Friday, November 9, 2007

Calculating Net Carbs

I received the following e-mail:

I was wanting to know how you calculate a recipe that has carbs. Is there a place that you site you can go type in a recipe and have it calculate the carbs, fats, calories etc..? I have enjoyed your Blog. Thank you for your help...

I have heard many people say that they use recipe net carb calculators. I tried one a while back but found that many of my ingredients were not in their database. This made the tool useless to me. Perhaps our readers have had better luck and can share their experiences with us. I typically look up each ingredient and do my own math.

There are tons of good carbohydrate and fiber reference books that you can purchase at just about any bookstore. Just about any one will do that lists both carbohydrates and fiber. Some, such as the protein power guide simplifies this by listing "ECC" which is another way of saying "net carbs". I use these books when on the road. But, at home, I use to look up nutritional information. has information about fresh foods, commercial products, and even many popular restaurant's menu items.

Regardless of where you look up the nutritional information, you are going to have to do some math! Because the serving size may not be in the units of measure that you are using, you will have to learn cooking measurement conversions!

I calculate net carbs by taking the total carbohydrates minus fiber minus 1/2 of carbs from sugar alcohols.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of plant foods that move food through the digestive system. Some people call it "nature's broom". Humans, unlike cattle can not metabolize the energy bound up in fiber. This is why cows can survive on eating grass but we can't. And, because our bodies can not utilize this energy, those of us doing a low carbohydrate diets do not need to count fiber because we can't burn fiber for energy.

Sugar alcohols (also known asa polyol, polyhydric alcohol, or polyalcohol) are often used as artificial sweeteners. Your body can metabolize 1/3 to 1/2 of the carbohydrates from sugar alcohols. This is why I count half of these carbohydrates when calculating net carbs. Unfortunately, most packages for foods containing sugar alcohols make very low net carb claims by not counting any of the carbohydrates. I guarantee you that if you eat a substantial amount of sugar alcohols, you will not lose weight regardless of the net carb claims on the package. For this reason, always do your own math! Usually, but not always, sugar alcohols are listed on the dietary label under the heading "carbohydrates", just below the fiber. But sometimes, you only know that it is used if you read the actual ingredients. If you calculate the carbs based on the nutrition panal and it doesn't match the net carb claim on the front of the package, 9 times out of 10, you'll find sugar alcohols in the ingredients. Sugar Alcohols can also have laxative effects and cause excessive farting in some individuals. The following are some common sugar alcohols:

Glycerol (glycerine)
Some "Atkins" products also contain something called "polydextrose". This is some sort of soluble fiber. I am not sure how much of this can be metabolized. Perhaps another reader can comment. I usually play it safe by ignoring the package claim about polydextrose not affecting blood sugar levels.

The following is a simple example, Bob's Red Mill Hazelnut Meal/Flour. The total carbs are 5 minus the 3 fiber equals 2 net carbs per serving (5 - 3).

Serving Size: 1/4 Cup (28g)
Servings Per Container: 14
Amount Per Serving:

Total Carbohydrates 5 g
Dietary Fiber 3 g
Sugars 1 g

Ingredients: Hazelnuts.

The following is an example with sugar alcohols listed on the nutritional panel. This is from a label on Chocolate Dreams and Wishes Dark Chocolate Cups with Coconut. The total carbs of 16 minus 8 fiber and minus 1/2 of 6 sugar alcohols equals 5 net carbs (16 - 8 - 3).

Serving Size: (28)g, 1oz, (1/2 Cluster)
Servings Per Container: 2

Total Carbohydrates 16 g
Dietary Fiber 8 g

Sugars 0 g
Sugar Alcohols (Polyols) 6 g

Ingredients: Chocolate Liquor, Inulin, Erythritol, Cocoa Butter, Desiccated coconut, Milk Fat, Soya Lecithin (an emulsifier), Acesulfame-K, Artificial Flavors and Sucralose.

The following is an example that even I need help on. This is from the label on Atkins NutritionalsAdvantage Bars, Caramel Chocolate Peanut Nougat. The front of the package claims only 2 net carbs. I calculate it as 8. And, it claims 0 sugar alcohols but clearly contains glycerine which is a sugar alcohol.

Total Carbohydrates 17 g
Dietary Fiber 9 g
Sugars 1 g
Sugar Alcohols (Polyols) 0 g

**Polydextrose and glycerine, while included in the 'Calories' count, have been omitted from the 'Total Carb' count as their impact on blood sugar/insulin levels is negligible.

Ingredients: Protein blend (whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed collagen), polydextrose, glycerin, peanuts, palm kernel and palm oil, inulin, cocoa powder (processed with alkali), natural and artificial flavors, coconut oil, non fat dry milk, butter, soy lecithin, salt, citric acid, sucralose, acesulfame potassium. Vitamins and Minerals blend: Calcium (tricalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate), Magnesium (magnesium oxide),Vitamin A (vitamin a palmitate),Vitamin C (ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate), Vitamin B-1 (thiamine mononitrate),Vitamin B-2, (riboflavin), Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), Vitamin B-12(cyanocobalamin), Vitamin E (DL Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), vitamin B-3 (niacinamide), biotin, pantothenic acid (d-calcium pantothenate), zinc (zinc oxide), folic acid, chromium (chromium chelate), vitamin K, (phytonadione), selenium (sodium selenite).


Christa the (Reduced) Carb Fairy said...

Thank you for the advice on sugar alcohols. I usually don't count them in the 'net carb' count, but i am going to from now on as I agree that they just don't help weight loss.

Been low-carbing for over a year now,b ut just started a low-carb type blog too, love reading yours!


Women on the Verge said...

Hey Big D,
I've lost 25 lbs on low carb plans - mostly CALP. I plan to read more of your blog because I'm not sure I understand the whole carb cycling thing. My blog is on hold at the moment, Ethel and I are buried under kids' activities and life in general, but feel free to visit.
My question: Do you make your hazelnut meal or buy it? So many of your recipes call for it....

adrienne said...

Usually I just lurk but wanted to say thank you for all the lovely recipes. I first learnt about hazelnut meal on your site and use it all the time now to make crackers!

Big Daddy D said...

Adrienne, I'd love to have your cracker recipe. I know how to make so many low carb dips and spreads but am lacking anything good to put them on...

Big Daddy D said...

Women on the verge, I buy the hazelnut meal. Sometimes from the grocery store and sometimes from

nonegiven said...

I use the PC version of Fitday to figure carbs, etc. I can enter or modify ingredients and build recipes.

Jim Purdy said...

You said:
"The following is an example that even I need help on. This is from the label on Atkins NutritionalsAdvantage Bars, Caramel Chocolate Peanut Nougat. The front of the package claims only 2 net carbs. I calculate it as 8."

It is confusing math, isn't it? I suspect the difference, at least in part, is polydextrose, for which the amount is not listed. I have a lot of trouble making sense of many Nutrition Facts labels. They often seem to make no sense when the calorie totals don't match the fat, carb and protein totals.

Daron said...

Jim, I think it is confusing by design. Companies' claims on packages often stretch the truth or intentionally deceive us so that we think we are eating something healthy or "diet". It shows how many food manufacturers have poor ethics.

Anonymous said...

Hi Big Daddy,

Found your site by accident, but thought I would pass on some nutritional sites I have found to help me watch what I eat.

This is the site for Lance Armstrongs Livestrong movement. You can look up food info, and believe me it is loaded with EVERY area of food even from restaurants. Plus you can track your eating from here also.

Prevention has one where you can get articles, but can track what you eat, AND what you do for exercise also.

And this one is from the Gov where you can pull info on foods based on your area of concern. So you can get a PDF of Carb counts on foods, based either alphabetically or by Carb count. There is Fiber, Fat.. you name it.


Bert said...

this is all good - But where is the page to put your ingredients in to see the amount of carbs?