TOTAL CARBOHYDRATES? NET CARBOHYDRATES? LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO AND HOW I RECOMMEND YOU COUNT YOUR CARBOHYDRATES!
WHAT’S A “NET” CARBOHYDRATE?
Despite not being an official term on the nutrition label, “net carbohydrates” has gained increasing popularity in the health and fitness industry. The term “net carbohydrates” refers to the difference between grams of “Total Carbohydrates” and grams of “Dietary Fiber” found on a nutrition label.
Net Carbohydrates = Total Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber
ADVANTAGES AND REASONS FOR COUNTING “NET CARBOHYDRATES”
#1: CHOOSE PREMIUM CARBOHYDRATES
To capitalize on the benefit of eating a food with “less” carbohydrates, you’re forced to seek out “premium” carbohydrates. A “premium” carbohydrate is one that is high in fiber and rich in essential vitamins and minerals. If brings the total carbohydrate package to the table.
This is advantageous because of the beneficial long-term effect a high-fiber carbohydrate (and diet!) has on your health – think weight maintenance and blood glucose control – as well as the acute impact it has on your appetite.
#2: COUNT LESS, EAT MORE
Choosing to count “net carbohydrates” provides you with the opportunity to count fewer total carbohydrates towards your daily or specific meal goal. This affords you the opportunity to eat more (volume of food) to reach that goal. Consider the difference in total food eaten when choosing to count “net” or “total” carbohydrates with a goal of 20 grams of carbohydrates from the following snack option.
Nutrition Information: Whole grain crackers
- 1 serving is roughly 10 crackers
- 20 grams of carbohydrates
- 5 grams of fiber
If you choose to count “net carbohydrates” you’d need 12.5 crackers. Choosing to count “total carbohydrates” would mean you’d only get to eat 10 crackers.
Yes, this may be a small example, but think of the carryover it may have on other food items such as breads, wraps, cereals, and fruit. Many people – myself included – enjoy eating a larger volume of food because of the psychological and physical fullness that results. Counting “net carbohydrates” provides you the opportunity to achieve both.
Counting “net carbohydrates” encourages the selection of high-fiber carbohydrates. However, many people write fiber off as “free” because it’s an indigestible carbohydrate. This leads to the “net carbohydrates” approach being taken to the extreme and potentially being counterproductive to their weight loss goal.
They feel that since they’re choosing a high-fiber carbohydrate, which brings the “net carbohydrate” number down, they’re able to eat more of this food. Yes, technically this is true; however, fiber still provides calories.
One gram of carbohydrate provides four calories per gram. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, albeit an indigestible type of carbohydrate, but it still provides roughly two calories per gram.
This is important to note because when you count “net carbohydrates” in favor of “total carbohydrates” you’re more likely to eat more total calories throughout the day, despite eating more nutritious options. For instance, consider the difference between the number of crackers (and calories) depending on which choice of counting you choose:
Brand A: 1 serving is equal to 10 crackers
- Calories: 116
- Fat: 2 g
- Total Carbohydrates: 20 g
- Dietary Fiber: 5 g
- Protein: 2 g
To reach a meal-specific goal of 20 grams of carbohydrates, you’d need 10 crackers if counting “total carbohydrates.” You’d need 12.5 crackers if you’re counting “net carbohydrates.” The additional 2.5 crackers would provide you with 29 additional calories.
Again, that may seem insignificant on this occasion, but imagine the number of extra calories you’re taking in across multiple meals per day by following this approach.
When Do I Recommend Counting “Net Carbohydrates?”
You can lose weight counting “net” or “total” carbohydrates. Both approaches work. What’ more important is that you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning to drive weight loss. However, I’ll share with you a situation that I am more likely to recommend counting “net carbohydrates” as well as a situation where I am likely to recommend against it so that you have more information to base your own decision off.
Pro Net Carbohydrates: If I have a client who’s significantly overweight and/or presents with no nutrition knowledge and a history of poor nutrition choices, then I may recommend that this person pays attention to – not necessarily counts – “net carbohydrates” instead of “total carbohydrates.” This will push them to seek out higher-fiber fare so that they feel as if they’re eating more food – a major benefit if they have a history of overeating.
This choice will have a positive impact on their health, appetite, and blood glucose control – the latter being important because most overweight individuals are at risk (or already have been diagnosed) for prediabetes or type II diabetes.
More Likely A “No” to Net Carbohydrates: Conversely, if I have a client who has a smaller frame, but is still seeking weight loss, I may stray away from recommending he or she count “net carbohydrates” because of the additional calories that may be consumed because of this approach. He or she can’t afford these extra calories like someone with a larger frame can because the additional calories will add up to contribute a much greater percent versus her needs.
For instance, if the difference in total daily calories when counting “net carbohydrates” versus “total carbohydrates” is 175 calories, those additional calories have more of an impact on someone who needs 1,500 calories (11%) per day to lose weight, versus someone who needs 2,000 calories (8%). This difference will lead to less of a calorie deficit than planned, and potentially slower (or completely slowed) weight loss.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS
There’s no “wrong” approach. Regardless of what approach you or I take, the focus should always be on “premium” carbohydrates. I share with you everything you need to know about “premium” carbohydrates in my online video course, “Carbohydrate Confidence.”
If you’re one that already eats a high-fiber diet rich in ample fruits and vegetables, you don’t need the extra kick in the pants to seek out “premium” carbohydrates compared to someone who eats them rarely. But if you have a smaller frame, and have struggled to strip off body fat in the past, you may consider not counting “net carbohydrates” next time you diet.