How Many Carbs Can You Eat on the Keto Diet?

minute read | Last update: Nov 30th2022

This article is backed by studies and reviewed by a certified dietician.

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You know the keto diet is supposed to be low-carb and high-fat, but what you’re not so clear on is what low-carb means in this context. You want to enter ketosis so you can start burning fat and losing weight, but how many carbs does this require?

To enter and stay in ketosis on the keto diet, you need to ingest between 20 and 50 grams of net carbs per day. If you’re new to the keto diet, it’s better to eat 20 grams at first and then slowly increase your carb load until you find a carb amount that lets you maintain ketosis.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about carbs on the keto diet, from how they affect ketosis and the difference between total carbs and net carbs. We’ll even tell you when to test your blood glucose so you get more accurate readings. You won’t want to miss it!

The Role of Carbs in Ketosis

Carbs are short for carbohydrates, a food-derived energy source. Many diets are low-carb outside of keto, including Atkins and paleo. Yet since carbs provide energy, there’s a reason keto is low-carb instead of no-carb.

Not all carbs are the same. Simple carbohydrates include such food sources as fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and raw sugar. From breakfast cereals to soda and packaged snacks like cookies and cakes, simple carbs are everywhere.

The reason they’re called simple carbs is that your body breaks them down quickly. That’s why you get an energy boost after eating or drinking sweets. Yet the effects of simple carbs are short-lived, which is why the energy crash happens so soon thereafter.

Complex carbs are more nutrient-rich; they also contain more fiber. The high fiber content causes complex carbs to stay in the body longer as digestion slows. The satiety lasts longer too so you’re not feeling hungry an hour later like you would when guzzling soda or eating snack cakes. Through complex carbs, you can control your blood sugar as well.

Examples of complex carbs include beans, some vegetables (especially carrots and broccoli), some fruits (such as bananas and apples), and whole grains. When eating these foods, there’s no sugar crash like you have when you ingest simple carbs.

Carbs are, in their most basic form, sugar molecules. When you eat carbs, they enter the body and become glucose, the sugar source that we use for energy. The goal of the keto diet is to get into ketosis, which is when you make ketone bodies that burn fat instead of glucose for energy. That can’t happen until your body’s supply of glucose is depleted.

Cutting down on carbs limits what glucose supply the body has available, but do keep in mind that the liver stores extra glucose to use for these very occasions. That’s why entering ketosis isn’t an immediate process, especially the first time you do it. Your body has to burn those glucose reserves first, which can take several days.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat on the Keto Diet?

Besides simple and complex carbs, there are also total and net carbs. Before we can answer how many carbs you should eat on the keto diet, we must differentiate between these two types of carbs. We’ve written about this on the blog before, so this information will serve as a refresher only.

Total carbs encompass the sugars, dietary fiber, and starches in food whereas net carbs are only the carbs that convert into glucose. To calculate the net carbs in any food, take the total carbs and subtract the sugar alcohol and fiber. Sugar alcohol, if you need the reminder, includes hydrogenated sugar sources.

Keeping this information fresh in your mind, how many grams of total carbs should you plan to consume to get into ketosis and stay there? As we talked about in the intro, the amount varies, but can be anywhere from 20 grams of total carbs to as many as 50 grams. The most dedicated keto dieters will eat no more than 20 grams of net carbs, with net carbs always equal to or fewer than total carbs.

Everyone has a different carb limit they can follow and still remain in ketosis. To determine what yours is, you need to take it slow. First, aim for 20 net grams of carbs a day on your keto diet. We’ll talk next about when to test if you’re in ketosis, but testing will be a regular part of your life as you discover your carb load.

Add five grams of net carbs to your current carb load so it’s 25 net grams of carbs per day. Then, over the next three days, eat this amount of carbs. Test your ketones to determine if you’ve remained in ketosis or if the extra net carbs kicked you out. In such a situation, you know your max carb load to stay in ketosis is no more than 20 net grams of carbs.

Should you still be in ketosis at 25 net grams of carbs after a week, then it’s time to kick things up a notch yet again. Now you want to eat 30 net grams of carbs. Test your ketones after three days as you did before, then maintain the diet for a week if you weren’t bumped out of ketosis.

You can keep doing this all the way to 50 net grams of carbs provided you stay in ketosis the entire time. Remember to eat the new carb load for at least three days, test, and if you’re in ketosis after a week, test again.

Testing to Determine If You’re in Ketosis – When to Do It

As we said we would, let’s talk about testing your ketones. While some ketosis dieters will rely on the smell of their breath or gauge their energy levels to determine if they’re in ketosis, this is unreliable considering that keto breath isn’t a side effect that all keto dieters experience. Instead, you need a blood ketone test.

Blood ketone tests reveal your beta-hydroxybutyrate or BHB levels, which rise as you make more ketone bodies. To use a blood ketone test, you take the included strip, insert it into the meter, and then apply a pinprick to your finger. When the ketone strip has your blood on it, wait until you get a reading.

Incorrectly using a blood ketone test (or any type of ketone test) is one way to get unusable, inaccurate readings. So too is testing at the wrong time of day. Here are several daily periods that you’ll want to begin testing your ketone levels.

Before Any Meals

In the morning when you haven’t eaten for seven or eight hours (or more) is a good time to test. Don’t do it first thing, as this can lead to inaccuracies since cortisol can cause glucose to increase right before you wake up, which is known as the dawn effect.

Instead, wake up, shower, put on a pot of coffee, but don’t ingest any foods or beverages yet for at least an hour. If you can wait two or three hours, then that’s better, but be ready to do that every day. Testing consistency helps you better understand when you’re in ketosis.

Before Your Second Meal

After you’ve had some breakfast but before lunchtime (or between lunch and dinner), it’s time to test again. You shouldn’t have eaten for at least two hours, but consuming water is okay. You should have also avoided caloric beverages.

Craving Carbs? This Could Be Why

Most keto dieters follow the high-fat, low-carb meal plan every day, especially those who want to lose weight. Cheat days are allowed from time to time. If you keep these days infrequent enough, you won’t gain back any weight you lost since you won’t be out of ketosis for very long.

Yet even if you just had a cheat day, you may find yourself sometimes craving carbs something fierce. You try to follow your macros, but it’s getting more and more difficult by the day. Is it just that you’re still getting used to the keto diet? That could be it, but you should also look at these causes of carb cravings to see if any match your current predicament.

You’re Eating More Simple Than Complex Carbs

As we talked about earlier, not all carbs are created equally. Simple carbs may taste great at the moment, especially on a cheat day, but they have no substance to them. Your body will process these carbs quickly, leaving you in the mood for more carbs. There’s even evidence of carb addiction. This 2013 report from NPR’s dietary page The Salt went into more detail on the subject.

The article cites a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which uncovered that eating simple carbs can light up the centers of the brain that deal with addiction, reward, and pleasure.

The study mentions nothing about complex carbs, which last longer and keep you fuller. If your carb craving is getting out of hand, it’s worth evaluating your diet and cutting out (or at least cutting down) simple carbs. Gravitate towards complex carbs whenever you can.

You’re Not Sleeping Enough

How much sleep are you getting? It may seem like an unrelated question, but it’s anything but. When you’re sleep-deprived, your hormones go haywire, especially the hormones leptin and ghrelin. The former regulates satiety while the latter encourages your appetite. Leptin becomes less effective so it’s harder to tell when you’re full. Ghrelin levels increase so you feel hungrier than usual.

You also can’t think through your dietary decisions well when you’re tired. You might normally care very much about how many carbs you eat when you’re well-rested, but since you’ve stopped getting quality sleep, you just want to eat whatever’s most convenient, which is often simple carbs.

You’re Feeling Emotional

Did you have a hard day at school? Maybe you got turned down for that big promotion at work. You can also have issues in your personal life that have left you feeling down.

You already know that eating carbs can trigger the reward center in your brain, so it makes sense that noshing on comfort food will make you feel better.

However, these feelings are short-lived.

Once your body processes the carbs–which won’t take long at all if they’re simple carbs–then you can say goodbye to your food-induced happiness. You’re much better off identifying the root cause of your feelings and then seeking constructive solutions.


The recommended amount of carbs you can eat per day on the keto diet differs from person to person but is between 20 and 50 grams of net carbs.

To determine your carb limit, test your blood ketones often, especially before you’ve eaten or after you’ve had one meal.

Although avoiding carbs can be a challenge, the healthier you that the keto diet can produce makes it all worth it!

About the author

The Authentic Keto Team is here to bring you health tips that help you with losing weight fast. We focus on a clean keto diet for beginners because we believe that is the easiest and most simple way to healthy eating. Our keto weight loss tips will not only bring you into ketosis fast but will also help you to improve your mental health, sleep problems, and wellness.

- Our goal is to make keto success easy. -

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