What Are Net Carbs? How to Calculate Net Carbohydrates

Let’s face it...nutrition is hard.

Even if you understand the amazing benefits of a low carb, ketogenic diet - it can still feel impossible to understand if a food or ingredient you want to eat is truly keto.

For your dog, the answer is simple: Feed Visionary. We make low carb, ketogenic dog food for dogs of all breeds and life stages - so you never have to worry if what you’re feeding is low carb or ketogenic. 

low carb keto dry food

But for us humans - who live in a world of variety and abundance when it comes to food and food marketing - things aren’t so easy. So let’s take a step back from canine nutrition for a moment and clear up the most confusing aspect of keto dieting for humans. 

That’s right...we’re talking about net carbs!

What Are Net Carbs?

If you’ve ever seen a nutrition label for a low carb food, you’ve no doubt seen the term net carbs called out or listed. And that’s because - when it comes to determining the carb count of a food - net carbs, not total carbs, is what truly matters.

The simplest way to understand net carbs is this: a net carb is any carb that is not a fiber. 

If that makes perfect sense to you, great! You can stop reading this now and go enjoy some delicious low carb treats. But for those of you who are now thinking, “what is a fiber?”, please stick around. I’m happy to explain :)

What is a Fiber?

A fiber is any carbohydrate that cannot be easily digested by your body and converted to glucose.

There are soluble fibers, which your gut bacteria can convert to short-chain fatty acids, and thus provide a small amount of calories per gram. And there are insoluble fibers, which cannot be digested by you OR your gut bacteria - and thus pass through your digestive tract without providing any calories at all. 

While there is much more to fibers than simply their potential energy content, this article is about net carbs. And when it comes to calculating net carbs, the only thing we care about is whether a carbohydrate is or isn’t a fiber.

what are net carbs

If it is a fiber, then it will not count toward the net carb count. And if the carbohydrate in your food is not a fiber, then it is considered a net carb and will count toward your net carb count.

Which brings us to an even more important question...

Why do Net Carbs Matter?

Net carbs matter because these carbs are digestible - meaning, your body can directly convert these carbs into glucose. 

Eating a large amount of carbohydrates causes a variety of effects. But the most important outcome is the elevation of blood sugar and insulin levels. As countless studies have demonstrated, chronically high blood glucose and decreased insulin sensitivity can lead to diabetes, metabolic disease, and other life-threatening conditions. And one way to avoid these two conditions is limiting your intake of digestible (or “net”) carbohydrates!

One other topic to be mindful of is the issue of sugar. While we live in a world that has rightfully demonized sugar for the damage frequent sugar consumption can cause, the over-emphasis on sugar is not needed when we’re calculating net carbs.

Keto low carb

All carbohydrates that are not fibers are directly (and easily) metabolized to glucose. So, metabolically speaking, whether a carbohydrate is a sugar or not is irrelevant to your net carb calculation! 

Yes, sugars are digested differently and certain sugars (namely, fructose) are especially harmful. But if your goal is restricting carbs for all the amazing benefits of a ketogenic diet, then you need to avoid all digestible carbs. It simply doesn’t matter whether they’re considered sugars or not. 

And lucky for all of us, calculating net carbs is EASY! You just need a reliable nutrition label.

Calculating Net Carbs?

Unless you’re buying fruits or vegetables at a farmers market - most food you buy comes with a standard nutrition label. This label lists macronutrient content by grams - including fat, protein, fiber, and carb counts.

We actually use a human-grade nutrition label on our keto dog food packaging - so we could use our keto beef dry food as an example. The only problem is: we go above and beyond to make our nutrition labels easy! 

Visionary lists net carbs directly on our packaging, so you don’t have to do any guesswork or calculations. This is great for you - but for the sake of this experiment, our label is actually too honest to be helpful :)

So instead, let’s look at a nutrition label you’ve no doubt seen before. Below is the nutrition label for a brand of delicious milk chocolate that - after analysis - you’ll understand why you can’t eat much of on a ketogenic diet.

calculating net carbs

As you can see, each serving has 19g of total carbohydrates, 14g of sugars, and 2g of dietary fiber. I mention sugars only to emphasize the point that most people will think this information is relevant to calculating net carbs. In reality, you only need to know the total carbs and total fiber to do this incredibly easy calculation. And here it is…

19g of Total Carbs - 2g Fiber = 17g Net Carbs.

With a whopping 17g net carbs per serving, even one serving of this chocolate bar will add significantly to your daily carb count. And that’s why we wouldn’t recommend this as a food to eat regularly or in large amounts on a ketogenic diet. 

But while we lost the ability to gorge on this brand of milk chocolate by doing this experiment, we gained something even more valuable: the ability to calculate net carbs! 

Now that you know exactly why net carbs matter, and how to calculate them, you can tell exactly which foods are low enough in net carbs to consume on a keto diet! 

Use this power wisely, and always remember: if you have any questions about low carb or keto nutrition for dogs OR humans, we’re here to help! Email info@visionarypet.com and we’ll be happy to answer any questions at all. 

Waggy Tails! 

- Patrick

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