Knowing how to read food labels is important when you’re trying to count your calories & macros.
The carbohydrates section usually contains 4 segments namely – total carbohydrates, fiber, total sugar, added sugar.
Understanding what these terms mean is crucial to avoid any kind of confusion. (Zero added sugar does not mean zero total sugar)
It becomes even more important when you’re following a strict low carb diet like the keto diet. A spike in your carbohydrate/sugar intake can put you out of ketosis, something which is often undesirable for people following keto.
Let’s look at the main terms you’ll often find on a nutrition label in the carbohydrates section.
What is dietary fiber?
Dietary fiber is exactly as it reads – the total amount of fiber in the food.
What is total carbohydrate?
Total carbohydrate is exactly as it reads – the total amount of carbohydrate in the food.
What are net carbs?
Net carbs are calculated by subtracting the total carbohydrate by the amount of dietary fiber + sugar alcohols in the food.
Net carbs basically represent the amount of carbs that impact your blood sugar level. Since fiber & sugar alcohols have minimal impact on your blood sugar level, they don’t count towards the total carbohydrate intake.
It is often used by food brands to market their product as being a truly low carb product. For Ex : A protein bar brand might claim that their product only contains 5g net carbs as compared to 15g of the other brands. This is especially beneficial for people on keto since they have a strict daily carb intake limit to stay in ketosis.
Should dietary fiber be tracked as carbohydrate?
Fiber is often considered to have 0 calories, however that isn’t the case. Fiber contains close to 2 calories per gram. In fiber, soluble fiber has more calories when compared to insoluble fiber since it is fermented by the gut bacteria & produces Short Chain Fatty Acids (SFAs) which can be later used as a source for energy.
What is total sugar?
Total sugar is the total amount of sugar present in the product. This represents the amount of sugar that is naturally present in the main ingredients (such as sugar in milk or cranberries) as well as any added sugars that may be present in the product.
What is added sugar?
Added sugar means the total amount of sugar that is added from external sources of sugar such as raw sugar, honey, etc. It does not include the naturally occurring sugar from the primary ingredients used to make the product.
Added sugar is added with the purpose of increasing the sweetness of the product.
With this, I hope that you understand exactly what the terms behind the label mean.
It can sometimes get confusing looking at all the data that’s given on the nutrition label.
Some brands can even go to extreme lengths by making BS claims like ‘No added sugar’ when their product actually contains a ton of sugar (even though it’s naturally occurring from it’s primary ingredients).
This might leave you thinking that you’re not having any sugar when you are.