What Are Net Carbs And Why Are They Important?

net carbs

If you’ve just got started on a low carb or Keto diet you’ve probably come across the term net carbs and you may be wondering what exactly they are. If you want the diet to work for you whether it’s for weight loss or to improve your health in numerous other ways it’s most important that you know what they are and how to work them out.

When looking at the nutritional make up of a particular food followers of a low carb diet like the keto diet often refer to the carbohydrate content. But there’s more to it than just the total carbohydrate content. If, for example, you are looking at a label on a food product you ‘ll see that there’s also fiber, sugar, and others that are listed as part of the carbohydrate content. So, the best way to figure out the actual true carb content of a particular food is in determining its net carbs. But what exactly are net carbs and how do we calculate them?

What Are Net Carbs?

Net carbs refer to the amount of carbohydrates in a food that we consume that gets converted to energy. Net carbs will usually only count the sugars and starches since other types of carbohydrates do not have energy value in them and have no effect on your blood sugar. Therefore, there’s really no need to count them towards your daily limit of carbohydrate. Mother Nature Network defines “net carbs” as:

“Net carbs is a calculation representing mostly just the starches and sugars in a food after some fiber and sugar alcohol contents have been subtracted. Some types of carbohydrates do not affect blood sugar in the body as much as others, so the thought is that net carbs only account for carbs that affect blood sugar.”

Take note, however, that certain sugar alcohols have some impact on your blood sugar and must also be factored in when determining net carbs if you’re consuming sugar alcohols in huge amount.

Why Net Carbs Matter?

If you’re following a low carb diet, you must limit your consumption of carbs. For keto dieters, carb consumption should be kept under 50 grams per day in order to put your body into the ketosis state. This is why it is very important that you know what a net carb is and how you can compute net carbs. Knowing your daily carb limit can help you to stay in ketosis. Otherwise, you could fall out of the diet and all your efforts will go astray.

How to Calculate Net Carbs?

The basic formula in computing net carbs is this:

total carbs – fiber – sugar alcohols = net carbs

Mother Nature Network has a more detailed explanation when it comes to calculating net carbs:

“First subtract all of the insoluble fiber (if listed) from the total carbs and total fiber. If more than 5 grams of total fiber remains, you can also subtract half of the remaining fiber from total carbs. Then look at the sugar alcohols. If there are more than 5 grams of sugar alcohols, subtract half that amount from the total carbohydrates. If erythritol is the only sugar alcohol listed, you may not subtract any sugar alcohols.”

However, it’s important to note that not all sugar alcohol is totally carb-free. There are some manufacturers that would brand their products as “low carb” and would list down carb-significant sugar alcohol like they are exempted from the total net carb count in order to make their products appear more attractive to followers of the low carb diet.

On the other hand, there are some manufacturers that would list down sugar alcohols that won’t affect your blood sugar like a normal carbohydrate would, which makes the net carb count appear higher than they actually are. The key is in knowing your sugar alcohols. Some of the sugar alcohols that won’t count towards net carbs are Xylitol, Erythritol, Mannitol, and Lactitol.

Related reading: 4 Best Natural Low Carb Sweeteners


Knowing how to calculate net carbs is important if you are following the low carb diet like the keto. That way, you’d be able to radically limit your carb intake to less than 40 or 50 grams per day and replace these with healthy fats. Doing so can help your body to transition into ketosis or maintain your state of ketosis.

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