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When a Carb’s Not a Carb: The Net Carb Debate

When is a carb not a carb? That’s the question many carb-conscious dieters are facing as they struggle to keep their carb counts within the strict limits recommended by Nutrition Facts label, which lists total carbohydrates and breaks them down into glycemic index, meaning they cause blood sugar levels to quickly rise after eating. Excess simple carbohydrates are stored in the body as fat. Examples of these include potatoes, white bread, white rice, and sweets.

Other carbohydrates, such as the fiber found in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, move slowly through the sorbitol, xylitol, and other polyols, which are modified alcohol molecules that resemble sugar. These substances are commonly used as laxative effect.”

Although sugar alcohols have been used in small amounts in items like chewing gums for years, researchers say little is known about the long-term effects of consuming large amounts of these substances.

Registered dietitian Jackie Berning, PhD, says she steers her patients against products containing sugar alcohols for those reasons.

“I just don’t know how they’re going to react. We’ve never put that much in,” says Berning, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. “Some are going to get chocolate Powerbar. “I don’t care that it’s only 2 net carbs. The thing is, have you done enough exercise, have you balanced the rest of your diet to put in 260 calories in that bar — whether it has 30 grams of carbohydrates or 2?”

Rather than focus on what she calls “the little c” of carbohydrates, Berning says people interested in weight loss should focus on the “big C”– calories.

Karmally agrees and says terms like net carbs shouldn’t trick dieters into thinking, “This is a free lunch, and I can have as much as I want,” just because a food company says the impact or net carbs are only so much.

“You lose track of the fact that foods have calories, and what has impact on fruits and vegetables, rather than highly processed foods like snack bars, pastas, and sweets that have had their natural carbohydrates stripped away.

“Whole foods, like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, should be the foundation of diet,” says Karmally. “Because if you miss out on these foods, then you end up missing out on a whole bunch of nutrients and antioxidants that have a potential benefit on reducing the incidence of chronic, degenerative diseases.”

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