What Are Net Carbs, And Are They Really Important?

Net Carbs
03 Sep

Last Updated on May 21, 2023 by Michael Brockbank

As I continue with my 6-week attempt at keto, I came across a term that was unfamiliar. What are net carbs? A lot of food packaging for the keto diet states how it only has “X” amount of net carbs, even though the Carbohydrates on the nutrition label say otherwise.

So, should I go by the actual total of carbohydrates? From the perspective of the keto diet, no.

What Are Net Carbs?

First of all, the term “net carbs” isn’t an official designation. It’s not recognized by the FDA here in the United States, and not all nutritional experts agree that it’s even a thing.

With that being said, there are plenty of people on low-carb diets, such as Atkins and Keto, who attest to the effectiveness of monitoring these kinds of carbohydrates.

Essentially, net carbs are those that impact the body in one form or another. This is because certain insoluble fibers are digested differently and can easily pass through the body without being absorbed.

Carbohydrates, such as various sugars, are quickly absorbed by the body during digestion. Others, like fruits and grains, take longer to digest but still impact the body but to a lesser degree.

And some of these other carbs are passed without impact.

To calculate net carbs, you take the total level of carbohydrates and subtract those that are not digested as well as sugar alcohols. This is because it is believed these elements don’t really impact the body as much.

So, it would look something like this: net carbs = (total carbs – dietary fibers) – sugar alcohols.

In fact, sugar alcohols are often used as artificial sweeteners in various keto and low-carb food manufacturing. Sugar alcohols provide a bit of the sweet taste without the massive level of carbs that come with it.

A Marketing Gimmick?

The term, “net carbs” is a marketing device used by manufacturers to cash in on mainstream and fad diet plans. That’s because the health and fitness industry makes billions each year.

It’s estimated that health and wellness foods will make up more than $800 billion in 2021 across the globe. It has been steadily rising year after year and is often seen as a safe bet for investors.

If you were a food manufacturer, wouldn’t you want to get on that money train?

Now, this isn’t saying that net carbs are pointless or have no value in actual science. In reality, many of the claims regarding food are based on scientific evidence due to past research.

For instance, how insoluble fibers are passed quickly through the digestive tract. Coincidentally, this is why gastroenterologists suggest a high-fiber diet to keep your bowels regular.

However, without peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support the claim of what net carbs do, it may be nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

On the other hand, there is no denying the mountain of evidence supporting how the body digests specific carbs. So, yes, it’s a gimmick, but an honest one according to the evidence.

Why Are Net Carbs Important to Keto?

The purpose of the keto diet is to convince your body to use fat stores as opposed to carbohydrates for energy. In many cases, this promotes a fast, fat-burning lifestyle as long as you can keep the net carbs low.

However, this also leads to decreased energy levels over the short term. In other words, it’s more difficult to maintain a certain level of energy without a period of adjustment and steps to combat “keto flu.”

Everyone is different and will experience varying results when first attempting the keto diet. It’s quite natural for people to suffer a range of symptoms during the transition. Luckily, the symptoms will subside as you continue the diet.

This means that you’ll be fighting for energy in the beginning, but your body will adapt to the new regime. You’ll start feeling much better as time goes on.

Should You Stay Away from Carbs Completely?

The body needs carbs in order to operate efficiently. It’s the overall amount of sugar and starches that often cause the biggest issue. Sure, sugar is valuable to supply energy to cells, but overloading yourself with a bag of cookies isn’t going to help much.

Well, unless you’re a bodybuilder and wind up burning all of the glucose in a single session. This is why you’ll see massive Hulk-like men pounding down insane amounts of food every day.

Glucose is created by the body from various carbs, most of which are avoided in the keto diet. Sugar, bread, potatoes, and even fruits are broken down by enzymes, which produces glucose during the process.

In reality, your brain needs glucose. It aids in physiological and pathological brain function. This means it’s better for your brain to balance carb intake, but to do so in logical moderation.

While on the keto diet, net carbs are used for this process. And depending on the number of carbs you eat, it may be enough to sustain brain functionality.

This is why a lot of people monitor blood sugar levels while on keto. Not just because of brain health, but a lot can happen if your blood sugar levels drop or rise dramatically.

You need to keep yourself in the “zone” for the keto diet. And the process for this depends on the individual. That’s because everyone is different and will digest foods a specific way.

Remember, it’s called a “low-carb” diet, not a “no-carb” diet. Carbs in some form are still necessary for proper health, according to research.

How Many Net Carbs Should You Have for the Keto Diet?

This is where it gets a bit sticky. Every keto-diet expert seems to have a varying opinion about the best number of carbs for your daily intake.

From what I can tell, most keto guidelines state up to 30g of net carbs or up to 10% of caloric intake is the key number. This is quite confusing, really. Because 10% of total calories is incredibly high in contrast.

For example, let’s say I am going to have a 1,500 calorie day because I stay a bit active. Does this mean I should have 150g of net carbs as opposed to 30g? That’s quite the difference.

On the other hand, I can see that as a viable solution. Before I started my keto journey, I was having pretty close to the 10% rule on a regular basis. If I can maintain a good level of physical activity, I would lose more than half a pound per day.

But, that also wasn’t the keto diet.

On the other hand, some experts want you to aim for 50g of carbs per day to stay in ketosis, the whole point of the keto diet.

You can see how these mainstream diet plans can get confusing. It all comes down to who you trust most.

In the end, though, it really depends on the individual and how your body processes carbohydrates. A good way to determine the ideal number for yourself is to use ketosis strips or regularly monitor your blood sugar.

Tracking the food you eat in MyFitnessPal and then testing your levels can help you come up with a strategy of what you need to eat.

And the Experiment Continues…

I don’t really know if I answered a lot of questions in this article. It can get maddening trying to find the most viable information regarding net carbs and the keto diet. That’s because a lot of experts can’t seem to agree on the best approach.

Probably the best way to find the perfect number of net carbs is to run case studies on yourself. This is when you track what you eat and how it affects you on a daily basis.

For someone who loves spreadsheets like me, this isn’t all that difficult…and is quite fun. Then again, I’m a bit of a dork when it comes to collecting data.

I love crunching numbers.

In any case, be careful about what you do and don’t put into your body. And if you’re worried, it’s always best to consult a physician about your dietary needs and wants.

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2 thoughts on “What Are Net Carbs, And Are They Really Important?

  1. Thanks for the heads up on the palmini. After being sick for 2 days from Pasta zero, I will throw this package away. Won’t take the chance. It’s right up there with the rancid flavor just add rubber bands.

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