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Everything You Need To Know About Carbs, Net Carbs & More

Olivia Peleaz, MS, is the Education Coordinator at Vital Proteins. Here, she writes about carbs – what they are, the different types & more.

It’s true what they say about carbohydrates aka carbs (and out-of-the-box collagen recipes for that matter): They’re not all created equal. As one of three macronutrient groups – the other two being fats and proteins – carbs are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. 

Like we previously mentioned, carbs can’t all be lumped into the same category – we can’t forget about simple carbs and complex carbs. Or even the key difference between carbs and net carbs.

Luckily, Lively has all the answers. Keep reading to get the full breakdown.


Simple vs Complex Carbs

Carbs can be classified as either simple or complex due to their chemical structure and how quickly they are digested and absorbed in the body. Let’s explore the difference between simple and complex carbs.

Simple carbs contain single sugar molecules, known as monosaccharides, which include fructose found in fruits and galactose found in milk products. Two sugar molecules, known as disaccharides, are found in table sugar and lactose. 

Simple carbs are digested and absorbed very quickly in the body, providing a rapid source of energy. Specifically, each gram of simple carbs contains 4 calories. Complex carbs are a little more, well, complex. Found in grains and starchy vegetables, complex carbs consist of long chains of sugar molecules and are broken down more slowly in the body.

Some complex carbs, however, are not able to be digested while others are only able to be partially digested and absorbed. These include fiber, sugar alcohols, and a unique type of sugar called allulose. Split peas are an example of a complex carb. 


Naturally occurring fiber is not absorbed in the small intestine and instead passes directly to the colon. What happens here depends on whether the fiber is considered soluble or insoluble. Once in the colon, soluble fibers are fermented by bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which actually work to help keep your gut healthy and promote a feeling of satiety. Studies have shown that fermentation of soluble fibers contribute only 1-2 calories per gram depending on the type. In contrast, insoluble fibers provide no calories and leave the colon unchanged.

Sugar alcohols are metabolized similarly to fiber. However, it’s not as black and white. The extent to which sugar alcohols are absorbed in the small intestine and the effects they have on blood sugar varies by type. For example, glucose has a glycemic index of 100 while sorbitol has a glycemic index of 9. Since sugar alcohols are only partly digested, they don’t contribute to net carbs in the same way that simple sugars do. Because of this, only half of their amount contributes to total net carbs. 

Carbs vs Net Carbs

Spoiler: There really isn’t a difference between carbs and net carbs. As it turns out, carbs and net carbs are the same thing. To put it simply, the term “net carbs” simply refers to the total amount of carbs in said food that are absorbed by the body.

Now, you may be wondering, “How do I calculate net carbs?” Fortunately, there’s a formula and it’s pretty easy to follow. When determining the amount of net carbs in a food item, you first want to identify four things: 

  • Total carbs
  • Fiber
  • Sugar alcohols
  • Allulose 

Next, subtract the amount of fiber and allulose and half the amount of sugar alcohols from total carbs. For example, if a product has 26g of total carbs, 10g of fiber, 5g of allulose and 2g of sugar alcohols, the total net carbs would be 10g.

Here’s how we got to that final number:

26g total carbs - (10g fiber + 5g allulose) - (0.5 x 2g sugar alcohols) = 10g

We’re big fans of listing net carbs on our packaging – specifically on our new Collagen Bars™ — to make it an easier experience for snack seekers. Each one of our bars (available in 6 tasty flavors) contains 10g of collagen, 1-4g of sugar and 4g of net carbs each. Are you ready to up your snack game?

Shop Collagen Bars