When it comes to eating carbohydrates, a few factors matter: basically not all carbs are created equal, and they don't all affect the body in the same way. A sugary pastry and a hearty quinoa dish, even if the number of carbohydrates and calories are the same, will be absorbed by the body differently, offering dissimilar effects.
For instance, whether or not the carbohydrate is complex or refined matters in terms of the nutritional benefits and how it is stored and used by the body. You’re way better off eating complex carbs, such as brown rice, beans, and legumes, than white flour (found often in chips and baked goods) or white rice.
Why? Well, you’ll feel less bloated, have less inflammation, and you will avoid that icky sugar spike and crash a few hours later. Because complex carbohydrates have fiber, they fill you up faster and provide both immediate and sustainable energy, so you keep blood sugar levels stable and can avoid mindless munching and cravings during the day.
And that fiber is exactly how “net carbs" (which are super important for those who are on the keto diet or another low-carb diet, or those who are diabetic or watching blood sugar) come into play.
While parameters vary, a low-carb diet is often defined as being below 100-150 grams of net carbs per day, while staying below 50 or even lower, depending on the individual, would be the daily intake required to keep you in ketosis.
How to Calculate Net Carbs
To get the net carb count, you’d subtract the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols from the grabs of carbohydrates per serving. Net carbs are the carbs that your body processes and absorbs to then use for energy (these are typically refined starches and sugars). And that’s what matters when thinking of how many carbs you’re really taking in for the day.
The carbs that come from fiber and sugar alcohols will be burned through digestion, passing through the body, and will not count in the takeaway carbohydrate amount. In effect, these carbs won’t affect the body (or lead to weight gain) the same way that other carbs will. Sugar alcohols include: erythritol, xylitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol, sorbitol, isomalt, and glycerin.
So if you wanted to eat a snack that had 24 grams of carbs, but also 14 grams of fiber, then there would only be 10 grams of carbohydrates that aren’t be burned off through digestion from that. Then, if there’s also glycerin present, with 4 grams total, you’d be able to subtract that, too, leaving the net amount to 6 grams.
It’s pretty simple—so next time you’re trying to figure out the net carbs for your low-carb diet, read the label, do the math, and decide for yourself!
Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. She can't resist a good sample, a margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. She writes for various magazines, such as Men's Health, Women's Health, SELF, LIVESTRONG, POPSUGAR, Allure, Health, Cooking Light, and more. Learn more about her on her website: isadorabaum.com.