Net carbs can really mess with your head and your nutrition plan! Have you ever looked at your macros only to find them not adding up right? You can thank NET CARBS. Countless food companies tout Net Carbs as the greatest way to track your carbs. Be careful… it is true that all carbs are not created equal, but I don’t think tracking only net carbs is always the answer.
What are Net Carbs?
Did you know the amount of carbs found in a food is determined by subtracting the grams of protein, fat, and water from the total weight of the food? Pretty cool! The general heading of carbohydrate is everything else that’s left over. That includes things we typically think of it as carbs, such as sugars and starches. What that also includes are things like sugar alcohols and fiber. Both of those are used differently by the body.
In the case of sugar alcohols, our body does not fully digest them. They will have a lower caloric impact than a typical carbohydrate (carbs provide 4 calories per 1g). But they still have some caloric impact. I think the only thing I still eat with sugar alcohols are when I eat Pure Protein bars. If you are not eating a lot of “diet/low sugar” or processed “low carb” foods, you won’t probably get too many sugar alcohols. They can have a laxative effect. And each person can be impacted differently. Just read your labels under Total Carbohydrates and you will see if a food has any sugar alcohols.
Moving to fiber, we see another complex story. Sources of soluble fiber will have a caloric impact. Insoluble fiber cannot be digested and has no caloric impact. Some labels will even differentiate between the two for you. These will again fall under the Total Carbohydrate heading on your labels.
So here is where we finally get to net carbs. Companies report net carbs by subtracting any “inactive” carbs from the total carbohydrate count of the food. This is often done by subtracting the grams of sugar alcohols and fiber contained within the food. As you can see above, that is not a completely accurate picture. Sugar alcohols do have some calories and some fiber will contain calories as well.
How I handle Net Carbs
I handle net carbs by not tracking them too closely. I feel this is a really balanced approach. I will not go out of my way to record only net carbs, but at the same time I won’t adjust nutritional entries for products that already report net carbs in their nutritional data. I believe this balance helps me not to overcompensate or under compensate for carbohydrates from inactive sources.
Prime example is a Quest Protein Bar. Take a look at their Chocolate Brownie Bar.
If you would add up calories from this bar’s 6 g of fat, 20 g of protein and 24 g of carbohydrate you would find the bar has 232 calories. It’s label only records 170 though? Why? Net carbs! Quest subtracts off 19 g of carbohydrates of its dietary fiber from its total of 24 g of carbs. In the case of Quest Bars, this is completely acceptable. All of Quest’s fiber comes from insoluble fiber (though some of that has changed with the new fiber being used in Quest – still getting more info). Those 19 g of fiber are not digested at all and won’t add calories.
The same thing is true for Kashi cereals, breads, tortillas, and many other “low” carb products.
Should you stress about Net Carbs?
No! I don’t. I would still keep an eye on fiber. Fiber has many benefits in control blood sugar levels and aiding in digestion. The benefit in using some of these foods that focus on net carbs is that you will usually rack up a bunch of fiber. Hit your daily macros and be consistent. Any slight variations from counting or not counting net carbs will average out.
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