There are some carbs that everyone knows – bread, pasta, cookies, rice, oatmeal, and all of their grain-based cousins. But if you’re eating keto, your bar for “too many carbs” is low enough that you might blow your carb budget on foods you weren’t even considering.
For most people on keto who have a specific carb target, the number to hit is 50 grams of carbs or under. Some people need to go as low as 20 or 30. With a limit that strict, even 5-10 grams of carbs in ketchup or seasoning mix can blow your goal numbers, so it’s important to keep tabs on everything, including these 5 sneaky carb sources that you might not be considering:
Condiments can be a great way to add more healthy fat to a keto meal – but lots of sweet condiments are also full of sugar, which means they’re really high in carbs. Take a look at…
- Ketchup: 10 grams of carbs per tablespoon.
- Barbecue sauce: it depends on the specific brand: between 7-20 grams of carbs per tablespoon is a pretty average range.
- Honey mustard dressing: depending on the brand, 6+ grams of carbs per 1 tablespoon.
- Thousand island dressing: depending on the brand, 5+ grams of carbs per tablespoon.
For all of these very little or none of the carb content is fiber – it’s mostly sugar. If you put a couple tablespoons of salad dressing or ketchup on a meal, that adds up pretty fast!
In general, “safe” condiments include oil (olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil…), mayonnaise, butter, and other fat-based toppings and dressings. As for vinegar, different brands list different carb counts, but the USDA standard reference entry puts balsamic vinegar at 2.7 grams of carbs per 1 tablespoon – something to be aware of, but not necessarily off the table, especially if you’re mixing it with lots of olive oil.
Nuts can also have a significant number of carbs – they’re probably fine if you’re eating them as a snack, but if you start using nut-flour baking to replace regular flour, be aware of how much you’re really using.
Check out the number of carbs in one ounce of some different nuts. An ounce of nuts is about as many as you can hold in your closed hand.
- Walnuts: about 4 grams carbs (2 of which are fiber) per ounce
- Almonds: about 6 grams (3.5 of which are fiber) per ounce
- Cashews: about 8.5 grams carbs (1 of which is fiber) per ounce
- Pistachios: about 8 grams carbs (3 of which are fiber) per ounce
¼ of a cup of almond flour has 6 grams of carbs (3 of them fiber).
Nuts are a nutritious snack food, but if you’re counting carbs super strictly, don’t forget to add up the snacks, too.
Dairy is totally optional on keto, but a lot of people do choose to eat it, for variety and for the healthy fats. Butter is pretty safe as far as the carb count goes (technically, 0.01 grams of carbs per tablespoon, so in practice it’s basically carb-free), and so is heavy cream (about 0.5 grams per tbsp) but watch out for…
- Greek yogurt, made with whole milk: 9 grams of carbs per 8 ounces
- Regular yogurt, made with whole milk: 11 grams per 8 ounces
- Regular yogurt, made with skim milk: 17.5 grams per 8 ounces
- Whole milk: 12 grams per 1 cup
- Cheddar cheese: about 1 gram per ounce
All of the yogurt listings are assuming zero added sugar – if you buy the little yogurt cups with a bunch of flavors and stuff added, you’re likely to be getting even more sugar because there’s probably some sweetener added.
The fattier the dairy, the lower-carb it’s likely to be, so if you’re counting carbs like a hawk, full-fat everything is definitely your friend.
4. Spice Blends and Seasoning Mixes
A surprising number of spice and seasoning mixes are just full of sugar. Obviously, this is going to depend on specifically what brand you buy and how much of it you use, but just to take some examples with a huge international range, let’s take a look at some Wal-Mart brand seasoning mixes. Assuming that 1 teaspoon is somewhere between 4 and 6 grams (usually a safe bet for most spice mixes), here’s the approximate carb count for a teaspoon of…
- Beef stew seasoning mix: 3 grams
- Taco seasoning: 4 grams
- Fajita seasoning: 3 grams
- Mild chili seasoning: 5 grams
None of this sounds particularly extreme, but in a typical bowl of chili, you might have 2-3 teaspoons of chili seasoning, and that adds up pretty fast if you’re trying to stay under 50 grams of carbs for the whole day.
The moral of the story is: read the label, keep an eagle eye out for anything like sugar (including glucose, dextrose, corn syrup, corn starch, rice syrup, sugar cane syrup, cane juice, and all other names for sugar)
On that same note, also beware of any pre-cooked or pre-prepared food that contains spices or seasonings. For example, lots of grocery stores sell meat that’s pre-rubbed or pre-marinated in some kind of sauce.
This isn’t something that most people realize, but a lot of sausages contain a nonzero number of carbs. Think about it: chicken and maple breakfast sausages are made with maple syrup, which is basically concentrated tree sugar. Pork and apple sausages are made with apples, which are relatively high in carbs. And even when there aren’t any named high-carb ingredients, carbs can sneak in as fillers, preservatives, bulking agents, etc.
Just for some representative examples, here are a couple carb counts from the USDA nutrition database for store-brand sausages:
- Meijer mild Italian sausage: 4 grams of carbohydrate per 1 sausage link
- Safeway maple breakfast sausage: 4 grams per 3 of the little mini breakfast sausages
- Wal-mart brand chicken apple sausage: 8 grams per 1 sausage link
- Roundy’s chicken sausage, roasted garlic and mushroom: 4 grams per 1 sausage link
- Kroger beer bratwurst: 4 grams per 1 sausage link
There are also plenty of sausages that don’t have a lot of carbs – it’s not impossible to find a good brand. But you can’t just automatically assume that any sausage will be keto-friendly because it’s made of meat: check the label before you buy!
Be as Strict as you Need to Be
Not everyone needs to worry about the carbs in salad dressing and sausages. But some people do – and if that’s you, be aware that vegetables aren’t the only foods that might blow your carb budget faster than you realize. It’s not just bread and pasta that have carbs, and it’s not even just vegetables that might sneak carbs into a keto diet!