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The 5 Net Carb Model: Carving Out a Low-Carb Path (Chapter 3)

5 Net Carb Model

Introduction to Net Carbs

In the landscape of nutritional science, "net carbs" is a term that has become increasingly popular, especially among those following low-carbohydrate diets such as keto or Atkins. This concept plays a crucial role in how we understand the impact of carbohydrates on the body, particularly concerning blood sugar levels and weight management. This blog post will explore the science behind net carbs, how the body uses and stores them, and why they are significant for those looking to manage their diet more effectively.

What Are Net Carbs?

Net carbs are essentially the portion of carbohydrates that are absorbed by the body and have a direct impact on blood sugar levels. The formula to calculate net carbs is relatively straightforward:

Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrates - Fiber - Sugar Alcohols

  1. Total Carbohydrates include all the carbs in a food, consisting of starches, fiber, and sugars.
  2. Fiber is subtracted from total carbohydrates because it is a carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. It passes through the body without being broken down into sugar molecules, thus not raising blood sugar levels.
  3. Sugar Alcohols are also subtracted. They have a lesser impact on blood sugar than regular sugars due to their structure, which the body metabolizes differently.

Understanding this calculation is crucial for individuals looking to control their insulin responses and manage conditions like diabetes, or for those aiming to lose weight.

The Physiological Impact of Net Carbs

Digestion and Absorption: When you eat food containing carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks down digestible carbs into sugar, which enters the blood. For those carbs classified as net carbs, this increase in blood sugar can be significant. The body's primary response is to release insulin, a hormone that helps cells absorb sugar and use it for energy.

Fiber’s Role: Fiber, though a carbohydrate, does not contribute to net carbs because it is not broken down into sugar molecules. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance that can help slow the absorption of sugar, aiding in better blood sugar control. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and can help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines, which can aid digestion.

Sugar Alcohols: Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol, are often used as sweeteners in sugar-free products. They impact blood sugar levels less than sugars because they are partially resistant to digestion and often have a lower caloric content.

The Significance of Net Carbs in Diet Management

Weight Management: By focusing on net carbs, individuals can manage their calorie intake more effectively. Foods high in fiber are typically less energy-dense and provide a feeling of fullness, which helps in weight control. Managing net carb intake is particularly crucial in ketogenic diets, where keeping carb intake low enough to stay in ketosis is necessary.

Diabetes Control: For people with diabetes, understanding and counting net carbs is essential for blood sugar control. By choosing foods low in net carbs, diabetic individuals can prevent blood sugar spikes and manage their condition more effectively.

Metabolic Health: Low net carb intake can lead to improved metabolic health. Studies have shown that low-carb diets can reduce risk factors for heart disease, including lowering triglycerides, increasing HDL cholesterol levels, and improving blood pressure.

Practical Tips for Managing Net Carb Intake

Reading Nutrition Labels: To effectively manage net carb intake, start by reading nutrition labels carefully. Look at the total carbohydrates and then subtract the fiber and any sugar alcohols listed.

Choosing High-Fiber Foods: Incorporate more high-fiber foods into your diet. Examples include vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These foods not only reduce net carb count but also provide essential nutrients.

Awareness of Hidden Sugars: Be aware of hidden sugars in processed foods. These can significantly increase the net carb content. Opt for whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible.

Incorporating Net Carbs into Your Lifestyle

Understanding net carbs doesn't just apply to those on specific diets. It's a useful concept for anyone interested in a healthier lifestyle. Reducing net carb intake can help improve energy levels, prevent energy crashes, and maintain a stable mood.


Net carbs are a pivotal concept in nutrition, especially for those following a low-carb or ketogenic diet. By understanding and managing the intake of net carbs, individuals can better control their blood sugar levels, aid in weight management, and improve overall metabolic health. As with any dietary changes, it’s beneficial to consult with a healthcare provider or a dietitian to tailor the approach to your specific health needs.

David Bauder David J. Bauder, PA-C David Bauder, PA-C, is a certified physician assistant and the assistant medical director at Weight Loss and Vitality in Manassas and Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, DC; and Gaithersburg, MD. He enjoys helping patients optimize their physical and mental health to improve their overall well-being. He earned his physician assistant degree from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Afterward, he gained admission into the reputable graduate program for physician assistant studies at the University of Nebraska Health Science Center in Omaha. David has over 26 years of experience working as a physician assistant. He’s practiced in podiatry, family medicine, emergency medicine, general surgery, urgent care, and functional medicine.

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