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?
A Closer Look
Lets look at what carbs and fiber do in the body in very simple terms. 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.
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.
Counting 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.
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).
So if your label lists sugar alcohols, 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.
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.