Low Carb Lingo
To turn high-carbohydrate foods into low-carb versions, food processors are making new uses of old ingredients such as sugar alcohols and fermentable carbohydrates. These substances don't have serious safety issues, though they may produce diarrhea and gas in susceptible people. There's some evidence that they can help with blood-sugar control, but there's no evidence that focusing on foods with these ingredients will help you lose weight.
In most low-carb labeling, "net carbs" refers to the total grams of carbohydrates per serving minus grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. The term has no legal standing, though the Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to address it and other low-carb claims in regulations.
Through the miracle of modern food technology, manufacturers have turned high-carb snacks into low carb products by replacing sugars with sugar alcohols and refined grains with isolated fibers, and resistant starches. Since these ingredients, though technically carbohydrates, move through the small intestine without being absorbed, the Atkins and other product lines subtract them from the total carb count. Hence the term "net carbs" that you see on many labels.
The surge of low-carbohydrate products has been so swift that regulatory agencies are scrambling to catch up. As of now, there's not even an agreed-upon definition of "low-carbohydrate," let alone "net carbs." The Food and Drug Administration is addressing this issue, but final regulations are probably about a year away. In April 2004, the Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau ruled that labels on wine, beer, and distilled beverages can make statements about total carb counts but not calculate "net carbs" nor imply that these beverages playa healthful role in weight maintenance or reduction.
Here are ways to avoid the pitfalls of a low-carb diet:
Eat whole foods whenever possible. For 40 grams a day of "net carbs;' you could eat a half-cup of lentils, a cup of carrots, an orange, and a slice of light seven-grain bread-for a total of 274 calories-plenty of natural fiber, and a host of vitamins and minerals. By contrast, getting those 40 grams from low-carb snack foods might give you 1,440 calories and few other nutrients.
Read the calorie count on the Nutrition Facts label. Many low-carbohydrate snacks are even higher in fat than their regular counterparts, yet fat doesn't register on the "net carbs" count.
Treat treats as treats, no matter what the carb count. You shouldn't eat five low-carb chocolate bars at a sitting any more than you should eat five regular ones.