Nutrition labels can be confusing as heck – for example, the term “net carbs,” which is appearing on the labels of an increasing number of processed foods.
Exactly what are net carbs? Do they matter?
Net carbs are the total number of carbs in a food, minus fiber and sugar alcohols (non-nutritious sweeteners in food that don’t have carbs.) For example, if a small brownie contains 35 carbs, but only 12 net carbs, that means that theoretically, 23 carbs won’t “count” because they are not digested.
As someone who has prediabetes, I love the idea that some carbs could just disappear from food. But after talking to a registered dietitian, I know better.
Net Carbs is a Simplistic Idea
Using a simple math equation to figure out the net carbs in a processed food isn’t a reliable concept, according to Amy Kimberlain, RDN, the spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, based in Chicago.
Some of those carbs that are not supposed to be absorbed may still be at least somewhat absorbed, said Kimberlain, who is a certified diabetes educator.
“Some of the carbs are still partially digested and can/will make an impact as it relates to blood sugar,” she explained. “It’s hard to pinpoint an exact equation or way to account for the fiber and sugar alcohols.”
Kimberlain said that it also makes a difference what type of added fiber is used in a product, and that’s not always clear from the label.
The FDA and “Net Carbs”
While manufacturers are allowed to use the term net carbs, the term is not recognized by the FDA. Kimberlain said when registered dietitians work with patients, they always refer to the total carbohydrates in a food, not the net carbs.
The takeaway: Don’t focus on the number of net carbs a food has. Instead, look for ways to eat foods that contain good amounts of fiber. When a natural food contains fiber, that fiber slows down digestion of the carbs in the food, which lessens their impact.
Focus on Fiber in Unprocessed Foods
”Not all fiber is created equally, and that’s all the more reason to look for it in actual food and obtain it naturally,” Kimberlain said.
To learn about the many foods that are good sources of fiber, see this list by the Mayo Clinic.
Beans are a winner when it comes to foods naturally fiber packed. If you haven’t already tried my addictive recipe, check out Black Bean Dip.