The New Low-Carb Mania
Don’t Be Fooled Again!
It's a case of history repeating itself.
During the low-fat frenzy of the 90s, food manufacturers peddled low-fat but calorie-rich concoctions like Snackwell's cookies and fat-free ice cream. Many of them had as many calories as their "regular" version, and replaced the fat with added sugars or refined carbs. And what happened? People got fat and the incidence of diabetes increased.
Today, feeding off the current low-carb craze, the food industry is rolling out “low-carb” foods that have lots of calories and, worse yet, they are replacing the carbs with lots of artery-clogging saturated fats.
And often, ironically so, the differences in carb content between the new "low-carb" foods and their traditional counterparts are minimal.
Here are just a few examples of the new “low-carb” foods:
Michelob Ultra (“low-carb”) Beer — 95 calories and 2.6 grams of carbs
All light beers, including Miller Lite and Coors Lite, have just 95 to 105 calories, and they’re very low in carbs — just 3 to 5 grams.
A “low-carb” Atkins chocolate bar —150 calories and 12 grams of fat
A regular chocolate bar typically has 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. This is a choice?
Subway's new Atkins-Friendly Wraps (Chicken Bacon Ranch and Turkey & Bacon Melt) — Average 450 calories, 25 grams of fat, and 9 grams of saturated fat
By contrast, its “7 subs with 6 grams of fat or less” average 250 calories, less than 3 grams of fat, and less than 1 gram of saturated fat.
Now which type of sub do you think is better for weight loss and your health?
What makes us fat is not really the carb or fat content of any given food. It is excess calories, or more specifically, eating more calories than we burn. With these “low-carb” foods, people are taking in even more calories and, tragically, more saturated fat, which means our obesity epidemic will continue and we will see a resurgence of the epidemic of heart disease.
“So utterly wrong . . .”
Nationwide, nutrition scientists concur. Low-carbohydrate diets such as Atkins and the South Beach diet are based on a premise that is “so utterly wrong as to be insane,” David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., of Yale University’s Preventive Medicine Research Center told Medscape Medical News last month. Any diet, he asserted, that does not follow the simple formula of correcting this nation’s energy imbalance (our tendency to “deposit” more calories than we “withdraw”) will not be successful long-term.
In March, several studies on heart disease prevention presented at the annual American Heart Association conference in San Francisco found that as “low-carb” diets grew in popularity over the past five years, Americans ate more fat and cholesterol and grew fatter. The data show “troubling trends,” stated one of the study’s authors, Randall Thomas, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. He warned that if the trend continues, Americans could suffer more heart disease, already the No.1 killer in America.
Yale University’s Dr. Katz also asserted that using the glycemic index to select food — an approach recommended by the South Beach diet — would lead to ridiculous choices, like ice cream over carrots.
Long-term weight loss success
While some low-carb, high-fat diets have been shown over the short-term to help some people lose weight, long-term studies suggest just the opposite. The most comprehensive study of long-term weight loss ever conducted, the National Weight Control Registry, found that just 1 percent of its 4,500 successful dieters follow a high-protein, high-fat diet. The overwhelming majority follow a diet low in fat and high in natural, fiber-rich carbs like fruits and vegetables.
The right kind of carbs
Important new research presented at the AHA conference, a large four-nation study of more than 4,000 men and women, found that the thinnest people ate the most carbs, the right kind of carbs — lots of high-fiber containing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, “not doughnuts or even polished rice,” stated study leader Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., of Northwestern University.
“Without exception,” Van Horn said in a news conference in San Francisco, “a high-complex-carbohydrate, high-vegetable-protein diet is associated with low body mass. High-protein diets were associated with higher body weight.”
No official definition for “low carb”
One other problem with low-carb diets is that there is no official definition yet for “low carb” so everyone is counting differently.
Total confusion. Some foodmakers count only “net carbs,” which usually means the total carbohydrate content minus the fiber. Others add sugar alcohols but do not count them as carbs because, they argue, sugar alcohols have little impact on blood sugar levels. The FDA, however, insists that they are carbohydrates, and too many of them can cause diarrhea, bloating, and cramps in some people.
Too many can also make us fat. Russell Stover’s Low-Carb Solid Milk Chocolates, reported Nutrition Action Healthletter in its March 2004 issue, boast just “0.2 carbs per piece” because the candy company doesn’t “count” the 21 grams of sugar alcohol maltitol in each serving. Well, you can bet they “count” when you get on the scale. Those 21 grams of sugar alcohol plus the fat in the chocolates add up to a waistline-expanding 190 calories per serving. (And this is a “diet” food?)
To its credit, the FDA announced in March that it will soon determine exactly what “low carb” means: how food manufacturers should count the grams, and what the gram count should be before a food can advertise itself as “low carb” or “reduced carb.” The FDA predicts that many companies will be forced to change their labels as a result.
“Don’t be fooled.”
In a recent critique of low-carb foods, the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter concluded: “Don’t be fooled. There’s no evidence that low-carb foods will help you lose weight. They are not significantly more nutritious or less caloric than many regular foods. And they eat up food dollars better spent on plain, good, healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables.”
I wholeheartedly agree!
©Copyright 2004. All Rights Reserved. Health Science is the publication of the National Health Association. This article reprinted from the Summer 2004 issue.