Net, active or impact carbohydrates. Whatever you call them, they are still carbohydrates and they still DO count. No matter what food makers try to tell you. So let me be quite clear: carbohydrates are still carbohydrates. And if someone says something else, they try to lie to you. Or, at least, they don’t want to tell you the whole truth.

Most likely you are familiar with the statement ‘net carbs’, ‘active carbs’ or ‘impact carbs’. You may find them on more and more products, usually sweet snacks, but not only. By doing so, food manufacturers try to draw attention to their products and make them more appealing. So they try to send the message like ‘no matter how much carbohydrates a specific product has, it won’t impact your health, much’ or ‘suggest that the total amount of carbohydrates consumed in a given product won’t count to your daily carbohydrate intake, because only the net carbs count’. And so on.

This kind of statements is especially electrifying for carbohydrates conscious dieting individuals. They often struggle to keep their carb counts within the limit recommended by many diets, like Atkins, keto and other low-carb diets. And as attractive it may sound, there is one ‘tiny’ problem with all those net, active or impact carbs. The thing is:

There is no legal definition of the ‘net’, ‘active’ or ‘impact’ carbs you can find on food labels and advertisements.


This means the only proper information regarding carbohydrate content is the amount of a total carbohydrate broke down into dietary fibre and sugars. They are provided in nutrition values, nutritional information or nutrition box on the wrapping of a specific product. Any other information or claims about carbohydrates content you can see outside that box has not been evaluated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or other food-related agency competent to do so.

What are ‘net’, ‘active’ or ‘impact’ carbohydrates?


The concept of net carbs, active carbs or impact carbs comes from, the USA and from the principle that not all carbohydrates affect the body in the same manner. As you may know, some carbohydrates, like simple or refined starches or sugar, are absorbed rapidly. Having that they have a high glycemic index, they also cause blood sugar level to rise quickly after eating. They include (white) potatoes, white bread, white rice and sweet.

Other carbohydrates, like the fibre that you can find in whole grains, fruits and vegetables move slowly through the digestive system. Therefore, they are absorbed slowly, causing blood sugar level to rise slowly and to the lower level. What’s more, much of them isn’t digested at all (insoluble fibre) and passes through the digestive tract intact. And the latter ones include sugar alcohols (such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and other polyols), that are modified alcohol molecules that resemble sugar. These substances are commonly used as artificial sweeteners.

What manufacturers do is taking the total number of carbohydrates a product contains and subtract fibre and sugar alcohols. These types of carbohydrates are thought to have a minimal impact on blood sugar level. Here’s an example. The label of PhD SmartBar Dark Choc Raspberry says it has ‘0.4g impact carbs’. However, the nutritional information says there is 22g of carbohydrates. There’s no other information what ‘net carbs’ mean, but it’s not difficult to guess what’s going on here.

What is the impact of sugar alcohols on blood sugar level and body?


It’s going to be even more interesting, as such an impact is not fully understood yet. That means, for some people it may be neutral, but it also may cause problems in others. The thing is, some sugar alcohols may raise your blood sugar, as they have a higher glycemic index. However, they are still not counted as carbohydrates by these companies. Here are examples of the glycemic index some popular sugar alcohols.

Sugar AlcoholSweetness
relative
to sucrose
Food energy
(kcal/g)
Sweetness per
food energy,
related to sucrose
Glycemic
Index (GI)
Erythritol0.8120.213150
Hydrogenated
Starch
Hydrolysate (HSH)
0.4-0.93.00.52-1.239
Isomalt0.52.01.09
Lactitol0.42.00.86
Maltitol0.92.11.736
Mannitol0.51.61.20
Sorbitol0.62.60.929
Xylitol1.02.41.613
Compared with Sucrose1.04.01.060

Source: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/sweeteners/sugar-alcohols.html

As you can see above, some sugar alcohols are neutral for your blood sugar level. At the same time, a couple of them have a higher glycemic index, affecting blood sugar level. However, that’s not the whole story. Food makers don’t make it easier by not telling us how much of specific sweeteners they added to their products(!). Am I the only one that sees a total mess and misleading information over here?

Who may be affected by ‘net’, ‘active’ or ‘impact’ carbs misinformation?


Firstly, the main group of risk, in this case, are people with diabetes. They are advised to monitor their intake of carbohydrates closely. It is caused because their bodies can’t produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar level within a safe range (type 1 diabetes). Therefore, eating products with a higher glycemic index than they think may put their health at risk.

Also, there may be some misunderstanding regarding reading all those carbs. As food producers may state there is, let’s say, only 0.4g of impact carb in a product, people may think that is the only amount of carbohydrates in it. Therefore, it may be misleading when it comes to estimating how much calories is in a specific food. In other words, a low amount of ‘fake’ carbohydrates may suggest it’s a low-calorie food. Hence, it may be tempting for such people to eat more food, eventually going for overeating.

What can cause too much sugar alcohols?


There are two aspects of net carbs when it comes to the effect of using them. The first one, using them in a small amount for an extended period, like chewing gums. The thing is, researchers say it’s little known the long-term effect of consuming a large amount of these substances. So even if you chew a couple of chewing gums a day, there is no information on the impact it may cause to you.

The other thing is an impact of eating a large number of products which contain sugar alcohols (protein bars, chewing gum, other low/reduced sugar products) in a short time. It may be for example eating three or four protein bar throughout the day. Or any other food containing more than 30-40g of alcohol sugar. Some heavy users of these products are going to get diarrhoea, uncomfortable bloating and gas, while some others may experience some other gastrointestinal problems. These effects are pretty reversible, but they are definitely unpleasant and not comfortable.

Do sugar alcohols have calories?


It seems to be a ridiculous question, but in reality, it’s not. Some may think like that ‘wait, if sugar alcohols are not carbs, not telling about fat nor protein, they may be zero-calorie, right?’. Or ‘if I don’t have to count them, then they don’t count, right?’. And similar. However, the reality is different from this — every single carbohydrate counts. To sum up your daily carbohydrate intake, it doesn’t matter what kind of carbohydrate you consume. Whether it’s pure sugar, sugar alcohols, digestive fibre or anything else that food producers made up. They are still carbohydrates and every 1g of them means 0.21 to 4 calories (kcal) added to the overall amounts (see the table above).

To put it another way. Every single item specified under carbohydrates DOES have calories. Every 1g or that item equals 0.21 to 4 kcal. Moreover, chances are they may impact your blood sugar level, i.e. increase it. Not all of them (see the table above) but some of them for a sure. Therefore, do NOT let food manufacturers fool you. Whatever you’ll find under ‘Carbohydrates’ on nutritional information, it’s still carbohydrates and they count.

Are sugar alcohols good for me, then?


As Kaz would always say, ‘it depends’. For sure they have some advantages. Sugar alcohols like xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol protect against tooth decay. That’s why they are so popular in many chewing gums and toothpastes. Also, sugar alcohols may feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, having a probiotic effect like dietary fibre. So it’s not too bad after all.

However, there’s another side of the coin. Sugar alcohols may cause digestive problems. Especially when consumed in excessive amounts. When you eat a large amount of them in a short period, you may experience gas, bloating and diarrhoea. Also, if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you should consider avoiding sugar alcohols completely.

As you can see, there are some advantages and disadvantages of sugar alcohol. And you should find your own way what to do with them or how to use them depending on your circumstances.

Final thoughts on net, active or impact carbs.


The only reliable macros on the food you will find under nutritional information (or similar) box or space. Any other claims, like ‘low impact carbs’, ‘only 3g of active carbs’ etc. were not evaluated by any reputable authorities and you shouldn’t care about them at all and always question them. Sugar alcohols are not bad per se, but everything depends on your circumstances.

So now you know what ‘net’, ‘active’ or ‘impact’ carbohydrates are. So now you can make smart choices. You can choose as Badasses do. However, if you need a tailored to your needs approach with your nutrition and training plan contact Kaz, she can help you with it!