How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto [E15]

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Join us for this week's episode to learn how to read a nutrition label for keto, including serving sizes, carb counts, calories, macros, and ingredients list. Including sneaky pitfalls and missteps that many people make when switching over to a ketogenic diet.

How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto [E15] transcript powered by Sonix—the best audio to text transcription service

How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto [E15] was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best way to convert your audio to text in 2020.

Hey there, Tasha here today. I’m going to be talking about how to read a nutrition label in the context of a ketogenic diet, and you’re probably thinking one of two things. “Oh, great. I really need help wrapping my head around this!” Or… “Oh, great. I already know this stuff, Tasha!” But food labeling, including the nutrition facts table and the ingredient lists on packaged foods can be both incredibly helpful to understand and incredibly confusing. And I especially want to talk about this stuff because in addition to being a source of frustration and overwhelm for a lot of people, some labels are just downright misleading. So I want to cover the basics and I’ll do my best to demystify these daunting tables and lists. But naturally, I’ll also dive into the things that even the old nutrition label reading pros may not necessarily consider. Now, I know most of you listening are driving around and you might not have immediate access to a nutrition label to look at for reference. But don’t worry. You can keep listening for the pointers and remember all of the show notes complete with word for word transcripts and fully detailed written blog posts live on Ketogasm dot com. So you can listen now. Then pop over to the site for the bullet points when you’re ready to take action. So keep your eyes on the road. And don’t grab the snack from the passenger seat and start inspecting the label just yet. Be safe, guys.

So first things first. Why is it important to read a nutrition label? And there are lots and lots of reasons to consider looking at the packaging and the labeling on the food that you eat. But in the context of keto, the main purpose of peeking at the label is to help you decide if it’s a good choice or not. The nutrition facts will help guide your decisions in the grocery store when you’re shopping or when you’re out in the world and want to grab a bite to eat. And if you’re grabbing something out of your cupboards, taking a quick peek at the label can help you make an informed decision about whether or not the food will support ketosis and your overall goals. That’s because the nutrition label comes equipped with some standard information, including the serving size calories, total carbs, fiber, sugar alcohols, protein, and even some electrolyte information. And there’s always a list of ingredients used to make the food that can help you avoid certain ingredients. If you have specific allergens or dietary restrictions, in addition to doing keto, you can look to the ingredients list to watch out for them. And when it comes to keto. The first thing you’re going to want to look at is the serving size. And I’m sure you thought I was going to say carbs. Right? But the serving size will really help you gauge how much you can actually eat to arrive at the nutrition info displayed on the label.

And this is where things can get a little tricky if you’re not paying attention too, because you might glance at the carbs and think, “Cool. That looks pretty low.” And then you chow down and eat all the food. When there were really several servings in the package. And this might be a “Duh, Tasha. Of course, I know that!” Kind of moment, but you would be really, really surprised, especially when you see all these brands hopping on the keto wagon and displaying really low net carbs on the package. But it turns out that’s just for a few bites or half a bar or a quarter of what you would actually want to eat. And to really drive this home, I’m gonna use Halo Top as an example. They are the diet friendly ice cream that’s become really popular and keto dieters love Halo Top because they cut the total carb count down by using sugar alcohols like erythritol. And these come in these cute little pint sized containers. So when you glance at the nutrition label, you’ll see the total carbs clock in around 14 grams, 16 grams. Then there’s a few grams of fiber you can subtract and you can take away all the sugar alcohols to arrive at net carbs. OK, so you have total carbs, minus fiber, minus net carbs, all of that, right? And total carbs, minus fiber, minus sugar alcohols equals net carbs.

And I’m I’m looking at a halo top nutrition label right now with 14 grams of total carbs, 3 grams of fiber and five grams of sugar alcohol. So that would be 14 grams total, minus 8 grams that don’t impact ketosis, to yield 6 grams of net carbs. But that 6 grams of net carbs is per serving. And you might be thinking, “Well, this is a cute little ice cream, so this little things probably about one serving size.” And that thought process would be reinforced with the message that you receive when you take off the lid. There’s always a little message that encourages you to eat the whole thing on their containers. OK, so you take the lid off and there’s this little peel tearaway label. And printed on this, it’ll say something like, “Save the bowl. You’re gonna want the whole pint,” or “No bowl. No regrets.” “Guilt free zone. Keep digging,” or “Stop when you hit the bottom.” Right. You get the idea. And these are real messages they display. So I’m not making these up. Right. You can see the low carb count. You open the lid and get the message to eat the whole thing. And if you follow that train of thought, you wind up eating a whole lot more carbs than you may have considered because each one of these tiny little containers has four serving sizes.

OK? So all the nutrition info listed out, that was just for a quarter of the ice cream. And if you stop when you hit the bottom as instructed. You’ve really had 24 grams of net carbs and 56 grams of total carbs, which puts you above most people’s standard daily carb limit on keto. So you get the picture, right? Check the serving sizes first, especially when it comes to highly palatable, artificially sweetened stuff that you could easily down without thinking twice about. And we’ve all been there. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. And there’s nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong with going a little over your intended goals, having a treat or indulging on special occasions. But it can feel pretty bad if you’re thinking you’re doing everything to plan, only to find out in hindsight that the thing you’ve been eating has four times as many carbs as you thought every single night before you hit the sack. Right. If you’re eating Halo top as your treat, and you’re eating a dessert every night, and you’re eating the whole thing, then you’re blowing your whole carb load in the evening right before you go to bed. And if this is you, don’t worry about it. Brush the dirt off your shoulders. No biggie. Right. Just acknowledge it. Move on and make a note to be mindful of your serving sizes moving forward. But always look at the serving sizes first when you check the nutrition label.

OK. Now, after you check the serving sizes, then it’s a good opportunity to see where the carb count falls. Look to total carbs, check the fiber content, and if there are any sugar alcohols, then you may want to consider taking these out too for your net carbs. But once you know how much a serving is, then you can see if the carbs will fit into your day or if the carb count will reasonably support ketosis. You can get an idea if it’s just low carb because it’s super small portion size or if it’s low carb because it’s made from naturally low carb foods. So this is just one of those things that you’ll have to gauge to play around with a little bit. But between the serving size and the carb counts listed, you’ll be able to determine whether or not you want to include the food in your diet. OK, so with the carbs, you’re looking for total carbs and fiber, first and foremost. Remember, fiber is a carb that’s not technically counted on keto because it doesn’t directly affect ketosis or your metabolism. So you get to subtract that out. Total carbs minus fiber equals net carbs. So if something is 20 grams of total carbs per serving and 10 grams fiber, then it would be 10 grams of net carbs, OK. Or if it’s 12 grams of total carbs per serving and 8 grams fiber than it would be 4 net carbs.

So you get it, you just take the fiber out. And again, sugar alcohols can also be deducted if you include them in your diet. So between the serving size and carb count, that’s really the only things you need to know right off the bat to assess whether or not something will support ketosis, whether or not you feel like spending your carbs on it, and that kind of thing. But if you’re also mindful of your energy intake, then calories will be the next thing that you want to look at. Does it fit within your calorie budget for the day? Something can be really low in carbs and be keto, but not be something that’s a great fit for you if you’re also trying to eat at a calorie deficit for weight loss. OK, so low carbs and extremely high calories would not really be the thing that you’re after, right? So I’ll use an example of heavy cream. A small amount of cream in your coffee isn’t going to be a big deal. But what if you made a heavy cream latte because it was low carb and you end up with a drink that’s over a thousand calories? And again, you might be saying, “Yes, of course we know Tasha.” But again, you would be very, very surprised. Just Google it. Google “heavy cream latte” and you’ll see keto people recommending it in forums as a reasonable drink order when you swing by Starbucks.

It’s not a reasonable drink order. And I don’t usually say that about a lot of things, but I’m comfortable going out on a limb here to say that nobody needs 16 ounces of heavy cream mixed with their coffee. OK. So definitely check the calories to make sure your weight loss efforts are supported if that’s your goal. Now, if you’re counting macros, that’s a good way to intrinsically count your calories as well. So if you have certain macro goals that you’ve set in grams. Right. And you’re eating around these macros and grants, checking the protein and fat grams is going to give you that information about your calories as well, because macros and calories all tie together. But I would encourage you to check the calories when you’re doing quick purchases and just browsing labels at the store because then you don’t have to do the math like “fat has nine calories per gram. This has 10 grams of fat per serving and there’s 90 calories of fat per serving” while you’re just browsing ingredients. Right. So doing the quick calorie check to see if it’s something that supports your goals is a little easier than doing math while your grocery shopping. All right. It just kind of complicates things when you’re shopping. But if you’re tracking and tallying your macros throughout the day, then most apps do this math for you.

So you can just scan into your app. Most of them have a barcode scanner if you’re doing the macro counting thing. But in general, you want to eat adequate protein and align your fat intake with your body composition goals. And balancing the protein and fat macros listed on the labels can help you reach your goals this way. So that’s the nutrition facts table. Check the serving size, check the carbs, check the calories, and then check the remaining macros, your protein and your fat. This is the comprehensive check that you’ll be doing to see if something works for keto, if something works for your goals. All of those things. Right. And it might sound like a lot at first, but after you practice this and you take a few shopping trips with these points in mind, it’ll all happen in a matter of moments. It’ll be a split second decision. Right. It’s not like you need a checklist to compare your checklist and every ingredient to see if it’s going to work for you and if you can make it happen. Right. That’s not required. This becomes second nature once you do it just a few times. OK. It’s very simple and straightforward. Even though it sounds a little more complicated than it actually is. Now, the other thing to talk about is the ingredients list. And you might have been waiting for this. Like, “finally, I’m going to get a clear cut guide to what’s keto and what’s not based on the ingredients.”

And I am here to tell you that that’s not really how keto works. That’s not how nutritional ketosis functions. Keto isn’t a list of ingredients. Right. There aren’t really. keto foods and non keto foods. It’s a metabolic state that’s supported by carb restriction. So naturally, foods that are very high in carbs like sugar and starches and flours and those kind of things don’t really support ketosis in high amounts, but they likely won’t influence ketosis if they’re kept at bay in smaller amounts. So when it comes to the ingredients list, you don’t have to say, “oh, I see sugar in there and that’s not keto. So I can’t have it.” What you do instead is consider the big picture. Right. Look at the big picture. Consider the context. Use your logic. Stop making foods good and bad because they have no moral value. You can use the ingredients list to your benefit by looking out for allergens and problematic foods. You can use it to reinforce what you see in the data table above. You can use the ingredients to identify food additives or substances that you’re actively avoiding. But overall, it’s not really gonna give you much insight into whether something is keto quote-unquote or not. There’s no magical list of keto foods because as we saw earlier with the Halo top ice cream example, anything can be keto with small enough portion sizes.

OK, so the ingredients list is ordered by ingredients with the greatest concentration to the lowest concentration. And this can help guide you if you’re on the fence about certain ingredients, too. Let’s say you do keto, but you want to avoid all sugar too, versus just limiting your carbs to a certain level. Then you could use the ingredients list to guide you there, because you’ll see hidden sugars pop up in the ingredients list like the honeys and the syrups, and the maltodextrin, and all sorts of things. And if you see these things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s quote unquote not keto. It just means that it contains those ingredients. When sugar and starches and flours are listed as one of the first primary ingredients. It’s not very likely that the carb counts actually low enough that you would consider it on your keto diet anyways. Right. But when these are at the tail end of the ingredients list in trace amounts per serving, then you just have to use your own best judgment. This is where people start to use words like clean versus dirty when they’re talking about their food. Like if there’s sugar or starch in the ingredients, but it has low carbs, then they’ll call it keto, but it’s “dirty keto.” And I think assigning good versus bad or clean versus dirty labels to our food is harmful, honestly. And I think it’s a sign of a dieting mindset rather than working towards lifelong sustainable eating habits.

And ultimately, I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone. So that’s my opinion there. I wholeheartedly embrace eating whole foods, minimally processed ingredients and all that good stuff. But this is the kind of territory where I think that having flexibility can be really helpful in making things work long term. Having a dietary pattern that guides the way you eat versus following a diet. And there are a lot of people that get really caught up in the minutia of the ingredients list when they’re evaluating if they can eat something, if they want to include it in their diet, or if it’s keto or not. And if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you know that I am a recovering perfectionist, so you probably can already guess that I, too, once was caught up in this minutia. I would look at the label, see sugar buried deep in the ingredients list, and just choose to forgo it altogether. And I would even get into that mindset that it wasn’t keto quote unquote keto. Even if the carb content could have technically supported ketosis, even if it could have worked into my daily macro goals. OK, so I get it. I did it. But you don’t need to. And one of the reasons I love podcasting and writing is because I can share all of my experiences and those “don’t do what I did” moments, because being overly restrictive and approaching your food with an off limits mindset can be really, really limiting on your journey.

So I’ll always take the opportunity to point out my own mistakes, my own missteps and own them and hopefully help someone else from having to experience it for themselves whenever possible. Because there’s a lot of people who will benefit from looking at the ingredients list to avoid ingredients that might have a negative impact on their health. Like people with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity looking out for that gluten buried deep in the ingredients list when they have those restrictions can be life changing. But eliminating stuff and completely omitting foods from your diet without any context other than keto is just not necessary. So just keep that in mind and focus on what works for you. I hope you guys have found this episode to be helpful. If you have something specific in mind that you’d like to hear me talk about be sure to let me know. If you’re struggling with something specific, if you have a burning question, or you just want my thoughts, go ahead and shoot me an e-mail through the Ketogasm site. ‘Cause I read all the e-mails I get and a lot of these episodes are the direct result of questions that I get from my readers and listeners. But that’s all I have for now and I will see you guys next week.

Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the Ketogasm podcast. You are awesome. I really hope the show’s added value to your keto journey. Making big changes to your eating habits can be a little tricky, but if you’re taking the time to listen and learn about keto, you’re well on your way. You got this. Be sure to visit Ketogasm dot com for the show notes with full transcripts, references and resources to help you out, including a totally free course called Hello keto. It’s helped over seventy five thousand people start keto with confidence. I’ll see you in the next episode. Bye!

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Hi, everyone! Welcome back for the newest episode of Easy Keto with Tasha. Because I am all about making your keto journeys as easy as possible, we will be breaking down how to read a nutrition label on keto today!

Some of you may have figured this out on your own. For others, nutrition facts and ingredient lists give you an overwhelming desire to pull your hair out in frustration. 

Why Nutrition Labels?

It’s no surprise that people struggle when it comes time to read a nutrition label. The labels can be incredibly confusing between the tables, percentiles, and lists. Then, you add in the fact that some labels are made to be intentionally misleading! Fear not; the struggle ends today. We’re going to make sure you know exactly how to read a nutrition label on keto.

Importance of Nutrition Labels on Keto

Nutrition labels contain a lot of useful information; they help to guide your grocery store decisions and to determine your take-out choices. However, when it comes to keto, nutrition labels are especially important in determining if a food is appropriate for your dietary goals. You can also utilize the information to ensure the food will support ketosis.

Nutrition labels contain standard information, including:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Total carbs
  • Fiber
  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Sugar alcohols
  • Some electrolyte information

The ingredient list is also a key part of a nutrition label. This is where you can identify any problematic ingredients that you wish to avoid. If you have specific allergens or dietary restrictions, the ingredient list can be your best friend.

How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto

You might think the first step in learning how to read a nutrition label on keto would be to go straight to the carb count. But that’s wrong! The REAL first thing you want to do is look at the serving size. This will allow you to determine how much you can actually eat in relation to the provided nutrition information.

If you only focus on the provided carb information, you might run into problems. A quick glance at the number might have you thinking it is keto-friendly; upon closer inspection, you find out there are multiple servings in the package.

Checking the serving size is important, even with the products labeled keto! While they tout how low carb they are, the actual serving size could be a fraction of what you expect.

Halo Top & Other “Diet” Foods

Most of us have heard about Halo Top by now. It is labeled as diet-friendly ice cream. One reason that ketoers love it is that Halo Top has a lower carb count due to the use of sugar alcohols. 

Checking out the Halo Top nutrition label shows that the total carbs are around 14-16 grams. There is some fiber you can subtract; you can also subtract all of the sugar alcohols. This will leave you with the net carbs. 

Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs

So Halo Top has 14 grams of total carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of sugar alcohols. Subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbs leave us with 6 grams of net carbs. 

Not bad, right? This is where it is important to remember that these 6 grams of net carbs are per serving. 

While Halo Top encourages consumers to eat the whole container with messages like “Save the bowl. You’re gonna want the whole pint” and “Stop when you hit the bottom”, the nutrition information is not reflective of that.

There are actually four servings in each pint of Halo Top. If you follow their advice and consume the entire pint, you’ve actually had 24 grams of net carbs and 56 grams of total carbs. This will put most people above the standard daily carb limit for keto.

Once again, check the serving size! It’s one of the most important things you can take away from learning how to read a nutrition label on keto.

What To Do If You Exceed Your Daily Carb Limit

Maybe you didn’t check the serving size. Maybe you didn’t look at the nutrition label at all. Whatever the cause, you’re realizing that you exceeded your carb limit.

We’ve ALL been there. I’m here to remind you that there is nothing wrong with going a little over your intended goals. It can be frustrating to think you’re doing everything accordingly, only to realize you’ve been consuming something that has four times as many carbs as you initially thought.

So what do you do? You don’t worry about it. Brush the dirt off your shoulders, and carry on. Let this be the mental note you need to be mindful of serving sizes. And always check the serving size on the nutrition label first!

Carb Count on a Nutrition Label

After you have determined the serving size, it is time to move on to the carb count. The carb count includes total carbs, dietary fiber, sugar, and sugar alcohol. Each of these sections can help you learn how to read a nutrition label.

Depending on how you follow keto, you may only focus on the total carbs listed. If you track net carbs as well, then this is where you subtract dietary fiber and sugar alcohols to calculate it.

To evaluate the carb count of a product, look for the total carbs and fiber. While fiber is a carb, it is not technically counted on keto because it does not directly affect ketosis or metabolism. Because of this, it can be subtracted from the total carbs to determine the net carbs. If sugar alcohols are included in the product, these can also be subtracted. 

Once you’ve determined how much a serving is, you can see if the carb count will support ketosis and your daily carb limit. Between the serving size and the carb count, you will be able to determine if you want this food in your diet or not.

Calories on a Nutrition Label

If you are mindful of your energy intake, it is also important to evaluate the calories. Just because a food is low in carbs and considered keto does not mean it will support a calorie deficit for weight loss.

Heavy cream is an example of a low-carb, high-calorie food. Using a small amount in your coffee won’t be a big deal. However, the same cannot be said for a heavy cream latte. This latte would still be considered low-carb and keto-friendly. However, the drink would also be over 1000 calories.

Heavy cream lattes are frequently recommended as a reasonable drink order for someone on keto. Realistically, it’s not reasonable. If your goal is weight loss, drinking 16 oz. of heavy cream will not support that.

You know how to read a nutrition label to determine serving sizes and carb counts. Evaluate the calories to ensure your weight loss goals are also being supported. 

How to Read a Nutrition Label For Macros

If you are counting your macros, the nutrition label can be extremely helpful! Macros are counted by determining goals set in grams. At this point, you’ve already determined the carbohydrate portion by checking the carb count.

Next, evaluate the fat and protein portions of the nutrition label. These will provide the rest of your macros. Once again, determine these values in relation to the serving size. Balancing the protein and fat values that are included in nutritional labels will help to ensure that you get adequate protein and proper fat to support your body composition goals.

Macros and calories work in-sync, so you can use the information together. One gram of fat has 9 calories, whereas one gram of protein or carbs has 4 calories.

How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto: Step-by-Step

  1. Check the serving size
  2. Review the carbs, calculate net carbs
  3. Evaluate the calories
  4. Check the remaining macros: protein and fat
  5. Determine if this food supports keto and your dietary goals

Using the Ingredient List for Keto

Keto does not have an official or unofficial list of ingredients. There is no clear cut guide that allows you to determine if something is keto based on the ingredients. That’s just not how nutritional ketosis works. 

Nutritional ketosis is a metabolic state that is supported by carb restriction. Foods that are especially high in carbs–such as sugars, flours, and starches–will not support ketosis in large amounts; but they won’t necessarily affect ketosis in smaller amounts.

When you look at the ingredient list, you don’t have to automatically nix something because it includes sugar and sugar isn’t keto. Instead, look at the bigger picture. Consider the context of the ingredient. 

Food is not good or bad; it has no moral value! Use the ingredient list to your benefit to help you avoid allergens, dietary restrictions, and problematic foods. Also, it to enforce what you see in the nutrition data tables. Finally, use it to identify food additives and substances that you are avoiding. But don’t use it as a way to add moral value to the food, and don’t rely on it to tell you if something is keto.

How to Read the Nutrition Label’s Ingredient List

The ingredient list is ordered by ingredients with the greatest concentration to the lowest concentration. If you have dietary goals beyond carb restriction, this list can help you support them. 

If you are avoiding all sugar, the ingredient list will reveal hidden sugars, such as honey, syrups, and maltodextrin. 

When the primary ingredients of a product are things like sugars, flours, or starches, it is not likely that the carb count is low enough that you would consider the product during keto. However, when these things are at the end of the list, then use the nutrition facts and your judgment to make a decision.

“Dirty” Keto

When people call something dirty keto, they are referring to a food that contains sugar or starch but is still considered low-carb. It’s also known as lazy keto.

Assigning labels such as good vs. bad or clean vs. dirty can be harmful. It’s a sign of a dieting mindset, rather than working towards lifelong sustainable eating habits.

Eating whole foods and products with minimally-processed ingredients is great. However, having flexibility in this area can also help keep your diet long-term and sustainable. Focus on creating a dietary pattern that guides the way you eat; avoid the “following a diet” mindset.

Learn how to read a nutrition label and ingredient list to provide guidance. Don’t do it to create more regulation and more stress. Focus on what aligns with your goals and works for you.

Further Resources

Portion Control Made Easy: A Hands-On Approach [E13]
Keto Plateau & Weight Loss Stall [E06]
Macros for Women: Keto Calculator
Keto: A Woman’s Guide & Cookbook


0:20 – Why Nutrition Labels?
1:36 – Importance of Nutrition Labels
2:44 – How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto
3:45 – Halo Top & Other “Diet” Foods
6:34 – What To Do If You Exceed Your Daily Carb Limit
7:31 – Carb Count on a Nutrition Label
9:23 – Calories on a Nutrition Label
10:50 – How to Read a Nutrition Label for Macros
12:08 – How to Read a Nutrition Label on Keto: Step-by-Step
13:03 – Using the Ingredient List for Keto
14:49 – How to Read the Nutrition Label’s Ingredient List
15:44 – “Dirty” Keto

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