You can track the carbs in 2 ways: total and net carbs. Total carbs is the total amount of carbs consumed in a day. Simply as that. Net carbs are the grams of the total carbohydrates minus the grams of total fiber and sugar alcohols.
In general, we can subtract half of the sugar alcohols (except Erythritol: its carbs can be subtracted totally from the total carbs).
Why deduct these elements? The science behind this is that fiber and sugar alcohols cannot be digested by our body, so they don’t affect the insulin response, therefore they are not counting as real carbohydrates.
So for example, let’s take 100 grams of asparagus:
Total carbs: 5,2
With a simple subtraction, we have that the net carbs are 2,4 per 100 grams.
Notice: Not all the experts agree on this point believing that a part of these elements can still be assimilated by our body.
Total carbs and Net carbs in the Nutrition labels
Whether you want to count total or net carbs you have to know one thing.
Nutrition labels can be confusing. This because Europe and the USA have different systems to label their products.
In the USA and Canada, the food labels are reporting the carbs including the fiber – therefore total carbs. To calculate the net carbs in this case you just subtract the fibers from the total carbs.
In Europe and Australia, the nutrition labels are reporting the carbs already despoiled from the fiber. So, you have to be careful reading the labels because you risk buying a product much higher in carbs than you intended to.
If you check the following Dutch label, you can see immediately the difference.
The fiber is not included in the carbs. Therefore to have the total carbs you sum carbs and fiber (13+14=27). This is very important especially when we count the total carbs! So, check the values but first check if the label is American or European.
For months I followed the American system and I was eating more carbs than I wanted to. Sometimes, the fibers are higher than the carbs so it’s easy to spot that the carbs are indeed net carbs already.
Pro’s of counting net carbs
- More variety in the food
- You can have bigger portions of products, such as berries and nuts
- You will eat more food high in fiber
Cons of counting net carbs
- The risk to introduce more calories
- The risk to introduce more carbs than fats
- Risk of eating wrong products because the labels can be misleading
Should I count net carbs or total carbs in the keto diet?
Counting net or total carbs in the keto diet is up to you.
I believe every one of us must have the freedom to choose which option is the best according to our body needs, goals, conditions, and lifestyle.
If you are starting eating keto, I suggest a soft-star. In the first 7-10 days, count the net carbs, to allow your body to adjust gradually to the new nutrition. This will prevent also the keto flu.
As always, choose a method, stick to it and track it for some time to see what is working for you.
My experience with Net and Total carbs:
At the beginning of my keto journey, I wasn’t aware of these 2 ways of counting carbs. Then I did some research about it and I’ve decided to start counting the net carbs.
I can have more variety in my daily nutrition and this keeps me on track and focused on the low carb life. I can have keto pizza and other keto treats when I feel it. In order to not good overboard, I track my food to make sure I am not introducing a crazy amount of carbs and calories.
Read also why and how I track my macros.