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Reading the Label: What Are “Net Carbs”

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
February 18, 2024
February 23, 2024
3

You may be told by your healthcare provider to calculate "Net Carbs" for carbohydrates counting. "Net carbs" is calculated by subtracting dietary fiber and/or sugar alcohols from total carbohydrates in the food. Therefore, it is mainly starches and sugars, which are the two types of carbohydrates that affect your blood glucose the most.

Fiber is a carbohydrate that is indigestible, and doesn’t affect your blood glucose as much as sugar or starch.

Sugar alcohol is a carbohydrate that has about half carbohydrates of sugar.

Do I Need to Calculate Net Carbs?

The label claim of "Net Carb" is not approved by USDA and FDA, therefore you won't see it on Nutrition Facts Label.  Calculating net carb used to be recommended for people who need tighter control of their blood sugars, like when they use a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device or take multiple daily insulin injections.

However, according to American Diabetes Association,  it is no longer advised or necessary to subtract dietary fiber and/or sugar alcohols from total carbohydrates when carbohydrate counting for most people with diabetes, unless you are advised by your healthcare provider for your individual need.

How to Calculate Net Carbs

If you are advised to calculate net carbs by your provider,  you can subtract half the dietary fiber or half the sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates if the serving contains more than 5 g of dietary fiber or more than 5 g of sugar alcohols.

Take this nutrition fact label as an example.  Since dietary fiber and sugar alcohols are all more than 5 g per serving,

Net carbs = 20 (total carbohydrates) - 3 (1/2 dietary fiber) - 4 (1/2 sugar alcohols) = 13 g

Calculating net carbs just means that you're figuring how much of the carbohydrates in a food are made up of starch and sugar (which raise the blood glucose more), and you're eliminating the fiber and/or sugar alcohols from your estimation (the carb types that do not raise blood glucose that much).

Takeaways

Keep in mind that not everyone needs to calculate net carbs. For those with no specific dietary restrictions or health concerns related to carbohydrate intake, focusing on overall healthy eating patterns and understanding the quality of carbohydrates consumed (such as choosing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) is sufficient.

As with any dietary approach, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet, especially if you have underlying health conditions or specific nutritional needs. They can provide personalized guidance based on your individual health status and goal. Contact us anytime - we are just one message away!

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