Keto Basic Concepts

Carbs, Macros, Ketones, and Net Carbs

Learning the Language of Keto

Ketogenic eating (“Keto”) has fast become one of the most popular approaches to healthy eating and weight loss. This low-carbohydrate, high-fat eating style isn’t a fad. It’s here to stay – because it’s backed up by solid science.

The Internet is replete with thousands of sites and blogs dedicated to this relatively new approach to healthy eating. If you’re getting started with Keto yourself, you’re going to want to find out as much as you can and see what works for you. When it comes to dietary approaches and styles, there is no “one size fits all.” Each of us is unique and what works for one of us won’t necessarily work for someone else. But enough of us have experienced jaw-dropping amazing results for millions to be enthusiastic about the Keto approach.

Here are a few basic concepts anyone new to Keto needs to know.
Don’t worry – they’re easy.

Carbohydrates (Carbs)

  • Carbohydrates are one of the basic nutritional “building blocks” of any diet. Simple carbohydrates like sugar fuel your body with quick bursts of energy, while complex carbohydrates, like starches and fibers, have to first be converted into glucose in order to provide energy for nerve and muscle cells. So complex carbohydrates, which are derived from plants, provide a more steady consistent fuel for longer-lasting energy. When we talk about “carbs” in the context of counting carbs in Keto, we use the term to mean one gram of carbohydrates in a food item.
  • Not all carbs are the same, and it’s helpful to know that in Keto, the carbs we have to be concerned with are the ones which have “glycemic impact” – the ones that increase blood sugar.
  • Fiber (also often called “bulk” or “roughage”) is also a carbohydrate, but it is a particular kind of complex carbohydrate that does NOT have any glycemic impact.
  • Another kind of carbohydrate we’ll be talking about is a class of sweeteners called “sugar alcohols.” They do not contain, as it turns out, either sugar OR alcohol. Hmmm. Many of these also do NOT have any glycemic impact. More on this later.


“Macros” is a term you’ll hear and read a lot in discussions about Keto. It refers to the three kinds of macronutrients everyone’s body needs – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. More specifically, in Keto, it refers to the relative proportions of these three most appropriate for YOU in fashioning an approach that will help you lose weight. For most people, a good place to start is the one illustrated in this chart, borrowed from PerfectKeto:

Many websites provide a free “Macro Calculator” to help you figure out the balance that is just right for you. Most of them will want to email the results to you so that they can add you to their emailing list. So don’t be surprised if they ask for your email address.

As far as myself, I just follow the chart above with a certain amount of flexibility and I’ve done just fine with that.


What are ketones and why do they matter? Here is what WebMD has to say:

“Everyone has ketones, whether you have diabetes or not. Ketones are chemicals made in your liver.

You produce them when you don’t have enough insulin in your body to turn sugar (or glucose) into energy. You need another source, so your body uses fat instead.

Your liver turns this fat into ketones, a type of acid, and sends them into your bloodstream. Your muscles and other tissues can then use them for fuel.”

This is the magic formula for Keto, and the word and concept from which it gets its name.

Net Carbs

When Robert C. Atkins, M.D. started his Atkins diet empire many years ago, he came up with one revolutionary concept which changed low-carb eating forever. This is the concept called “Net Carbs.”

Net carbs is a simple formula that helps low-carb eaters pay attention to the foods that raise blood sugar and prevent weight loss through ketosis.

Dr. Atkins noted that fiber, which is itself a kind of carbohydrate, does not have any glycemic impact. It does not affect blood sugar.

Low-carb eating requires looking carefully at the Nutritional Information labels on the foods you buy (or finding out about those foods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meats, that don’t have labels). Here is a typical nutritional label from a type of multigrain bread.

Note that each slice of this bread has 12 grams of total carbohydrates. We’d say 12 carbs. But there are four grams of dietary fiber in each slice. Total carbs minus fiber grams = net carbs. So each slice has 8 net carbs.

There is one more element that can figure in to this formula. Many diet products manufactured especially for those on diabetic, low-carb, or Keto diets are sweetened with sugar alcohols. As mentioned above, many of these are carbohydrates that also do not affect blood sugar. So they too can be subtracted from the total carbs. Sugar alcohols usually end in “ol.” The most commonly used are, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Erythritol, and Maltitol. All except Maltitol can be subtracted. Only 60% of Maltitol should be subtracted since 40% of it is metabolized and spikes blood sugar.

Here is a sample label:

One portion (two pieces) of this sugar-free candy contains 18 total carbs. If that were the end of the story, and you were trying to adhere to no more than 20 carbs per day, your whole day’s worth of carbs would be shot. But that’s NOT the end of the story. 18 total carbs, less 1 gram fiber, less 15 grams sugar alcohol (except for Maltitol) would bring it down to 2 net carbs per portion, or 1 net carb per piece of candy. That’s a LOT better.

And why can you discount those other 16 carbs? Because (remember) you only need to worry about carbs that affect your blood sugar.

Here is a helpful chart “borrowed” from the Internet:

So these are the four concepts you need to know about Keto. Now that you know the basics and know how to “speak Keto,” we can talk about how to get started on your Keto journey. More on that in upcoming articles.

[This article, and other articles in the Keto category on this website, are meant to help people who are engaged in, or considering, the ketogenic style of eating. This eating style is not for everyone, and serious medical considerations are involved in choosing this eating style and/or using the products and methods mentioned here. No one should undertake a Keto dietary journey without getting a green light from their doctor. Nothing in these articles should be construed as medical advice, and readers assume all risks and responsibility for their own  implementation of any these suggestions and recommendations.]

  1. December 19, 2019
    • December 19, 2019

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