What are net carbs? Is it slippery marketing jargon to make you think foods are healthier than they actually are or are they the future of easier dieting. Altug Kop, the TRAIN Digital Editor, a coach and WBFF pro fitness model explains.


Healthy or unhealthy increase of “net carbs”?

You’ll have noticed an increase, especially in the health foods world, the use of low or zero ‘net carbs’ on packaging as a selling point. Net, by definition, means the usable amount leftover. So a low amount of ‘net’ carbs can only be good, right? Well, you might be left wondering what happened to the rest of the carbs, which are being excluded from the carb gang – they’re a special group of organic compounds called sugar alcohols. In food products, they’re becoming ever popular to use in place of sugars.

Most sugar alcohols have slightly less sweetness than sugar (apart from xylitol, which is on par) but can satisfy many a sweet tooth. However, should we completely discount these sugar alcohols and not count them as carbs? To do so wouldn’t be the smartest move.


Sweet little lies

If we take into account that carbohydrates contain four calories per gram, it’d be logical to assume that sugar alcohols won’t contain any calories at all, since they don’t count towards your net carbs. Unfortunately, that’s not the full story.

Xylitol, the most commonly used sugar alcohol actually contains 2.4 calories, so you’d need to factor them into your overall calorie intake. Most sugar alcohols range between 1.6 and 4 calories (the same calories as carbs at the top end!).


what are net carbs? protein bar


To make matters more confusing, sugar alcohols aren’t completely absorbed into the bloodstream by our small intestines, so that potentially makes the calorie number attached to sugar alcohols even less accurate.

These carb substitutes can also cause bloating and stomach discomfort in those who are prone. While certainly a useful tool in your dietary arsenal if used in moderation, by treating them as the freebies that many health foods will lead you to believe they are, could lead to disaster.


What are net carbs? The final verdict

Mitigating this is easy – flip any food over that claims to have low net carbs to see how many grams of sugar alcohols you’re also dealing with. A more accurate number to look at in this instance, is the total calories number. This will pull the curtain back and tell you how much energy is truly hiding inside of those bars.

They can certainly be a less calorie dense and tasty dieting tool, especially in a protein bar when trying to fulfil sugar cravings and attempting to satisfy hunger.