The Difference Between Net Carbs and Total Carbs

One of the most common questions we get from people looking to start a keto diet or low-carb diet is what does it mean when you see something like “net carbs” on a food label.

It’s important to know that there are two different types of carbohydrates – net and total.

Net carbs are calculated by subtracting fiber from carbohydrate grams, which means they’re only counting the amount of digestible carbohydrates in each serving.

Total carbs include both net and non-digestible (or insoluble) carbohydrates, such as dietary fiber, sugar alcohols, starches, etc.

The goal with any type of diet is to control blood sugar to keep it within an optimal range that optimizes fat burning and energy levels.

You want to think of net carbs as the only carbs you count and get the rest of your carbohydrates from foods like leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.

However, if a food contains fiber that isn’t counted in the “total” carbs, we don’t want to overlook it either.

It’s also important to note that all carbs are not created equal and some are definitely more filling than others.

For example, you might find a whole lot of fiber in spinach, which will fill you up very quickly but doesn’t contain many net carbs at all.

Not all fiber is created equal. For example, although spinach has a high amount of fiber, it actually won’t lead to increased food intake in the way that other types of fiber might.

Other foods with fiber include nuts and seeds, root vegetables like sweet potatoes or squash, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

A common question we get from people on keto or low-carb diets is what does it mean when they see “net carbs” on a food label?

This article will explore the difference between net carbs and total carbs and why you should be paying attention to both.

The Difference Between Net and Total Carbs

Net carbs, as well as total carbs, are used to describe the amount of carbohydrates found in a given product or food.

Most people already know that carbohydrates are an energy source and, therefore, something that should be included in your diet.

While most folks are aware of the benefits of eating complex carbohydrates such as beans, grains and potatoes, not as many people understand what simple carbohydrates are and how they can affect carbohydrate levels in your body.

Chances are that you already have a general idea of what carbohydrates are, however, you may not know the difference between net carbs and total carbs.

In order to make this clearer to you, we will explain what these two terms actually mean, so that you can make better choices when it comes to your own diet.

Net Carbs vs. Total Carbs

Net carbohydrates are a measurement of the amount of carbs that your body is able to metabolize after they have been digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.

As most people know, carbohydrates consist of three elements: fiber, glycerol, and sugars. The difference between net carbs and total carbs can be found in the amount of fiber.

What Is Fiber?

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that aids in digestion as well as assists with the absorption of other nutrients.

While some foods such as beans contain both soluble and insoluble fibers, others contain one or the other.

Soluble fibers tend to be more useful for helping lower your blood sugar levels, while insoluble fiber can help with things like colon health and overall digestive system function.

Consequently, foods that are higher in soluble fiber have a greater impact on net carbs/total carbs than foods that don’t contain as much.

Examples of Soluble Fiber

Oats, peas, bananas, berries, and many types of vegetables are all high in soluble fiber.

That’s why if you look at the carbs on a food label that contains these types of foods, it will tell you something like “6g of net carbs per serving,” but the total carb content is significantly more.

This is because the carbs that are not soluble, such as sugar and starch, have already been absorbed into your bloodstream and do not impact net carbohydrates/total carbs in a significant way.

Examples of Insoluble Fiber

Corn husks, wheat bran, and many types of vegetables are all high in insoluble fiber. This is due to the fact that they do not dissolve in water, which makes them resistant to digestion.

Because soluble fiber can be lumped together with net carbs/total carbs, insoluble fiber is excluded from this equation and has less of an impact on your overall carb count.

What Is Glycerol?

Glycerol is a type of fiber that is considered to be a sugar alcohol.

One of the main differences between this substance and other types of sugars is that it has very little impact on blood sugar levels in comparison to something like glucose.

According to the American Diabetes Association, glycerol does not have any major effect on metabolism or insulin production.

You can find glycerol in a lot of different foods and even some medications.

Examples of Glycerol

Coconut, palm trees, soybeans, maltitol, and xylitol are all common sources of glycerol.

However, it is important to keep in mind that the total amount contained in food or medication will vary from product to product.

Those with diabetes or other health conditions should always speak to a doctor about what they can and cannot include in their diet when it comes to these substances.

What Is Sugar Content?

The sugar content of food, also known as the total carbohydrate count, is made up of both fiber and the actual carbs found in complex carbohydrates such as sugar, starches, and digestible cellulose.

Insoluble fiber is eliminated from this equation due to the fact that it does not dissolve in water, so it doesn’t have any impact on carbs.

On the other hand, glycerol has a limited effect on your blood sugar levels and remains relatively constant once you ingest it.

This is why you will often see an “insoluble fiber” and “sugar alcohol” line item on food labels.

Consequently, the amount of net carbs/total carbs is typically much lower than the total carb count itself due to the fact that both fiber and glycerol are excluded from this measurement.

Total Carbohydrate Count Example

Let’s say you eat a food that contains 15g of total carbs and 10g of fiber.

The net carbs/total carbs would then be calculated by subtracting the fiber count from the total carb count, which is 5 g.

So there are only 5 grams of net carbs per serving, even though the total carb content is a lot higher.

This is why it is important for people with diabetes or other health conditions to pay attention to the net carb and total carb content of certain foods when trying to control their blood sugar levels or lose weight.

It also means that they need to factor in insoluble fiber and glycerol contents because these substances will have a limited impact on your blood sugar levels and should not be considered as net carbs/total carbs.

Related: Lose Weight By Cutting Out Carbohydrates

Summary

The difference between net carbs and total carbs is a common confusion in the low-carb community. The easiest way to determine this content is by looking at the label of any food.

Another way to calculate this content is by subtracting insoluble fiber from total carbohydrates.

Total carbohydrates are made up of both soluble and insoluble fiber, meaning that insoluble fiber is eliminated from this equation. Insoluble fiber will have no impact on your blood sugar levels, though glycerol will, it will not be as big of an impact as soluble fiber.

So the difference between net carbs and total carbs is that net carbs and total carbs exclude insoluble fibers, while total carbohydrates include both fiber and glycerol (which will have a small impact on blood sugar levels).

This means that you should be aware of these substances when calculating your own daily carb intake in order to control insulin production and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

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