The ketogenic diet was developed during the 1920s based on research by Rollin Woodyatt and Dr. Russell Wilder.
These people discovered that a diet low in carbs and high in fats would produce acetone, acetoacetate, and B-hydroxybutyrate in the liver. These three components are known as ketone bodies.
By doing so, a person could maintain benefits similar to fasting for prolonged periods of time. In 1921, this new diet was used as a treatment for epilepsy.
Today, the majority of patients with epilepsy can use medications to control their seizures. However, between 20 and 30 percent of patients cannot .
These patients are primarily children. Some of them have been reported to benefit heavily from using the ketogenic diet as a form of treatment. Of course, you’d have to consult with your doctor to find out if it could help you.
The keto diet has also become extremely popular as a weight loss tool.
Maintaining a state of ketosis has been shown to aid in weight loss and provide a general boost to health. Unfortunately, many people give up on the diet early because they believe it to be ineffective, and many end up going with a keto alternative.
The truth may be that they are not properly managing the diet and their intake of carbs and fat.
A proper balance of fats, proteins, and carbs must be maintained for the diet to work. The standard keto diet requires a balance of 75 percent fat, 20 percent protein, and 5 percent carbs. The second point of confusion for many people is the difference between net carbs and total net carbs.
It’s impossible to maintain the right balance of fat and carbs without understanding these terms.
How Carbs Impact Weight Loss
Carbs make up a very important group of macronutrients that our bodies need to survive. The primary use for carbs is conversion to glucose. If you have any experience with diabetes, then you are probably very familiar with that term.
The amount of glucose in our blood is known as our blood sugar level. Too much or too little can lead to very serious problems.
Most of us consume more carbs than we actually need. That means we produce more glucose than will be used to fuel our bodies. Our bodies store the excess glucose as glycogen inside of the liver and various other muscles in the body.
Ideally, our bodies will tap into that fuel source at a future date when needed.
Excessive intake of carbs and glucose also causes the liver to produce spikes in insulin in an attempt to transport that glucose. Insulin has the negative effect of preventing fat breakdown in certain parts of the body. Insulin also happens to encourage the storage of new fat.
That makes too much insulin bad news for weight loss.
By piecing all of this together we can determine that we need to control insulin levels if we want to burn fat and prevent additional fat storage. Controlling insulin will require controlling glucose, which requires reducing carbohydrate intake.
That’s exactly what happens with the ketogenic diet as it should only contain around 5 percent carbohydrates.
The Difference Between Net and Total Carbs
The problem that many people have when planning a keto diet is understanding the different types of carbs and how they relate to glucose levels. The bottom line is that not all carbs are created equal and not all carbs impact the body in the same way.
Furthermore, the problem worsened due to inefficient nutrient labeling on many food products.
The main carbohydrate types are sugar, starch, and fiber.
We will also list a fourth type of carbs called “other” that will contain a variety of non-digestible carbs, such as various sugar alcohols.
Now, for the sake of simplicity, you can separate these four types of carbs into two groups. One group is digestible carbs and it contains sugars and starches. The second group contains “other” and fiber, which are non-digestible carbohydrates.
The difference between these two groups is what causes the difference between total carbs and net carbs. The total carb content of a food product contains all of these types of carbohydrates added together. On most nutrition labels you will see this listed as “Total Carbohydrate”.
The net carb content of a food product is the number of total carbs minus all carbs from the non-digestible group.
For example, let’s say you are buying a box of cereal bars that have a total carbohydrate content of 10 grams per serving. Two grams come from dietary fiber, five grams come from sugar, and three grams come from sugar alcohols.
Your total carb count would be at 10 grams while the net carb count would only be five grams.
Why is the Net Carb Count Important for the Keto Diet?
Many people on the keto diet only count net carbs when they are planning their diet. They do this because of the unique nature of non-digestible carbs.
Remember the link between carb intake and insulin spikes? That can only occur when the carbohydrates are properly digested by the body. Fiber is made up primarily of plant materials that cannot be digested.
This means that they do not produce glucose and they do not create insulin spikes.
Sugar alcohols are slightly different. They can lead to small spikes in glucose and insulin. Some people only remove the fiber when calculating their net carbs. Which method you choose depends on your preference and what seems to work for you.
Finally, it’s important to understand that there is a difference between soluble fiber and dietary fiber. Soluble fiber is digested in the body through a process of fermentation in the gut.
Whether or not this digestion has a significant impact on blood sugar and insulin levels is not yet fully known. Some people choose to count soluble fiber as part of their total carbs just to be safe.
Planning An Effective Keto Diet
Now that you understand the differences between total carbs and net carbs, you can plan a keto diet that actually works.
Remember to keep a strict ratio of carbs, fats, and diets during all of your meals.
In time, you will produce more ketone bodies and less insulin, thus allowing you to lose weight and keep it off.
Ben Corbin brings nearly 20 years of experience as a health and wellness author and writer. He holds a master’s degree, has a passion for health and fitness, and is driven to provide readers with accurate and honest diet reviews. Learn more about Ben and the DadQuarters mission at our About page.