What Are Net Carbs? (And How to Calculate Them) - Perfect Keto

Blog Categories

Popular

What Are Net Carbs? (And How to Calculate Them)

Disclaimer

When it comes to following the keto diet, it’s vital to learn about the different types of carbohydrates that exist and how they impact your body.

Knowing your carb intake can make the difference between staying in ketosis or not.
Before you start thinking that all carbs are the same, you should know that certain carbs don’t have the same impact on your blood sugar compared to others — and they may affect which carbs “count” towards your daily intake.

This article discusses net carbs, how they differ from total carbs, how to calculate your net carbs, and their role in promoting weight loss.

What are Net Carbs?

Officially, the FDA doesn’t have a standard definition of what a net carb is, so some peoples’ take on net carbs may differ. But in a nutshell, net carbs are what you’re left with after subtracting grams of fiber (and sugar alcohols) from the total carbohydrates per serving.

The concept behind net carbs boils down to our body’s digestive processes. Because certain carbohydrates like fiber and sugar alcohols aren’t fully digested by the body or cause significant changes to blood sugar, many people state that they don’t count towards your total carbohydrate intake.

We’ll get into the details of how to calculate net carbs later on in this article.

Why Do Net Carbs Matter?

Net carbs are important because they are a reflection of the glycemic index of foods. The glycemic index (GI) of foods determines how quickly their carbohydrates are digested and enter the bloodstream. It is measured on a scale from 1-100, with 50 g of glucose being the reference for a high-GI food (*).

Foods that have a high glycemic index are also known as impact carbs. In other words, these foods increase your blood sugar levels. When high-GI carbs enter your bloodstream — unless they’re immediately used for physical exercise — they typically contain more energy than your body can successfully use in one go. This extra energy gets stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver or as body fat.

Impact carbs can be very damaging to your health (and waistline) when you consume them regularly in high amounts. Foods that are high in impact carbs also tend to be lower in fiber.

Studies find that diets with large amounts of high-GI/impact carbs affect metabolism, increase complications of chronic diseases like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and may even increase the risk of certain cancers (* , *, *).

On the other hand, foods that are low-GI tend to be higher in fiber and nutrient-dense compared to some high-GI foods.

Guiding your food choices by net carbs can help you focus on getting your carbs from foods that not only have fiber but are likely to have other essential vitamins and minerals.

Browse our curated collection of fan-favorites and discover your new favorite snack or supplement.

Shop Best Sellers

Net Carbs vs. Total Carbs

While net carbs are about subtracting carbohydrates that aren’t fully digested by the body, total carbs do not take this into consideration.

The Nutrition Facts Label will list the total grams of carbohydrates per serving in a food, which is the sum of all carbohydrates. This sum includes natural sugars and starches, added sugars, dietary fiber, and sugar alcohol.

When looking at the total carb content of a food, especially processed food, it can help you make better choices about the food that you eat.

You can see if food manufacturers are adding large quantities of sugar alcohols to lower the net carbs of food, or if your food has a significant amount of filling fiber.

Using net carbohydrates gives people following a keto diet more options for getting nutrient-dense foods into their diet. However, there is also the risk of potentially miscalculating your net carbs and getting kicked out of ketosis.

Choosing to count total carbs instead of net carbs can be the easiest way to guarantee that you’re within your carb range for ketosis, but eating this way can be more restrictive (by limiting your food options, for example).

Start calculating your net carbs or total carbs and other macros using our free keto calculator.

net carb vs. total carbs

Net Carbs, Fiber, and Sugar Alcohols

The carbohydrates subtracted in the net carb formula include both fiber and sugar alcohols. Foods that are low in net carbs are usually low-GI and tend to either be high in fiber, high in sugar alcohols — or have a combination of both.

Low-GI or low-impact carbohydrates are digested at a much slower rate. Due to this prolonged release of glucose into your bloodstream, insulin spikes are less likely to happen, resulting in sustained energy levels.

Fiber

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be broken down into digestible sugar molecules and is instead fermented by the bacteria in your colon. It is crucial for optimal digestive functions and overall health (*).

There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber.

Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that can be diluted in water, creating a gel-like substance. Soluble fiber can make you feel fuller for a longer period, helping to promote weight loss.

This happens because this substance slows down the process of absorption of food in the body. Even though it contains a small number of calories, it doesn’t seem to affect your blood glucose levels. Soluble fiber also feeds your gut bacteria, ensuring a healthy microbiota (*).

Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is the fiber that does not dissolve in water, has no calories, and its function is to help you have healthy and regular bowel movements.

When buying processed goods, reading food labels is extremely important as some manufacturers may place a type of processed fiber in their foods called IMO, often listed as tapioca fiber in ingredient lists.

IMOs or Isomaltooligosaccharides can occur naturally in foods like honey or fermented foods like miso and soy sauce. When manufactured on a commercial scale, IMOs are processed from cereal crops like wheat, barley, oats, tapioca, rice, potato, pulses (peas, beans, lentils), and others.

Studies on IMOs show that they may raise blood sugar levels (*). Currently, the FDA states that there is insufficient evidence as to whether they provide benefits to human health and the EU prohibits health claims for oligosaccharides (* , *).

Learn more about fiber in this podcast episode with Dr. Michael Ruscio.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are comprised of sugar molecules and alcohol molecules. They do not, however, contain ethanol, the compound that makes you intoxicated.

Sugar alcohols are naturally occurring in a vast number of fruits and vegetables but they’re mostly used as alternative sweeteners. The most well-known ones are sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol, and maltitol. They are commonly found in sugar-free foods (*).

Although they are considered alternatives to sugar, keep in mind that these polyols do contain calories and some of them might affect your blood sugar and insulin levels.

How to Calculate Net Carbs

When it comes to carb counting, one thing that can get a little confusing is the “net” carbohydrate situation. Don’t worry, because it’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds.

Recall that the formula for net carbs is: total carbs – (fiber + sugar alcohols).

If you’re a beginner at calculating net carbs, it is easiest to start by calculating them in whole foods. Whole foods are very simple in that they consist of natural sugars and fiber, without having to deal with sugar alcohols.

Take an avocado, for example. It’s one of the most important whole foods in a keto diet not only for its dense nutrient content but also for the immense quantity of healthy fats it contains (such as omega-3s and omega-6s).
A medium avocado contains:

  • 21 g fat
  • 2.7 g protein
  • 12 g carbs of which 9.2 g is fiber
  • 12g carbs – 9.2g fiber = 2.8 grams of net carbs

Sugar alcohols can be a bit more difficult to calculate, as the calorie content of sugar alcohols differs. As a general rule, you can divide grams of sugar alcohols in half and subtract them from your total carbs, but you can read our guide on sugar alcohols here for more info.

Reading the food label is going to be the easiest way to figure out what carbs are in your diet, but apps and online tools can also be helpful.

The USDA has a tool that contains all the nutrition information about thousands of whole foods and more, to help you on your keto journey.

The Role of Net Carbs in Weight Loss

In addition to monitoring calorie intake, choosing foods that are low in net carbs is important in supporting weight loss.

Foods that are low in net carbs tend to stabilize blood sugars, reduce food cravings, and increase satiety to reduce overeating. Choosing whole foods that are naturally low in net carbs can also help you get the nutrients you need to support your metabolic health.

The keto diet is based on this system and is one of the reasons why the keto diet can help people lose weight  (*).

Takeaways

Tracking net carbs is a great way to make smart choices about the carbs you eat and maximize your intake of fiber to support a healthy metabolism and body. You can use this information to integrate low net-carb foods into your daily diet and form a plan that will keep you in ketosis.

Completely removing any nutrient from your diet is never the best way to ensure overall vitality. However, maintaining a balance, especially if you’re very physically active, is the key to getting your nutritional needs met.

The main goal of a low-carb or keto diet is to replace most carbohydrates with healthy fats and protein. But it’s also important to know how to most effectively use your carbohydrates.

You can use high-glycemic carbs, for instance, to help support your workouts or for sports performance. If you think your workouts warrant a few extra carbs, you might want to check out a cyclical ketogenic diet or a targeted keto diet.

Frequently Asked Questions on Net Carbs

What is a net carb vs. regular carb?

Regular carbs, or total carbs, include the total amount of natural sugars and starches, fiber, and sugar alcohol in a product. Net carbs are the result of subtracting fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbs due to the body not fully digesting these carbs.

When doing keto, should I track net carbs or total carbs?

If you’re new to keto, it may be easier to calculate total carbs to prevent getting out of ketosis. However, if you want to focus on low-GI foods and fiber intake, tracking net carbs may be more suited to your carb counting needs.

Can counting net carbs help me lose weight?

If combined with calorie restriction, counting net carbs can potentially help you lose weight. Foods with low net carbs may be high in fiber, which may reduce food cravings and increase satiety between meals. Together, these things can help prevent you from overeating.

11 References

Atkinson F et al. International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values 2021: a systematic review. 2021 November 8

Pfeiffer A et al. High Glycemic Index Metabolic Damage – a Pivotal Role of GIP and GLP-1. 2018 March 27

Kazemi M et al. Effects of Dietary Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load on Cardiometabolic and Reproductive Profiles in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. 2021 February 1

Kazemi M et al. Effects of Dietary Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load on Cardiometabolic and Reproductive Profiles in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. 2021 February 1

Mayo Clinic. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.

Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. 2013 April 22

Gourineni V et al. Gastrointestinal Tolerance and Glycemic Response of Isomaltooligosaccharides in Healthy Adults. 2018 March 3

Grembecka M. Sugar alcohols—their role in the modern world of sweeteners: a review. 2015 February 28

EU Register. EU Register of Health Claims .

Grembecka M. Sugar alcohols—their role in the modern world of sweeteners: a review. 2015 February 28

Bueno N et al. Very-low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet v. low-fat diet for long-term weight loss: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. 2013 May 7

579 Shares

41 thoughts on “What Are Net Carbs? (And How to Calculate Them)

  1. Hello, I’m hoping you can answer my question. I’m trying to start a keto diet. My confusion is this, after using a keto calculator, I’m being told 20g carbs a day. Well veggies and fruits have carbs. Are they just referring to things like ,potato, or breads? Or am I suppose to count all carbs? Cause this seems completely incomprehensible! There is no way to only invest 20g carbs a day and live! Thank you for your help.

    1. You count all carbs but if you think about it like this. You can have way more broccoli and cucumber than say bread for your 20 grams of carb. Veggies and salads will provide you with the carbs and fibre in a way that bread can’t

    2. You can do it I eat between 15 and 20g a day. I am a vegetarian on a Keto diet! Dairy like cheese and butter is what I live on lost 15 pounds in 2 week. And I am now just finding out about net carbs !? so I could be eating much more!
      Your body starts to get its energy from fat instead of carbs. I know some people who eat less then 5 g a day.

      1. Hello! When you refer to eating 15 to 20g of carbs a day do you mean net carbs or just carbs? Hope this makes sense as I’m new keto and wanting to start.

    3. Hi there. I’m a couple of months late in responding to your comment but I’ve been eating less than 20g of carbs for 11 months and have met my weight goals as well as have had health improvements. When you eliminate the high carb veggies, you are still left with many beautiful, tasty veggies to choose from. And the high healthy fat intake keeps you very satisfied.
      You may have already found your groove. But if not, good luck on your healthy eating adventure!

    4. Oh heavens yes you can totally live off of 20 grams. I come from a province that diets were based off of meat and potatoes. I thought the same thing about what you said however I can say it was a total lack of understanding on my end. I started off at 295 and after 6 months of strict Keto and yes 20 grams is my total carb count daily and loving it. There is soooo much variety available. I’ve invested into Keto coaches and with a bit of success I dropped off Keto. I relied on someone and didn’t educate myself. I had meal plans etc but honestly I didn’t commit. I invested a ton of money into the coaches and meal plans and food it was disgusting. I ended up walking away for 4 months. What I did do was purchase two of the best books in my opinion that educated me on everything and also included meal plans and so much more. It’s by Leanne Vogel called The Keto Diet. In this book there are soooooo many meal plans and not boring recipes. I love ethnic foods and fruit as well as veggies and I was blown away. Just today the meals I had were so filling and I only had with all that 12.5 net carbs. There is honestly so much variety and again coming from a province that has access to orchards and gardens I thought it would be hard but no not at all. In fact I found out through this whole adventure what fruits and veggies my body really didn’t like or did like.

      I hope this helps. Good luck and have fun with it. Seriously there’s a lot to learn and just be dedicated to you.

    5. I have been on the ketogenic diet now for about 2 weeks and it is hard but you can do it on only 20 net carbs a day even 20 total carbs a day.. I am a severe diabetic and this diet has greatly helped me get off over 125 units of insulin a day.. Yes you count everything.. I weigh how many carbs per gram of food I am allowed. So I may have a no carb sugar free energy drink in the morning with one serving of nuts 2 carbs.. Lunch may be 1/2 of can of Tuna White packed in water with mayo, mustard, 24 grams of cut yellow onion and one dill pickle on cucumber slices.. that lunch comes to 6 carbs.. 3.9 carbs for the cucumber and 1 for the onion and 1 for the pickle.. Then dinner maybe 1 cup of tomato soup with 25 grams of fresh spinach and romano and parmesan cheese in it. Now this one is higher as the tomato soup has a whopping total of 19 carbs for one cup and the spinach has 1 carb. So I get as close to 20 carbs a day as I can but you can always have the foods free of carbs which are meats, hard cheeses, eggs. I find if I have a craving for potato chips that crispy bacon is a great substitute. Remember Fresh is best but if you purchase processed food items count the total and net carbs to help you with your diet goals..

  2. I am keeping calories below 1300, my carbs 25 or below, taking MCT oil, got some electrolytes (mineral additive) for the leg cramps and I’m recording and strictly following the allowable foods. No cheating. However, I haven’t lost a nanogram of weight for the past 2 weeks. The constipation caused my this strict low carb is making me feel really uncomfortable. I want to stay with it but I am getting really discouraged. I don’t know what needs to change other than that I obviously need more fiber. My diet has become boring (can’t face another egg)and frustrating to be so strict and see NO results at all. I have been out of Keto for the past couple of days too. What should I consider or just try a different diet?

    1. It’s funny that you say you have trouble with constipation because I had the opposite effect. Are you drinking enough water? Because it is a must on the Keto diet. It may be the differences in our digestive systems, but it may be that you are not eating enough vegetables as well. I eat a LOT of leafy greens, cabbage, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. I also enjoy snacking on nuts, seeds, and spicy pork rinds. I like to spice up my food with garlic, siracha sauce (chili), and cayenne pepper. I also drink a lot of tea, and there are some brands that offer a laxative effect. I know everyone has different preferences, but I hope this helps.

    2. I find analyzing ever darn thing going into your mouth is a pain in the neck, and other anatomical places. Forget it. Just think to eat as close to the natural state as you can. White/brown sugars aren’t natural. They’ve been processed. Breads…processed. Ice Cream…processed.. What’s funny is once you find your personal ‘go to’ foods, eating limited carbs becomes second nature. I always worry about not feeling full, but it hasn’t happened in the month I’m adjusting my diet. Put some walking into your day, and before you know it, you’ll see a difference when you look at the scale, and you won’t even feel hungry. You know you’re getting healthy.

  3. Besides yoghurt what are some low carbs ( under 20 net carb) ingredients? I read about leafy green veggies but even a small amount adds up !

  4. I do about 100 carbs a day. I lose quite a bit of weight in a weeks time. The trick is to eat salads with your meals. If you eat a burger with a bun eat it with lots of salad. If you eat a fajita make sure you load it with salad. Try to add a hand full of pistachio nuts as a snack. Also add sugar free candy to help with your sugar cravings. This all works for me and also try to limit red meat as much as possible. Don’t stay away from it, but try to limit it to once or twice a week.

  5. I am very frustrated I have been on Keto now for a month. I try so hard following all rules. I make the fat bombs etc. I use the urine sticks and I am always in the small amount. Never in moderate or large ketones. I have had no bread pasta or anything white basically. I have lost 0 weight. I am very discouraged. I thought maybe I was eating to much protein and I cut down and increased the fat. I have had no real sugar either only Splenda as I hate stevia. I am not sure why I can not lose weight. Does anyone know if there are any medical reasons a person would not lose weight on this diet?

    1. Your age might be a factor. I am in my mid fifties and was eating very well before I started keto and it took me more than 3 weeks to see ketones and results on the scale and it was only a few pounds. My daughter who is 30 had lost 9 lbs during the first 2 weeks. She ate a lot more eggs and bacon than I did the first 2 weeks also. I think I might not be eating enough especially when I do intermittent fasting. Now I am now writing everything down. I also had constipation issue which I never experienced before. When I saw the info about net carbs I began to add fibre foods and it got a little better. I drink lots and I am also taking magnesium Bisglycinate. I hope that I am turning the corner. Although the weight loss is minimal I see my body being slimmer and clothes are finally fitting better. I hope you keep at it longer.

  6. Lots of comments about constipation on the Keto diet. You have to really up your vegetables that contain high soluble fiber. Plus your water (with added sea salt) consumption needs to go right up too. Add at least another 500-1000ml to your regular amount. Intermittent fasting is also another usual tactic to help with constipation. Fat digests much slower than carbs, hence why you feel fuller for longer. You need to give your body time to process the extra fats you are now consuming on the Keto diet.

  7. I’m with Nett! How come it doesn’t say “net Carbs” when saying your allowance is 20 grm a day?! I’m guessing it’s net, but it would sure be nice to know for sure!

  8. Hi all, I love a drink, used to be lager but I have changed to white wine and soda. I’m guessing this is ok ish??

  9. I have started this keto diet it is amazing how much better I feel. however the last couple of days I feel tired and have had a problem burping alot. Is there something I may need or I may be doing wrong?

    1. Hi Linda, burping could be a sensitivity to a certain type of food you are eating. We encourage you to track your food and see if you can find a pattern. Depending on when you started keto, you could be experiencing keto flu or not getting enough fluids/electrolytes.

  10. Well. I have read all of the stories and I am happy that I have been on Keto for about 4 months and lost about 40 or 45 pounds. It’s a little different for me. I had a stroke last year and I have to be careful which veggies I eat. The leafy stuff will interfere with the blood thinner “Warfarin”. Watching my carbs have help me working on getting healthy. I start walking to help lose weight, but it took a long time to get in the right mind. Last year in July I checked into the hospital because of a issue with breathing and coughing. Well, they weight me, and I was a whooping 342 pounds with clots, lots clots. Anyway, it’s been 13 1/2 months and I was weight at the doctors office last week and……… I am at 235 pounds. With Keto- walking/pedding machines went from 1 to 2 miles a day to up to 20 -25 miles a day, more or less. I feel better now than ever before. Thank you Dr. Anthony Gustin, D.C., M.S.! What you have done has help me immensely. I cant tell you how this has changed my life. One more thing, according to cardiologist, if I get to between 220 and 224, I could lose my CPAP. Hurray, Wooohoo!!!
    Thank you again!!!!!!!!!

    Derrick D.
    Age 52

  11. okay so I just started this Keto diet and I’m still confused on net carbs and total. If I eat 20 net carbs for the day will that still keep me in ketosis or do AL carbs have to be accounted for?

    1. Hi Paola, when you’re starting the keto diet and experiencing a plateau, use total carbs. And once you’re in ketosis, you may count net carbs.

  12. Keto is to count All carbs not net carbs. I find Keto very easy when done right. I was on strict keto for 9 months, I ate chicken, fried wings, tuna with mayo, salmon with butter, burgers with cheese….basically any meats and eggs, then add cheese and fats like butter, oil, mayo!! NO CARBS of any kind until you hit your goal. Then slowly introduce green veggies. Take a fiber cap a day for constipation. Multi vitamins and I do a protein powder with 0 carbs so I get the sweet flavors. I lost 109 pounds in 9 months!!! That was 12 years ago!!! Now I alternate strict keto 3 weeks out of every 3 months. The rest of the time I eat veggies with all meats and fish. I cheat every Sunday ( one day a week, one meal) with anything I want.

  13. Carol, I read something today on Splenda and sweeteners causing a person to not be able to reach they’re weight goals, you may want to check it out, hope it helps

  14. I am new to Keto. I am not allowing carbs at all. Am I setting myself up for failure. Is diet soda Bad on Keto?

    1. Completely removing any nutrients from your diet is never the best way to ensure overall vitality.
      You can still allow carbs on your diet.
      However, maintaining a balance, especially if you’re very physically active, is the key to getting your nutritional needs met.
      Yes, Soda is not good when you’re on Keto.
      Soda contains lots of sugar and carbs that are unhealthy and unhelpful in the process.

  15. I enjoyed reading the comments on doing the Keto diet. I am going to keep on it even if I don’t lose weight. I feel it is helping me internally.

  16. How many calories do you guys usually eat on keto? i know it isn’t a calorie diet but i like to keep my calories counts. (Woman) i know men have a higher calorie intake. I also run/Hiit cardio 30-40 mins 4-6 days a week (which burns 400-500 calories per session)
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join the Internet's largest keto newsletter

We'll send you articles, product guides, and exclusive offers customized to your goals.