressing label is two tablespoons, which is much less than the average person uses. Start checking your dressing labels and make more informed decisions. Opt for homemade dressings like oils and vinegars, avocado, spices, herbs and the like so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Nuts

Nuts are a great snack on the ketogenic diet. They’re low-carb, filling, and of course, delicious! But remember that all nuts are not created equal and there are plenty of high-carb nut varieties out there, waiting to tempt you under the guise of being keto-friendly. Some of those nuts include (carbs per 1 oz serving):

  • Chestnuts—13.6 g
  • Cashews—8.4g
  • Pistachios—5.8g
  • Peanuts—3.8g

Steer clear of these high-carb nuts and instead opt for the fattier and low-carb varieties, such as pecans, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, and walnuts. It also should be said that you never want to buy nuts that are candied or sweetened in any way. Mixed trail nuts combined with dried fruits is also high in carbs, so beware.

Fruits

Sadly, the majority of fruits should be avoided while on a keto diet. They’re healthy, sure, but as little as a handful can blow your carb count for the day. Here are some fruits with the most carbs:

  • Medium-sized banana—25g
  • Medium-sized apple—18g
  • 1 cup of grapes—15g
  • Medium-sized orange—15g
  • 1/2 cup of cherries—9g
  • Kiwi—8g
  • 1/2 cup of blackberries—4g
  • 1/2 cup of raspberries—3g
  • 1/2 cup of strawberries—3g

As you can tell, berries are your best bet for keeping low-carb, but don’t overdo it, as these small amounts of carbs can add up throughout the day. Keep in mind that a 1/2 cup serving is a small handful, which the average person eats much more of.

Starchy Veggies

Like many food items listed in this article, vegetables are another essential component of the ketogenic diet. But be warned, they too come with their share of hidden carbs. Vegetables that grow below ground are usually more starchy and are higher in carbs. Some of these veggies include:

  • 1 large baked potato—54g
  • 1 cup hash browns—50g
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato—20g
  • 1 medium-large baked yam—28g
  • 1 cup sliced parsnips—17g

As you can see, just one serving of potatoes can put you over your carb limit for the day. Now let’s compare these high-carb vegetables with some more keto-friendly, low-carb options:

  • 1 cup of raw spinach—0.4g
  • 1 cup of raw cauliflower—3g
  • 1 cup of raw broccoli—4g
  • 1 cup of raw kale—6g
  • 1 cup of chopped cucumber—4g

While you should be mindful about the fruits and veggies you consume, they are an integral part of any diet and should never be excluded. Studies support that dietary fiber has been linked to less cardiovascular disease and plays a role in obesity prevention[2].

Calculate Your Carbs

While it sounds like a challenging task—which it is, in the beginning—start getting comfortable counting net carbs in labeled foods.

Locate the total grams of carbs, the total grams of fiber, and subtract fiber from the carbs. This is the number you should be using towards your daily keto carb amount.

If counting carbs and reading labels sounds far too tedious to you, rather then throwing in the towel, simply play it safe by consuming more whole, fresh keto foods and cooking homemade meals. This is truly the best way to know what you’re getting.

More Readings:

Best Exogenous Ketone Supplements

5 Tips to Get You Into Ketosis Quickly

References:

[1] Willems JL, Low NH. Major carbohydrate, polyol, and oligosaccharide profiles of agave syrup. Application of this data to authenticity analysis. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Sep 5;60(35):8745-54.

[2] Slavin J.L., Lloyd B. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables. Adv. Nutr. 2012;3:506–516. doi: 10.3945/an.112.002154.

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