Calculating net carbohydrates is essential for people with diabetes and those who follow low carbohydrate meal plans, like the keto diet.
Knowing how the body processes different carbohydrates can help improve blood sugar levels, lose body weight, and improve a person’s health.
Calculating net carbs can be confusing for a beginner. This is because carbohydrate values in foods can vary. Also, in the beginning, it can be challenging to identify which ones are absorbed and which ones are not.
In this article, the term net carbohydrates are defined, and formula and tables are proposed so that calculating this value is not a problem.
What are net carbs?
By definition, net carbohydrates are the number of total carbohydrates in a food that the human body can assimilate. (1) They are also known as digestible or impact carbohydrates.
When you eat carbohydrate foods, enzymes break them down into glucose and then be used as an energy source.
However, the human body cannot process all types of carbohydrates. For example, we cannot assimilate vegetable fiber (cellulose) and sugar alcohols.
Unlike starch and sugar, the natural fiber is not absorbed in the small intestine. This is because the enzymes in the digestive tract cannot break the fiber bonds. Consequently, they pass directly into the colon.
It is essential to know that this term does not have to do with the speed at which they are absorbed ( glycemic index ) but with the total amount of digestible carbohydrates in grams.
The formula for calculating net carbs
In simple terms, net carbohydrates are the total carbohydrates in food – those that we cannot assimilate.
Sugar alcohols and plant fiber cannot be assimilated, so when calculating net carbohydrates, they are the ones that must be subtracted. The formula for calculating net carbs is:
Net Carbs = Total Carbs – (Vegetable Fiber + Sugar Alcohols )
Total carbohydrates and plant fiber are listed separately on most food packages. As the formula indicates, to calculate the net, they must be subtracted.
Types of net carbs
Two types of net carbohydrates can be distinguished. (4)
Simple carbohydrates contain one or two sugar units and are found in foods such as fruits, honey, sugar, and soda.
The complex carbohydrates have several units connected and sugar found in vegetables, cereals, and pseudocereals.
The human body can assimilate both types of carbohydrates to be considered net. However, they differ in their speed of assimilation. The simple ones are absorbed immediately, the complex ones little by little.
An excess of sugar (simple carbohydrates) in the diet can cause hormonal changes with severe consequences for the body. It is one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes. (2)
Starch, sugar alcohols, and some fiber types can have varying effects on blood sugar and insulin levels, although they all have less influence than sugar.
Net Carbs Table
One of the ways to reverse type 2 diabetes is to always calculate the net carbohydrates in a meal and never exceed 60g. (3)
In addition, the ideal for a person with diabetes is for the glycemic index of this 60 g of carbohydrates is less than 60. To be more graphic, the simplest thing is to follow the table of net carbohydrates recommendations that you can download below.
Net carbs on the ketogenic diet
To enter ketosis, it is recommended that the amount of carbohydrates in the total for the day does not exceed 50 g of net carbohydrates per day. (5)
It is important to remember that achieving ketosis is an effective method of losing weight, but it can have side effects. For example, it can be hazardous in the case of type 1 diabetics. (6)
Before you dabble in these eating methods where net carbohydrates are maximally restricted, always consult a physician nutritionist for advice. Otherwise, you may experience fainting, cramps, dehydration, or other symptoms.
How much should you eat per day to lose weight?
To lose weight, the important thing is that you make a negative balance of calories, which is known as a caloric deficit.
Even with a net carbohydrate amount greater than 150 grams per day, you can lose weight. This is a slower but healthier way.
However, if you go on a low-carb diet, the number of net carbs should be less. On the keto diet, amounts less than 50 grams per day are allowed, and on a low carb diet, between 75-100 g per day.
Net carbohydrates are carbohydrates that can be assimilated by the human body.
Calculating this value involves subtracting fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates in food.
In addition, there are tables with approximate values for each food.