Knowing how to count carbs is a crucial part of succeeding on ultra low carb diets like keto.
Learn what makes total carbs different from net carbs, how many grams of net carbs are in your diet, and why using net carbs can help your health and keep your keto macros where they need to be.
Carbs vs. Net Carbs: What’s the Difference?
Carbs or carbohydrates are sugars in food that supply energy in the form of calories. This includes all types of sugars including starch, fiber, and sugar alcohols.
Net carbs are thought to represent the number of carbohydrates that are actually absorbed by your body - without impacting blood sugar levels and insulin response. This is because fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t thought to be absorbed.
Net carbs are only those that are absorbed into your bloodstream by your body.
Total carbohydrates include all of the carb components - even those that aren't absorbed.
There are some variations in the types of fiber and sugar alcohols that may not make this 100% accurate. While the net carb calculation isn't perfect, it's currently the best way to get an idea of how many digestible carbs you're eating.
Why Count Net Carbs?
Low carb diets have been shown to be a successful approach to helping people lose weight. But just like any weight-loss strategy, the quality of food and total calories consumed also need to be taken into consideration to effectively lose weight while getting all of the nutrients we need.
A low carb diet is generally considered eating less than 150 grams of carbs per day. Ultra low carb diets such as the keto diet often require eating fewer than 20 grams of carbs each day.
Ultra low carb diets such as the ketogenic diet recommend a carb intake of less than 20 grams for most people and it can be really challenging to consistently eat such few carbs!
Eating net carbs on keto and other low carb diets may still be tough, but this approach allows for some additional healthy carbohydrates to be included in your meals. This is so important because it provides a way for you to include important sources of nutrition while still following your low carb diet.
For keto dieters, using net carbs allows you to include plenty of nutritious, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet without going over your daily keto carb goals.
Net carbs are also a helpful tool in allowing you to dig into sweet-tasting foods that are technically “sugar-free”. Sugar alcohols provide a sweet taste to food items without impacting net carb counts, thus making them an ideal keto diet-friendly dessert or low carb treat for diabetics.
How to Calculate Net Carbs
You can easily calculate net carbs and keep track of the number of net carbs you’re eating throughout the day using this basic two-step formula.
Step 1 - Determine Total Carb Content
Start by reading the nutrition label and determine the grams of total carbs, the grams of fiber, and the sugar alcohols. The grams of total carbs listed on the food label are just that, the total carbohydrates.
Step 2 - Subtract Dietary Fiber
To calculate the net carbohydrates, take the total carbohydrates and subtract both the grams of fiber and the sugar alcohols. The remaining amount is the total net carb count.
Your net carbs will always be less than or equal to your total carbohydrates.
How to Improve Your Nutrition with Net Carbs
Even though low carb diets are popular and can be successful in promoting weight loss and improving overall health, many carbohydrates provide rich sources of nutrition - especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Using net carbs can allow additional room in your low carb diet for more nutrition from healthy carbs including:
Fiber in of itself provides us with a slew of benefits. In fact, the USDA recommends at least 25-30 grams of fiber for every 2000 calories you eat. Fiber can be found in a variety of foods including fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Higher fiber foods can also help you to feel full, which can help with overall lower calorie intake and weight loss. For all of these reasons the American Heart Association (AHA) also recommends a fiber-rich diet (1,2).
We all need a minimum amount of the essential vitamins and minerals to function at our best. Not surprisingly fruits, veggies, and many plant-based foods are an excellent source of these essential micronutrients.
While these are all technically carbohydrate foods, they still include many choices with relatively low net carbs. Therefore eating a diet rich in these lower net carb options, like non-starchy veggies and low sugar fruits, provides a pathway to regularly get the essential micronutrients you need.
Bottom Line: using net carb calculations in your low carb diet allows you to include more nutritious food choices while still consuming an overall low amount of carbs our body can actually absorb.
How to Count Net Carbs on Keto
You can easily keep track of your daily net carb counts using a keto-friendly tracking app that does the math for you. Just be sure to accurately log everything you eat and drink for the best results.
Download the Trifecta app now to start tracking your net carb intake and stay on top of your keto diet goals.