Should You Focus on Net Carbs? What Experts Say


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Enter net carbs, aka “impact carbs” or “active carbs,” a category of carbohydrates that’s increasingly marketed on food packaging. An invention of food marketers, net carbs emerged with the low-carb and keto diet craze as more people started counting (and avoiding) carbs in the hopes of losing weight.

If you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthier, chances are you’re well aware of the benefits of logging your food. While setting calorie goals and balancing macronutrients are largely tried-and-true tools, one metric is a bit more controversial.

Are Net Carbs Worth Tracking?

Counting net carbs is simple to do and it can make life a bit easier when you’re trying to lose weight. To work toward your total carbohydrate goal (which a registered dietitian can help you figure out), all you have to do is subtract the fiber and sugar alcohols from total carbs and continue on with your day, says Ben Tzeel, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Net carbs are tricky because every person is different and no particular approach is appropriate for everyone. It’s important to remember that carbs are not the enemy, and just counting net carbs doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to overall nutrition. For example, there’s a significant difference between foods that are low net carb and very high in fat versus foods that are low net carb and very high in fiber. Lauren Harris-Pincus, Ms, RD.

What Are The Benefits Of Focusing On Net Carbs?

If you’re working to lose weight or build muscle, factoring in net carbs can help since your body isn’t absorbing certain carbs for energy (aka, calories). In particular, people living with diabetes can benefit from focusing on net carbs; carbs from fiber do not impact blood sugar since they aren’t absorbed by the body. If someone with diabetes took insulin based on total carbs without considering fiber, they might have a higher chance of ending up with low blood sugar. Ben Tzeel, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

If you need to watch your blood sugar or stick to a ketogenic diet, you might benefit from considering net carbs. This could be the case if you have hard-to-manage diabetes or a certain neurological condition that calls for this diet, like a seizure disorder. In either case, though, a doctor should be monitoring any severe carbohydrate restriction. Lauren Harris-Pincus, Ms, RD.

What Are The Downsides Of Focusing On Net Carbs?

In some cases, counting net carbs without considering the type of fiber can be misleading when it comes to controlling your blood sugar. For example, isomalto-oligosaccharides (IMOs), a lab-created fiber commonly found in protein bars, is absorbed by the body nearly as fast as sugar and can impact your blood sugar levels. However, for fruits, veggies, grains and the majority of whole foods, net carbs are generally advantageous. Ben Tzeel, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

Net carb calculations aren’t always 100% accurate. While some fibers (like insoluble wheat bran, for example) are completely indigestible and contribute zero calories, some soluble fibers (like gums and pectins you often find in processed foods) are partially digestible — which means they do add some calories to your diet. Lauren Harris-Pincus, Ms, RD.

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