“Net Carbs”…What Does That Mean?

“Net Carbs” is a more of a marketing term than anything else—you find it sometimes listed on the front of a food package.  There is no legal definition for this term.  If you count carbohydrates, the main number to look at on food packages is the grams of Total Carbohydrate listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Sugars and Other Carbohydrates are within the category of Total Carbohydrate.”  They are completely absorbed into the blood stream during digestion.  Dietary Fiber and Sugar Alcohols, also listed in that category, are not completely absorbed.  Therefore, manufacturers sometimes choose to subtract those grams from the Total Carbohydrate to come up with what they refer to as Net Carbs.  Realize this is “marketing” and not calculated correctly.

Dietary fiber is healthy for us and nourishes our digestive tract.  There is dietary fiber in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  For the most part, think of the fiber in foods as a bonus and continue to count the Total Carbohydrate.  When there are 5 or more grams of fiber in a serving, it certainly is significant, and half of these grams can technically be subtracted from the total carbohydrate. Most of the time, using this calculation doesn’t make much difference in your carbohydrate intake. That’s why we most often recommend that people keep it simple and just count the Total Carbohydrate.

Sugar alcohols are substitutes for sugar.  They are partially absorbed into our blood stream.  As the remainder travels through the digestive tract, it ferments and can cause gas, bloating and a laxative effect.  Sugar alcohols are usually in products that aren’t very nutritious anyway, such as diet chocolate candy and cookies.  Just eat less of these kinds of food or avoid them completely! When choosing to enjoy these treats, most people should still count the total carbohydrate (although technically you can subtract half the grams of sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate also). You might find that these products contain the same amount of carbs in “regular” desserts. Just watch out, sometimes there are many other additions–like fat, sodium and cholesterol.


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