total carbs vs net carbs

Carbs. Without a doubt, carbohydrates are the most confusing macronutrient when it comes to understanding how they are metabolized and processed within the body. With so many aliases ranging from simple, complex, glucose (sugar), fiber, insoluble fiber, soluble fiber, starch, net carbs, and total carbs, you need a nutrition book just to translate and understand which carbs you should be tracking and actually care about. So what are the differences between total carbs and net carbs? We’re going to find out.

What Are Net Carbs Vs. Total Carbs? 

When you’re on a low-carb diet, it’s essential that you know how to calculate net carbs. Net carbs are simply the amount of carbs, found in a nutrition product that your body can fully absorb and use as energy.

Net Carbs = Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols- (Malitol/2)

Net carbs result when you subtract fiber and artificial sugar alcohols such as Maltitol, Erythritol, etc which are only partially absorbed by the body from total carbohydrates.

Low carbohydrate food peddlers market products such as protein bars and cookies, with low net carbs, to make nutrition products seam more enticing. By subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols, which don’t increase blood glucose levels, you’re left with lower net carbs. 

The logic behind net carbs is that carbohydrates that do not spike blood sugar levels, should not contribute to overall carbohydrate intake. The problem is that, there isn’t enough clinical research to support that total carbs found in a food product won’t affect your body when you’re trying to enter ketosis, or restrict your carbohydrate intake when you’re counting macros, or on a low-carb diet.

Let’s look at a specific example.

Quest cookies are marketed as having 4g of net carbs, less than 1g of sugar, and 9g of fiber. Enticing right? A great tasting snack, that has less than 5g of carbs? Sounds like low-carb cookie heaven.

Net Carbs Vs Total Carbs

But before you start buying boxes of low net carb cookies, let’s dig a little deeper. By examining the nutrition label, you can clearly see that total carbohydrates are 19g, with 9g of dietary fiber and 6g of Erythritol.

4g Net Carbs = 19g Total Carbs – 9g Fiber – 6g of Sugar Alcohol

The problem is that without knowing what types of dietary fibers are used in the manufacturing process, you have no real way of knowing, whether or not the fiber will actually raise your blood glucose levels. A majority of the time, food manufacturers will use artificial and synthetic fiber sources, which may in fact raise blood glucose levels, instead of directly passing through your GI tract. Therefore, it’s important to know what the fiber source really is.

By looking at the 'other ingredients' on the quest cookie nutrition label, you can see that they use soluble corn fiber, which is a low-glycemic food replacement. Even so, corn can still cause inflammation and deter your health and fitness goals, if you include this type of product in your normal eating habits. 

net carbs vs total carbs - swolverine

The other problem is that without having significant clinical evidence, determining whether or not sugar alcohols, such as Maltitol, Erythritol, and Allulose, affect blood glucose levels, there is no guarantee they will not affect total carbohydrate intake. 

Net Carbs Vs Total Carbs: Which One Should You Track?

The fact of the matter, is that “net carbs” is not an actual coined term, used in part by the FDA. It’s simply a term created by marketers to make a product more enticing to low carb dieters.

You’re best bet is to stay away from artificially processed food sources and stick with wholesome natural food sources. My advice is that without knowing the real truth about net carbs and how sugar alcohols and synthetic fiber really affects your true carbohydrate intake, stick with tracking total carbohydrate intake.

Subtracting fiber from natural food sources such as fruit, grains, and oats, is a much more accurate way of calculating and determining how those foods affect blood glucose levels and insulin response.

Ready To Add Some Complex Carbs To Your Diet?

Your body needs carbohydrates for optimal performance and recovery during high-intensity and endurance training. But, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Swolverine's Clean Carbs is made with 100% natural whole-foods from complex carbohydrates, including Sweet potatoes, Yams, Oats, and Blueberries to provide the long-lasting and sustained energy your body needs to fuel performance and optimize recovery. Delicious and rich you can add it to your smoothies, shakes, or mix with water, for a rich and tasty treat.


We believe that everyone can optimize not only their athletic performance but their human potential. The way we believe we can optimize performance is through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes. We provide the nutrients you need to power your active lifestyle.


CarbohydratesCarbsNutritionWeight loss

Featured products

8 reviews
8 reviews
8 reviews

Join Over 1,000,000 Fans

Get exclusive access to discounts and the latest on fitness, nutrition, and wellness delivered straight to your inbox

Free domestic shipping

Free shipping on domestic orders over $99

Free Content & Exclusive Sales

Join our email list and receive member-exclusive promos

Top-notch support

We're committed to an amazing customer experience

Secure payments

Your payment information is encrypted and never compromised