The Skinny On The Low Carb Confusion - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

02/27/04 - Tyler

The Skinny On The Low Carb Confusion

Low-carb this, low-carb that. It's the catch phrase of the moment. You can't go into a grocery store without seeing stockpiles of products and even specialized sections. But what is "low carb" anyway? Right now, no one knows. But we've learned the government is about to step in to calm all the carb confusion. What do you need to know? We went straight to the FDA to find out.

Low carbs, no carbs, net carbs. The products are everywhere! Ask around and you'll hear things like, "I usually buy low carb prepared cookies." Another customer says, "I try to go for lower carbohydrates cereal." Another adds, "I like the meal replacement bars." Lauren Sturges is among the throngs of Americans who are watching their carbohydrates. She says the explosion of products is like a dream come true! "You can have everything from chocolates to pancakes, you name it. I don't think there's anything that they haven't found a low carb solution to," says Lauren. Brookshire's grocery store in Tyler has had such a demand, it's expanding the number of low carb foods it carries. "We're looking at every area we can. In our bakery department, we're getting ready to come here in the next two weeks with a whole new line of low carb products. We also have low carb ice creams, dairy products and low carb milks. So we're producing quit a bit," explains Bill Haskins, Brookshire's manager.

Most of the grocery stores in East Texas are now carrying low carb foods. Although the labels may say "low carb," what are you really buying? What does "low carb" mean anyway?

"We do not at the present time have guidelines," says Dr. Lester Crawford with the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Crawford says the FDA has no definition of what constitutes low carb, unlike the specific guidelines it's had for a decade for low fat and low calorie foods.

"We never got to carbohydrates because people didn't care about carbohydrates then, not even the nutrition community, but we are now," says Dr. Crawford. So, the FDA asked its obesity working group, led by Dr. Crawford, to finally bring order to the carbohydrate confusion. Recommendations are expected in the next few months.

"We'll be defining carbohydrates and having a nice appendix of what carbohydrates are and how they fit into the diet, based on the FDA's current thinking," says Dr. Crawford. That's something even the grocery manufacturers are hoping for. They're petitioning the FDA for a golden number. What really makes something low carb?

"It isn't everyday that we ask the FDA, 'please, regulate us.' We need to have a number so that then our members know in developing products that they need to meet so many grams of carbohydrates," says Alison Kretser with Grocery Manufacturers of America. But, even if there is a number, are we talking about grams of total carbohydrates or net carbs?

"I won't eat anything that's more than five net grams, uh, net carbs per serving," says Lauren Sturges. Net carbs? What does that mean? The FDA doesn't have a definition for that, either. "We're looking at it very carefully. We think it is confusing," says Dr. Crawford. But, many food manufacturers and diet plans have their own definition of net carbs right now. It's total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohol. They say those carbs don't have to be counted because they have little impact on blood sugar. Dr. Crawford says, "There's no general agreement on what the term means, and how it relates to the label. It's very difficult to get that out, so it's a questionable term."

But, manufacturers are not prohibited from using it. So, if you're watching your carbs, what should you do until the guidelines are firmed up? Registered dietician Reesa Sokoloff says pay close attention to the ingredients on the label. "Sugar is an absolute no-no. Polydextrose, another form of sugar, is an absolute no-no. Wheat flour, I mean anything that's got the word flour after it is a no-no. These are all carbohydrates," explains Reesa.

Lauren says she'll be more leery of the claims now, but won't stop munching on these new treats altogether, just in moderation. She says, "I'm an educated low carb lifestyle girl. For me, I can figure things out for myself. You can't be eating them all day long and expect to lose weight." Once Dr. Crawford's working group releases its recommendations, he says the FDA will take the report and use it to help formulate guidelines to deal with the carbohydrate issue. Experts say that you need to know what the ingredients are in order to know what you're dealing with.

If you run into an ingredient you don't recognize and need help, you can call the FDA's hotline at 1-888-info-fda. That's 1-888-463-6332. Or, you can check a company directly by using the number on the package.

Gillian Sheridan, reporting.

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