Whether to count net or total carbs is a controversial topic within the low-carb community.
For starters, the term “net carbs” isn’t officially recognized or agreed upon by nutrition experts. In addition, due to conflicting and outdated information, figuring out how to calculate net carbs can be confusing.
In fact, the net carb claims on packaged foods may not reflect the number of carbs your body actually absorbs.
Luckily, knowing how your body processes different types of carbs may help you achieve your target blood sugar, weight loss and health goals.
This article looks at the science behind net carbs, provides simple calculations for determining your intake and discusses the pros and cons of counting net carbs.
What Are Net (Digestible) Carbs?
Simple carbs contain one or two sugar units linked together and are found in foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, sugar, honey and syrup.
Complex carbs contain many sugar units linked together and are found in grains and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
When you eat a carb-containing food, most of the carbs are broken down into individual sugar units by enzymes produced in your small intestine. Your body can only absorb individual sugar units.
However, some carbs can’t be broken down into individual sugars, whereas others are only partially broken down and absorbed. These include fiber and sugar alcohols.
Because of this, most fiber and sugar alcohols can be subtracted from total carbs when calculating net carbs.
Summary: Net (digestible) carbs are broken down into individual sugar units and absorbed into your bloodstream. However, your body processes fiber and sugar alcohol carbs differently than digestible carbs.
How Your Body Handles Fiber Carbs
Fiber is a unique form of carbs in terms of its digestion and effects on your body.
Unlike starch and sugar, naturally occurring fiber isn’t absorbed in your small intestine.
This is because the links between sugar units can’t be broken down by the enzymes in your digestive tract. Therefore, fiber passes directly into the colon (1).
However, its fate after that depends on…