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Understanding the Low-Carb Label

( [email protected] ) Mar 29, 2004 08:10 PM EST

If you have visited your local grocery store recently, you have undoubtedly noticed the sudden surge of “low-carb” products. Many foods once considered taboo for weight loss, including pastas, cookies, chips and crackers, are making the low-carb claim. The key to lasting weight loss is knowing how to separate the true low-carb products from the imposters.

Currently, there is no legal definition for the term “low-carb.” In other words, food companies can use this term at their discretion. Some companies are now including the words “net carb”, “effective carb” or “useable carb” on food labels to draw your eye to the product’s low carbohydrate content.

What does it all mean?

The “net” carb content is calculated by subtracting grams of fiber and sugar alcohols (such as the sugar substitute, mannitol) from the total carbohydrate count. According to manufacturers, fiber, although technically a carbohydrate, is not absorbed by the body and should be not included in the final count. Sugar alcohols have a very low effect on blood sugar levels and are also excluded from the total carbohydrate count.

Many health experts and nutritionists disagree with this method of counting carbohydrates and reason that sugar alcohols should be included in the total carbohydrate count. Until proper guidelines are made available, food labels list both the fiber and the sugar alcohols, which can either be added in or subtracted from the total carbohydrate. It should be noted that sugar alcohols eaten in excess can cause diarrhea and gastro-intestinal upset.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of determining just how many carbohydrates should be allowed in a reduced carb or low-carb diet, and setting standards for exactly how food manufacturers should count and list the grams of carbs.

Doing low-carb correctly

Until labeling laws have changed, Truestar has outlined the following tips on how to eat low-carb food products in a healthy and beneficial way for permanent weight loss. In addition to these foods, visit the Truestar Nutrition section for a variety of personalized low-carb meal options. The Truestar Green Light, Red Light Foods also clearly outlines how to decipher the good carbohydrates from the bad.

Use the following guidelines to eat a healthy, low-carbohydrate diet:

Include a lean protein source at every meal: protein powder, egg whites, omega-3 eggs, lean chicken or turkey, soy, cold-water fish and occasional lean ground beef.

Stick to low glycemic index carbohydrates: vegetables, most fruits (such as berries), beans and whole grains.

Ensure your diet has enough optimal fats: include monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. Minimize trans fatty acids and limit the amount of saturated fat you consume.

For more information about consuming the proper ratio of food, visit the 40:30:30 Method of Eating and aim to eat in proper balance at every meal and snack. For accelerated weight loss in the first few weeks of dieting, we recommend an increased amount of protein (approximately 40% protein). As a rule of thumb, a palm (without fingers or thumb) or a deck of cards equals a 3-ounce serving of meat.


Optimal low-carb choices that are also healthy and nutritious include:

All vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach

Protein enriched pasta: now found in most health food stores and some grocery stores

Slow cooking oatmeal: add protein powder to your morning granola to lower the glycemic index rating of the food

Yogurt with mixed nuts or granola

A delicious protein smoothie: see Make the Perfect Morning Shake for more information

Protein bars (Meso-Tech, Zone): look for a minimum of 30 to 40% protein

Egg white omelet

Stir-fry with chicken, fish, lean beef or soy

Egg, tuna or chicken with a thin spelt or whole wheat wrap

Leafy green salad with protein (egg, tofu, chicken) and fat (walnuts, pecans)