Top 6 Sources of Hidden Carbs on Keto
Keto Beginner's Series

Top 6 Sources of Hidden Carbs on Keto

Brian Stanton

Brian Stanton

a year ago

For most people, giving up carbs is the hardest part of going Keto. Saying goodbye to bread, pasta, ice cream, potatoes, cookies, corn, and pumpkin pie isn’t easy. 

Those are the obvious carbs, but there are hidden carbs too. And if hidden carbs aren’t managed carefully, they can derail your Keto goals. 

Hidden carbs are like subatomic particles. You might not see them, but they’re everywhere. 

Did you know that 3 ounces of mussels contain 6 grams of carbohydrates? Most people don’t. 

This article will help you get a handle on hidden carbs so you can succeed on your low-carb diet. You’ll learn why carbs matter for fat burning, the difference between net carbs and total carbs, and the top sources of hidden carbs on Keto. Read on to master all things carbs for Keto success. 

Carbs on Keto

The main rule of the Keto diet is simple: Limit carbs to 10% of daily calories. For most people, this works out to 20-30 grams of carbs per day. 

Keeping carbs low has a domino effect that sends your body into a fat-burning Ketogenic state.[*] Here’s how that looks, domino by domino:

  • You eat a low-carb diet
  • With carbs low, your blood sugar stays lower
  • With blood sugar lower, the hormone insulin stays lower
  • Low insulin signals cells in your liver to burn fat and produce ketones

That’s not the full story, of course. For instance, it usually takes several weeks to “fat-adapt” (access stored body fat) on Keto, depending on your initial metabolic health. 

But the driving force behind it all is carb restriction. 

Net Carbs vs Total Carbs

Not all carbs have equal metabolic impacts. The carbohydrate known as fiber, for example, has a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. 

And remember, blood sugar staying low is a crucial Keto domino.  

The concept of net carbs is relevant here. When you calculate net carbs, you subtract fiber and sugar alcohols. The equation looks like this:


Net carbs, not total carbs, are the carbs you count on Keto. Our friend the avocado will help illustrate. 

With 11.6 grams of total carbs, the avocado doesn’t seem Keto-friendly.[*] But then you notice that 9.1 grams of those carbs are fiber. Subtract that fiber from the total carbs and you get 2.5 grams net carbs. 

Ah. The avocado is back in favor again.  

Top 6 Sources of Hidden Carbs

It’s easy to identify the obvious carbs like bagels, bread, and pasta. It’s the hidden carbs that are trickier to locate. Here’s where to look.  

#1: Vegetables

Depending what veggies fill your Keto plate, you could be looking at a low, moderate, or high carb load. Let’s look at three examples:

  • Low-carb: Spinach (0 grams net carbs per cup)[*
  • Moderate-carb: Yellow onion (12 grams net carbs per cup)[*]
  • High-carb: Sweet potato (20 grams net carbs per potato)[*]

As a general rule, you’ll want to limit starchy vegetables like yams, carrots, and potatoes. Green leafies and cruciferous vegetables are lower in carbs, but some of these options (like kale and broccoli) should be mindfully portioned. Use a macro tracker like Carb Manager to stay on top of your veggie carb load.

#2: Condiments, Spices, and Sauces

Most people know that ketchup has a significant amount of sugar. (About 4 grams per tablespoon). But did you know that garlic powder has even more, with 5 grams net carbs per tablespoon?[*]

Along with garlic powder and ketchup, use these hidden carb caches sparingly:

  • Barbeque sauce
  • Onion powder
  • Chili powder
  • Sriracha sauce
  • Teriyaki sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salad dressing

This doesn’t mean that all salad dressing is off-limits. Keto-friendly options exist. 

Be sure, however, to scrutinize labels like you’d scrutinize a lease before a big move. And if you’d rather play it safe, stick with low-carb standbys like oil and vinegar. 

#3: Packaged snacks

Do you enjoy reading labels? If you want to eat packaged snacks on Keto, it’s something you’ll want to warm up to.  

And not just the front label, either. The front label might say “Keto” or ‘low-carb”, but this can be misleading. 

It’s the nutrition label that really matters. That’s where the carb counts are. 

One last thing. If you’re eating a clean Keto diet, packaged foods should be but a small part of your diet. A treat from time to time, not a staple. 

#4: Nuts

Nuts are probably the easiest Keto food to overeat. One handful leads to another, and before you know it, the whole bag is gone. 

Are nuts a big source of carbs? It depends on the nut. 

Here are the stats for some higher carb nuts (per cup):

  • Pistachio nuts: 21 grams net carbs[*]
  • Cashews: 35 grams net carbs[*]
  • Pecans: 21 grams net carbs[*]

Walnuts and macadamia nuts, however, contain less than 10 grams of net carbs per cup. Needless to say, these are better choices for your snacking pleasure. 

#5: Sweeteners

Just because a sweetener is labeled “plant-based”, “low-carb”, or “sugar-free” doesn’t make it Keto. Plant-based sweeteners like honey and agave, for instance, are just forms of sugar. 

Table sugar itself is plant-based. It comes from a plant called sugar cane. 

Then there are sugar alcohols. Though these sugar substitutes are sugar-free, they may interfere with Keto goals nonetheless. 

Wait, don’t sugar alcohols not count towards net carbs? Yes. But depending on the sugar alcohol, this may be a case where the formula needs revising.

Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol have a measurable glycemic index—meaning they can raise blood sugar levels. Erythritol, on the other hand, does not.[*] Read those labels! 

#6: Shellfish 

Believe it or not, shellfish like mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops contain a fair amount of carbs. One large oyster has about 6 grams![*]

Why? Because these seafaring creatures have lots of glycogen (stored glucose) in their bodies.[*] And so when you eat an oyster, you’re also eating its glycogen. 

This doesn’t mean you need to eliminate shellfish from your Keto diet. They’re highly nutritious foods, rich in vitamin B12, zinc, copper, and other nutrients. Just be mindful of the carbs they contain, and stay within your macros.   

Tracking Hidden Carbs

If you’re worried about finding hidden carbs in your Keto diet, take a deep breath. You don’t have to do this alone. 

Nope. A food logger and macro tracker like Carb Manager can do all the heavy lifting. 

Log foods in one simple step with the smart search feature, then review your automatically-calculated macros to see how you’re doing. It’s that simple.    

Once you start logging your meals, the carbs will have nowhere to hide.

Comments 16

  • FavorableCauliflower615307

    FavorableCauliflower615307 23 days ago

    I am new so I am finding it a bit confusing at the moment, could you please tell me what are macros and how to use them. Thank you.

    • AwesomeKetone657563

      AwesomeKetone657563 2 months ago

      Will the app. eventually update the net carbs calculation to take into consideration the glycemic load of certain sugar substitutes?

      • StellarKetone195460

        StellarKetone195460 2 months ago

        Would dehydrating and crushing your own garlic be ok?

        • CyrusM

          CyrusM 3 months ago

          Thoughts on stevia ?

          • Sarcar97

            Sarcar97 2 months ago

            Jojo you can purchase Lakanto monk fruit/erythritol packets to carry for portable sweetener.

          • Jojo

            Jojo 2 months ago

            I used to be a big fan of stevia but have gotten on the monkfruit train! Stevia packs are good to have a few in your handbag though

        • Sue H

          Sue H 3 months ago

          Look at the ingredients when buying sugar substitute. I made the mistake of not learning more about maltodextrin and dextrose when we began making ice slushies for a sweet keto treat. Splenda is not always splendid for keto weight loss!

          • Lethel2020

            Lethel2020 3 months ago

            Dissapointed about the onions but good to know!

            • gAKA1908

              gAKA1908 19 days ago

              Green onions/scallions have way fewer net carbs and will provide onion flavor and texture to meals. I love about 10-25 grams to salads and sauté or add fresh to egg dishes. Plus: cut thinly on the bias and sprinkled over dishes is visually appealing.

          • Reeniebh

            Reeniebh 3 months ago


            • FantasticArugula935834

              FantasticArugula935834 4 months ago

              Onions 🥺

              • Mandy

                Mandy 2 months ago

                Shallots and spring onions are a bit lower

              • Arlisa1913

                Arlisa1913 3 months ago


              • Itsmeketosc

                Itsmeketosc 3 months ago

                Right I just read that😳

            • UpbeatCauliflower144129

              UpbeatCauliflower144129 4 months ago

              Good to know 👍🏼

              • MirthfulArugula1648

                MirthfulArugula1648 4 months ago

                Really great information