Net Carbs vs Total Carbs: How to Calculate Net Carbs in Your Low-Carb Diet

How to Calculate Net Carbs in Your Low-Carb Diet

Net Carbs Revisited – How to Calculate Net Carbs in Your Diet

  What You Need to Know

  • The concept of Net Carbs was introduced by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades in their book Protein Power as the Effective Carb Count.
  • The concept was simple: the total carb count for any food includes sugars, starches*, and fiber. Since the human gut can’t digest or absorb fiber, the Eades suggested we subtract it from the total carbs.
  • Dana defines her way of calculating Net Carbs – if you’re counting net instead of total carbs and not getting the results you want, give it a try.

If ever an originally sound concept was misunderstood, misused, and abused, it is net carbs.
Someone on a low carb Facebook group asked if adding, say, 10 grams of fiber (Metamucil or something, I suppose) to a higher carb item would lower the net carb count. No, no it will not. Fiber does not somehow counteract digestible carbs, it simply isn’t one and doesn’t need to be counted.

Many others have discarded the idea and count only total carbs. This gives them a lower carb count, it is true, but not necessarily a more effective or healthier diet. So, let’s get clearer.

Net Carbs Concept Introduced by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades

The concept was introduced by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades in their book Protein Power as the Effective Carb Count. The concept was simple: the total carb count for any food includes sugars, starches1, and fiber. Since the human gut cannot digest nor absorb fiber, the Eades allowed their patients to subtract it from the total carb count. This allowed their patients to eat more vegetables and low-sugar fruits.

But you know how people are. Give ‘em a loophole and they’ll start trying to turn it into a wide-open door. The food processors seized the concept and decided that all sorts of things could be discounted – sugar alcohols aka polyols, glycerin, resistant starches, even fructose, Atkins help us!

Having been low-carb since 1995, I saw what happened during the Atkins Boom of 2003-2004: a diet that had required people to eat real food was swamped by tons of supposedly “low net carb” processed junk.

The Net Carbs Abuse Grows

Dreamfields Pasta is not low-carb

There were some truly egregious offenders. Dreamfield’s Pasta wound up paying a $3 million fraud suit over their “low carb” pasta. Another company lists “low glycemic monosaccharide” on their labels and subtracts that from their total carb count. (I looked it up; there are only a few low glycemic monosaccharides, and the only cheap one is fructose, definitely a carb, and a particularly damaging one at that, regardless of its low glycemic index)2. After Dr. Atkins’ death in 2004, the corporation that bought his name and trademark started putting out sweet rolls and coffee cakes with ingredients that would have made the reportedly unflappable Dr. A. apoplectic.

Predictably, the benefits of the diet evaporated. People became disillusioned.

But the problem wasn’t the diet, it was people’s attempts to make it look like their old high-carb, processed food diets. No, a “low carb” sweet roll is not the same as eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, or even eating genuinely low-carb “granola” or hot “cereal” made only from nuts and seeds. Sugar-free candy may or may not be genuinely low carb. Stevia isn’t a carb, and erythritol, like fiber, is not digested and passes through the body unchanged; the FDA states it has zero calories. Since carbohydrates have four calories per gram, zero calories = zero carbs. But the rest of the sugar alcohols – maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, et al — are absorbed to one degree or another. About fifty-two percent of maltitol, the most popular of the bunch, is digested and assimilated.3

This is, I suspect, the reason why many of today’s keto dieters have discarded the concept of net carbs, counting only total carbs. This will certainly get them better results than eating lots of processed low carb stuff with dubiously low “net carb” counts, but it strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We didn’t get fat and sick from eating vegetables. Further, soluble fiber, found in those vegetables, feeds beneficial gut bacteria; see my review of Super Gut.

Dana’s Review of Super Gut:

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Dana Carpender CarbSmart

Dana Carpender’s Approach to Counting Net Carbs

Here is my approach to counting carbs when I do (I generally don’t; I just don’t eat carbage):

  • Subtract fiber from total carbs
  • Subtract erythritol carbs
  • Subtract half of maltitol carbs (and geez, go easy on the sugar-free sweets, will you?)
  • All but 4 grams of sugar per cup from the 12 grams listed on plain yogurt (I never eat the sweetened stuff; that’s why God invented flavored stevia). That number is based on the quantity of lactose in the milk from which the yogurt is made, but most of that is converted to lactic acid4).

That’s it. I don’t subtract anything else.

Bottom line: question every “net carbs” label on a processed food. Every single one. And center your diet on real food. “Bridge foods” have their purpose, but they should not become part of your everyday diet.


1 I have had people ask, “Why is the total carb number higher than the sum of the sugars and the fiber? Where are the rest coming from?” Starches. For some reason, food labels don’t break out the starch number separately. It’s important to remember that “starch” is just another word for “a whole lot of sugar holding hands.” A slice of whole wheat bread will jack your blood sugar up faster and higher than an equivalent amount of sugar.

2 I wrote the company. They danced around the issue, but never came out and denied that their “low glycemic monosaccharide” was fructose.

3 This shows calories provided by polyols per gram. Since all carbs have 4 calories per gram, the figure of 2.1 calories per gram for maltitol works out to 52% metabolization. I can explain that if you like. This article says to count half of polyol carbs! But it also shows that you gain only 0.2 calories per gram of erythritol; the FDA calls it zero.

4 The residual lactose in my homemade Super Gut yogurt, incubated for thirty-six hours, should be far lower than that.

Previous Articles About Counting Net Carbs from CarbSmart

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