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Daily Calorie Allowance
On this page:
- What is Ketosis?
- How To Calculate Keto Macros
- Step One: Calculate Calorie Intake
- Step Two: Calculate Macro Breakdown
- Step Three: Calculate Daily Macro Needs
- Counting Keto Macros For Weight Loss
- Net Carbs
- Keto Macros and Athletes
- Low-Carb Macros
- Health Benefits of Counting Macros for a Ketogenic Diet
What is Ketosis?
By now, most people have heard of the ketogenic, or keto, diet. This high-fat, low-carbohydrate, and moderate protein diet has a strong following, but not many know how it actually works to aid in weight loss.
The keto diet gets its name because because following this eating pattern, your body enters ketosis.
Under normal circumstances, the human body uses glucose, or carbohydrates, as an energy source. However, if there are not enough carbohydrates available, the body uses fat as an energy source instead. Ketosis is a metabolic process where the body burns fat for energy instead of glucose.
The original ketogenic diet that was used to control seizures was very low in carbohydrates (<50 grams a day), with a large proportion of daily calories coming from fat instead.
Since the keto diet has increased in popularity, variations of this diet have emerged that are easier for most people to follow. The term is now used to loosely describe a diet with the main characteristic being that the diet is very low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat (2).
A recent meta-analysis from the Journal Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders found that individuals following the ketogenic diet had increased weight loss along with reductions in waist circumference, body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
How To Calculate Keto Macros
All food is composed of macronutrients and micronutrients.
Vitamins and minerals that supplement your body to support your overall health are considered micronutrients. Macronutrients are the elements in food that supply your body with energy to fuel you through the day. The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
A proportion of the calories that you consume each day will come from carbohydrates, protein, or fat. Each of these macronutrients play a vital role in your body’s physiological functions beyond just supplying energy.
As mentioned above, carbohydrates are typically the main energy source for the body. This includes all physical activity, from intense exercise to sitting at your desk typing.
Protein is important for muscle growth and maintenance, while fat is a vital component of cell membranes and also aids in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals.
There are variations to the keto diet, however typically, these diets require that only about 5% of your calories come from carbohydrates.
The normal macronutrient distribution is 45-65% of calories coming from carbohydrates, 10-35% coming from protein, and 20-35% coming from fat.
As mentioned previously, there are several variations of the ketogenic diet. In general, the macronutrient recommendations for this diet are:
- Carbohydrates: 5-10%
- Protein: 15-20%
- Fat: 70-80%
Step One: Calculate Calorie Intake
The first step to calculate keto macros is to determine how many calories you require on a daily basis. Your calorie needs are based on your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which is calculated by multiplying your basal metabolic rate (BMR) by an activity factor.
TDEE = BMR × activity factor
Your TDEE is an estimate of how many calories you should eat each day to maintain your current weight. If you are trying to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit. On the other hand, if your goal is to gain lean muscle, you will need to increase your calorie consumption.
Step Two: Calculate Macro Breakdown
Once you determine your required daily calorie intake, the next step is to determine which proportion of calories each macronutrient should account for. If you are counting macros for a ketogenic diet, this means that roughly 5% of calories will come from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 70% from fat.
If you are counting macros for a ketogenic diet, the percentages from each macronutrient can vary depending on what works best for you. For purposes of this example, we will use roughly 5% of calories from carbohydrates, 25% from protein, and 70% from fat.
For example, a moderately active, 5-foot 5-inch, 35-year-old female that weighs 140 pounds would use the following calculations to determine her macro needs for a keto-based diet:
Based on the TDEE calculator using the Mifflin St Jeor BMR formula, the total daily energy expenditure would be 2,063 calories. (BMR = 1,331 × 1.55 activity factor)
The next step is to multiply this by the keto macro percentages.
2,063 × 0.05 = 103 calories from carbohydrates
2,063 × 0.25 = 516 calories from protein
2,063 × 0.70 = 1,444 calories from fat
Step Three: Calculate Daily Macro Needs
Finally, you can convert the calories of each macronutrient to grams by dividing the calorie count by the number of calories per gram for each.
|Macronutrient||Calories per Gram|
Continuing the example above:
103 ÷ 4 = 26 grams of carbohydrates
516 ÷ 4 = 129 grams of protein
1,444 ÷ 9 = 160 grams of fat
As you can see, the keto diet requires a much higher fat content than the typical diet that most people follow. While it may seem counterintuitive to eat more fat to lose weight, studies have shown this diet can have a number of health benefits, including weight loss and improved metabolic markers.
Despite these benefits, the keto diet can be difficult to follow and is not right for everybody. It is best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting this diet.
Counting Keto Macros For Weight Loss
Counting macros to follow a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet can also aid in weight loss. Not only can the ketogenic diet reduce body weight, fat mass, and visceral fat, this can occur while still preserving muscle mass, muscle strength, and resting metabolic rate.
On top of this, the ketogenic diet can also help decrease hunger and appetite, which can increase adherence to this diet.
Despite this being a high-fat diet, studies have found that individuals following a ketogenic diet achieve a greater weight loss than those assigned to a low-fat diet in the long term.
How To Calculate Keto Macros For Weight Loss
Following a ketogenic diet can have a multitude of health benefits. However, the results will not be the same for everybody and the macronutrient content needs to be individualized for each person based on their daily calorie needs.
If you do choose to increase your weight loss by reducing your total calorie intake in addition to adopting keto, then you’ll need to use the lower calorie values when calculating your macros.
In the example of the woman above, we calculated that she would need 2,063 calories daily to maintain her current weight. Her keto macros were then estimated based on these calorie needs.
However, if this same woman was aiming to lose a pound a week, she would need to reduce her daily calorie intake by about 500 calories each day. Therefore, her daily calorie needs would be 1,563 calories per day.
Based on these calorie needs and using the same macronutrient distribution as earlier, her macro counts would then be:
1,563 × 0.05 = 78 calories from carbohydrates
1,563 × 0.25 = 391 calories from protein
1,563 × 0.70 = 1,094 calories from fat
The calculated calories can then be converted to grams of each macronutrient by dividing the calorie count by how many calories each macronutrient contains.
78 ÷ 4 = 20 grams of carbohydrates
391 ÷ 4 = 98 grams of protein
1,094 ÷ 9 = 122 grams of fat
Refer to the chart above to get the calories per gram.
You can’t talk about a very low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet without discussing net carbohydrates.
When you eat carbohydrates, these are broken down into the components of sugar, such as glucose and fructose. The body then absorbs these through the small intestine.
However, some carbohydrates, like fiber, can’t be broken down into individual sugars and instead of being absorbed, are fermented in the large intestine. Other carb sources, such as sugar alcohols, are only partially broken down and absorbed.
Due to this, it is thought that most fiber and sugar alcohols can be subtracted from the total carb content of a food to give a “net carb” value instead.While the FDA does not regulate this term, the USDA has implemented a policy that it can be used so long as the claim is truthful, not misleading, and supported by calculations shown on the label.
Net carbs are sometimes also referred to as “impact carbs,” “effective carbs,” or “net effective carbs.” It is thought that since sugar alcohols, fiber, and glycerin have minimal effect on blood glucose, they can be subtracted from the total carbohydrate count. This would lower the overall content of a food containing fiber or sugar alcohols.
Unfortunately, this calculation can underestimate the actual carbohydrate value in many foods. Not only can this affect someone counting keto macros to follow in their diet, but it can also lead to miscalculating insulin dosages for individuals with diabetes that are counting carbohydrates.
Net Carbs and Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are hydrogenated carbohydrates that are used in foods as sweeteners. This includes ingredients like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and erythritol. While these sugar alcohols are not completely reabsorbed, they are not calorie-free, as many people believe.
They actually provide around 0.2–3 calories per gram (or kcal/g), which is only slightly less than the usual 4 calories per gram from fully absorbed carbohydrates. FDA regulations require that food manufacturers count sugar alcohols as 2 calories per gram or use the specific kcal/g value determined by the FDA for a single-sugar alcohol.
Since these sugar alcohols are not completely reabsorbed, they can cause gastrointestinal disturbances such as flatulence or loose stools.
One guideline for counting sugar alcohols in your carbohydrate count is to subtract half of the grams of total sugar alcohols listed from the total carbohydrate value. In addition, if a “sugar-free” food has less than 5 grams of carbohydrate or less than 20 kcal/serving, it is unnecessary to count the carbohydrate from the sugar alcohol.
Net Carbs and Glycerin
Glycerin, or glycerol, is a sweet, syrupy liquid that contains 4.32 kcal/g. This is used as a food additive in a number of products, including nutrition or energy bars.
The FDA states that glycerin must be included in the grams of total carbohydrate listed in the Nutrition Facts panel. If the label has a statement regarding sugars, the FDA requires the glycerin content per serving to be declared as sugar alcohol.
Net Carbs and Fiber
Dietary fiber is not digested and absorbed in the small intestine like glucose. Fiber is broken down, or fermented, in the large intestine to produce fatty acids.
These are then absorbed and used as energy. There are two forms of fiber, soluble and insoluble forms.
Soluble fiber is made up of hemicelluloses and pectins and is found in fruits and vegetables. Insoluble fiber made up of cellulose is less fermentable than soluble fiber and is found in foods like whole grains and cereals.
The estimated energy that comes from fiber is between 1.5 and 2.5 kcal/g, which is slightly less than the 4 calories per gram from fully digested and absorbed carbohydrates.
How To Calculate Net Carbs for Keto Macros
As noted above, sugar alcohols should be considered to have about 2 calories per gram in contrast to 4 calories per gram of fully absorbed carbs. Therefore, half of the carbs from sugar alcohols can be subtracted from the total carbs listed on the nutrition label.
One exception is erythritol. If it’s the only sugar alcohol on the list of ingredients, then its carbs can be removed from the total carbs since it contains only about 0.2 kcal/g.
Most fiber can be entirely subtracted from the carbs listed on the nutrition label since this is not absorbed in the small intestine and contributes minimally to blood glucose levels.
The big question becomes, should you count total carbs or net carbs when counting keto macros?
One reason to count net carbs is that it can make it easier to increase healthy food choices. Many healthy fruits and vegetables may seem high in carbs, however this is because they are mainly composed of fiber.
More of these can be included in a healthy, balanced keto diet if you use the net carb method.
These can still be included in a healthy, balanced keto diet if you don’t count these fiber calories towards the restrictive carb count.
One of the biggest drawbacks of a keto diet is that it can be low in fiber. By using the net carb approach, this will lead to higher fiber intake.
This is important for overall health and weight loss. Fiber-rich foods decrease appetite, improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels, enhance gastrointestinal health, and decrease calorie absorption.
However, there is also a downside to using net carbs over total carbs in your macro counting.
First of all, due to the varying calories per gram of specific sugar alcohols, this method is not 100% accurate. In addition, each individual digests and absorbs fiber at a different rate, which can affect the actual impact of carbohydrates.
Since calculating net carbs is not completely accurate, it could lead to an overconsumption of carbohydrates and ultimately hamper weight loss and increase the risk of chronic health issues.
It can also lead to a high intake of processed “sugar-free” foods. However, overeating products that are marketed as “low in net carbs” can actually cause gastrointestinal distress and are usually processed foods.
In the end, counting net carbs may be a good choice for some people, while others may do better using a total carb count. The best course is to choose whole foods with high fiber, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than packaged foods with high amounts of sugar alcohols.
Additionally, because this diet can be restrictive and confusing, working with a professional while following this diet can assure that the diet is right for you and your specific health needs.
Keto Macros and Athletes
Carbohydrates are known for being the main energy source for physical activity. However, there is increasing interest in low carbohydrate and keto diets in relation to athletic performance.
A review of research shows that there is evidence to both support and go against the use of a keto diet in athletes.
For example, one study found that after 12 weeks of following a keto diet where 6% of calories were derived from carbohydrates, athletes had improved body composition, fat oxidation during exercise, and specific performance measures relevant to competitive endurance athletes.
This is compared to athletes that consumed a high-carbohydrate diet where 65% of calories came from carbs.
On the other hand, it should be noted that there are other trials that fail to show performance benefits from following a low-carb diet, and in some instances, can be detrimental to performance.
For instance, in some studies, participants reported more subjective fatigue or decreased ability to train on these low-carb regimens. Therefore, choosing a ketogenic diet in athletes needs to be individualized and should be done so with the assistance of a professional.
One of the biggest challenges to following a ketogenic diet is long-term adherence to a low-carbohydrate intake. In roughly the first week of adopting keto, many individuals develop symptoms that have been referred to as the “keto flu.”
This group of symptoms includes headache, brain fog, fatigue, irritability, nausea, difficulty sleeping, and constipation.
These symptoms are thought to be the body’s response as it adapts to a lower carbohydrate diet and becomes reliant on ketones for energy.
This is also referred to as “keto-induction.” Over time as these side effects resolve, this is termed “keto-adaptation” when a stable level of ketones are reached.
Followers of the keto diet report that you can combat the symptoms of keto flu by staying hydrated, replacing electrolytes, getting plenty of sleep, avoiding strenuous activities, eating enough fat, and cutting out carbs slowly over time.
When choosing foods for a low-carb diet, you will mainly be substituting carbohydrate macros with fat macros. It is crucial to still choose healthy fat substitutes that fit your macro percentages.
In addition, you should try to pick high fiber, low-carbohydrate fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over processed foods high in sugar alcohols.
Healthy low-carb options for a ketogenic diet include:
Fish: Many types of fish are carb-free or very low in carbs and contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, an extremely healthy fish, has zero carbs. Shellfish like oysters and clams have only 3-4 grams of carbs per serving.
Meat and Poultry: Meat and poultry do not contain any carbs and make up a large proportion of low-carb keto diets. In addition, these are rich in high-quality protein and nutrients like iron and vitamin B-12.
Eggs: Eggs are a great source of protein. For one, they contain all of the essential amino acids your body needs for muscle building. Eggs are a great choice for a low-carb diet since they contain less than 1 gram of carbohydrates per egg.
In the past, experts thought that consuming eggs would increase cardiovascular risk factors because of their cholesterol content.
However, a recent 2020 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found no significant association between egg consumption and mortality in US adults. Eggs are also nutrient-filled and contain Vitamins A, D, E, B vitamins, zinc, biotin, choline, and iron.
Non-Starchy Vegetables: The net carbs in non-starchy vegetables are low since they contain a high amount of fiber.
Non-starchy vegetables include things like cauliflower, broccoli, avocado, lettuce, spinach, kale, and peppers. Starchy vegetables, like potatoes, contain a high-carb count and should be avoided or limited on a keto diet.
Yogurt: Both plain Greek yogurt and cottage cheese contain around 5-7 grams of carbs per serving. These dairy options also contain high protein, which can also reduce appetite. Plus, many yogurts contain probiotics that enhance gastrointestinal health.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are low-carb options that are high in healthy fat and fiber. Almonds, brazil nuts, pecans, and walnuts contain only about 1-2 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds have about 1-3 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Nuts and seeds make great snacks on their own or as additions to trail mix or even salads.
Berries: Unfortunately, most fruits contain too much natural sugar and carbs to include in a low-carb keto diet. However, berries are one fruit that has a lower carb count and high fiber content.
For example, raspberries have about 4 grams of net carbs per serving and 9 grams of total carbs per serving.
Olive Oil: Olive oil has long been known to promote heart health. When increasing the fat macros in your diet, this is one of the healthier options to choose.
Since it is a pure fat source, olive oil contains no carbs. Plus, extra-virgin olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants that promote cardiovascular health.
Health Benefits of Counting Macros for a Ketogenic Diet
Counting macros can be an effective way to maintain a healthy eating pattern without being on a specific diet.
The Ketogenic Diet For Type 2 Diabetes
Following a ketogenic diet has been found to help improve the health of people with diabetes.
A study from Nutrition and Metabolism demonstrated that a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet led to greater improvements in blood sugar control and more frequent medication reductions or eliminations than a low calorie, low glycemic index diet in individuals with type 2 diabetes.
A 2020 meta-analysis found a ketogenic diet superior to control diets for weight reduction, glycemic control, and an improved cholesterol profile. This illustrates how counting macros to adhere to a low-carbohydrate diet can be a useful adjunct in treating type 2 diabetes.
Risks Associated with a Ketogenic Diet
Despite there being good evidence to support a ketogenic diet being beneficial to some aspects of health, there is also evidence to show that this does not come without risks.
A 2021 review of studies showed that very low carbohydrate diets can increase LDL cholesterol. Also, if there is not a focus on consuming healthy fats more so than unhealthy fats, there can be an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Before deciding if you should follow a ketogenic diet, you should discuss your goals with a dietitian or physician.
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