There’s an important milestone in your Keto journey. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you find yourself asking, “What the heck are net carbs?” It turns out; not all carbs are created equal. And, while you will be eating low quantities of carbs, it’s a good idea to learn fully what a carbohydrate is, and how to tell the difference between a net carb and a total carb.
This is especially important if you monitor your blood sugar, as total carbs have a stronger impact on your insulin response than net carbs do. Total carbs are what the name suggests; they are the total number of carbohydrates in a product. Very few items, except for some meat and cheese, are naturally low carb. This is where our friend fiber steps in.
When fiber is present, your body uses the total number of carbohydrates less the number of fiber. Or, to put it another way, fiber acts like a buddy system and drives the carbs home (they’re still there, but they are no longer the responsible party). If you take the total carbs and subtract the total fiber (and, where applicable, minus sugar alcohols), you are left with net carbs. In Keto we want to keep net carbs low, not necessarily the total carbs.
Note: you can’t add fiber to ice cream and suddenly call it low carb, the two must be exclusive in the same product. Also, you must only subtract sugar alcohols; not sugar. Sugar alcohols are sometimes used in snack foods, and are altered in the chemical process so they act differently from carbohydrates. Most are used to artificially sweeten foods, but some are good for you and others are not. Keep reading to learn the subtle nuances of carbs, and which sugar alcohols to avoid!
The Three Golden Rules of Net Carbs
The reason net carbs are so important is that they enable you to eat a much wider range of foods, and they even allow you to “cheat the system” because the fiber reduces the total impact of the carbs. While it’s not recommended to overindulge in net carbs, you still want to hit your daily net carb limit to remain in Ketosis; net carbs offer the flexibility you need to sustain a delicious, low-carb diet.
Here are the three golden rules of net carbs:
The total carbs can never be lower than fiber
Total carbs minus fiber can never be less than sugar
Total kcal = calories from fat + calories from protein + calories from carbs (without fiber).
Don’t worry, if this sounds horribly complicated, you can use this awesome hidden carb calculator to count your net carbs. Once you plug in some numbers, you’ll kick yourself at how easy it is to count net carbs!
For example, almonds typically contain 6.1g of carbohydrates per 1 ounce serving, but they also contain a whopping 3.4g of fiber, which means they only contain (6.1 – 3.4) 2.7g net carbs. So, while it appears the total carb count for you day might be over, you only need to be under your net carbs to win.
Zero Carb – Too Good to be True?
Walk down the health food aisle, and you’re bound to see no carb pasta and no carb bread; what the heck is going here? Some products contain sorbitol, maltitol and other types of sugar alcohols, which are all associated with insulin spikes, in a bid to erase sugar from the ingredients list. This is a deceptive marketing trick that at best makes food appear low carb, and at worst, raises blood sugars.
Instead, look for natural sweeteners such as monk fruit and Erythritol. These are the correct sweeteners to consume, and won’t spike blood sugar. These natural sweeteners are important if you want to eat foods other than meat and cheese. Diversity is key, and natural sweeteners help flavor foods without spiking blood sugar.
At the end of the day, net carbs are your friends. You want to reduce the impactful insulin response, and where possible, you want to consume net carbs (within your daily limit) that contain natural sweeteners and lots of fiber. It’s best to avoid sugar alcohols at all costs, as these cause all kinds of harmful side effects and can kick many people out of Ketosis.