When you look at a nutrition label, sometimes you will see total carbs and then you will see net carbs. What is the difference between them? Which one should you look at?
Net carbohydrates are the amount of carbohydrates that actually affects your blood sugar and raises your insulin levels. In contrast, total carbohydrates are just net carbohydrates plus other carbs that don’t affect your blood sugar. Examples include fiber.
We know that this causes confusion to a lot of people. The rising prevalence of diabetes and insulin resistance made people very concerned about calculating their carbohydrates since excessive carbohydrates may increase the risk of diabetes. Additionally, excessive carbohydrates are turned into fat by our bodies. Therefore, we shouldn’t be consuming a lot of carbohydrates.
In this article, we will discuss the difference between net carbs and total carbs, the effect of excessive carbohydrates on the body, and tackle some of the common myths related to carbs.
How to calculate net carbs
Fibers don’t affect your blood sugar, so they should be subtracted when calculating net carbs.
Net carbs = Total carbs – Fiber Where:
Net carbs refer to the carbohydrates digested and used for energy and don’t include fiber
Total carbs refer to the total carbohydrates in the food, including dietary fiber and sugars
Dietary fiber is parts of your food that your body can’t digest or absorb. This is why it is subtracted, but it has many gut benefits.
For example, if 1 cup of tomato has 7g of total carbs and 2.2g of fiber:
Net carbs = 7 (total carbs) – 2.2 (fiber)
Net carbs = 4.8 g.
Some foods, like eggs, have zero grams of fiber. Therefore, in this case, total carbs would be the same as net carbs since the amount of fiber is zero.
A deeper look at net carbs
When we eat carbohydrates, they are linked together by chemical bonds. Some carbohydrates like the ones present in potatoes and sugar are broken down into individual sugar units and absorbed by our small intestine into the blood. They then travel to the different organs to be used for energy.
However, our bodies can’t break some kinds of carbohydrates. If the body can’t break them, they can’t be converted into individual sugar molecules and absorbed. So, they are not considered a source of energy because they aren’t absorbed and, hence, subtracted when calculating net carbs. Examples of these non-absorbable carbohydrates include fiber.
What happens to non-absorbable carbohydrates like fiber?
If fibers aren’t used as a source of energy, why do many people say they have great benefits to the body? That’s a good question.
These carbohydrates are fermented by your bacteria to short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SFACs have multiple health benefits, including having a healthy gut, improving intestinal motility, and decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer.
This is why you still need to consume foods rich in fibers even though they are not absorbed through your intestine to the blood. Hence, they don’t raise your blood sugar.
Why calculating net carbs is important?
You need to be aware that chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension result from the accumulative effect of years of bad habits. If you smoke for one month, you won’t get lung cancer, but your chances are higher if you smoke for 20 years.
Similarly, consuming unhealthy food may not lead to immediate negative consequences. However, in the long term, it can be very harmful.
This is what exactly happens if we consume a diet low in fibers and rich in unhealthy carbohydrates. Diet rich in unhealthy carbohydrates (like French fries) increases the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes in the long term.
If you can calculate your net carbs and stick to that normal range, this will provide a great benefit. Your total carbohydrate should make up 45% to 60% of your total daily calorie intake. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, around 900 to 1,300 calories should be carbohydrates. This translates to 225g-325g of carbs per day.
Can carbohydrates turn into fat?
Yes, but only if you eat more than your body needs. Remember that the #1 source of energy for your cells is carbohydrates. Therefore, carbohydrates aren’t that bad. Nevertheless, suppose you consume more calories than your body needs in the form of carbohydrates. In that case, they are converted into fat and stored in fat tissue.
Be aware that this can easily happen nowadays due to the availability of unhealthy foods like burgers, pasta, and pizzas. Although consuming them can be okay, most food companies use food additives that make foods taste better. Examples include sauces. These additives can easily make you go beyond your daily calorie requirement.
Net carbs refer to the number of carbohydrates consumed and subtracted from fibers. Fibers are subtracted because our intestine lacks the enzyme that can digest them, making them non-absorbable. Because they are non-absorbable, they don’t contribute to energy production in your body. They don’t lead to a rise in your blood sugar. This is why they are subtracted. Calculating your net carbs is crucial since diets high in carbs and calories are associated with an increased risk of chronic illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.