What Is Net Carbs ? – When A Carb’s Not A Carb

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First off carbohydrate is a food macronutrient that your body converts to glucose to fuel itself. Once you consume too much of this macronutrient your body stores it as glycogen in your muscles and liver then when that is full the rest is stored as fat. So in an effort to cash in on the popularity of low carb diets (Atkins, paleo etc) food manufacturers have made a new category of carbs known as “net carbs” which claims that all low carb dieters can enjoy all the carb heavy foods they crave without suffering the carb consequences, but the problem is that there is no legal definition of the term “net carbs” on advertisements and nutrition labels meaning any claims/information that appear outside the box have not been evaluated by the Food And Drug Association.

high carb foods

To keep it simple the term “net carbs” is just a way for food manufacturers to draw more attention to their products to try and make more money, but not enough scientific research has been done on net carbs so it’s still unclear to whether counting net carbs will actually help or hurt your weight loss efforts.

What Is A Net Carb ?

A net carb is simply the total number of carbohydrates a product contains subtracting the fibre and sugar alcohols (if applicable). The reason why you subtract the fibre is because fibre is a carbohydrate that your body cannot digest so it won’t raise your blood sugar levels or trigger an insulin response. Furthermore the presence of fibre in your digestive system actually slows down the absorption of other carbohydrates, alleviating blood sugar spikes and insulin release. Therefore, net carbs will be the only carbs you count when doing most low carb diets since it’s the only thing that will significantly impact your blood sugar levels.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohol is a reduced calorie sweetener that is alcohol free despite it’s name and has an unpredictable effect on blood sugar levels. It is mostly found in sugar free/reduced sugar snack bars, chewing gum and syrups. When subtracting sugar alcohols from your total carbs you must remember to half the stated amount, for example a sugar free bar has 50 grams of total carbs with 5 grams of fibre and 24 grams of sugar alcohol resulting in a net carb of only 33 grams.

sugar alcohols

What’s The Point Of Calculating Net Carbs ?

Calculating net carbs is very helpful to low carb dieters since these diets rely on limiting insulin release by restricting carb consumption for fat loss because glucose is simply unavailable for energy, therefore forcing your body to burn it’s body fat for energy.

Since low carb diets generally limit carbs to between 20-100 grams a day calculating net carbs will help you avoid foods high in net carbs (rice, pasta, bread, candy etc) to prevent your blood sugar levels from rising and insulin from being released, which is the main goal of all low carb diets in the first place.

To sum up calculating net carbs will help if you’re very sensitive to insulin, but if not there are many foods high in net carbs such as whole grains and certain fruits that contain a bunch of nutrients/antioxidants that can be difficult to obtain from other foods. If you have anymore questions about net carbs then leave a comment below.

6 thoughts on “What Is Net Carbs ? – When A Carb’s Not A Carb

  1. Such an interesting read. I’m someone who counts their macros and I usually count the amount of Carbs in the products as a whole including all sugars, etc. If I was only counting the “Net Carbs”, I would be needing to eat a whole lot more of that particular product in order to make sure my intake percentages of Carbs was high. It would significantly change my diet. It’s so scary to think that this is something that people are buying into. I think your article has been very informative !

  2. I have never heard of a macro-nutrient before or net carbs for that matter ! There are so many terms around these days, I’m never quite sure what is what so it was good to read this about this.

    Is there an easy way to calculate net carbs ? Any apps that you know of ?



    1. Hey Louise,

      The easiest way to calculate net carbs would be with the method I mentioned and as of right now I don’t know of any apps that can calculate net carbs.

  3. A very interesting article.

    I was not aware of sugar alcohols and how they figure into the computing of carbohydrates.

    I think it can be confusing, so thanks for writing this to clear it up for me.

    I do watch my carbs and try to stay below 30-50 grams of carbs a day, so this was educational for me.

    I’m gonna start looking for sugar alcohols. I don’t think I ever noticed that category when I was looking at a label to see the nutritional value.

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