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Ask Levi: How Do I Calculate Complex Carbs?

Today we’ll look at carbohydrates and figure out how to calculate the number of complex carbs in food.

Could you write about how to calculate complex cabs from the nutrition label? I see a number like 20 g of total carbs, 3 dietary fiber, 10 g sugars. How do I know the complex carb amount? I know that the best sources are whole grains, but it would be good to know how to calculate.

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Carbo Loading Cody

Glad you’re liking the newsletter C.L.C.!

When it comes to complex carbs, you can calculate complex carbs the easy way or the hard (complex) way.

The easy way is to use this formula:

Total Carbs – Sugar = Complex carbs

That’s pretty basic, and you have probably already figured out that formula, but it usually gives you a good idea of complex carbs.

The more scientific way is something like this:

Total Carbs – Sugar – Sugar Alcohols = Complex carbs

Unfortunately, you can’t perform this calculation and get the exact number of complex carbs from the information provided on the nutrition facts label. (You’d need a sample of the food and a laboratory, and/or the exact recipe.)

I don’t know if that is the exact formula, nor do I know if there is a single formula that is agreed upon by everyone. For example, some people think fiber should be considered a complex carb, while others argue that it shouldn’t be counted since you don’t actually digest it.

Forget the complex formulas though. What’s more important is to do what you’re already doing – look at the ingredients list and pick out foods where the first ingredient is something like “rolled oats” or “whole wheat flour” rather than “enriched white flour” or “sugar.” Then make sure there is some fiber in there and a low amount of sugar on the nutrition facts label.

That’s it. Keep it simple and you’ll be just as healthy and probably happier and less stressed 🙂

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Levi Bloom is an experienced endurance athlete who has been training and competing for over 17 years. A former Cat 1 road and mountain bike racer (professional class on the regional circuit), he is now a cycling coach (USA Cycling Level 3 Certified) and sports nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition Level 1 Certified).

  1. I think the formula should be —
    Total Carbs – (Sugars Fiber) = Simple Carbs

    Your formula lumps Fiber and simple carbs together, which is incorrect. This is why Fiber is listed separately on the label.

    Am I wrong?

  2. @Ralph

    Well, the formula is designed to calculate complex carbs, so there is some misunderstanding (or a typo.) Sugars are simple carbs, so the formula you posted doesn’t make sense.

    Perhaps you mean: Total Carbs – (Sugars Fiber) = Complex Carbs

    My formula lumps fiber in with the complex carbs, which I already explained. I think it works fine, but that’s up for debate. I feel like fiber is more important to distinguish if you’re talking “net carbs.”

    How you consider fiber in the equation is more a question of why you need to calculate complex carbs in the first place. It sounds like Cody just wants to have complex carbs in his diet, and high-fiber foods are just fine in that circumstance.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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