Low Carb Labels and Low Carb Confusion

If it sounds too good to be true... it is. From "fat blasters," to "energy boosters," manufacturers in the USA don’t have to prove their claims before slapping a label on a product, as long as the claim is not health-related, and that’s true for "low carb."


Some health experts tie the rise in obesity to the fat-free phenomenon of the 80’s. Fat-free is perceived as calorie-free, inviting people to eat more. Even today I get a kick out of reading cookie package labels. The fat-free cookies usually have as many or even more calories than the original.


The Food & Drug Administration is concerned about low-carb products, and with good reason. They’re worried that manufacturers are hoodwinking the public into thinking that portion size doesn’t count. We know better.


Over 40 million Americans say they’re trying to control their weight by counting carbs, not calories. Unfortunately, most don’t understand how low-carb diets work. They think if it’s low carb, they can eat more. Another diet myth to be busted!


The Low-Carb Summit in Washington, D.C. last week brought together the leading authors, researchers and largest independent manufacturers and distributors of low-carb diets and products. From the trenches came the words: you can’t lose weight if you eat too many low-carb snacks!


From working closely with the Atkins team and staying current with the research, I know that Atkins is not a "diet" in the weight loss sense of the word; it’s a "nutritional approach," and aims to teach people to eat a carb-controlled diet to eat the right kinds of carbs, in the right amounts. At the summit, the largest distributor of low-carb foods reports that people who buy a lot of the low-carb products cannot lose weight... because low carb doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie.


On the Atkins Diet, Phase 1, Induction limits you to 20 grams of net carbs per day, recommended for approximately two weeks (or more if you need to stay on longer). At this restricted carb level you’re allowed salad and vegetables but only a minimum of low-carb products, for example, a slice of low-carb Atkins bread or Atkins low-carb bars or shakes.


As you lose weight, you add small portions of other vegetables, then small portions of fruit, nuts, and seeds, even grains, as you work your way up the Atkins carb ladder. The program is designed to help you realize that portion size counts, and to stay with the healthiest carbs, not waste your carbs on white flour and pasta. In this way the Atkins program is a lifestyle, not a diet, and eventually you’re able to add some of the substitutes that Atkins has come up with to add some variety to the program, including a wider variety of snack bars, shakes and even ice cream.


But, it’s not an "all you can eat" situation. You get into real trouble when you think, "if it’s low carb I can eat all I want." That’s a recipe for disaster.


Today’s grocery stores are slapping the low-carb label on everything -- even items that normally contain no carbs, like mayonnaise and fish! Low carb doesn’t mean "no carb" and doesn’t describe the grams of net carb per serving.


Some experts think the breads, pasta, cakes and candy that are being offered as part of a low-carb lifestyle are dangerous for low-carb dieters. When Kraft, Frito-Lay, and even Entenmanns’s Bakery label a cake "low carb" does that mean you can include it in your weight loss program and still lose weight? The answer is, "NO!" As one of the panelists said, "People are buying low carb and not losing weight. Consumers think they can eat all they want and then they wonder why they can’t lose weight."


Low-carb products that imitate regular ones, such as cookies, cakes, candy and sweetened drinks and beverages contain sugar alcohols, including maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and others. Not digested and absorbed like sugar, the manufacturers say that they don’t elevate blood sugar and insulin levels. The FDA is not convinced (stating that more research is necessary) and they do contribute some calories. Because of the consumer confusion about the true nature of low carb products, regulation that forces manufacturers to comply with labeling laws is now under consideration and may be coming this year.


I’ve heard that the definition of "low carb" will be eight grams or less, and calculated by subtracting the grams of fiber per serving from total carbs (see below). Sugar alcohols, the so-called non-nutritive sweeteners won’t count, which will knock a large number of products currently labeled low carb out of the running.


Whatever program you use to lose weight, remember, if you go "on" a diet, the only way you’ll maintain your weight loss permanently is if you make permanent lifestyle changes. Exercise and portion control are vital to accomplishing and sustaining weight loss, and sure do sound boring -- but boy, it’s exciting when you look in the mirror and see a slimmer, sexier, healthier you!


Do You Know?
Manufacturers currently use the term "net carbs" to describe the carbs that affect blood sugar, and calculate them by subtracting grams of fiber, sugar alcohols (and glycerin, in some products) from total carbs. However, unless you’re on Induction, pay attention to calories per serving too, otherwise you may wind up gaining weight. Some products labeled low carb actually contain more calories than the original. Read the labels.



 
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