Carbs That Don’t Count: What Net Carbs Are and How to Calculate Them

In a nutshell:

  • “Net carbs” are types of carbs that your body can actually digest and that have an effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Net carbs are calculated by subtracting indigestible carbohydrates like fiber and certain sugar alcohols from the total carb count.
  • If you follow a ketogenic diet, you should stick to a limit of about 20-30g net carbs per day.

The aim of following a ketogenic diet is to bring your body to switch it’s metabolic state from a sugar burner to fat burner.

This “fat-burning state” is called ketosis.

Being in ketosis has a lot of benefits, for example, it’s easier to burn body fat, you feel less hungry and there are many chronic diseases that can benefit from a ketogenic diet such as type 2 diabetes.

However, in order for the body to switch into ketosis, blood sugar and insulin levels must be kept low.

Carbs have a huge impact on our blood sugar and insulin levels, which is why they have to be limited to a minimum.

But not every type of carbohydrate is digested by our body in the same way – some carbs, fiber, and some sugar alcohols, for example, aren’t digested at all and thus have no impact on blood sugar or insulin levels.

These indigestible carbohydrates can be subtracted from the total carb count, as they won’t hinder your body from switching into ketosis.

Read on to learn which carbs don’t count and how you can calculate the “net carbs” value in your everyday life.

The content provided in this post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. It is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See further information.

1. What are net carbs?

All carbohydrates are made up of individual sugar molecules, which are bound to each other to form longer or shorter chains.

Starch, the main carbohydrate found in potatoes, bread, and rice, for example, is composed of a single type of sugar molecule (glucose) that forms a long chain.

Our regular table sugar on the other hand is composed of two different sugar molecules: glucose and fructose.

If you eat starch, table sugar, or any other type of carbohydrate, the chain of sugar molecules is broken down and the individual sugar molecules are released into the bloodstream.

Your blood sugar spikes and insulin is released to transport the sugar molecules into your cells where they can then be used as energy.

Thus, all types of carbs that trigger this process (blood sugar and insulin spike) can be defined as “net carbs”.

Carbohydrate Metabolism Infographic

“Net carbs” are all carbohydrates that can be broken down by our body and subsequently increase our blood sugar and insulin levels.


  • All carbohydrates are made up of chains of individual sugar molecules.
  • “Net carbs” can be digested by your body, which in turn leads to the breakdown of those chains of sugar molecules and a subsequent blood sugar and insulin spike.

2. Which types of carbs are not metabolized by the body?

Most carbohydrates can be digested by our body and thus have to be counted as “net carbs”, but there are also other types of carbohydrates that are either non-digestible or only partially digestible by our body.

Just like “normal” carbs, these non- or partially digestible carbohydrates are made up of chains of individual sugar molecules, but the difference is that our body is not able to break down these chains.

Grass, for example, is largely made up of a carbohydrate called cellulose.

In contrast to cows, humans lack the proper digestive system to be able to break down cellulose, which is why we get no nutritional value from eating grass whereas cows can live and thrive off it.

Cellulose is indigestible plant matter for us humans, which makes it by definition, a type of dietary fiber.

Dietary fiber is non-digestible

Cellulose might be best known as being one of the main constituents of grass, but it can also be found in a lot of other fiber-rich plants, such as fruits and vegetables.

It doesn’t matter for our body if the cellulose comes from grass or fruits or vegetables – it still won’t be able to digest it, just like any other type of dietary fiber.

These types of fibers have no impact on our blood sugar or insulin levels and do therefore not count toward our daily carb limit on the ketogenic diet.

Simply subtract the amount of dietary fiber from the total carb count to get your net carb value.

Sugar alcohols: digestible or non-digestible?

Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol are often used as sugar replacements in sugar-free products.

But just because these products are “sugar-free”, that doesn’t mean they’re free of net carbs as well.

That’s because there are “good” and “bad” sugar alcohols, that are metabolized differently by our body.

Some sugar alcohols are completely non-digestible and have no impact on blood sugar or insulin levels whereas other ones are almost as bad as sugar.

That’s why it’s always important to take a look at the ingredient list of a “sugar-free” product to find out which sugar alcohol is used as a sweetener.

The Best & Worst Sugar Alcohols for the Keto Diet Infographic

Gold medal for erythritol and mannitol

Both erythritol and mannitol have zero net carbs and neither has an effect on our blood sugar or insulin levels.

They are therefore the best sugar alcohols to choose on a keto diet.

Erythritol is our sweetener of choice for almost all of our sweet keto recipes as it tastes very similar to sugar, it can be used similarly to sugar, but it doesn’t pose the same health risks.

Silver medal for sorbitol, isomalt and xylitol

Sorbitol, isomalt and xylitol all have a similar effect on our blood glucose and insulin levels, with isomalt scoring slightly better than the other two.

Granted, the effect on our blood sugar and insulin levels is not particularly strong, but it’s still there.

These sugar alcohols are still a far better choice than sugar, but they are not free of net carbs and are therefore not the best choice for the ketogenic diet.

Maltitol, the big fat loser

Maltitol is by far the worst choice out of our collection of common sugar alcohols and shouldn’t be part of a ketogenic diet.

It increases blood sugar and insulin about half as much as regular sugar and has quite a bit of net carbs.

Unfortunately, it is commonly used in a wide variety of sugar-free products, because it is very cheap and behaves similarly to sugar.


  • There are types of carbohydrates, that our body cannot digest and therefore have no impact on our blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Examples for non-digestible carbohydrates are dietary fiber and certain sugar alcohols like erythritol and mannitol.
  • Other sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol have a small impact on blood sugar and insulin levels and have some net carbs.

3. How to calculate net carbs

To calculate the net carb count of a specific food, you just have to subtract the indigestible components, i.e. erythritol and fiber, from the total carb count.

100g (3.5 oz) of green asparagus contains 3.4g total carbs and 1.4g dietary fiber.

If you subtract the indigestible fiber from the total carb count, you’re left with 2g net carbs for 100g (3.5 oz) of asparagus.

Total carbs – indigestible fiber/sugar alcohols = net carbs


  • Net carbs are calculated by subtracting the indigestible components of a food (i.e. fiber and certain sugar alcohols) from the total carb count.

4. Best practices: How to find the most accurate nutritional information

You probably wouldn’t think that finding accurate nutritional information would be a challenge, but unfortunately, it is.

A lot of nutrition labels in the US are all over the place – from very generous rounding errors to ridiculously small serving sizes – they have it all.

That’s why it’s important to follow a few simple rules to avoid overshooting your carb limit without even noticing.

#1. Use official sources

The nutrition info can vary strongly from product to product, even if it’s just a different brand name that’s on the packaging and the ingredients are the same.

Different measuring methods may have been used or rounding errors may have occurred and you as a customer are left with confusing nutrition info that simply doesn’t make sense.

To avoid this, try to use official sources like the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or your country’s responsible ministry.

If those sources don’t have any information on the product you’re curious about, try to compare several similar products to each other and bring it down to a common denominator.

#2. Beware of small serving sizes

Some companies try to “prettify” their nutritional information by using super small serving sizes.

But there’s a huge problem with that kind of thing, especially if you follow a keto diet that requires some form of accurate carb tracking.

If you use more than the suggested serving size, you have to manually calculate how many carbs/calories, etc. a product has but to do that you’ve only got inaccurate numbers from the start.

The rounding error will compound quickly and you might be left with either totally unrealistic carb counts or some that are way too high.

We made an experiment and calculated the net carbs for 100g (3.5oz) mascarpone cheese from several different brands from Walmart and ended up with a huge range.

The “lowest-carb” mascarpone cheese had 0g net carbs per 100g (3.5oz) and the “highest carb” mascarpone cheese had a whopping 15g net carbs per 100g, even though both had the exact same ingredients (no added sugar with the latter)!

To avoid this, try to find products that list larger serving sizes, as those will likely be more accurate.


  • Accurate nutritional information can be a lot more difficult to find than one might expect.
    Following simple rules like using official sources when possible and choosing larger serving sizes on a product when possible can help to avoid confusion.

5. Free PDF: Extensive keto & low carb foods list with net carbs

We hope that this extensive list of keto foods with their corresponding net carb counts will help you get started on your keto journey or make it easier to stay on track!

Next step:
Download the PDF files, print them out and hang them on your fridge to keep track of the carb count of a wide variety of keto foods!

Tip: Download the PDF to your phone as well – this way you’ll always have an overview of the best low carb foods when you’re on the road or grocery shopping.


What are "net carbs"?

Net carbs are all carbohydrates that your body can actually digest and which therefore increase blood sugar and insulin levels.

Non-digestible carbohydrates, like fiber and certain sugar alcohols like erythritol, don’t count as net carbs.

How can I calculate net carbs?

A very simple formula to calculate net carbs is:

Total carbs – indigestible fiber/sugar alcohols = net carbs

How many net carbs should I eat on keto?

To stay in ketosis, you should stick to a limit of 20-30g of net carbs daily.

Learn more about keto

Keto Beginners Guide Thumbnail

Keto diet: The best guide for beginners!

Hormones Thumbnail

Why keto works

Erythritol Thumbnail

Erythritol: The better sugar?

Keto and Cholesterol Thumbnail

Cholesterol and keto: What you need to know!

Tried it yet?

Sugar-Free Keto Cheesecake Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Cheesecake

Keto Cinnamon Roll Mug Cake Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Cinnamon Roll Mug Cake

Keto Pecan Sandies Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Pecan Sandies

Keto Vanilla Milkshake Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Vanilla Milkshake

Keto Coconut Almond Ice Cream Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Almond Coconut Ice Cream

Keto Chocolate Cupcakes With Chocolate Buttercream Frosting Mobile Featured Image

Comments Rating 0 (0 reviews)
Keto Chocolate Cupcakes