A healthy, active lifestyle involves so many different moving parts, including social time, time outdoors, and time to participate in your favorite sports, hobbies, and other activities. Eating healthy is fundamentally important, but it doesn’t need to take up a lot of time. As long as you read and understand Nutrition Facts labels, you will make healthy choices on the fly. One easy trick for losing weight and keeping it off is keeping your net carb intake low, around 30-40 grams per day. Read on to learn more about the difference between net carbs and total carbs.
What are carbs?
Carbohydrates are sugar molecules found in food and drinks. They are one of the three nutrient building blocks (macronutrients) of your diet, along with protein and fat. In the world of fad diets carbs have gotten a bad reputation, but the truth is, we need them. Carbs are the body’s immediate source of energy, and they’re found in so many different foods, from pasta and grains to fruits and vegetables.
Types of carbs
Carbs are classified as simple or complex, depending on how quickly your body breaks them down into glucose (blood sugar), which is what fuels the body. Simple carbs are those the body breaks down quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Because simple carbs are processed so quickly, they leave you hungry again sooner. Complex carbs break down more slowly, avoiding sharp spikes and quick drops of blood sugar, so they are more likely to keep you feeling satisfied longer.
Carbohydrates fall into three main categories:
- Sugars (simple) – fruit sugar (fructose), table sugar (sucrose), milk sugar (lactose), honey, corn syrup, candy, beer, some breads
- Starches (complex) – some bread, rice, oats, potatoes, yams, corn
- Fiber (complex) – fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, brown rice, corn husks, other non-digestible plant components
Looking closely at the foods listed above, you will notice some overlap between categories. Some starchy foods contain fiber, and some fibrous foods contain sugar. Because each of these types of carbohydrates have a different impact on your body, maintaining a healthy diet requires understanding the difference between “total carbs” and “net carbs.” But first, it’s important to discuss the role of fiber.
The role of fiber
Fiber is a carbohydrate, but it works differently than sugars and starches. Sugars and starches are broken down in your digestive tract and absorbed through your intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Fiber is a carbohydrate that is not broken down or absorbed into your body. Although it is in the content of food so added into the total grams of carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts label, it doesn’t count as a carbohydrate that energizes you or can be stored as fat. Therefore, fiber content in grams can be subtracted from total carbohydrate. What your body actually absorbs includes only sugars and starches.
On the one end, we have sugars and simple carbs, which are broken down by the body quickly. Then in the middle we have starches, which are broken down and digested by the body more slowly. And then on the other end, we have fiber, which the body cannot digest at all. There are two types of fiber, and even though neither can be digested, they both play an important role in our digestive system.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water and turns into a gel that helps improve blood glucose control, lowers fat absorption, and prevents the digestion of some dietary cholesterol. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, but fills up space in the stomach and intestines, resulting in longer-lasting feelings of fullness. It also promotes bowel health and regularity. Fiber is one of the key factors in determining the difference between “total carbs” and “net carbs.”
A note about sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are a type of artificial sweetener used in “sugar-free” foods. Most are only partially digestible. Common sugar alcohols include: mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt, maltitol and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH). Erythritol is another, though it’s different from the others in that it has no effect on glucose or insulin levels. When you look at a food label, the sugar alcohols will be listed with the carbohydrates but separately from the sugars. They may be labeled “sugar alcohols” or by their individual names.
What is the difference between net carbs and total carbs?
Now that you know the different types of carbs, distinguishing between total carbs and net carbs is about simple math. Here’s what you need to know:
- Total carbs refers to all the different carbs, including sugars, starches, and fiber
- Net carbs refers to only the carbs that the body can digest. This means the carbs minus the fiber and half the sugar alcohols. (Erythritol can be subtracted completely.)
Here’s how to calculate the net carbs.
Total Carbohydrates 9g
Dietary Fiber 5g
Net carbs 0g
Total Carbohydrates 5g
Dietary Fiber 0g
Net carbs 5g
Total Carbohydrates 14g
Dietary Fiber 5g
Net carbs 4g
If you limit your net carbs to 30-40 grams per day and follow the 10x formula for several months, you’ll reach your weight loss goals.
Ready to look and feel great? Try the 10x Diet today!
The science of weight loss is real. It’s also simple. Eat the right foods and stay active, and you’ll lose weight. But simple doesn’t always mean easy. Having support can make all the difference. The 10x Diet is a doctor-supported, sustainable, and easy program that can give you real results and help you maintain your healthy weight for life. Join today!