Should I Count Net Carbs Or Total Carbs? Answered

If you’re diving into a low-carb lifestyle, you’ve probably come across the term “net carbs”. It’s a phrase that’s become popular in the dieting world, but what does it really mean? And more importantly, how do you calculate it?

Don’t worry, I’ve got your back. As an experienced blogger in the health and wellness sphere, I’ve spent years understanding the ins and outs of nutrition. In this post, I’ll break down the concept of net carbs, and provide a simple guide on how to calculate them.

Remember, knowledge is power. Whether you’re on a keto diet, or just trying to make healthier choices, understanding how to calculate net carbs can be a game-changer. Stick with me, and you’ll be a net carb calculating whiz in no time.

What are net carbs?

Let’s dive right in and understand what exactly are net carbs. Net carbs aren’t a type of carbohydrate, but a calculated value that can give us a clearer picture of how a food item might affect our blood sugar levels.

They’re the total amount of carbs in a food minus the fiber and sugar alcohols, which are types of carbs that your body can’t fully digest. Knowing net carbs can be especially helpful if you’re on a low-carb or keto diet.

You might ask, why subtract fiber? It’s because our bodies, unlike some others, lack the required enzymes to break this complex nutrient down. Thus, it travels through our digestive system without becoming glucose and causing a spike in our blood sugar. Kind of like an uninvited but well-behaved party guest.

And what about sugar alcohols? Well also subtract these from total carbs when calculating net carbs. Most sugar alcohols, like erythritol or xylitol, have a minimal impact on blood sugar levels. Keep in mind though, not all sugar alcohols are created equal. Some, like maltitol, can still cause a moderate glycemic response.

So, net carbs can be considered the carbs that count because they’re the ones that could potentially impact your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Tip for the day: Double check food labels when trying to figure out net carbs as not all of them use the term “net carbs”. They might use “impact carbs”, “digestible carbs” or “active carbs”. Also, different countries have different standards for labeling, so be sure you know what you’re looking at.

Next up, I’ll be covering the step-by-step process to calculate net carbs, enabling you to keep a greater control over your diet. Let’s delve deep into the ‘how-tos’ of net carbs calculation.

Why are net carbs important?

Discerning net carbs is more than just a math exercise. It is a critical element for those adhering to low-carb or ketogenic diets. Net carbs matter and let me explain why.

Firstly, it’s all about the metabolic response. A diet low in net carbs leads to a lower insulin response. This lower surge of insulin aids in weight loss and it may offer an advantage over higher carb diets. In fact, it’s the foundation of the widely popular ketogenic diet, in which the body taps into fats for energy instead of carbs.

Secondly, coming to fibers – they’re unique types of carbs. Even though they’re counted as carbs, they do not behave like other carbs. While most carbs get digested into glucose, fibers do not – instead, they make their way to the large intestine where they get fermented and utilized by our gut bacteria. These fibers attribute to good gut health – they act as a prebiotic, feeding our good gut bacteria, thereby contributing to overall health and wellness. So, when you’re counting carbs, it’s vital to consider the impact of fibers, giving us the measure of net carbs.

Lastly, it’s about sugar alcohols – another unique brand of carbs. Like fibers, sugar alcohols aren’t completely absorbed and digested by the body, ultimately having a lesser impact on blood sugar levels. If you’re on a strict low-carb diet, you’re better off considering sugar alcohols in your calculations to obtain net carbs – as they can affect your body in ways traditional carbs do.

Simply put, not all carbs are created equal. Net carbs give you a more accurate measure of how different foods can impact your blood sugar and insulin response, thereby helping you make more informed dietary choices. With this understanding, let’s delve into the process of calculating net carbs in the next section.

How to calculate net carbs

To calculate net carbs, it’s important to first clearly understand the concept. Net carbs are simply the total carbohydrates in food minus the fiber and sugar alcohols. They’re the carbs that our bodies can digest and convert into energy.

The first step to figuring out a food’s net carb count is finding its total carbohydrate content. This information is readily available on most packaged food labels. In situations where it isn’t, several online resources and apps can certainly help.

Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrates - Dietary Fiber - Sugar Alcohols

Take note, though: fiber and sugar alcohols can be tricky. It’s essential to know that under the umbrella of fiber, there are two types – soluble and insoluble. While soluble fiber can have minor effects on blood sugar, insoluble fiber passes through the body virtually untouched. On the other hand, sugar alcohols, despite having “sugar” in their name, affect our blood sugar significantly less than standard carbs – a reason they’re often used as a sugar substitute.

In the case of fibrous foods like vegetables, the amount of fiber can sometimes be higher than the total carbs. In such instances, net carbs might turn out to be a negative number. But worry not, for practical purposes, you would just consider the net carbs as zero.

In the next part of this article, I’ll take you through some examples and delve deeper into each step to ensure you’re fully equipped to calculate your net carbs. From store-bought snacks to homemade meals, we’ll tackle it all.

Step 1: Determine the total carbohydrates

Before we dive into the calculation of net carbs, it’s crucial to first understand how to identify the total carbohydrates in your food. To kick off, you’d find total carbohydrates on the nutritional information panel on the product’s packaging.

Total carbohydrates are further subdivided into dietary fiber, sugar, and in some cases, sugar alcohol. I’ll be delving deeper into these subsets in the next sections. But in this first step, our prime focus will be on the total carbohydrate amount.

To determine this value, you’d typically look at the ‘Total Carbohydrate’ line on the food label. It gives you the number of grams of total carbohydrates per serving. It’s essential to be mindful of the serving size as well. If you’re consuming more than one serving, then you’ll need to multiply the grams by the number of servings you’re consuming.

For instance, if the label on an almond pack says that there are 6 grams of total carbohydrates per serving and the serving size is defined as “28 grams” (about 23 pieces), if your portion size encompasses around 46 almonds, you’d be consuming two servings. Now to get the total carbs you’ve consumed, simply double the number of total carbs per serving.

If you’re consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, or any food that does not have a label, don’t fret. You can find this information online, from sources such as USDA’s National Nutrient Database. Here, you can obtain data on over 8000 foods.

Step 2: Deduct fiber from the total carbohydrates

Now that we’ve grasped the concept of ‘total carbohydrates’ let’s move to the next step of our calculation. The important emphasis here is on ‘fiber’. Why is that, you might ask. Well, it’s because fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our bodies can’t fully digest.

Even though it’s listed under total carbohydrates in the nutrition facts panel, fibrous content doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels the same way other carbohydrates do. In other words, your body isn’t absorbing these carbs and turning them into sugar that circulates in your bloodstream. That’s why dietitians often advise to subtract the amount of fiber from the total carbohydrates to get your net carbs.

Finding the fiber content is quite straightforward. It’s usually located under the total carbohydrates section on the label. The number is straightforward too. It’s simply the grams of fiber per serving.

In case your food does not have a label, don’t fret. You can find this info from trustworthy internet sources such as the USDA’s National Nutrient Database or food nutrition related mobile apps. Sounds easy, right?

Here’s a quick example to illustrate it better:

Let’s assume you have a serving size of food that contains 20 grams of total carbohydrates and 5 grams of fiber. Simple deduction shows:

Total CarbohydratesMinus FiberNet Carbs

The value we landed on is the net carbs for that particular food.

But we are not done yet. There’s one more step to this calculation that’s equally important. But that’s a discussion for the next section.

Step 3: Subtract sugar alcohols (if applicable)

After determining total carbs and factoring in the fiber content, we move on to the next point of consideration: subtracting sugar alcohols from the equation.

Sugar alcohols, though named such, aren’t a type of alcohol nor sugars. They’re carbohydrates that our body metabolizes differently, leading to a minimal impact on our blood sugar levels. On the nutritional label, they’re usually listed under the total carbohydrates section just like dietary fiber.

The presence of sugar alcohol content in foods is not a standard. Meaning, they don’t exist in all foods but when they do, it’s important to account for them in our net carb calculations.

Similar to dietary fiber, sugar alcohols have less of an impact on blood sugar levels compared to other carbohydrates. Hence, they can also be subtracted from the total carbohydrate count.

Let’s illustrate this further with an example.

Suppose a food product has:

  • Total carbs: 20g
  • Fiber: 8g
  • Sugar alcohol: 3g

This would be illustrated in the following markdown table:

Total CarbsFiberSugar Alcohols

The calculation of net carbs would then almost mimic our previous example with fiber (Total carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols), bringing the total net carbs down to 9 grams.

As with every step, remember that if a food does not have an information label, resources like the USDA’s National Nutrient Database are valuable for finding this information.

Next up, we’ll tackle ‘non-impact carbs’ and how they factor into the net carb tally. It’s another crucial aspect that ensures you’re equipped with the necessary knowledge to understand the influence of various types of carbohydrates on your body.

Step 4: Get the final net carb count

Following the deduction of fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate count, we’re now in a position to finalize our net carb calculation. It’s a mere task of addition, subtraction, and a keen eye for detail.

Starting with the total carbs listed on your food’s nutrition panel, you’ll deduct dietary fiber first and foremost. Dietary fiber as we’ve learned is a unique type of carbohydrate, one our bodies don’t fully digest.

This lack of complete digestion means it doesn’t impact our blood sugar levels in the typical carbohydrate manner. After subtracting dietary fiber comes the task of deducting sugar alcohols if present.

Sugar alcohols like fiber don’t standardly affect our blood sugar levels. Their metabolic process varies, leading to minimal blood sugar impact. While not universally present in all food items, if you find sugar alcohols listed, remember to subtract these from your total carbohydrate count.

Armed with these subtractions, the final calculation should look a little something like this:

Total Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = Net Carbs

Let’s look at a practical example.

Food ItemTotal CarbsDietary FiberSugar AlcoholsNet Carbs
Example Food30g8g2g20g

In our example food, the total carbs are listed as 30g. We then subtract both the dietary fiber (8g) and sugar alcohols (2g) from our total carb count. This brings our net carbs to a diet-friendly 20g.

Keep this formula in mind as you navigate your nutritional journey. Not only will you be more informed about what you’re putting into your body but also how it impacts your overall health and well-being. Just remember: when it comes to calculating net carbs it’s all about sharpening your subtraction skills and knowing exactly what to look for.

By understanding and applying this mathematical approach to nutrition label reading, you’ll be one step closer to mindful eating and control over your nutritional intake. As always, keep in mind that everyone’s needs and responses to foods can differ. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you learn to make the best dietary choices for your unique body and lifestyle. Knowledge is power – wield it wisely.

Tips for calculating net carbs accurately

As we dive deeper into the concept of calculating net carbs, it’s vital to share some essential tips that can make this process more accurate. Determining net carbs isn’t just simple subtraction – it’s about being informed and being critical.

One essential tip I can share is to always confirm the total carbohydrate content on the product’s packaging yourself. Some brands can play around with portion sizes or rounding off figures to present a product as healthier than it is. Don’t just rely on what’s presented to you.

Another tip is regarding foods without a label or if you’re preparing food at home. Online resources are a great way to get the nutrition profile for natural, fresh, and unpackaged foods. The USDA’s National Nutrient Database is a scientifically accurate and reliable source for this information.

Additionally, be sure to know exactly what qualifies as a fiber and as a sugar alcohol. It can be easy to mistake certain elements as one over the other. For instance, some might mistake maltitol (a sugar alcohol) for maltodextrose (a sugar). Understanding these elements in depth can make your calculation more precise.

Lastly, ensure you also account for the impact of net carbs from added sugars which can drastically increase the net carb count. This is especially important if you are following a low carb or ketogenic diet.

Getting better at calculating net carbs is, at its core, about mindfulness. It’s about being aware of what you’re putting into your body and understanding how it might affect your nutritional goals. As evident, there’s no one-size-fits-all in nutrition. What works for one person may not always work for the other. Knowing how to calculate net carbs equips you with the tools to tailor your diet to your specific needs and respond to changes in your body.


So there you have it. Understanding net carbs isn’t as daunting as it seems. It’s all about knowing the total carbohydrates, then subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols. It’s crucial to remember that fiber and sugar alcohols can affect your blood sugar levels differently. Sometimes, you’ll even find foods with a negative net carb count. Calculating net carbs accurately is key, and there are plenty of resources to help you out. Always check product labels and use online tools for foods without labels. Keep in mind the impact of added sugars on your net carbs. Remember, it’s all about what works best for your body and your dietary needs. Armed with this knowledge, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of calculating net carbs.

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