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Feature Articles
 Best of the Low Carb Blogs
 Low Carb Asian Cooking
 Romantic Valentine Dinner
 Persistence Pays Off
 Man's View of Valentine's Day
 Valentine Baking Tools
 What Are "Net Carbs?"
 Valentine Sweets
 Chocolate Is Healthy!
 Exercise: No Excuses!



 Low Carb Tortillas


                   What are Net Carbs? by Jonny Bowden, M.A., C.N.S.

Let's go back for a minute and think about the reason behind the low-carb approach... Remember?

It's to control blood sugar and insulin. After all, why try to limit carbohydrates to a reasonably low level in the first place? Because you're trying to get off the blood sugar rollercoaster. By limiting huge spikes in blood sugar, and the unhealthy sustained levels of insulin that follow, for many people, you're helping to both control weight, and turn off the constant signal to the body to "store that fat!" And of course, in addition to weight loss, you're also getting all the dramatic health benefits of lower triglycerides in the bargain.

OK then. So the reason we're interested in controlling carbs is because high carb intake, for most people, raises blood sugar far higher than we want it to be. But here's the deal: because of the weird way that the government measures carbs, a lot of stuff gets mixed together under the heading "carbohydrate" on the nutrition facts label. But not all carbohydrates listed on the label are created equal.

Here's why: The measurement of carbs on a label is done through something called "the difference method." The difference method works like this: If I'm talking to a roomful of 100 people, and I want to know how many men are in the room, I can simply count up the total number of people (100), count up the number of women (let's say 40) and subtract the number of women from the total (100 – 40 = 60.) What's left is 60 people, which can reasonably assumed to be men, (assuming of course that no aliens have taken residence in the lecture hall.)

Well that's how carbs are measured. They take the total number of calories, add up the protein and the fat, and figure what's left is carbohydrate.

That's perfectly fine. Except that under that "carb" label are some things we really don't care about, from a blood sugar point of view. For example: fiber. If you pricked your finger and did a glucose (blood sugar) reading, and then downed a glass of pure psyillium husks or even unsweetened Metamucil (I know — disgusting — but stay with me here), and then you re-measured your blood afterward, the readings wouldn't change at all. Fiber simply has no effect on blood sugar because it's basically not digested. But because of the "difference method," fiber is "counted" on the nutrition facts label as a carbohydrate. Yet low-carbers don't need to worry about the grams of fiber when counting carbs.

So we subtract them. At the most basic level, net (or effective) carbs are simply the total number of carbs on the label, minus the fiber. So, for example, if you have a serving of raspberries that contains 14 grams of carbohydrate, but 8 of them are fiber, your "net carbs" are 6 grams. These are the ones you "count." These are the ones that affect your blood sugar.

Of course, when it comes to processed foods like bars, packaged mixes, ready to drink shakes and the like, it gets just a bit more complicated, but the same principle applies. The manufacturers of these products subtract fiber from the total carb content, but they also subtract sugar alcohols and glycerine. The basic idea is that these compounds don't appreciably impact blood sugar either (at least for the majority of non-diabetic people, and even for many diabetics) so we don't need to "count" them as part of the total carb content.

On any nutrition facts label, the manufacturer is required to give you the total carbs and the fiber grams, so you can do that part of the calculation yourself. Sugar alcohols and their relatives (for example, "glycerine") are not necessarily listed on the facts label, so you really have no way of knowing how to account for them. But in products marketed to the carb conscious consumer they'll tell you, often giving you the net carb count right on the label. Not all manufacturers are as conscientious and scrupulous as, for example, Atkins, so it's kind of a crapshoot with many of the products as to whether or not their net carb counts are accurate (Atkins' are, and so are a few other companies.)

Remember though — not everyone has an insignificant blood sugar response to sugar alcohols (though virtually everyone does to fiber.) And some sugar alcohols — maltitol for example — have turned out to raise blood sugar after all, though not as much as sugar itself. Be careful. Lots of sugar alcohols can definitely upset the applecart and just might screw up your weight loss efforts.

As always, respect your individual differences, experiment, and see how it works in your life.

The take-home point: You're interested in the impact that the food you're eating has on your blood sugar and your hormones, and that's what the net carb count tells you.

                                               Visit the Jonny Bowden Solutions website.

Copyright © February 2006  Jonny Bowden and Low Carb Luxury



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