So, Here’s The Thing About Net Carbs

I belong to a keto group on Facebook.  Lately, there’s been a huge influx of questions from newbies like:  “Net carbs or regular carbs, which do you count?“.  These posts are almost always followed by this question: “I’ve been on keto for [insert any number of days] and I’ve only lost [insert number of pounds], even though I’m keeping my net carbs under [insert some low number of net carbs], what’s wrong?”

The concept of net carbs is simple.  Carbohydrates are metabolized as glucose.  Glucose in the bloodstream raises insulin levels.  How much insulin (and other hormones) are released, depends on how much and how fast glucose is being released into the bloodstream.

Some carbohydrates, like those found in highly refined foods, are absorbed into the bloodstream very easily and raise insulin levels very high in a short amount of time.   Unrefined carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly, releasing glucose over a longer period of time at a slower rate, thus limiting the insulin response.

Some carbohydrates (like vegetable fiber) are considered indigestible.  This would seem to suggest they just happily pass through your digestive system without any effect because nothing is being metabolized.  However, some fiber sources are actually fermentable.  Meaning that bacteria inside the large intestine break down the fiber for their own purposes.  There are some interesting studies being done that indicate your gut bacteria play a significant role in obesity.

What does all this mean?

In my experience, net carbs is a bit of a ruse.  Created by the food industry, the term “net carb” has no basis in FDA research or approval.  The question of whether or not net carbs really have an impact on blood glucose is really a complex one because, like most metabolic functions, it involves so many varying factors.  To understand just how misleading “net carbs” can be, consider the Dreamfields pasta fraud.  Dreamfields is a pasta manufacturer who markets “low carb” pasta which claims to lower the 41 gram carb-bomb to just 5 grams of “digestible” carbs by making 31 grams “protected carbs” (think indigestible carbs).  The fact?  This pasta is a starchy, carb-rich nightmare and has been proven, time and again, to spike blood glucose levels similar to that of eating regular pasta.  Dreamfields is the most illustrative net carb failure out there and should be the first thing you think of before eating processed “low-net-carb” food, as well as processed foods claiming to have low glycemic impact.

For me, net carbs seem only to work when I am eating “whole foods”.  For example, the 3.3 grams of fiber in a serving of Brussels sprouts does appear to lower the impact of the 8 carbohydrates I’m consuming in that serving.  Blood sugar remains pretty consistent for several hours after eating two and sometimes three servings. However, this has not held true for me when eating processed foods with similarly low net-carbs.  My body (and it’s broken metabolism) seems not to react to the non-natural processing or indigestible additives used to lower the actual carbohydrate impact, causing my blood sugar to spike.

My advice: If your weight loss seems plateaued and you use net carbs to calculate your total carb consumption, stop relying on net carbs – it is very reasonable to think that your metabolism is not able to handle net carbs or they are somehow impacting your ability to stay keto-adapted or otherwise messing with your gut biome. When things seem to not be working right, going back to the basics is the best way to “reboot”.

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