Net Carbs, what the heck does that mean?

It’s probably not what you think. Let’s learn more!

Have you ever been browsing the aisles at the grocery store, and you notice a package that says something like “LOW net carbs: 3g”? That may not mean what you think it does (and when you look at the nutrition label on the back, the actual carbs are maybe more like 20g), so Cat Kom and Studio SWEAT’s R.D. Miriam are here with some facts.

What ARE net carbs? 

Net carbs come from a formula that takes actual carbohydrates and subtracts fiber in the case of whole food products, and also subtracts sugar alcohols in the case of manufactured foods. Essentially, it is the calculation of the number of carbohydrates that are absorbed by your body. 

Why isn’t it on the nutrition label?

The concept of “net carbs” originates from food manufacturers, and is predominantly a marketing tool that was created during the early “low carb diet” craze. (When you’re browsing at the store, that “LOW net carbs” message catches your eye, doesn’t it?) There is nothing within federal law or from health organizations that regulates or mandates this concept in nutrition labeling, which is why you’ll see it on the front but not the nutrition label. Another way to think about this is to realize that no organization looking out for the health of your body created the concept of net carbs.

What’s the point then?

This concept does suggest the impact of the glycemic index: the glucose response in your blood, and the absorption of carbs. The fact is that the glycemic index is a thing. You WILL get a spike in blood sugar from carbs with a higher sugar content versus fiber. But the thing that makes this concept trickier is that lower ‘net’ carbs don’t necessarily make something a health food product, despite the messaging on the packaging. The other macronutrients alongside (proteins and fats) will also impact your blood sugar levels.

Why should or shouldn’t we look at net carbs?

Don’t: If you’re diabetic and need to count your carbohydrates, you need to look at the actual nutrition label and the total carbs, along with their details.

Do: If you are simply looking at carb counts for weight loss, refined or processed carbs do enter your bloodstream quickly, and if you don’t use them (burn calories), they are stored as extra fat. You’ll want to aim for more complex carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with a higher fiber count. And while Miriam loves it when you aim for more whole foods, it’s ok to add some processed low net carb foods (even she loves a daily protein bar when on the go!). 

Bottom line: for accurate nutritional information, skip the bold graphics and hop right to the black and white nutrition label. 

And for body-sculpting, fat-torching workouts when you’ve got some extra carbs and energy to burn, check out Studio SWEAT and Studio SWEAT onDemand!