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
- Total carbs
- 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
- Check the serving size
- Review the carbs, calculate net carbs
- Evaluate the calories
- Check the remaining macros: protein and fat
- 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.
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.
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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Hi, I'm Tasha–nutritionist, recipe developer, and multi-published cookbook author.