The nutrition facts label on packaged foods is a valuable source of information for anyone on a keto diet. It tells you the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in a serving as well as other important nutritional information. The main goal of a keto diet is to shift your body into ketosis, a metabolic state in which your body uses fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. To do this, you need to consume the right ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins. You can use the nutrition facts label to help you stay within your keto macro goals. You can also use this label to spot ingredients that you need to avoid on a keto diet, and to make sure you’re getting enough of the nutrients you need. In this article, we’ll teach you how to read nutrition labels for keto and show you how to use that information to make the right diet choices for you.
What Are Nutrition Labels?
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires all packaged foods to have a nutrition facts label (3).
This label provides detailed information about the food, including the number of calories, grams of fat, protein, and carbohydrates in a serving, including specifics like saturated fat, fiber and added sugars. It also tells you the amount of cholesterol, sodium, vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron in a serving. Some additional optional nutrients may be included as well, at the discretion of the manufacturer.
The nutrition facts label is a valuable resource for anyone on a keto diet. It tells you the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in a serving as well as other important nutritional information.
Understanding Terminology Used On Nutrition Labels
Before we get into how to read the nutrition facts label for keto, let’s go over some of the key terminology:
A serving size is the amount of that food that is recommended to eat and what all the rest of the values on the label are based off of. It is not necessarily the amount you will eat, so some math may be required.
How much you should eat depends on your individual keto macros.
A calorie is a unit of energy. The number of calories on the nutrition facts label tells you how much energy is in a serving of that food.
If you are trying to lose weight, you want to consume fewer calories than you burn in a day.
- Fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient, with 9 calories per gram (2).
- Protein has 4 calories per gram (2).
- Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram (2).
Percent Daily Value (%Daily Value)
This shows the average percentage of a specific nutrient you need for an entire day, assuming you consume 2,000 calories each day.
The average adult needs 2,000 calories per day (4). However, if your energy needs are fewer than 2,000 calories per day, your nutrient needs will be lower. For example, someone who requires 1,500 calories per day would need around 75% of the daily value for vitamin A.
The daily value (DV) is often similar to one’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or adequate intake (AI) for that nutrient, but not always.
The ingredient list is one of the most important sections of the nutrition facts label. This is where you can see all of the ingredients in a food.
When you’re on a keto diet, you need to avoid foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates. The ingredient list is a great way to spot foods that contain carbs.
Furthermore, some artificial sweeteners are not allowed on a keto diet, so you’ll want to avoid foods that list them as an ingredient.
The ingredients are listed in order of the amount in the food. The ingredient that is listed first is the one that is in the largest amount. If you have sensitivities to certain ingredients, you can scan the list for those ingredients.
The number of grams of carbohydrates in a serving. The total includes starches, sugars, and fiber. The label should also break down how many grams are fiber, sugar, and added sugar. On a keto diet, you want to keep your carbohydrate intake as low as possible to stay in ketosis. Fiber is typically subtracted from the total carbohydrate amount per serving to determine net carbs.
The number of grams of protein in a serving. Protein is important on a keto diet because it helps you feel full and prevents muscle loss.
The number of grams of fat in a serving. Fat is the main source of energy on a keto diet. You want to consume a good amount of healthy fats each day to stay in ketosis.
The number of milligrams of sodium in a serving. Sodium is a mineral that’s important for fluid and electrolyte balance, but too much can contribute to high blood pressure and fluid retention.
Don’t avoid it entirely. Sodium is a source of electrolytes that are essential for relieving keto flu and other symptoms associated with the keto diet. You can consider the DV for sodium as a maximum to try not to exceed, but don’t go way under either.
The number of milligrams of cholesterol in a serving. Too much cholesterol in the blood can increase your risk for heart disease. You may want to keep your intake fairly low, but saturated fat is actually more of a contributor to blood “bad” cholesterol levels than dietary cholesterol.
Vitamins And Minerals
The number of vitamins and minerals in a serving. On a keto diet, you want to make sure you’re getting enough of all the vitamins and minerals you need, such as potassium, magnesium and many others.
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How To Read The Nutrition Facts Label For Keto
To make healthy food choices while on the keto diet, follow these steps:
Step 1: Check The Serving Size
The first thing you want to do is check the serving size. This tells you how much of that food the manufacturer intends that you should eat. Remember, the number of calories on the nutrition facts label is for the serving size, not just one bite and not the whole package.
Keep in mind that the package may have more than one serving—you’ll need to multiply the number of calories by the number of servings to get the total number of calories in the package.
Don’t forget to take out only what you need according to your calorie intake; you don’t have to eat the whole package of food.
Step 2: Check Out The Total Calories
Although keto is not based on calorie counting, it still helps to know how many calories are in a food. The total number of calories will help you gauge how much you should eat in a day.
If you’re eating 1500 calories a day, a 500 calorie portion of food should count as a meal because it contributes one-third of your daily calorie intake.
Finding out how many calories a food has can also help you evaluate whether it’s a healthy choice worth eating on a keto diet.
Step 3: Check The Carbohydrates
The third thing you want to do is check the carbohydrates. This includes starches, sugars, and fiber. On a keto diet, you want to keep your carbohydrate intake as low as possible to stay in ketosis.
You can use the carbohydrate content of a food to make decisions about whether to eat it or not. If a food has more than 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving, it might not be a good choice for the keto diet. It depends on how many servings you eat, the other foods you are eating in that same meal and throughout the day, and how many of those carbs are fiber.
A common distinction that confuses people is the net carbs. Net carbs mean the amount of carbohydrates that are left after you subtract the dietary fiber from the total carbohydrates.
For example, if a food has 10 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of dietary fiber, the net carbs are 6 grams.
Foods with lots of dietary fiber are good for you, even on a keto diet, so don’t automatically avoid foods because they have high carbohydrate counts. Just be mindful of how many net carbs the food has and whether that fits into your daily carb limit or not.
Step 4: Check The Fat
The fourth thing you want to do is check the fat. This includes both saturated and unsaturated fats. On a keto diet, you want to consume a good amount of healthy fats each day to stay in ketosis.
Saturated fats are not as healthy as unsaturated fats, so you want to limit your intake of saturated fats. However, you don’t have to avoid them altogether. Just be mindful of how much fat is in a food and whether it’s the healthy kind.
Step 5: Check The Protein
The fifth thing you want to do is check the protein. On a keto diet, you want to make sure you’re getting enough protein to stay energized and feel satiated.
However, you don’t have to go overboard on the protein. Too much protein can kick you out of ketosis. Just make sure the protein in a food fits into your daily allotment.
Step 6: Check For Dirty Keto Ingredients
Not all low-carb ingredients are good for you. There are some foods that are low in carbs but contain what some people feel are unhealthy ingredients, such as ingredients used in processed meats and some artificial sweeteners. These foods may technically be keto-friendly, but you may want to avoid them because you feel they might not be good for your health.
So, when you’re reading a food’s nutrition facts, be on the lookout for potentially unhealthy ingredients such as:
- Red 40
- Yellow 5
- Potassium bromate
- Caramel color
- Sodium nitrite
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Acesulfame potassium
If a food contains any of these ingredients, you might want to avoid it, if you’re avoiding these ingredients.
Step 7: Consider The Overall Nutrition
The final thing to consider when reading a food’s nutrition facts is the overall nutrition.
Even if a food is keto-friendly, it may not be the healthiest choice.
For example, a food may be low in carbohydrates but high in unhealthy fats. Or, food may be high in protein but low in essential vitamins and minerals.
When you’re reading a food’s nutrition facts, be sure to consider the overall nutrition to see if it’s a healthy choice for you.
Other Tips For Food Choices On Keto
Aside from reading nutrition labels, there are a few other things you can do to get the best nutrition on the keto diet. They include:
Choosing Whole, Unprocessed Foods
Whole foods remain one of the best ways to get the nutrients you need, even on a keto diet. So, try to choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
This means avoiding ultra-processed foods, which are high in additives and low in nutrients. Instead, focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods like vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, nuts, and seeds.
Identifying Healthy Fat Sources
There are two types of healthy fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are also healthy and essential and are found in foods like fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds (1).
When you’re looking for keto-friendly fat sources, try to include both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, while limiting saturated fat and avoiding trans fat.
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Learning To Identify Hidden Sugars
Manufacturers often add sugars to processed foods, even if the food is labeled as “low-carb” or “keto-friendly.” So, it’s important to learn to identify hidden sugars in food labels.
Some common names for hidden sugars include:
- Corn syrup
- Agave nectar
- Maple syrup
When you’re reading a food’s nutrition facts, be sure to look out for these sugars. If a food contains any of them, it may be best to avoid it.
Avoiding Low-Carb Junk Foods
Just because a food is low in carbs doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, many so-called “low-carb” foods are loaded with unhealthy ingredients, such as sugar, unhealthy fats, and processed meats.
So, when you’re looking for keto-friendly foods, try to avoid low-carb junk foods. Sticking to the basics – whole, unprocessed foods – is usually the best way to go.
Making Your Own Meals
Another way to make sure you’re getting the best nutrition on keto is to make your own meals. When you cook for yourself, you have complete control over the ingredients that go into your food.
This means that you can choose healthy, keto-friendly ingredients and avoid unhealthy ingredients. It also means that you can customize your meals to fit your own personal preferences and dietary needs.
Supplementing With Supplements
In some cases, you may need to supplement your diet, with a multivitamin for example, to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. This is especially true if you’re not eating a lot of whole, unprocessed foods or if you’re not cooking your own meals.
Talk to your dietitian about your typical eating pattern and they can help you identify any important nutrients that you might be missing out on. Your doctor may also be able to order blood tests to determine if you are deficient in certain nutrients, such as vitamin D or iron.
The Bottom Line
Nutrition labels can be tricky to understand, but they provide valuable information about the foods we eat. When you’re reading a food’s nutrition facts, be sure to consider the overall nutrition to see if it’s a healthy choice for you.
Aside from reading nutrition labels, there are a few other things you can do to get the best nutrition on the keto diet. They include choosing whole, less processed foods and avoiding low-carb junk foods among others.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Dietary Fats (2019, nih.gov)
- Fat and Calories (2019, clevelandclinic.org)
- Food Labeling & Nutrition (n.d., fda.gov)
- How Many Calories Do Adults Need? (2019, eatright.org)