What are carbs? Net Carbs? Ever wonder what a net carb is?
If you are new to eating low carb or keto, it can feel a bit overwhelming at first. This article breaks it down into simple terms on how to read your nutrition labels and calculate your carbs.
What are net carbs?
For those who are new to low carb eating, the term “net carbs” may sound pretty foreign.
If you look at a nutrition label, while carbs are indeed listed, the data there says nothing about net carbs. So what does this term mean?
Lets first look at what carbs and fiber do in the body in very simple terms.
What and Where are Carbs Found?
- Carbs found in foods such as bread, rice and cereal will generally go through the digestive system pretty quickly.
- Many carbs found in those types of items are simple carbs, or carbs that convert to sugars in the body very quickly and easily.
- This equals insulin spikes in the body.
How is Fiber and Low Carb Diet Connected?
- Fiber slows down the speed at which the body processes these foods through the digestive system, and in some cases, doesn’t get digested at all. This undigested type of fiber is called insoluble fiber and it is your friend.
So basically, it’s the difference between spiking your insulin with a glass of orange juice, or slowing things down by eating a whole orange instead, which has lots more fiber in it. The more fiber a food has in it, the more you can subtract from the total carb count, making it a lower carb food.
What are Net Carbs and How to Count Net Carbs
In order to count net carbs, you simply have to look at that nutrition data and subtract the fiber count from the carb count. That gives you your net carbs.
So on the label here, you would subtract the 2 grams of fiber from the 5 grams of carbs for a count of 3 net carbs.
What are Sugar Alcohols? How do sugar alcohols effect my net carbs?
Part of counting net carbs also includes subtracting any sugar alcohols, which pass through the body without spiking insulin (in most cases. Some folks have a higher sensitivity and must avoid them).
Not everyone subtracts all sugar alcohols. Some subtract all, some just 5g and others just vary differently with their insulin and the type of sugar alcohol. To see all the different types of sugar alcohols check out our Low Carb Sugar Alcohol Sweeteners post that goes into a deep dive onto sugar alcohols.
So if your label lists sugar alcohols (on our site it is the last on the nutrition label) subtract those from the total carbs as well. So if this label above also listed 1 sugar alcohol, the net carbs would then be 2 instead of 3 grams.
NOTE: In many of our recipes prior to mid-2019 have sugar alcohols info listed in the post AND in the ‘Recipe Notes’ as prior before then we were not able to enter it into the recipe nutrition card. We can now though! So if you take a look at the nutrition label and you find that it’s high in carbs be sure to check the recipe card notes and see the data on sugar alcohols there.
A Note On Food Products
Many food manufacturers are jumping on the low carb / net carb band wagon. Some processed foods may have the net carbs listed on the packaging. But buyer beware! There is no legal definition of the term “net carbs” where nutrition labels and packaging is concerned. So always do the math yourself, and better yet, stay away from processed foods completely.
How do Net Carbs fit into my Macros?
Not everyone goes into the macros direction right away when going into this diet. Our Keto Starter Bundle is a great place to start if you are new to this. Now that you know all about Net Carbs and Counting Carbs our next is how they fit into macros.
Many after a while will either hit a plateau in weight loss or not gaining muscle after workouts and that is generally when it’s time to start monitoring your macros. We created a Free Keto Macros Calculator for you guys to use to help you with tailoring an individual guide for your specific goals. Find out how where your net carbs and macros should be for your goals.