Reading nutrition labels can be confusing, so today’s article is about how to read a nutrition label for carbohydrates. Be sure to check out Part 1 of this series to learn about carbohydrate myths and facts, types of carbohydrates, functions of carbohydrates, and why complex carbohydrates are your friend.
Keep reading this article to learn more about:
- What are net carbs?
- What are total carbs?
- Net carbs vs total carbs
- How do you calculate net carbs?
- How to read nutrition labels
What Are Net Carbs?
Since not all carbohydrate foods are created equal, calculating net carbs gives you an idea of the calorie-containing carbohydrates available to your body as energy. The value doesn’t include the carbohydrates that aren’t absorbed and don’t contribute to energy.
Simple and Complex Carbs Absorbed by Your Body
The net carb calculation doesn’t distinguish between simple carbohydrates, like added sugar and flour, vs. complex carbs from whole plant foods. This is why reading the label is key.
What Are Total Carbs?
The “Total Carbohydrate” line on the nutrition facts panel includes all carbohydrates in the food, including the carbs that provide energy and those that don’t.
Sugars, Fibers, and Starches
Types of carbohydrates included in total carbs are:
- Sugar (naturally occurring)
- Added sugar (sugar sweeteners added to the product)
- Starch (both from processed and whole foods)
- Sugar alcohols
Net Carbs Vs. Total Carbs
Considering total carbs vs. net carbs is helpful for choosing quality foods and snack items. You can have two foods high in carbohydrates, but the one with more fiber and lower net carbs will be the healthier choice.
Fibers and Certain Sugar Alcohols Are Only Partially Absorbed
Fiber is a carbohydrate that is not digested or absorbed by humans. Fiber doesn’t contribute to calories and is vital for your microbiome and metabolic health.
Added sweeteners, including sugar alcohols and allulose, are largely not absorbed. These sweeteners don’t count toward net carbs in an item, either.
How Do You Calculate Net Carbs?
Calculating net carbs is simple. Take the total carbs from a food (listed on the label) and subtract the fiber, sugar alcohols, and allulose.
Subtract Fiber and Sugar Alcohols From Total Carb Consumption
How to calculate net carbs:
Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols & Allulose = Net Carbs
For example for Scott’s Protein Ball PB Cup:
15 grams total carbohydrates – 3 grams fiber – 2 grams allulose = 10 grams net carbs
How To Read Nutrition Labels
The most important first step in nutrition label reading is reading the ingredient list. Look at the ingredients to determine if they are whole, quality ingredients. If the ingredient list looks like many processed and chemical names, it might be a pass.
Use to Calculate Net Carbs and Total Carbs
Next, calculate net carbs. You’ll find total carbs, sugar alcohols, and allulose listed on the nutrition facts panel.
Carbohydrates Break Down into Simple Sugars
Remember from Part 1 of this series that all carbohydrates break down into sugar in the body. However, choosing whole complex carbohydrates over processed ingredients will ensure more stable blood sugar and satiety. Reading the ingredient list and calculating net carbs will help you determine carb quality.
Low Sugar on Nutrition Label Doesn’t Give a Complete or Accurate Picture
If a package claims low sugar, you’ll want to look closer. What is the source of sugar? Is it from a whole food or is it added sugar? If it’s added sugar, is it refined sugar or a better option like allulose?
Understanding the details on a food label certainly takes some savviness. Scott’s Protein Balls take out the guesswork for you. We use quality, whole carbohydrates and balance them with fat and protein for a satisfying snack. Moreover, our protein balls are high in fiber, and we use allulose as a sweetener. At first glance, the total carbs may seem high, but you’ll notice the net carbs are much lower. But don’t take our word for it, try some today and experience how you feel. You’ll quickly learn to love the quick act of label-reading when you can feel the difference choosing a snack with more fiber has on your whole body, mind and spirit!