Carb explanation help

I found a bottle of sugar free zero calories, ginger beer. Which is non alcoholic btw. It’s not something I normally have, but it reminds me of being a kid.
So here is The nutrition label.
How can there be zero calories and 12 carbs.
I really don’t know what to think of this.

I think the “0” calories is either a mistake or an out and out lie. This stuff has monk fruit extract, lemon and lime juices from concentrate, and natural pineapple flavor, and HONEY!. That’s probably where the carbs come from, and the company didn’t do a good job of researching how many carbs/calories can add up from all the flavorings.

The 12 g carbs are Erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Too much can cause digestive issues.


The FDA has given special labeling allowances to erythritol, different from other sugar alcohols. Basically, they’ve decided that even though it is a carbohydrate, it’s rapidly absorbed by the small intestines and then excreted unchanged. What isn’t absorbed in the small intestines ferments and turns to gas (fun!), and still doesn’t impart any nutritive value. Thus, the zero calories.

I can’t share a link to this document, because this site doesn’t let us upload PDFs, but I’ll share some snippets from the FDAs “GRAS notice 789 for Erythritol”. GRAS = generally recognized as safe.

Erythritol is produced as odorless, white crystals from the fermentation broth of the yeast, Moniliella pollinis. The end product typically consists of more than 99 .5% erythritol and is heat stable as well as nonhygroscopic. Erythritol is soluble in water, slightly soluble in alcohol, and practically insoluble in fats and ether. It has a melting point between l 19°C and 123°C. Due to its negative heat of solution, erythritol provides a strong cooling effect. Erythritol has a sweetness of about 60%-70% that of sucrose, in a 10% solution (Goossens and Roper, 1994), and has a caloric value of 0.0 kcal/gram (21 CFR § 101.9).

Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, and Excretion

Numerous reviews of erythritol ADME data for both animals and humans have been published (Munro et al., 1998; JECFA, 2000; SCF, 2003). Following oral ingestion, erythritol is rapidly absorbed from the small intestine ( 60-90%) and primarily excreted unchanged in the urine. Absorbed erythritol is rapidly distributed in both animals and humans (i.e., within 1 hour of ingestion). The unabsorbed fraction of erythritol undergoes microbial fermentation in the large intestine. Fermentation of erythritol in the large intestine produces volatile short-chain fatty acids and gas (Oku and Noda, 1990; Noda and Oku, 1992).


Hold on, this might get confusing. But here is the explanation for how they can do this.

It lists erythritol, which is a sugar alcohol. Yes, the general rule is 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. But sugar alcohols don’t provide four calories per gram.

Erythritol has about 1/16 the amount of calories per gram.

So the 12 grams of carbs… If that was normal carbs, it might be about 48 calories. But since erythritol has about 1/16, that’s only about 3 calories.

12 grams carbs x 4 (normal calories per gram) x 1/16 (the fact that erythritol has only about a sixteenth of normal calories per gram)

12 X 4 X 1/16 = 3 actual calories

With me so far?

Okay, so 3 calories. But why does it say zero?!?

Great question!

RAAC is the Recommended Amount Customarily Consumed. In the case of that drink, the RAAC is 1 bottle.

According to the FDA, in order for a food to be listed as having zero calories, it must have “no more than 5 calories per RACC and per labeled serving”.

So the simplified version - since it uses erythritol, which has only about 1/16 the normal calories per gram of carb, and the math works out to less than 5 calories, they can say 0 calories.


As @Eric2 explained above companies can use funny math to get to zero calories, but I think what really matters is does it raise BG anymore than a glass of water would? I haven’t ever had their ginger beer but I do regularly drink their ginger ale and I don’t dose anything for it. It doesn’t raise my BG at all. However the beer has some additional ingredients in it that I might need to dose for if only a few grams of carb.

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I have a bad feeling about this. . . .

(You never get something for nothing)

I’ve always wondered about Diet Mt. Dew. Weirdly enough, Diet Mt. Dew in a can says 0 calories, 0 carbs. Diet Mt. Dew in a bottle says 0 calories, 1 carb. Enigma…

Most sources advise counting half the sugar alcohols as carbs that can affect blood sugar. Here’s some detailed info:

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This is true for some sugar alcohols like sorbitol and consistent with my experience with those. However, I find erythritol genuinely has no or negligible impact on blood sugars, and I’ve had this very beverage in question (it’s delicious) without impact on blood sugars or notable GI distress.

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Good info here too, on erythritol.

The only way to know is…to try it an see, I guess.

Yes thank you all. The thing I was wondering about wasn’t really the alcohol sugar, but that the listed it as 12 carbs.
If there are 12 carbs they can’t really be zero calories.
I think they play games with the numbers

It’s not a game, it’s how the US and done other countries have decided to handle erythritol. I provided the data sheet from the FDA. It has weight and it’s a carbohydrate, so has to be on the label, but no nutritive value.

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Consume enough of that stuff is probably negative nutritive value, sending some other nutrition to the toilet. :ukraine:

This is why the term “net carbs” exists–it removes sugar alcohols from the net carb total. The problem is that not all sugar alcohols are the same as listed above. While erythritol is genuinely non-nutritive (and in my experience, xylitol is similar), sorbitol is much more variable and basically depends on how much it upsets your stomach–if a lot, you probably aren’t absorbing too much, if you can tolerate it ok, you probably need to count more of it. I usually dose insulin for about 50% of the sorbitol net carbs, but I also tend to avoid sorbitol containing foods (which are becoming less common in favor of erythritol).

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All of the explanations so far are pretty spot on - but please remember - carbs are a calculated value. Anything that is not either a fat or protein is a carb. Dirt is a carb. That is why they subtract out dietary fiber - which has no calories - but is a carb. This is the concept of net carbs. Net carbs are approximately 4 calories each - not all carbs. Sugar alcohols are an obvious example of a dietary diversion. But zero calorie alternatives like Stevia, Nutrasweet and so forth, while they do not contribute calories or carbs, still fool your endocrine system and can have negative insulin effects - so, it becomes quit complicated. Not to worry, though. Diligence and getting to know your own reactions to different substances will carry you through. I am pretty strict with my diet - but no Saint. Still, after 15 years as a type 1, I have an H1Ac under 6 - it just takes paying attention and making it a priority. All the best.

I have to disagree with this statement A carbohydrate is watered carbon with a generic formula of Cx(H2O)y. Dirt may have water and carbon, but is also a mix of many different elements and chemicals. A common indigestible dietary fiber is cellulose with a formula of C6H10O5. That’s 6 carbons+5 of water.

Glucose has the same Carbon but 2 more water molecules, C6H12O6. Starches are composed of two different structures of glucose molecules, either linear or chained.

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Look at the label of bud light. 90 calories and nothing else( 12 pk bottles printed on the case) go figure. Aint going to kill us enjoy it.

It matters how much of those 90 calories are carbs and how much is fat. But yes of course you can dose anything if you know the carb content.

I don’t drink beer but I have a glass of wine now and again and I’ll even have whiskey on occasion. The key is keeping things in moderation. And also taking enough insulin to cover it.