Caught in the net?
If you have tried one of the low-carb diets, you already know that another problem with shopping for low-carb foods is the new jargon that leaves many consumers more than challenged. What does ‘net carbs’ actually mean? How about ‘Effective Carb Count’ and ‘Net Impact Carbs?’ Since there is no official definition for ‘net carbs,’ it’s hard to come up with a true definition. But in general, they’re defined as total carbohydrates minus the carbohydrates used in the product that don’t affect blood sugar – like fiber or sugar alcohols. Indeed, these terms were originally coined as a way that diabetics could distinguish carb-containing foods that have less impact on blood sugars.After we eat carbohydrates like starch or sugar, blood sugar (glucose) rises as insulin is released to move the glucose into the cell (a necessary process to produce energy to run the body, by the way). But when starch and/or sugar are replaced with fiber, glycerine, sugar alcohols like sorbitol or xylitol, or sugar substitutes, the product contains fewer carbohydrates that affect blood sugar. To get the net carbohydrate value, manufacturers subtract the grams of fiber, sugar alcohols and glycerin from the product’s grams of total carbohydrates.
Here’s how a popular low carb candy bar figures its net carbohydrates:
25 g. total carbohydrate minus 11 g. fiber, 3 g. sugar alcohol and 9 g. glycerine = 2 net carbs.
Keep in mind, however, that just because something is lower in carbs doesn’t mean it’s lower in calories. As I said earlier, carbs are often are replaced with fat, which may actually increase the calorie content. The low carbohydrate candy bar above contains 220 calories, only 10 calories less than a similar, regular (and better-tasting, in my opinion) candy bar! Not that low-fat convenience foods are any better. Many replace the fat with sugar. Snackwell’s low-fat cream-filled sandwich cookies are 55 calories each and boast 10.5 g. carbs. But an Oreo – a real one – is only 47 calories and 6.7 g. carbs! Another ploy of low-fat snack foods is the inclusion of phony fats like olestra that can send your gastrointestinal tract into a tizzy, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
One of the biggest pitfalls of ‘diet’ foods – whether low-carb or low-fat – is the mindset that they’re ‘free.’ But, as we’ve seen, many of these prepared foods actually contain more calories than the original, and if they’re high in sugar alcohols like sorbitol and mannitol, they can have a laxative effect when eaten in large quantities.
Personally, I have a problem with any diet that focuses on one food group or nutrient at the expense of others. Carbohydrates are essential to the body, and severely restricting carb-intake for more than a brief period can result in nausea and fatigue, and poses a risk to kidney function. Of course, if you’re insulin resistant, have diabetes or some other blood sugar control challenge, it’s important to manage your carbohydrate intake. But, for most of us, there’s more to choosing healthy foods than their carbohydrate count. Research shows that a diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and legumes) are the best choices for long, healthy lives at healthy weights.
How do carbs affect the body?
Let's use the example of a person that just wakes up in the morning with nothing in their belly. The first thing you consume is a glass of juice, which is all carbohydrate. The response in your body is for a sudden rise in blood sugar, because you're on an emptystomach and you've eaten nothing besides the simple carbohydrate. What follows is a rebound hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. This peak and valley is what we try to avoid with carbohydrates, and you can avoid the surge and decline by drinking your juice with other foods, especially foods with fiber and whole grains. So if your breakfast was a glass of juice, an egg, and two pieces of whole-grain toast, the rise in blood sugar will be slower and steadier, as will the fall in blood sugar. The slow increase and slow decrease of a complex meal will take you from breakfast to lunch without hunger, whereas, the sharp fall and sharp rise is often associated with hunger, and leads to overeating. So a diet that has foods with a low glycemic index (that's mostly the good carbs with lots of fiber) do not cause rapid increases or decreases in blood sugar and are more capable of on controlling calories consumed.
Explain the glycemic index. I always hear about it in talks about carbs. Where can I find it?
Ah, yes my favorite web site, www.glycemicindex.com has the glycemic index of foods and great explanations. In a nutshell, processed carbs tend to have higher glycemic loads than unprocessed ones, and they result in a quick jolt of blood sugar that often times leaves you very hungry when the blood sugar drops. This cycle of eating simple carbohydrates leads to frequent eating and overeating of total calories. By consuming carbohydrates with a lower in the glycemic load, for example, steel cut oats, whole-grain fiber bread, or fresh berry fruit, fibrous green vegetables, the load is less, you feel more satisfied, not as hungry, and tend to eat fewer calories.
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