A question we’re asked pretty often is whether you need to count total or net carbs when following the Atkins diet in Ireland. The good news is that you just need to count the total carbs – no subtracting of fibre or anything else needed. The reason you might read online about counting net carbs is because in the US the labeling on products is different. In Ireland, when looking at packages or tins – just go by the number after ‘Carbohydrates’.
However, you will probably find you are eating less food that comes in a box, package or tin while following the Atkins nutritional approach and much more from the fresh vegetables aisles and your local butchers and fishmongers. To see how much carbs are in these foods – visit our food list page. You will see a full list of the acceptable foods for each phase there along with the amount of carbs in each.
The only exception to counting total carbs is when you are using the Atkins Carb counter book (available for Free when you buy a Starter Box) – in this case use the Net Carbs column. Likewise, with the Atkins products just go by the carb amount printed on the front of the package.
Another handy tool for counting carbs is the online carb counter on the Atkins UK site – just type in the food or ingredient to find out how many carbs it contains.
Carb counting versus Calorie counting
When following the Atkins Nutritional Approach, there is no need to count calories. You do need to keep an eye on the amounts of carbs in foods though. However this is much easier than counting calories and when you’re sticking to the foods on the Acceptable Food List you won’t easily eat too much carbs. The other important thing to remember is that while the calorie counting approaching involves feeling hungry much of the time for most people, the Atkins carb count approach certainly does not! Meat, fish, poultry and most fats (cream, butter, avocados, fat from meat, mayonnaise, cheese) contain little or no carbs and are very satiating foods meaning that you feel full and satisfied sooner. Plus eating these foods along with a good quantity and variety of vegetables means you have the basis for some very delicious meals – check out our Pinterest board for inspiration or the Atkins Meal Planner. The other big difference is that you will definitely see the results when you restrict carbs – both for weight loss and health.
Reading Nutrition Labels
The following is a picture of the nutritional label from a box of SuperValu own brand Corn flakes. As you can see, there are 84.8g of carbs per 100g or 31.5g carbs per serving. A serving is 30g of cornflakes according to the box (which is actually a pretty small amount if you were to weigh it out). When you keep in mind that on Phase one of Atkins you would be eating less than 20g of carbs a day – you can see why cornflakes do not make the Acceptable Food List!
The ingredients on labels are always listed in order of quantity in the food. So the first ingredient is the biggest ingredient in the food. In this case, it is maize – a grain that is very high in carbohydrates itself. The next biggest ingredient in these cornflakes in terms of quantity is sugar, followed by Dextrose Monohydrate. Anything with dextrose (or sucrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose or any of the words in the Spot the Sugar bar at the end of this page) are basically different names for sugar so should be avoided.
Here are the carb amounts for other popular breakfast cereals:
|Product||Carbs per 100g||Carbs per serving|
|Kellogs Coco Pops||85g||26g|
|Kelloggs Country Store||68g||37g|
|Kelloggs Special K||79g||24g|
|Kelloggs Rice Crispies||87g||26g|
These are the carb amounts before adding a spoon of sugar (5g carbs) to it.. Then if you have a cup of tea or coffee with milk (1g carbs) and a spoon of sugar (5g carbs) that adds 6g carbs. And then how about 2 slices of Brennans Wholegrain toast (33g carbs). Adding a small glass of freshly squeezed orange juice (100ml) will add another 10g of carbs. Orange juice may be natural sugar and healthier than refined sugar but this is still a carbohydrate to your body and excess carbs end up being stored as fat and preventing your body from switching to fat burning mode. At this point the carb amount for a typical breakfast that most people would consider ‘healthy’ is adding up to about 86g of carbs!
On the other hand a two egg omelette with spinach, feta and avocado is just 6.9g of carbs – see our post on low carb breakfast ideas for lots more. A cup of tea or coffee with pouring cream (0.5g carbs) and sweetener (1g carbs) giving a total of 8.5g of carbs for a delicious meal that will keep you full for hours.
People are very often surprised at the amount of carbs in common foods and the types of foods you find sugar sneaks into – everything from cereal to tinned peas to cold meats and sauces and salad dressings. So it is always worth checking labels – even on foods which you would never think contain sugar. The Spot the Sugar bar below has a list of the many names manufacturers use for added sugar in ingredients lists. Don’t be fooled by packaging that says ‘no sugar added’ or ‘only natural sugars’. Whether the sugar is natural or not does not make a difference – excess carbs end up around your middle whether they they come from natural sources or not. Most likely the carb amount on the food will also be high when foods contain sugar in any form but as well as that it can cause your cravings to return (or not go away to begin with) if you eating foods with added sugars. The bottom line is – eat no foods that contain any of the ingredients on this list and keep an eye on the carbohydrate amounts in foods. After a while you will quickly get to know what foods fit the bill and which ones to steer clear of.
Carb counter differences
Counting carbs really does get easier once you become familiar with it and after you have done a food shop a few times and checked labels, you will automatically know which foods to reach for without having to check every time. However, it can seem daunting or difficult at first glance – like anything there is a learning curve at the beginning. Also there can be discrepancies between carb counter books and online carb counters at times which can be confusing. This was an answer given by the Atkins Nutritionist Colette Heimowitz M.S in an interview reported here, when asked about these differences:
“The reason for the variations amongst the different sources of carb counters is because there are differences in the way foods are measured. Sometimes portion sizes are different, foods are measured by dry weight or with moisture. These pieces of information are to be used as guides as they provide estimates are not based on precise scientific methods. Food labels provide nutrition information and the government allows for a 20% differential. Use one source, otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy. The carb counter in the back is a good reference.”
It is easy to get caught up in getting your carb counts perfect but in reality if you are sticking to the foods in the Acceptable Food List and your carb count is off by a few grams a day one way or another it is not going throw things off. As you can see from our examples on breakfasts above the difference between a typical breakfast and an Atkins friendly breakfast is about 77g – in that context an error of a few grams is not significant – particularly at the beginning. So our advice is – just start it. You will start seeing results even it your carb counts are not 100% perfect and you can refine as you go.
Spot the Sugar
- Brown sugar
- Brown syrup
- Cane juice
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Crystallized cane juice
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrate
- Fruit syrups
- Glucose-derived syrup
- Golden syrup
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Maple sugar
- Maple syrup
- Raw sugar
- Rice syrup
- Surcose (table sugar – not to be confused with sucralose, a substitute sweetener marketed as Splenda)
- Sweetened carob powder