Too Much on Your Plate
Notes From The Field
Low Carb Vacation
Here's What's New!
We All Scream for Ice Cream
Jonny Bowden Weighs In
Exercise: No Excuses!
Binge Eating: Why?
Makeup Tips: Part One
Make It Low Carb!
Collecting Baseball Carbs
Y'all Come Back!
SIGN UP TO SUBSCRIBE
Last month I wrote about the challenges facing large and small food manufacturers with
regard to low carb products. As promised, this column is going to talk a bit about
ingredient selection. Of course, it wouldn't be one of my columns if I didn't digress
in order to paint the big picture.
1 Some people (like me) would say you shouldn't use any corn syrup in a low-carb product.
Of course, a trip to the grocery store indicates there are others who believe you can use
The ingredients used in a consumer product greatly impact its eventual price at retail.
Not only does the selection of particular ingredients contribute to raw materials costs,
the associated processing of these ingredients contributes more costs in the form of labor
and any special machinery required to complete the processing. So, lower cost ingredients
yield a lower cost product, as long as the labor associated with the lower cost ingredient
isn't high enough to make up the difference.
There is a large market-distorting force when dealing with ingredients, however:
Agricultural Subsidies. Every rich country has some form of agricultural subsidy.
In the US we've spent over $144 Billion on these subsidies from 1995 to 2002. Roughly
$34.5 Billion (or 30%) went to one commodity: corn. This market distortion makes corn
incredibly cheap for food processors.
Ingredients manufacturers and consumer goods companies alike go out of their way to use
corn in their supply chain because their products will all cost less than counterparts
that use other ingredients. In fact, 2,500 of the 10,000 products in a typical
supermarket are made from corn or have used corn significantly in their production process.
In the US, corn leads all other crops in value and volume of production — more than double
that of any other crop. Have you ever wondered why high fructose corn syrup is so common
in our packaged foods? Now you know.
So, how does this economic trend impact low-carb products? Corn Syrup of any kind can't be
used in low-carb products in quantity.1 Well, perhaps there is a substance on the market
that acts a great deal like corn syrup but is still appropriate for products labeled
"low-carb." There is: maltitol.
Maltitol is a sugar-alcohol, sometimes called a polyol. These substances are chemically
between sugars and alcohols. Anyone who's spent any time looking at the nutrition labels
of low-carb products has seen it on the list of ingredients. From the perspective of a
manufacturer maltitol and its close relatives have several of the same physical and chemical
properties as corn syrup. This similarity translates directly into cost savings in production
as manufacturers can re-use the machinery and techniques they've developed from corn-syrup
based products. The time to market for the new low-carb version of a company's existing
product is much, much shorter than if they had to develop a completely new formulation. In
fact, the producers of maltitol and its derivatives compete on how similar their particular
version is to various types of corn syrup. One of the standard processes for making it is
to start with corn syrup. Who could ask for anything better?
One of the questions consumers frequently ask me is, "why can't they use Splenda to make my
favorite product?" Sucralose, (the sweetener in Splenda) like aspartame and saccharin,
is an intense sweetener. These sweeteners are several hundred times
sweeter than sugar. While they lend sweetness, they do not contribute significantly to texture or
structure in finished products. Sugar, corn syrup, and maltitol are called bulk sweeteners
as they contribute greatly to texture and structure of a finished product as well as
sweetening. Anyone accustomed to cooking with sugar or corn sweeteners has a much easier
time with product development when using other bulk sweeteners.
Of course, maltitol and its cousins have their downsides. The FDA requires any product
that has sugar alcohols to print a warning that indicates that excessive consumption can
cause "gastric distress." Anyone who has experienced this phenomenon will tell you, it is
On top of the digestive issues there is another problem with these substances. The common
statement that they do not impact blood sugar has never been proven. To contrary there
are several recent studies that indicate they do cause a spike in blood sugar and can interfere
with the metabolic advantages of a low-carb diet. See this article from the NY Daily News
for a description of one.
To sum up this article, you can see that these ingredients are chosen more for their physical
and chemical properties and their cost than anything having to do with their impact on health.
As I said in the last column you should approach low carb specialty products with skepticism.
Next month I'll talk about some other ingredients and answer some of the questions that some
readers have written in.
Please, if you have any questions about this column or the food industry in general, write to
me. I can be reached at MarkLCLux@ExpertFoods.com.
Copyright © July 2004 Mark Uhrmacher and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury