Macros & Calorie Counting
Follow #ketodiet on Instagram and you’ll see jaw-dropping before-and-after weight loss photos mingled with mouthwatering lasagna, burgers dripping with melted cheese, pizza, and more. But can indulgence and weight loss happily coexist in the real keto world? The answer is absolutely yes!, provided you eat for your optimal macros.
What Are Macros?
The keto diet is based on eating good fats, drastically reducing your carbohydrate intake, and moderately limiting protein intake so that your body burns fat for energy instead of glucose. But along with eating more fat and less protein and carbs, it’s also about consuming the right amounts of each based on your goal to lose, maintain, or gain weight or use the diet for therapeutic treatment of medical conditions. That’s where “macros” (short for macronutrients) come in.
Macros are your daily caloric intake for the keto diet, broken into categories of optimal fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. They are also your literal map for keto success.
The optimal amount of macros is different for each person, based on age, height, weight, activity level, body fat percentages (this is different than BMI), and weight goals. How do you know what your optimal macros should be? The easiest way to determine the correct amounts is to use a macro calculator, such as the free one available on Ruled.Me. Just input the requested information and it will calculate the breakdown of calories, protein, carbs, and fat needed for you to lose, gain, or maintain your weight, depending on the goals you set.
Regardless, the general consensus within the keto community is that you want to keep your net carbs to 20 or less grams per day to lose weight (unless you’re an active athlete, in which case you can up your net carbs a bit).
Note: Factors such as age, gender, family, and personal medical history, and genetics influence how your body responds to specific macronutrients and whether or not they help keep your body in ketosis. For this reason, we recommend you discuss your intended diet with a medical provider who knows your health history, has an understanding of the ketogenic diet, and can help you make choices that are best for you.
Minding Your Macros
Once you know your macros, you’ll need to do your best to mind them in order to get your body into a ketogenic state and keep it there. To do that, you need to know the total amount of calories, fat, protein, and “net carbs” for everything you eat (net carbs are described below) and keep track of what you eat and drink to ensure you don’t surpass your daily goals. Yes, it’s a bit of work, and yes, everyone gets off track now and then. But don’t be discouraged. It’s all part of the journey and after a while, it really does become second nature.
You can manually track your daily macros intake or calculate your totals using an app, such as Cronometer, MyFitnessPal, or Carb Manager (see our review on keto apps here) or an online recipe analyzer like the one at Happy Forks.
What Are Net Carbs?
Plainly put, “net carbs” are the total grams of carbohydrates in any given food minus its grams of sugar alcohols and fiber. Here's the basic formula:
Net carbohydrates = total carbohydrates - fiber - sugar alcohols (if applicable).
Now perhaps you’re wondering, what are sugar alcohols? We’ll get to that in a second. But first, here's an example of the net carb calculation, using a medium avocado, which, incidentally, never contains sugar alcohols:
A medium avocado contains 17.1 grams of total carbs and 13.5 grams of fiber. So, to get its net carbs, you subtract the fiber (13.5 grams) from the total carbs (17.1 grams), which leaves you with 3.6 grams of net carbs (i.e., 17.1 grams carbs - 13.5 grams fiber = 3.6 grams net carbs for 1 medium avocado). Talk about reason to enjoy guacamole!
Now, on to sugar alcohols.
Sugar Alcohols Overview
Sugar alcohols are alternative sweeteners that hail from certain fruits and vegetables or are man-made. You’re going to want to know about these because they can be your ticket to delicious desserts or simply sweetening your morning coffee.
Sugar alcohols are super sweet, but they have about half the calories of regular sugar and they’re not fully absorbed and digested by the body, so they result in less of an increase in blood sugar. They’re a common ingredient in products labeled “sugar free” or “no sugar added” and are also available for purchase as a handy ingredient for keto cooking and baking.
Below are two lists of sugar alcohols. The sugars under the "Sugar Alcohols with Zero Carb Count" don't need to be factored into your net carb formula because they contain no carbs. The sugar alcohols under the "Sugar Alcohols with Some Carb Count" do need to be factored in, but only at 50% of their total carbs. That means that if a cookie with 10 total carbs contains 2 grams of fiber and 4 grams of sorbitol, the formula would be 10 grams total carbs - 4 grams fiber - 2 grams sorbitol = 4 grams of net carbs per cookie.
Sugar Alcohols with Zero Carb Count
Sugar Alcohols with Some Carb Count
You can learn more about sugar alcohols here.
Phew! You got all that? Today’s information may be a lot to digest, but don’t worry. You can revisit this page anytime, and once you master your macros, you’ll be well on your way to a happy, healthy keto lifestyle.
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