What’s the difference between total carbs and net carbs?

You’ve heard of carbohydrates, but have you heard of net carbs? It’s a fairly new concept that has become more popular over the years. What is it and what does it have to do with you and your goals? Read on to find out!

What are Net Carbs?

You probably already know that not all carbohydrates are created equal. High glycemic carbs, such as refined starches, processed foods, and sugary foods, are quickly digested. This leads to an insulin spike, putting those foods higher on the glycemic index.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find low glycemic carbs. Low glycemic carbs, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, are broken down much more slowly. They also tend to have more fiber and create less of an impact on blood sugar levels. This places them lower on the glycemic index.

The concept of net carbs is based on this principle. Because not all carbs impact your body, in the same way, there should be differences in how they are tracked. The key thing to pay attention to here is fiber.

Your body can’t digest fiber. Therefore, it passes through you unused. Because your body doesn’t digest it, it doesn’t impact your blood sugar levels. This makes it a “non-impact carbohydrate.” To figure out the net amount of carbohydrates in something you eat, you’ll essentially subtract the amount of non-impact carbs from the total amount. This gives you a truer picture of the amount of carbohydrates impacting your blood sugar levels.

Net Carbs = Grams of Total Carbohydrates – Grams of Fiber

Here’s an example. Let’s say a serving of food contains 20 grams of total carbohydrates, but 10 grams of those carbohydrates are fiber. If you plug those numbers into the equation above, you’ll find that only 10 grams will impact your blood sugar. Therefore, the net carbohydrates of that meal is 10 grams.

Do I Need to Count Net Carbs?

 It can sometimes be confusing to figure out whether you need to track your net carbs or not. People with diabetes are often strongly recommended to count this number, as it impacts their insulin release.

If you don’t have diabetes, however, net carbs is most useful as a tool to help you find the best option between foods. Let’s say you’re trying to choose between two whole grain breads. Use the net carb equation to compare the total carbohydrates and fiber to see which will have the least impact on your blood sugar levels.

Net carbohydrates are also a great reminder to pay attention to your fiber intake. Women are encouraged to eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should aim for 38 grams. Most Americans don’t reach this amount. Counting net carbs will help you pay more attention to your fiber intake, and guide you to foods with more fiber.

Your Next Steps

Understanding the difference between total carbs and net carbs is important. Thinking about net carbohydrates helps keep your blood sugar levels regulated throughout the day.

The next time you go shopping, take a few extra minutes to determine the net carbs for some of the foods you eat most often. Are there similar options that have a lower amount of net carbs? What about fiber – are you getting as much as you need? Keep net carbs in mind as you make your decisions to get the most out of the carbohydrates you eat.


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