Total Carbs and Net Carbs: Know The Difference For Better Diabetes Control
It’s helpful to know the difference between a food’s total grams of carbohydrate, and net grams of carbohydrate, since only net carbs affect blood sugar.
Our body generates energy for itself by turning food carbohydrates into a bio-fuel called glucose. The glucose triggers a release of the hormone insulin that transports the glucose where it’s needed.
If we eat more carbohydrates than our body requires for energy, some of the excess is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen; the rest is preserved as fat. Yet, not all carbohydrate can be used as fuel or stored for future use.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that cannot be digested by the body, or made into glucose. Until it’s eliminated, fiber remains in the digestive tract where it slows down the absorption of other nutrients, aids in the elimination process, and feeds our healthy gut bacteria. Fiber has no effect on insulin levels.
Determining Net Carbs
Net carbs is a term for the digestible carbohydrates that actually enter our bloodstream, raise glucose levels, and instigate insulin release.
To determine net carbs you simply subtract a food’s indigestible fiber grams of carbohydrate from its total grams of carbohydrate:
- Total grams of carbohydrate (digestible and indigestible carbs)
- Minus the grams of fiber (the indigestible carbs)
- Equals grams of net carbs (the digestible carbs that elevate blood sugar)
One cup of cooked broccoli, for instance, has 11.2 grams of total carbohydrate, and 5.1 grams of fiber. So, to calculate net carbs:
- 11.2 total grams carbohydrate (digestible and indigestible carbs)
- minus 5.1 grams of fiber (indigestible carbs)
- equals 6.1 grams net carbs (digestible carbs that elevate blood sugar)
This simple equation makes it easy to see how 15 total carb grams of fiber-less pastas or snack foods will raise blood sugar levels more than 15 total carb grams of fiber-rich veggies.
Net Carbs, Insulin, and Weight Loss
Some people limit net carbs - instead of counting calories - to lose weight and reduce insulin levels.
Because diets low in net carbs naturally restrict glucose production and insulin release, the body is forced to burn its fat for fuel. This shift toward utilizing fat helps some individuals lose weight, and manage or reverse pre- and type 2 diabetes since the body no longer depends on elevated insulin to transport glucose.
Those who limit their net carb intake must learn to replace the lost carbohydrate calories with protein foods, and high quality fats such as those in seeds, butter, nuts, avocado, olives, raw cacao, and healthy cooking oils (e.g., olive, coconut, avocado).
Anyone who incorporates a low-carb, increased protein and fat diet into their diabetes treatment plan is wise to do so with a doctor or dietitian’s help, and should monitor carefully.
There’s An App
Though the calculation of net carbs is simple, keeping track of daily total carbs, fiber, and net carbs might be a task we are loath to take on. Fortunately, for those interested, there are online and mobile nutrition trackers to do the calculating and record keeping for us. Just Google “nutrition tracker” and choose one that suits your needs.