Count Net Carbs Instead of Total Carbs

If you are following a carbohydrate restricted diet, you may have heard of the term “net carbs”. Net carbs are the amount of carbs that your body can digest and use for energy. They are calculated by subtracting the fibre and sugar alcohols (sweeteners) from the total carbs in a food.

For example, if a food has 10 grams of total carbs, 3 grams of fibre, and 2 grams of sugar alcohols, the net carbs are:

10 – 3 – 2 = 5 grams of net carbs

Fibre and sugar alcohols are subtracted because they have little or no impact on your blood sugar levels. Fibre is a type of carb your body cannot break down, so it passes through your digestive system without being absorbed. Sugar alcohols are a type of sweetener that are partially absorbed by your body, but they have a lower glycemic index than regular sugar.

Why are net carbs important?

Net carbs are important because they reflect the amount of carbs that affect your blood sugar and insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use or store glucose (sugar) from the carbs you eat. When you eat too many carbs, your blood sugar and insulin levels rise, which can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and other health problems.

By limiting your net carbs, you can keep your blood sugar and insulin levels stable, which can help you lose weight, improve your metabolic health, and prevent or reverse insulin resistance.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition where your cells become less responsive to insulin, which means that your body needs more insulin to lower your blood sugar. Insulin resistance can be caused by several factors, such as genetics, aging, obesity, physical inactivity, and a high-carb diet.

Insulin resistance can lead to prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease, fatty liver disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Insulin resistance can also make it harder to lose weight, as high insulin levels signal your body to store fat instead of burning it.

How can a carb restricted diet help with insulin resistance?

A low carb diet can help with insulin resistance by reducing the amount of carbs that you eat, which lowers your blood sugar and insulin levels. This allows your cells to become more sensitive to insulin, which improves your glucose metabolism and reduces your risk of diabetes and other complications.

A low carb diet can also help you lose weight, especially around your abdomen, which is where most of the insulin-resistant fat cells are located. Losing this visceral fat can improve your hormonal balance and reduce inflammation in your body. It’s important to note that you will only lose weight on a low carb diet if you are also restricting your caloric intake. I tell my patients that we use calorie restriction to lose weight, and carb restriction to treat insulin resistance.

How many net carbs should you eat?

The optimal amount of net carbs that you should eat depends on your individual goals, preferences, and health conditions. However, here are some general guidelines based on the level of carb restriction:

– Ketogenic low carb: less than 20 grams of net carbs per day. This level of carbs is designed to put your body into a state of ketosis, where you burn fat and ketones for fuel instead of glucose. Ketosis can provide several benefits, such as appetite suppression, mental clarity, and improved blood sugar control. However, it essentially eliminates all carbs and can be challenging to meal plan and sustain. I rarely recommend it, especially when starting out.
– Moderate low carb: 20 to 50 grams of net carbs per day. This level of carbs is suitable for most people who want to lose weight and improve their health without going into ketosis. It can also be easier to follow and more flexible than a keto diet.
– Liberal low carb: 50 to 100 grams of net carbs per day. This level of carbs is still lower than the standard Western diet (typically 200-300 grams per day). I find the 100 gram ceiling is a good starting point for most people who are overweight and have insulin resistance. It allows them to ease into carb restriction. When paired with calorie restriction (and adequate protein), it can be effective and satisfying.

To wind things up, remember that net carbs (total – fibre – sugar alcohols) are what you should count when tracking carbs. It’s good to get the advice of a physician, nutritionist, or dietitian to come up with a plan to optimize your health, though, as carbs are only one part of the solution.

Be well.