Recently one of our clients brought up the topic of Net Carbs. All of us at one time of another have seen a product labeled with “Only ____ net carbs!!” In our heads, we think “Alright! Only ___ net carbs! Wait…what are net carbs?” We all know what a regular old carbohydrate is, but what makes them different from a net carb?
Before we approach that topic, let’s have a quick refresher on how carbs affect our bodies. All carbs have a rating on the Glycemic Index scale. This scale shows us how quickly or slowly a carbohydrate is converted into glucose or blood sugar. Higher blood sugar levels make our bodies secrete insulin, which, when present in the blood, make the carbs we’ve consumed more likely to be stored as fat. So the glycemic index is a way for us to avoid these blood sugar-boosting, fat-storing foods as much as possible. The higher the number on the index scale, the faster the food is converted to blood sugar, and the lower the number, the slower it goes. Bottom line: Higher number on the Glycemic Index=Bad; Lower number=Good.
A net carb is defined as the total grams of carbs MINUS the grams of sugar alcohols and fiber. So in a nutshell, net carbs are the carbs that DO have an effect on whether blood sugars go up a little or a lot. The term was created by companies hoping to retain the carb-conscious consumers as purchasers of their products.
So how do we figure net carbs you ask? Allow me break it down. Imagine a protein bar, for example; let’s say there are 25 total carbohydrates in the bar, 5 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar alcohols. To find the “net carbs”, (or the carbs that are absorbed by your body and affect your blood sugars) you take the total carbs (25g) and subtract fiber (5g) and sugar alcohols (3g) so the net carbs in the protein bar are 17g. This number is a little better for those counting carbs and definitely a good thing to keep in mind when grocery shopping. However, do also keep in mind that this equation isn’t entirely on point. There are SOME fibers and sugar alcohols that can be absorbed by your body. And even though the sugar alcohol and fiber don’t have to add to the carb count, they still are carbs that do have calories. Those unfortunately don’t disappear. Bottom line: Be aware of all aspects of the food label before you buy a product, especially if the front label’s promises look too enticing. Check out the nutrition facts on the back; those facts will speak the truth and give you the whole picture!