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By Alex Concepcion, Medically Reviewed by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D.

As a board-certified dietician nutritionist, I recommend my clients to prioritize protein over carbohydrates in order to maintain a higher percentage of their lean muscle mass. Because the stomach holds less after weight-loss surgery, this high-protein diet involves reducing the carbohydrates a client eats.

There is a lot of conflicting information when it comes to measuring carbs, but fortunately, you can keep it simple. Here is everything you need to know regarding total carbs and net carbs.

The real issue is simple carbs vs. complex carbs

Carbohydrates are a necessary part of your diet. Our bodies convert carbohydrates into glucose to give us the energy we need. Consuming too many carbs, however, means that some will be stored in the liver, and excess will be converted into fat to be stored for a longer duration.

The essential thing to remember is that there are two varieties of carbohydrates: complex and simple carbs. Complex carbs include fibers and starches, and they are generally healthier. Simple carbs include processed grains and sugars, and are far less nutritious.

Oftentimes, you’ll hear simple carbs referred to as ‘refined’ or ‘processed’ carbs because the refining process strips them of nearly all fiber and vitamins. Common examples of simple carbs include candy, soft drinks, pasta, white rice, white bread, pastries, and breakfast cereals.

Complex carbs such as fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, whole grains, and beans have not been refined, and as such are fantastic sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Even though you are prioritizing protein in your diet, keeping these carbohydrates as a part of your daily diet is essential to optimizing your health—especially after weight-loss surgery or other bariatric procedures.

Let’s talk about fiber

One reason complex carbohydrates are healthier than their simple counterparts is because they are high in fiber. Since our bodies have difficulty breaking down this fiber, we digest complex carbohydrates slowly. Slower digestion prevents blood sugar spikes, while rapid digestion leads to a higher amount of sugar entering the bloodstream at once.

When your body detects a spike in your glucose level, it triggers the pancreas to release insulin, which allows uptake of glucose from the blood and be used for immediate energy, as well as deliver to your fat and muscle cells. At this point, any extra sugar is converted into fat. This process is why fiber plays a critical role in your long-term weight loss journey. It helps determine whether your body will burn carbs as energy or store them as body fat.

Calculating net carbs

Figuring out how many net carbs are in a portion of food involves subtracting the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols from the grams of total carbohydrates. Because fibers and sugar alcohols have less of an effect on blood glucose levels than other carbs, many people believe they should not be considered part of your daily carb intake.

For example, according to Healthline, one cup of raw broccoli contains approximately 6 grams of total carbohydrates, but that total includes 2.4 grams of fiber. The grams of total carbs minus the grams of fiber leaves you with only 2.6 net carbs in your cup of raw broccoli.

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Total Carbs vs. Net Carbs

What you need to know about total carbs vs. net carbs

Is counting net carbs critical?

Tracking net carbs is the cornerstone of some diets, but getting an exact amount is trickier than most think. There isn’t even a consensus on the best formula to use. After all, many types of fiber and sugar alcohols exist. A precise measurement would require you to calculate using the exact types of fibers and sugar alcohols in each food.

The formula for tracking net carbs is not recognized by either the Food and Drug Administration or the American Diabetes Association. People who have diabetes measure insulin doses based on total carbohydrates—not net carbs.

Counting net carbs may not be essential, but a working knowledge of the formula can be useful. First, this system raises awareness of the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. It also highlights the importance of fiber. According to the USDA, Americans consume an average of 15 grams of fiber per day, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming 25-35 grams of total fiber per day, with 10-15 grams from soluble fiber or 14g of fiber per 1,000 calories.

While the idea behind counting net carbs makes sense, the practice is misleading. It’s not unusual to see food packaging use net carbs to advertise low-carb diets while at the same time justify eating more carbohydrates.

The key takeaway is that eating carbohydrates is not unhealthy, but eating an excessive amount certainly can be. Your high-protein diet prioritizes protein over carbs to enable you to consume the nutrition you need each day and achieve long-term weight loss.

When it comes to carbohydrates, it’s best to keep things as easy to understand as possible. Above all, make sure you consume at least 60 grams of protein daily. Next, learn the difference between simple and complex carbs, and eliminate as many simple carbs from your diet as possible.

To find out more about the dietary guidelines that are part of a healthy lifestyle after weight-loss surgery, contact Blossom Bariatrics. Our expert staff is ready to answer your questions today.

References:

  1. Bjarnadottir, Adda. “Broccoli 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits.” Broccoli 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits, Healthline Media, 10 May 2019, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/broccoli#nutrients.
  2. “How Much (Dietary) Fiber Should I Eat?” ASKUSDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 17 July 2019, https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/How-much-dietary-fiber-should-I-eat.
  3. Hoy, M. Katherine, and Joseph D. Goldman. “Dietary Fiber Intake of the U.S. Population - USDA ARS.” Fiber Intake of the U.S. Population, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, Sept. 2014, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/DBrief/12_fiber_intake_0910.pdf