I get asked often, “should we counting “net carbs” or “total carbs?” What are “net carbs” and how did they became a “thing.”
After we eat carbohydrate, our bodies automatically break it down into units called “glucose.,” Glucose is a form of sugar that our bodies use for energy. For every X grams of carbohydrate we eat, our blood sugar elevates X number of points.
Our bodies do not like when our blood sugar becomes elevated. In order to lower our blood sugar, the body releases a hormone known as “insulin.” Insulin’s job is to shuttle the glucose OUT of our blood, and INTO our cells. Inside the cells, little “factories” break down the glucose into water, carbon dioxide, and energy. Our bodies then use the energy to function.
Let’s now pause to talk about fiber. Technically, fiber is a type of carbohydrate, however, the body cannot turn fiber into glucose. Therefore, fiber does not increase our blood sugar and does not trigger insulin secretion. Instead, fiber passes through the GI tract, where it collects cholesterol and feeds the good bacteria and the cells in our GI tract. Then it leaves the body.
So, the term “net carb” refers to the total digestible carbohydrate content of a serving of food. Or the total carbohydrate minus the fiber.
“Net Carbs” Is Useful for Type 1 Diabetics
This is very important information for an individual with type 1 diabetes, because their bodies cannot make insulin. Type 1 diabetics need to know exactly how many grams of digestible carbohydrate they eat. This allows them to accurately calculate how their insulin dose. The concept of “net carbs” was created for type 1 diabetics as a useful tool to help them figure out how much insulin they need to bring their blood sugar back to normal. Too much insulin and their blood sugar drops too low. Too little insulin and their blood sugar stays too high. Both are dangerous. People without type 1 diabetes are lucky. Their bodies take care of all of this automatically.
The Food Industry Tries to Capitalize on a Tool meant for Type 1 Diabetics
Unfortunately, the food industry decided that “net carbs” was a great marketing “gimmick” to help them sell more processed food. Using the net carb concept, they advertise that their products contain less carbohydrate. While high fiber foods are a good thing, if one were counting carbohydrates, they might decide to eat twice as much of food that is “low in net carbs.” But in doing so, they double the amount of calories that they eat! It’s kind of the same thing we did when the whole “fat-free” food craze took over in the 90’s. The food industry removed the fat from their food products, and added in a bunch of sugar, and we all thought we could eat twice as much food if as long as it was low in fat. Well…we all know how that turned out….everyone gained weight and the rates of obesity sky-rocketed.
So, while “net carbs” is a useful tool for type 1 diabetics, I do not recommend using it if you do not have type 1 diabetes.
Net Carb Example
This “food” contains 25 grams of total carbohydrate and 14 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup serving. To calculate the “net carbohydrate”, you subtract the Dietary Fiber from the Total Carbohydrate:
25 – 14 = 16 grams net carbs.
Use of the”Net Carbs” Concept Can Lead to Overeating
Let me ask you a question. If you live a lower carbohydrate lifestyle, would you then eat 2 servings of this “food product?” I suspect most of us would, because we all like to eat more. Most of us would probably eat 1 cup instead of 1/2 a cup, or maybe you’d have 1/2 cup of this “food” AND add 1/2 cup of fruit and be happy because you think you are staying within your recommended carbohydrate range for the meal.
Again, the problem with doing that is that now you have consumed 120 calories instead of 60 calories. Do you see how if you were to eat double servings all day long, you increase your caloric intake significantly, which will lead to weight gain?, This is especially true if you are eating man-made processed “foods” that contain insulin-stimulating flour and starch, not to mention artificial sweetener, which can increase food cravings.
So, personally, since I do not have type 1 diabetes, I do not use the “net carb” concept. I feel that the end result will be overeating and weight gain.
Now that being said, I generally do not count the carbohydrates in nonstarchy vegetables. The reason is that nonstarchy vegetables are nature-made, low carb, highly anti inflammatory, low calorie, anti cancer….they are basically medicine. There is a big difference between eating 2 -3 servings of broccoli and eating 2-3 servings of factory-made, highly processed, high glycemic food in a boxA huge difference in what hormonal and biochemical reactions they trigger in the body.