What Is Effective Carbohydrate Count (ECC)?

Net Carbs, ECC, and What Matters in Your Low Carb Diet

Close-up of a bowl of cut pieces of broccoli
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Effective carbohydrate count, or ECC, is a consistent thought when it comes to meal planning for a low carb diet. ECC is the amount of carbohydrate in a food that the body is able to utilize for energy. Since fiber is a carbohydrate which "passes through" the gastrointestinal tract, it is subtracted from the total carbohydrate count, leaving the effective, or used-for-energy carbohydrate count. This concept was originally promoted by the authors who wrote Protein Power.

Some systems (such as Atkins) also deduct all or part of some ingredients such as sugar alcohols. In these instances, it is called net carbs.

Understanding Effective Carbohydrate Count (ECC)

Also known as net carb count, usable carbs, available carbohydrate, utilizable carbohydrates, net impact carbs and net Atkins count, effective carbohydrate count is simply a way to only count the carbs that will affect your blood sugar. Because the whole focus of a low carb diet is to keep blood sugar in check, this is an important number to consider when planning meals.

To help you understand the concept better, here is the basic equation and an example:

Total Carbohydrate (grams) - Dietary Fiber (grams) = Effective Carbohydrate Count 

One cup of raw broccoli florets has a total of about 4 grams of carbohydrates. However, 2 of those grams come from fiber. Since the body gets no calories from the fiber portion (and there is no rise in blood sugar from it), we say that there are 2 grams ECC or net carbs in the broccoli.

The Fiber Factor

An easy way to consider effective carbohydrate count is by thinking about the importance of fiber in determining the ECC. To get the effective net carbs (ECC), you'd subtract the grams of dietary fiber from the total carbohydrate grams in your serving size. The resulting number is used for energy and thus will affect your blood sugar.

Once you think about what's left over, it's easy to make a determination as to if the foods you are checking into are "worth" the carb count. Online resources like Calorie Count Plus can help you find food labels for both fresh and packaged foods so that you can determine carb counts without having to peruse the aisles at your grocery store. Just remember that total carbs less dietary fiber is what gets the net carb number you're searching for.

Balancing Blood Sugar

Another aspect of ECC is understanding the goal. The goal is to stabilize or balance your blood sugar on a low carb diet. As you know when things swing back and forth, there's no balance. The goal is to bring your blood sugar back to zero. The way people do this is by always checking the effective carb count of a single food or their entire meal. The goal is to find balance. Enough dietary fiber to cover the effect of the left over carbohydrate. This balance will you stay full longer, lower insulin levels and keep your blood sugar from swinging out of control. By keeping balance in mind, you don't have to see ECC as a numbers game. Think balance.

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