What’s a Usable Carb Count

  • 20 June 2019

What’s a “Usable Carb Count”?

You may or may not be aware of the concept of the usable carb count, sometimes called the “effective carb count”; some low-carb books utilize this principle, whereas others do not. If you’re not familiar with the concept, here it is in a nutshell: Fiber is a carbohydrate and is, at least in American nutritional breakdowns, included in the total carbohydrate count.


However, fiber is a form of carbohydrate made of molecules so big that you can neither digest nor absorb them.


Therefore fiber, despite being a carbohydrate, will not push up your blood sugar and will not cause an insulin release.

Even better, by slowing the absorption of the starches and sugars that occur with it, fiber actually lessens their bad influence.


This is very likely the reason that high-fiber diets appear to be so much better for you than “American Normal.” For these reasons, many (if not most) low-carb dieters now subtract the grams of fiber in a food from the total grams of carbohydrate to determine the number of grams of carbohydrates that are actually a problem. These are the “usable” carbs, or the “effective carb count.”

These nonfiber grams of carbohydrates are what we count and limit. Not only does this approach allow us a much wider variety of foods, especially lots more vegetables, but it actually encourages us to add fiber to things such as baked goods. I am very much a fan of this approach, and therefore I give the usable carbohydrate count for these recipes. However, you will also find the breakdown of the total carb count and the fiber count.



I can’t tell you how to plan your menus. I don’t know if you live alone or have a family, if you have hours to cook or are pressed for time every evening, or what foods are your favorites.


I can, however, give you a few pointers on what you’ll find here that may make your meal planning easier. There are a lot of one-dish meals in this book—main dish salads, skillet suppers that include both meat and vegetables, and hearty soups that are a full meal in a bowl. I include these because they’re some of my favorite foods, and to my mind, they’re about the simplest way to eat. I also think they lend a far greater variety to low-carb cuisine than is possible if you’re trying to divide up your carbohydrate allowance for a given meal among three or four different dishes. If you have a carb-eating family, you can appease them by serving something on the side, such as whole wheat pitas split in half and toasted, along with garlic butter, brown rice, a baked potato, or some noodles. (Of course, I don’t recommend that you serve them something like canned biscuits, Tater Tots, or Minute Rice, but that shouldn’t surprise you.) When you’re serving these one-dish meals, remember that most of your carbohydrate allowance for the meal is included in that main dish. Unless you can tolerate more carbohydrates than I can, you probably don’t want to serve a dish with lots of vegetables in it with even more vegetables on the side. Remember, it’s the total usable carb count you have to keep an eye on. Complement simple meat dishes—such as roasted chicken, broiled steak, or pan-broiled pork chops— with the more carbohydrate-rich vegetable side dishes. There’s one other thing I hope this book teaches you to do, and that’s break out of your old ways of looking at food. There’s no law insisting that you eat eggs only for breakfast, have tuna salad for lunch every day, and serve some sort of meat and two side dishes for dinner.


Are you short on both time and money? Serve eggs for dinner a couple of nights a week; they’re fast, cheap, and unbelievably nutritious. Are you planing a family video night or game night? Skip dinner and make two or three healthy snack foods to nibble on. You just can’t face another fried egg at breakfast? Throw a pork chop or a hamburger on the electric tabletop grill and you’ve got a fast and easy breakfast. Are you sick of salads for lunch? Take a protein-rich dip in a snap-top container and some cut up vegetables to work with you.



Helpful General Hints


• If you’re not losing weight, go back to counting every carb.

Remember that snacks and beverages count, even if they’re made from recipes in this book. A 6-gram muffin may be a lot better for you and your waistline than a convenience store muffin, but it’s still 6 grams, and it counts! Likewise, don’t lie to yourself about portion sizes. If you make your cookies really big, so that you only get two dozen instead of four dozen from a recipe, the carb count per cookie doubles, and don’t you forget it. • Beware of hidden carbohydrates. It’s important to know that the government lets food manufacturers put “0 grams of carbohydrates” on the label if a food has less than 0.5 gram per serving and “less than 1 gram of carbohydrate” if a food has between 0.5 gram and 0.9 gram. Even some diet sodas contain trace amounts of carbohydrates! These amounts aren’t much, but they do add up if you eat enough of them. So if you’re having trouble losing, count foods that say “0 grams” as 0.5 gram and foods that say “less than 1 gram” as 1 gram. • Remember that some foods you may be thinking of as carb-free actually contain at least traces of carbohydrates. Eggs contain about 0.5 gram apiece, shrimp have 1 gram per 4-ounce portion, natural cheeses have about 1 gram per ounce, and heavy cream has about 0.5 gram per tablespoon. And coffee has more than 1 gram in a 10-ounce mug before you add cream and sweetener. (Tea, on the other hand, is carb-free.) If you’re having trouble losing weight, get a food counter book and use it, even for foods you’re sure you already know the carb counts of.

Ingredients You Need to Know About



What’s a  Usable Carb Count