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Sifting Through Low-Carb Craze

Experts caution that lack of standards makes it hard to measure carbohydrates

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

SUNDAY, Nov. 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Everywhere you go these days, it seems like you run into something or someone extolling the virtues of low-carbohydrate diets.

But an article in the November issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource says such diets are not necessarily healthier.

For example, there's no standard definition for the term "low carb" or for related terms such as "carb wise" and "carb fit." These are marketing terms designed to sell products, the article noted, adding that low carb doesn't mean low fat or low calorie.

You need to carefully examine food product labels. Total carbohydrates listed on labels are calculated by subtracting the grams of protein, fat, water and ash (the nonburnable portion of the food, such as minerals) from the total weight of the food.

Net carbohydrates are total carbs minus fiber, glycerin and sugar alcohols. Net carbs are used as a way to promote that a food has a lower carb count. The idea is that fiber, glycerin and sugar alcohols -- which are all forms of carbohydrates -- don't raise blood sugar and therefore shouldn't be included when counting carbohydrate amounts in foods.

But the Mayo article said that sugar alcohols can raise blood sugar and do add calories.

You also need to remember that there are good carbs and bad carbs. Sugar, which offers no nutritional benefit other than calories, could be labeled a bad carbohydrate.

But whole grains such as oatmeal or brown rice contain important minerals, vitamins and fiber that promote good health -- making them good carbohydrates.

You still have to remember that too much of any food can mean excess calories and weight gain.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers advice about healthy eating.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic, news release, Nov. 2, 2004


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