WHAT ARE NET CARBS? THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EFFECTIVE AND NON-IMPACT CARBS

What are net carbs? Not all carbs are created equal. The word carbohydrate is just a conjunction of the words “carbon” and “hydrate.” Any molecule that contains carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, with a 2:1 ratio of hydrogen to oxygen (think H2O) is considered a carbohydrate. But the wide range of molecules that fit in this class have very different effects from your blood and your cells perspective.

There’s a very big difference to understand. Some carbs are actually incredibly good for you. Carbohydrates in general, as an innocent nutrient source, are actually very good for you. This post is dedicated to what you need to know about net carbs in ketosis.

This may be a little difficult to “digest,” considering most modern diet plans basically treat carbs like the devil. But it’s all about making the right choices: if you eat bad carbs, you’ll receive negative health effects as a result. Eat good carbs, though, and they’ll affect you positively!

It’s really the media and the celebrity world that have helped to paint this hugely negative image of carbohydrates. Even when following the ketogenic diet, the idea isn’t to completely remove carbs. Rather, you want to ensure the body no longer relies on them as its primary fuel source.

When people follow modern nutrition plans, they often make the mistake of thinking that because a plan is low-carb, it means carbohydrates are bad and should be avoided wherever possible. But that is misguided.

In order to free yourself from this limiting pre-conception and enjoy a stress-free life of sensible nutrition, it’s important to learn the difference between carbohydrate types.

Impact Vs Non-Impact Carbs

There are two types of carbs to consider here: impact carbs and non-impact carbs.

Impact Carbs

An impact carb is basically any carbohydrate type that has a high impact on your blood sugar level. These carbohydrate varieties are known as high GI (or high glycemic index) carbohydrates and they digest rapidly into the bloodstream.

When high GI carbs enter the bloodstream, unless they are immediately used for physical exercise, they typically contain more energy than the body can successfully “tap into” in one go. That means the excess carbs will simply get stored as body fat, opening up the potential for negative health effects that obesity has to offer.

So basically, impact carbs are potentially very damaging to your health (and waistline) when consumed regularly in a completely unchecked manner. This is why you must ensure any food plan you follow has been structured correctly based on your specific body measurements. Otherwise, you run the risk of “spilling over” your maximum daily allowances for each nutrient group.

Non-Impact Carbs

Now, on the other hand, non-impact (or low-impact) carbohydrates are low GI and digest at a much slower rate within the bloodstream. Due to this prolonged release of energy, insulin spikes are unlikely and you’ll experience more sustained energy levels.

It’s the overconsumption of high GI carbohydrates that are presumed to cause many of the negative health conditions taking place today — hence, the rise of nutrition plans like the keto and Atkins diets. These plans help the body make the switch from being carb-dependant to being fat-dependant instead.

It’s specifically illnesses like type I and type II diabetes that are closely related to mass-produced, human-made carbohydrates. Therefore, we should all be a little more carb-conscious if we’re going to succeed in living a healthier lifestyle.

Making the switch from high GI to low GI (low-impact) carbs is certainly going to enhance your internal health and mental wellbeing long-term.

Creating a Healthy Carb Balance

Start viewing high GI carbohydrates as a useful tool for mostly enhancing any physical activity or sports performance, as opposed to something you would need to consume for “everyday” energy. For anyone following a relatively sedentary lifestyle, the energy from high GI carbs is typically far too abundant in nature and not necessary.

However, for those who are very active or athletes, high GI carbs can provide a highly beneficial spike to your physical exercise and boost your productivity in training sessions.

Not only that, but some people believe high GI carbs can help shuttle vital nutrients into the bloodstream at an accelerated rate post-exercise due to their effect on the body’s circulatory system. This is certainly worth considering if you enjoy regular exercise and are training for a specific goal.

Low GI Carbs

Low GI (low-impact) carbs should be used for meeting your everyday energy needs and keeping your state of mental alertness and physical readiness primed for the daily tasks of modern life. They are far superior to high GI carbs for daily life.

If you were to consume high GI carbs all of the time, not only would your waistline begin to bulge, you’d also be faced with constant peaks and declines in your energy levels, and productivity. You’d soon start to feel lethargic, tired, and potentially even depressed.

Now that you know the difference between the two carb types, you can use both of them to serve their very unique purposes instead of completely casting them out.

Measuring Net Carbs

One area of carb counting that can get a little confusing is the “net” carbohydrate situation. Don’t worry, though — it’s not nearly as confusing as it sounds.

Net carbohydrates are what you’re left with after subtracting the grams of fiber per serving from the total carbohydrate amount per serving. For example, if an item has 20 grams of carbohydrates and it contains 8 grams of fiber, then the amount of net carbs the item contains is 12 grams.

This is a great way to measure the potential “damage” an item could cause you. Since fiber is essential for successful internal function of the body and contains no calories because it’s not absorbed, what you’re left with is the true caloric content and carbohydrate content.

The ketogenic diet is based on this system, and it allows you to successfully gauge whether you’re taking in enough fiber and eating the right kinds of carbs.

High GI carbs are typically very low fiber, so you’re typically just consuming sugar and not anything that will serve a practical purpose in your body when you eat them. You really want to be sure the carbs you eat for energy have a low “net worth” once the fiber has been removed.

Now that you know the difference between carb types; you can use this information to integrate them into your daily diet and form a wholesome plan.

Completely removing any nutrient from your diet is never the best way to ensure overall vitality; a balance, however, especially if you’re very physically active, is certainly going to serve your needs effectively.

Dr. Anthony Gustin is a board-certified sports chiropractor, functional medicine practitioner, entrepreneur, podcast host, and founder of Perfect Keto.

Over the last few years, he has treated thousands of patients with movement rehab, internal diagnostics, and natural interventions, including NFL, MLB and NBA champions. After growing his sports rehab and functional medicine clinics to six locations in San Francisco, he shifted his mission to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health and well-being.

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Responses (31)

  1. Hello, I’m hoping you can answer my question. I’m trying to start a keto diet. My confusion is this, after using a keto calculator, I’m being told 20g carbs a day. Well veggies and fruits have carbs. Are they just referring to things like ,potato, or breads? Or am I suppose to count all carbs? Cause this seems completely incomprehensible! There is no way to only invest 20g carbs a day and live! Thank you for your help.

  2. You count all carbs but if you think about it like this. You can have way more broccoli and cucumber than say bread for your 20 grams of carb. Veggies and salads will provide you with the carbs and fibre in a way that bread can’t

  3. You can do it I eat between 15 and 20g a day. I am a vegetarian on a Keto diet! Dairy like cheese and butter is what I live on lost 15 pounds in 2 week. And I am now just finding out about net carbs !? so I could be eating much more!
    Your body starts to get its energy from fat instead of carbs. I know some people who eat less then 5 g a day.

  4. Hi there. I’m a couple of months late in responding to your comment but I’ve been eating less than 20g of carbs for 11 months and have met my weight goals as well as have had health improvements. When you eliminate the high carb veggies, you are still left with many beautiful, tasty veggies to choose from. And the high healthy fat intake keeps you very satisfied.
    You may have already found your groove. But if not, good luck on your healthy eating adventure!

  5. I am keeping calories below 1300, my carbs 25 or below, taking MCT oil, got some electrolytes (mineral additive) for the leg cramps and I’m recording and strictly following the allowable foods. No cheating. However, I haven’t lost a nanogram of weight for the past 2 weeks. The constipation caused my this strict low carb is making me feel really uncomfortable. I want to stay with it but I am getting really discouraged. I don’t know what needs to change other than that I obviously need more fiber. My diet has become boring (can’t face another egg)and frustrating to be so strict and see NO results at all. I have been out of Keto for the past couple of days too. What should I consider or just try a different diet?

  6. Besides yoghurt what are some low carbs ( under 20 net carb) ingredients? I read about leafy green veggies but even a small amount adds up !

  7. Leafy greens and veggies that grow above ground generally have a low net carb count. Nuts, seeds, cheeses, low-sugar fruits are other options.

  8. It’s funny that you say you have trouble with constipation because I had the opposite effect. Are you drinking enough water? Because it is a must on the Keto diet. It may be the differences in our digestive systems, but it may be that you are not eating enough vegetables as well. I eat a LOT of leafy greens, cabbage, and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. I also enjoy snacking on nuts, seeds, and spicy pork rinds. I like to spice up my food with garlic, siracha sauce (chili), and cayenne pepper. I also drink a lot of tea, and there are some brands that offer a laxative effect. I know everyone has different preferences, but I hope this helps.

  9. Oh heavens yes you can totally live off of 20 grams. I come from a province that diets were based off of meat and potatoes. I thought the same thing about what you said however I can say it was a total lack of understanding on my end. I started off at 295 and after 6 months of strict Keto and yes 20 grams is my total carb count daily and loving it. There is soooo much variety available. I’ve invested into Keto coaches and with a bit of success I dropped off Keto. I relied on someone and didn’t educate myself. I had meal plans etc but honestly I didn’t commit. I invested a ton of money into the coaches and meal plans and food it was disgusting. I ended up walking away for 4 months. What I did do was purchase two of the best books in my opinion that educated me on everything and also included meal plans and so much more. It’s by Leanne Vogel called The Keto Diet. In this book there are soooooo many meal plans and not boring recipes. I love ethnic foods and fruit as well as veggies and I was blown away. Just today the meals I had were so filling and I only had with all that 12.5 net carbs. There is honestly so much variety and again coming from a province that has access to orchards and gardens I thought it would be hard but no not at all. In fact I found out through this whole adventure what fruits and veggies my body really didn’t like or did like.

    I hope this helps. Good luck and have fun with it. Seriously there’s a lot to learn and just be dedicated to you.

  10. I do about 100 carbs a day. I lose quite a bit of weight in a weeks time. The trick is to eat salads with your meals. If you eat a burger with a bun eat it with lots of salad. If you eat a fajita make sure you load it with salad. Try to add a hand full of pistachio nuts as a snack. Also add sugar free candy to help with your sugar cravings. This all works for me and also try to limit red meat as much as possible. Don’t stay away from it, but try to limit it to once or twice a week.

  11. Hello! When you refer to eating 15 to 20g of carbs a day do you mean net carbs or just carbs? Hope this makes sense as I’m new keto and wanting to start.

  12. I have been on the ketogenic diet now for about 2 weeks and it is hard but you can do it on only 20 net carbs a day even 20 total carbs a day.. I am a severe diabetic and this diet has greatly helped me get off over 125 units of insulin a day.. Yes you count everything.. I weigh how many carbs per gram of food I am allowed. So I may have a no carb sugar free energy drink in the morning with one serving of nuts 2 carbs.. Lunch may be 1/2 of can of Tuna White packed in water with mayo, mustard, 24 grams of cut yellow onion and one dill pickle on cucumber slices.. that lunch comes to 6 carbs.. 3.9 carbs for the cucumber and 1 for the onion and 1 for the pickle.. Then dinner maybe 1 cup of tomato soup with 25 grams of fresh spinach and romano and parmesan cheese in it. Now this one is higher as the tomato soup has a whopping total of 19 carbs for one cup and the spinach has 1 carb. So I get as close to 20 carbs a day as I can but you can always have the foods free of carbs which are meats, hard cheeses, eggs. I find if I have a craving for potato chips that crispy bacon is a great substitute. Remember Fresh is best but if you purchase processed food items count the total and net carbs to help you with your diet goals..

  13. I find analyzing ever darn thing going into your mouth is a pain in the neck, and other anatomical places. Forget it. Just think to eat as close to the natural state as you can. White/brown sugars aren’t natural. They’ve been processed. Breads…processed. Ice Cream…processed.. What’s funny is once you find your personal ‘go to’ foods, eating limited carbs becomes second nature. I always worry about not feeling full, but it hasn’t happened in the month I’m adjusting my diet. Put some walking into your day, and before you know it, you’ll see a difference when you look at the scale, and you won’t even feel hungry. You know you’re getting healthy.

  14. I am very frustrated I have been on Keto now for a month. I try so hard following all rules. I make the fat bombs etc. I use the urine sticks and I am always in the small amount. Never in moderate or large ketones. I have had no bread pasta or anything white basically. I have lost 0 weight. I am very discouraged. I thought maybe I was eating to much protein and I cut down and increased the fat. I have had no real sugar either only Splenda as I hate stevia. I am not sure why I can not lose weight. Does anyone know if there are any medical reasons a person would not lose weight on this diet?

  15. Your age might be a factor. I am in my mid fifties and was eating very well before I started keto and it took me more than 3 weeks to see ketones and results on the scale and it was only a few pounds. My daughter who is 30 had lost 9 lbs during the first 2 weeks. She ate a lot more eggs and bacon than I did the first 2 weeks also. I think I might not be eating enough especially when I do intermittent fasting. Now I am now writing everything down. I also had constipation issue which I never experienced before. When I saw the info about net carbs I began to add fibre foods and it got a little better. I drink lots and I am also taking magnesium Bisglycinate. I hope that I am turning the corner. Although the weight loss is minimal I see my body being slimmer and clothes are finally fitting better. I hope you keep at it longer.

  16. Lots of comments about constipation on the Keto diet. You have to really up your vegetables that contain high soluble fiber. Plus your water (with added sea salt) consumption needs to go right up too. Add at least another 500-1000ml to your regular amount. Intermittent fasting is also another usual tactic to help with constipation. Fat digests much slower than carbs, hence why you feel fuller for longer. You need to give your body time to process the extra fats you are now consuming on the Keto diet.

  17. I’m with Nett! How come it doesn’t say “net Carbs” when saying your allowance is 20 grm a day?! I’m guessing it’s net, but it would sure be nice to know for sure!

  18. Hi all, I love a drink, used to be lager but I have changed to white wine and soda. I’m guessing this is ok ish??

  19. I have started this keto diet it is amazing how much better I feel. however the last couple of days I feel tired and have had a problem burping alot. Is there something I may need or I may be doing wrong?

  20. Hi Linda, burping could be a sensitivity to a certain type of food you are eating. We encourage you to track your food and see if you can find a pattern. Depending on when you started keto, you could be experiencing keto flu or not getting enough fluids/electrolytes.

  21. Well. I have read all of the stories and I am happy that I have been on Keto for about 4 months and lost about 40 or 45 pounds. It’s a little different for me. I had a stroke last year and I have to be careful which veggies I eat. The leafy stuff will interfere with the blood thinner “Warfarin”. Watching my carbs have help me working on getting healthy. I start walking to help lose weight, but it took a long time to get in the right mind. Last year in July I checked into the hospital because of a issue with breathing and coughing. Well, they weight me, and I was a whooping 342 pounds with clots, lots clots. Anyway, it’s been 13 1/2 months and I was weight at the doctors office last week and……… I am at 235 pounds. With Keto- walking/pedding machines went from 1 to 2 miles a day to up to 20 -25 miles a day, more or less. I feel better now than ever before. Thank you Dr. Anthony Gustin, D.C., M.S.! What you have done has help me immensely. I cant tell you how this has changed my life. One more thing, according to cardiologist, if I get to between 220 and 224, I could lose my CPAP. Hurray, Wooohoo!!!
    Thank you again!!!!!!!!!

    Derrick D.
    Age 52

  22. okay so I just started this Keto diet and I’m still confused on net carbs and total. If I eat 20 net carbs for the day will that still keep me in ketosis or do AL carbs have to be accounted for?

  23. Hi Paola, when you’re starting the keto diet and experiencing a plateau, use total carbs. And once you’re in ketosis, you may count net carbs.

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