Low-carb clarity

Get the facts and understand the myths surrounding low-carb products

Filling your shopping cart with the newest low-carb foods might not save you calories—or cash. There are 12 times as many low-carb products on grocery store shelves today as there were in 1999, as bread, chocolate and beer manufacturers race to keep up with the demand for Atkins-friendly foods. But regular fare may be just as good for your figure.

No magic bullet

Many studies have already disputed the science behind weight-loss plans that advocate eating as little as 20 grams of carbohydrates daily. “Cutting carbs isn’t a magic bullet—the magic is that you’re eating fewer calories,” says Len Piché, nutrition professor at Brescia University College at the University of Western Ontario in London. And you can’t discount the value of exercise in a weight-loss program. A recent study by NPD Group food researchers found that only 40 per cent of people who were reducing carbs were also exercising at least three times a week. Health Canada recommends at least half an hour of moderate exercise, four times a week.

Low carb, high calorie?

There’s also no regulated definition of low carb in North America, and many products labelled as such deliver almost the same number of calories as their regular counterparts. “These products often have nearly as many carbs as well,” says Kristyn Hall, a registered dietitian in Calgary, “but the labels disguise this—they’ll subtract certain carbs, such as fibre or sugar alcohols, and list a lower number, often called ‘net carbs.'” You won’t lose weight eating these products since the calorie count remains the same.

Some low-carb versions of bread and chips, for instance, have been reformulated with added soy proteins, containing the same calories per gram as carbohydrates. A low-carb pancake mix has less sugar but added oil, which contains two and a half times more calories per gram. Low-carb ice cream and chocolates replace sugar with sucralose, a sugar alcohol. “They taste all right,” says Piché, “but watch out for uncomfortable bloating and gas if you eat too much.” A sugar-free version of the same product might offer the same nutrition and calorie value at a lower cost, so read and compare labels to make the right choice.

Low carb, low nutrients?

There’s another reason to put carbs in your shopping cart: they provide energy to fuel the body—particularly the brain, kidneys and red and white blood cells. The recommended daily intake for women aged 25 to 45 is 130 grams. “If you take the carbs out, you’re losing vitamins, nutrients and fibre,” says Piché. So, wheel through the produce, cereal and bread aisles for fruit, vegetables and whole grain products with at least four grams of fibre per serving to lower your chances of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

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