What Are Net Carbs & How Do You Calculate Them?

Published September 01, 2019
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

<article> <section> <p>Most low-carb dieters would jump at the chance to eat carbs that don’t count. But that’s the idea behind net carbs, a diet term that surfaced in the early 2000s around the time the Atkins diet became popular.</p> <p><i>Wait, what?</i> you’re thinking. <i>Carbs that don’t count? Sign me up!</i></p> <p>Well, it’s not that simple. Net carbs, while not the same as regular carbs, are actually just a calculation. And as exciting as they are, the promise of carbs that don’t count may not be as great as it seems.</p> <p>In this article, we’ll look at what net carbs are, the science behind carbs and weight loss, and how to use net carbs to lose weight if you want to.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calculator-0236.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calculator-0236.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calculator-0236.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/calculator-LR-0236.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="calculator"> </picture> <header>What is the Difference Between a Carb and a Net Carb?</header> <p>Carbs are one of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/do-micronutrients-matter-as-much-as-macronutrients/" rel="noreferrer">three macronutrients</a> that make up all food (protein and fat are the other two).</p> <p>Net carbs, on the other hand, differentiate between ‘good carbs’ and ‘bad carbs’ on a low-carb diet. Small calculations are necessary to find the number of net carbs in a food. </p> <p>Take the total number of carbs in a given food and subtract the amount of fiber and sugar alcohols (you’ll soon learn why) from it. The number you get is the amount of net carbs in your food. </p> <p>For example, an apple has roughly 30 grams of carbs. It also has 5 grams of fiber. Therefore, you’d count 25 grams of net carbs towards your daily total <sup>1</sup>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What is Fiber?</header> <p>Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate <sup>2</sup>. There are two types of fiber: <i>soluble</i> and <i>insoluble</i>. </p> <p>Instead of digesting through the small intestine, insoluble fiber passes through your body without being digested, while soluble fiber creates a gel-like substance that slows down digestion of other food.</p> <p>If that doesn’t make sense, just remember that fiber carbs aren’t digested the same way as the carbs you find in bread.</p> <p>Among its many benefits, fiber <sup>2</sup>:</p> <ul> <li>Improves gut health, keeping the bacteria in your gut fed and healthy</li> <li>Improves heart health by lowering cholesterol</li> <li>Prevents diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes</li> </ul> <p>Fiber isn’t just important for health; it’s also considered a crucial tool for weight loss or weight management because of its ability to keep you feeling full.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>What Are Sugar Alcohols?</header> <p>Sugar alcohols, like xylitol, monk fruit, and erythritol, are a type of carbohydrate that digest pretty much the same way fiber does <sup>3</sup>. They are useful to low-carb dieters because it allows them to eat sweet foods without getting knocked out of ketosis.</p> <p>There are tons of different sugar alcohols, so providing an in-depth look at each would take too long. Just remember, these <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-sweeteners-which-ones-to-use-which-to-avoid/" rel="noreferrer">low-carb sweeteners</a> don’t affect blood sugar.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Why Fiber and Sugar Alcohols?</header> <p>Net carbs take fiber and sugar alcohols into account because both are digested differently from other carbs. Unlike sugary carbs, neither are absorbed into your small intestine <sup>4</sup>.</p> <p>As you may know, sugary carbs aren’t good for our health. Once in the small intestine, sugary foods spike our blood sugar, <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/the-best-supplements-to-fight-inflammation" rel="noreferrer">cause inflammation</a>, make you feel hungry, and can even damage your <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/inside-look-on-gut-health/" rel="noreferrer">gut bacteria</a> <sup>5</sup>. </p> <p>Besides that, a diet high in sugary foods has been proven by science to lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease <sup>6</sup>.</p> <p>Fiber and sugar alcohols don’t do any of this, which is why it’s implied that they ‘don’t count’ like regular carbs.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>Keep In Mind...</header> <p>Net carbs aren’t officially acknowledged by some nutrition experts. Many say the term was invented by the food industry to sell more products to people using low-carb diets like <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/atkins-vs-keto-a-side-by-side-comparison" rel="noreferrer">Atkins</a> <sup>7</sup>.</p> <p>In theory, you could eat tons of unhealthy foods that are low in net carbs, and still ‘stick to’ your diet.</p> <p>For example, you might find a protein bar with 40 grams of carbs in it (80 percent of your daily carb intake on keto). To keep the net carbs low, it might have 30 grams of sugar alcohols and 5 grams of fiber in it.</p> <p>In all likelihood, that bar is also packed with preservatives and other unhealthy ingredients. Not a big deal every once in a while, but eating ‘fake’ healthy food <i>instead</i> of wholesome foods like vegetables is unlikely to help you feel and perform your best.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/grean-bean-pods-open-hands-0236.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/grean-bean-pods-open-hands-0236.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/grean-bean-pods-open-hands-0236.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/grean-bean-pods-open-hands-LR-0236.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="grean-bean-pods"> </picture> <header>What Are Net Carbs on Keto?</header> <p>Perhaps the biggest knock on low-carb diets like <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101-a-beginners-guide/" rel="noreferrer">keto</a> is having to give up old favorites like sweets, bread, and grains. <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-101-a-beginners-guide/" rel="noreferrer">Keto dieters</a>, after all, eat only about 25 grams (<a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/why-you-should-be-calculating-your-macros" rel="noreferrer">5 percent</a>) of carbs per day. For some, going low-carb can be quite an adjustment.</p> <p>Net carbs—at least, in theory—allow dieters to indulge more. </p> <p>By choosing fibrous foods made with sugar alcohols, you’re able to take in more carbs without affecting your blood sugar or getting knocked out of <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/fat-adapted-vs-ketosis-whats-the-difference" rel="noreferrer">ketosis</a>. </p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>How Many Net Carbs Should I Eat to Lose Weight?</header> <p>Because net carbs isn’t a scientific term, this question is tough to answer.</p> <p>However, plenty of information exists on the number of carbs you should eat to lose weight. We’ll use this information to draw a conclusion about net carbs.</p> <p>Research shows <sup>8</sup>:</p> <ul> <li>100 to 150 grams of carbs won’t help you lose weight. If you’re lean and looking to maintain weight, this range is considered moderate.</li> <li>50 to 100 grams of carbs may still be a little high if you’re trying to lose weight but is good if you want to include fruit in your diet.</li> <li>20 to 50 grams of carbs per day is ideal for metabolic benefits. This range also helps you enter <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/fat-adapted-vs-ketosis-whats-the-difference" rel="noreferrer">ketosis</a>, which is defined as burning fat as a primary fuel source.</li> </ul> <p>If your goal is to lose weight, 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day is the range you should shoot for.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/greens-leafy-vegetables-bowl-0236.webp" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/greens-leafy-vegetables-bowl-0236.jp2" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/greens-leafy-vegetables-bowl-0236.jpg"> <img src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/greens-leafy-vegetables-bowl-LR-0236.jpg" class="img-fluid" alt="greens-leafy-vegetables-bowl"> </picture> <header>Okay, So What’s the Deal with Net Carbs?</header> <p>Let’s sum up a few key points, then give you an actionable step to take if you want to calculate net carbs to lose weight.</p> <ul> <li>Net carbs are the number of carbs in food, minus fiber and sugar alcohols. <ul> <li type="a">50 carbs - [10 grams of fiber] and [10 grams of sugar alcohols] = 30 net cars</li> </ul> </li> <li>Fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t digested like regular carbohydrates. Neither spikes your blood sugar nor wreaks havoc on your system like sugary carbs do.</li> <li>While net carbs makes sense on paper, nutrition experts and doctors don’t recognize it as a real term. It’s considered a term invented by low-carb food companies to sell products.</li> <li>When in doubt, quality, wholesome foods always trump quick fixes or ‘hacks.’ Eating tons of sugar alcohols instead of veggies is a bad idea.</li> </ul> <p>If you want to try counting net carbs for your weight loss goals, the only real way is to experiment. Stick to 50 grams of net carbs per day or less—the upper limit for getting into ketosis—and track it for a week or two.</p> <p>If you’re able to get into <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/ketosis-and-brain-function" rel="noreferrer">ketosis</a> and <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com" rel="noreferrer">lose weight</a>, great! </p> <p>But if not, it’s probably best to go back to the basics: quality veggies and meats, and effective workouts. These are the tried-and-true methods for weight loss that <i>will</i> work.</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a19500501/apple-nutrition/" rel="noreferrer">Why Apples Are One of the Best Fruits You Can Possibly Eat</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.livescience.com/51998-dietary-fiber.html" rel="noreferrer">What Is Fiber?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sugar-alcohols-good-or-bad" rel="noreferrer">Sugar Alcohols: Good or Bad?</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/net-carbs#section2" rel="noreferrer">How Your Body Handles Fiber Carbs</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20573797" rel="noreferrer">Carbohydrate nutrition and inflammatory disease mortality in older adults</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257742/" rel="noreferrer">Starches, Sugars and Obesity</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.webmd.com/women/features/net-carb-debate" rel="noreferrer">When a Carb's Not a Carb: The Net Carb Debate</a></li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-many-carbs-per-day-to-lose-weight#section3" rel="noreferrer">Decide Your Daily Carb Intake</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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