Lo-carbing Basics

Net Carbs

This Blimpie's Durango Roast Beef Sandwich boasts a mere 8 net carbs.
This Blimpie's Durango Roast Beef Sandwich boasts a mere 8 net carbs.

Thanks to the ever-present nutrition labels on most every packaged food item today, the average dieter can count calories, fat and cholesterol 'til their heart's content. For carb watchers, things are slightly more difficult. The latest word in the low-carb world is that it's not the overall carb count that truly matters -- it's the net effective carb or net carb count that low-carbers need to know.

As we discussed earlier, low-carb dieting is based on the theory that certain carbohydrates, more so than others, have a greater impact on blood sugar levels. It's those carbohydrates that matter in the counting game. To figure out the net carb count of a food item, you need to identify the carbs that don't have a high impact -- those from fiber and sugar alcohol, and subtract that total from the overall carb count. For example, right now at my desk, I've got a small can of roasted, salted almonds. From the nutrition label on the back of the can, I can see that each one-quarter-cup serving contains:

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 16 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
  • Sodium: 85 milligrams
  • Total Carbs: 5 grams (Fiber: 3 grams and Sugars: 1 gram)
  • Protein: 6 grams

To figure out the net carbs, you simply take the total number of carbohydrates (5 grams) and subtract the total amount of dietary fiber (3 grams). So, one serving of these almonds has 2 net carbs. Had there been any sugar alcohol content, that figure would have also been subtracted from the total. For example, consider the nutrition facts for a CarbSelect Pria Power Bar:

  • Calories: 170
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Cholesterol: 5 milligrams
  • Sodium: 160 milligrams
  • Total Carbs: 21 grams (Dietary Fiber: 2 grams; Sugars: 1 gram; Sugar Alcohol: 17 grams)
  • Protein: 10 grams

This pretty tasty snack also has 2 net carbs. If you take the total carb count (21 grams) and subtract the dietary fiber and sugar alcohol content (2 grams + 17 grams = 19 grams), you're left with a mere 2 net grams of carbs!

OK, so now you can figure out how many net carbs are hiding in your pantry. But, with the busy schedules we all keep these days, who has time to even think about this stuff when we're on the go. Many of us spend our lunch hours running errands -- dropping off the dry-cleaning, paying bills and so on -- there's barely any time for actually having lunch. On the way back to the office, the easiest thing to do is drop by the nearest fast-food joint for some take-out. In times past, this would be a diet-derailing nightmare. Fortunately, today's low-carb consumer doesn't have to ditch their diet; fast food restaurants around the country are stepping up to the plate and dishing out some handy low-carb alternatives.