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Total or Net Carbohydrates?

I frequently recommend a low carbohydrate style of eating, which generally involves keeping carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day. What people often want to know is whether they should be consuming 50 TOTAL grams of carbs, or 50 NET grams of carbs. Read on, or watch the short video, to learn the difference between total and net carbohydrates and which to pay attention to.

Carbohydrates: Total vs. Net 

When following a low carbohydrate, ketogenic-paleo style of eating, it’s helpful to keep carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day. For most people, consuming less than 50 grams of carbs per day will allow the body to burn fat as a fuel source, instead of being reliant on glucose, or sugar, for energy production. A common question is whether those 50 grams of carbohydrates should be total or net carbohydrates. 

What's the difference?

Net carbohydrates are the carbohydrates in a food that the body uses for energy production, and that actually impact blood sugar. When looking at a food label, to calculate net carbs, take the total carbohydrates listed and subtract the fiber listed. Fiber generally passes through the body without being utilized for energy, so a food that contains fiber won’t spike your blood sugar in the same way as a food that doesn’t contain fiber. Total carbohydrates will be listed on the nutrition panel and it includes the sugar as well as the fiber in a food. 

Use Total Carbs, Unless...

I generally recommend people count total carbohydrates, because some foods can be misleading as to how much fiber they actually contain, especially packaged foods. Keeping daily intake under 50 grams of total carbohydrates is usually a safe way to ensure that carb intake is low enough to allow the body to remain in a fat burning metabolism. That said, on a completely whole foods diet with no packaged foods, most people could consume a net carbohydrate intake of 50 grams per day and still maintain that fat burning metabolism. When in doubt, keep it under 50 grams of total carbohydrates, unless the diet is a whole foods diet with little to no packaged foods.  

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The information presented on this website is for educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact your healthcare provider before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

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