Hidden carbs on a ketogenic diet, especially when you’re starting and trying to get into ketosis, are your “enemy number one.” Carbs aren’t necessarily bad. But they can keep you from achieving ketosis or keep you in a weight plateau you can’t seem to get past no matter what you do.
Every little bit of the hidden carbs can quickly add up and even take you out of ketosis.
The Basics: Net Carbs and Total Carbs
In the US, food labels have “total carbs” that include fibre content. In Europe, that’s not the case. Net carbs don’t count fibre. Why? Fibre is non-impact or low-impact carbs with low GI (glycemic index) that don’t affect your blood sugar levels. They’re slowly digested and released into your bloodstream in a sustained period, making them perfect for meeting your everyday energy needs for physical challenges and mental alertness.
The tricky part is this: when beginners confuse low-carb as synonymous with the ketogenic diet, and “net carbs”  end up NOT counting carbs from veggies, proteins, and the carbs and sugar alcohols often found in “carb-free,” “sugar-free” foods.
The Trickiest Hidden Carbs That Trip You Up
Hidden carbs are everywhere, sometimes innocent, sometimes not. Many believe that you’ll avoid hidden carbs as long as you cook your meals and avoid processed food. Not really. For example, you could be making your tacos, including the chips and sauce, and you could still be racking up the same amount of carbs as if they were all store-bought.
Especially for beginners, hidden carbs lurk in “healthy” options, like sugar-free foods.
Sugar alcohols also called “the polyols,” are in everything labelled “sugar-free” and even “carb-free.” They’re not zero-carb, and some are associated with insulin spikes and increased blood sugar levels.
- Vegetable glycerin
- Yacon Syrup
What you can use instead: Stevia, pure liquid sucralose, erythritol
Seasoning and sauces
You already know to steer clear of sweet sauces, but other flavourings, no matter how healthy (and delicious!), add up to your carb count daily and may be the source of uncalculated carbs. Count them in!
Here’s a tally of carbs in seasonings, sauces, herbs and spices:
In 1 tablespoon:
- Ground Cumin – 2.75g
- Garlic Powder – 6g
- Onion Powder – 5.4g
- Chili Powder – 4.1g
- Oregano – 3.3g
- Cayenne – 3g
- Paprika – 3.3g
Dried/ground, less than 1g per tsp:
- Tarragon, Mint, Basil, Cinnamon, Ginger
- Cloves, Black pepper, Coriander
Blended spices, 1g per tsp:
- Curry powder, Chinese 5-spice, garam masala, pie spice
- Bouillon cubes and powders: 1g per 1/2 cube
- For all other blended spices, read the label carefully. If smaller containers/shakers don’t have sufficient information, look at huge tubs in Target or Costco.
- Ginger root, 1g/tbsp
- Garlic, 1 large clove/1tsp minced, 1g
- Lemon/lime juice: 1g/tbsp Lemon/lime rind, 1g/tsp
Vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauces:
- White, cider and wine vinegar are zero carbs. Balsamic vinegar 2g/tbsp. Balsamic oil: plain has 3g of carbs and processed has 9-12g in 2 tbsps.
- Soy sauce, 0.5g/tsp
- Tabasco and Red Hot (zero carbs). Read the label carefully for Cajun, Trinidad, and Jamaican.
Flavor concentrates/extracts (almond, vanilla, orange, etc):
Mustard and mayo:
- Plain, dijon, less than 0.5g/tsp
- Real mayonnaise, 0.5g/tbsp
Supplements and Protein Bars
Anything coated, chewable or flavoured is loaded with carbs. If you have to take 2, you would have popped about 7g of carbs before having breakfast! Protein bars are jam-packed with carbs. Stay in ketosis even while you continue with your workout.
Carbs in Proteins and Dairy
Deli meats, loaves, ham, sausages, corned beef, and wieners all have starch and sugar (and the more processed they are, the worse they get, linked to a 25-50% increase in your risk of cancer). Read the label for the carb count. Some genuinely healthy, all-natural options have 1g or less per serving, but some lesser-quality meats could reach 10x that!
Canned fish in any sauce have starch, and sugar added.
Carb Content in Meat and Eggs
Beef, poultry, pork cuts, lamb, and goat– the top-recommended meats in the ketogenic diet–have zero carbs. The other protein sources have the following carb content before any added breading or sauce/seasonings.
- Liver 4oz: veal/calf liver: 3.1g, chicken liver 1.0g
- Kidney 4oz: 1.1g
- Eggs: 0.6g per one large egg, egg substitutes 1g/1/4 cup
- Shellfish 4oz: Oysters: 8g, Scallops: 2.5g, Shrimp: 1g, Natural crab: 1g, Imitation/Surimi crab meat: 12-15g, mussels: 8.4g
Full Fat Dairy
All dairy products contain carbs. Full-fat dairy is best, both for the fat and low carb content. 1%, 2%, 10%, low-fat, and non-fat varieties are NOT in the ketogenic diet because the amount of carbs increases when the fat is lowered. Choose full cream, full fat, whole.
The dairy recommended in a ketogenic diet are:
- Whole milk plain or Greek yoghurt, 6g to 7g from the naturally-occurring sugars
- Natural butter, zero carbs
- Heavy cream, 0.8g in 2 tbsps
- Sour cream, 1g/oz
Count your Veggies
One hundred grams of kale has 9g of carbs, 100 grams of spinach has 3.6g, and 100 grams of lettuce has 2.9g. Calculate the carbs from the greens into your avocado salads and green protein beds.
Keep it Simple
Finding hidden carbs on a ketogenic diet means understanding net carbs and the necessity of counting every ingredient. Avoid misleading labels and keep track of the carb count in the greens, seasonings, and proteins going into your ketogenic meal plans. If you haven’t yet, start a food journal that details your fat, protein and carb intake, with notes about your repeat ingredients, energy, acuity levels, and moods.
The fewer ingredients your meal has, the better. The more natural they are, the fewer carbs and unwanted sugars, chemicals and cholesterols you’d ingest, and the healthier you feel! For a full list of what to eat, go here. For the full list of what to avoid, go here. Stay in ketosis and feel great from delicious food with the recipes here!