Skip to comments.Getting the lowdown on low-carb bars
Posted on 09/06/2003 2:02:32 PM PDT by SamAdams76
Diet food makers use a little fancy counting to make snack add up
Riding the popularity of pre-wrapped meals and low-carb diets, low-carbohydrate bars have started elbowing diet shakes and whole-grain cereals off grocers shelves. Even beers and candies are showing up in low-carb versions, indulging the eternal American fantasy of effortless weight loss.
The math behind the label
Removing carbohydrates from a convenience food is no easier than taking the odor out of garlic, so the manufacturers of low-carb bars took another approach. They stopped counting the carbs in artificial sweeteners.
The Atkins Endulge chocolate candy bar, for example, proclaims 2 grams of "net carbs" on the package. The small, 30-gram bar actually has 16 grams of carbohydrates, unthinkably high on restrictive low-carb diets, but the manufacturer subtracts 3 grams of fiber and 11 grams of sugar-alcohol sweetener.
"That's not honest," said Dr. Daniel Preud'Homme, the Children's Medical Center's weight-control expert.
The carbohydrates in sugar alcohols and glycerin sweeteners are more conducive to weight loss than table sugar, and many nutrition experts say the bars can have a limited role in weight loss for some people. But they also say the bars have several health drawbacks, and highlighting the sweeteners carbs ignores the most important distinction among carbs whether they have been refined into white sugar or flour.
Low-carb bars have little purpose except in the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets popularized by Dr. Robert Atkins. The diets are growing in favor with the April publication of The South Beach Diet, Amazon.com's second-ranked book now, and the New England Journal of Medicine's recognition last spring that Atkins dieters tended to lose weight quickly and improve cholesterol levels.
Diets are short-term solutions
But even though dietitians and medical specialists don't routinely paint Atkins with horns anymore, they generally warn low-carb diets should be only a short-term vehicle for people who have life-threatening obesity or need a quick weight loss to get them started for the long run.
"I don't have a problem with using it in the short-term," said Sally Kattau, a longtime licensed dietitian with the Diabetes Association of the Dayton Area. But long-range, she said, it's both difficult to maintain and potentially dangerous, especially for diabetics. "It's not a nutritionally sound diet."
Low-carb diets were a response to the excesses of low-fat diets, with their brightly labeled snacks, desserts and meals. But just as focusing entirely on too much dietary fat led to some weight gains from too many refined carbohydrates, today's blanket reduction of carbs is another oversimplification, said Richard Cohen, the dietitian who directs Greene Memorial Hospital's HMR Weight Management Program.
"We've just gone from one extreme to another," Good Samaritan Hospital dietitian Michelle Kitze said. "People were gaining weight on the low-fat, higher-carb diets, but it wasn't necessarily the amount of carbs. It was the types of carbs. They were eating all kinds of simple sugars, and it was all being converted into fat.
"The big thing I would strongly recommend is not going on a low-carb diet, but instead cutting out the (refined) carbohydrates."
Refined sugars the real villain
The refined carbs in white sugar, breads and pasta are quickly digested, dumping all of their broken-down sugars into the bloodstream at once. The pancreas reacts to the sugar surge with what's called a high insulin response, unleashing the hormone that converts sugar into energy.
"Then after that, your sugar level has a tendency to drop off again and you want that fix again, so people go back to more simple carbs and it just keeps going," said Jane Key, an independent certified dietitian in Oakwood.
Sharp fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, in which more insulin becomes necessary to break down a given amount of sugars. As many as 60 percent of Americans have the condition, said endocrinologist Dr. David Westbrock, medical director of New Profile Weight Management Center in Washington Twp. It can be a precursor to diabetes, heart disease, gout, high blood pressure, cancer and an increased tendency to convert blood sugar to fat.
"Insulin isn't the only hormone that acts to stimulate appetite, but it's the one we're surest of," Westbrock said. "One of the reasons the Atkins diet has been successful is there's less of that insulin stimulus."
Fiber, unrefined carbs best
The sugar alcohols of low-carb bars, such as sorbitol, maltitol and lactitol, also trigger less of an insulin response than refined carbs. They aren't absorbed as quickly or as thoroughly, so less sugar enters the bloodstream at once and less insulin is needed to break it down. Fiber stimulates even smaller insulin doses, as do the unrefined carbs of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
The bars' manufacturers, having been ordered by the Food and Drug Administration to include sugar alcohol carbs on the labels, now contend their insulin response is so inconsequential that they can be subtracted completely from "net" or "effective" carbs. Hardly any nutrition experts agree.
"I can go along with subtracting fiber," Key said, "because it really helps stabilize blood sugar and you get all the helpful phytochemicals and vitamins. But sugar alcohol affects your blood sugar, just at a slower rate." It also can cause diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain after fairly small amounts for some people, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Watch out for fats
"These bars oftentimes have a lot of fat," Kitze said. "Some of them are quite high in trans fats, which are actually even worse for you than saturated fats."
For the sake of convenience, she said, they're an improvement over a bag of chips or candy bar, although at a hefty price of $1.29 to $2.29 a bar in a random sample. But she knows that's not the only way they're used.
"I and many other people in nutrition are concerned about these bars' crowding out whole foods in people's diets," Kitze said. "Fruits and vegetables have phytonutrients which fight everything from cancer to heart disease, and you can only get these nutrients from actual fruits and vegetables."
People shouldn't focus so much on low carbs that they're afraid to eat unrefined carbs "like dried beans and peas, a bowl of lentil soup, or whole grains or a piece of fresh fruit," said Mara Lamb, the New Profile center's licensed dietitian. Nor should they be indifferent to the difference between bacon and butter fats compared with the healthy fats in olive oil, fish oils and nuts.
That's why she's encouraged to see the South Beach diet puts more emphasis on lean meats and healthy fats than other low-carb plans, while accepting more fruits and vegetables.
"For some people," Cohen said, "low-carb diets are the only way they can succeed."
Different people need different foods, Westbrock said. Those with heart disease are especially vulnerable to saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates are worse for the insulin resistant than for others. No matter what fond hopes leap off the best-seller list, he said, "There's no perfect diet for everyone."
If anybody thinks I'm going to add hydrogenated vegetable oils, refined flour, refined sugars, high-fructose corn syrup and starches to my diet so it can be "balanced", forget about it.
Anyway, I agree about the low-carb bars. They are little better than candy bars and many people have "stalled" their weight loss with them. Many of these bars have hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans-fats), and other harmful ingredients. They are nutritionally inferior to "real" foods like meat, fish, eggs, cheese, vegetables, berries, nuts, etc. I'd rather have a 1/2 pint of blueberries than a low-carb snack bar. Sure, there are more carbs in blueberries, but they are rich in antioxidants and other beneficial things and the carbs in blueberries are "low-glycemic" meaning that they won't send a rush of insulin into your body (unless you gobble a whole mess of them). Blueberries are a far superior snack than low-carb bars in my opinion. Blueberries grow on bushes and low-carb bars are developed in a lab and mass-produced on the assembly line with a mile-long list of chemicals and additives.
They are also outrageously expensive. I'd much rather have a handful of smoked almonds, a wedge of cheese or a 1/2 pint of blueberries when I'm in the snacking mood.
Like the article mentioned, you have to read the nutrition label and do the math. I too have noticed that sometimes total calories are more than the total sum of fat, carbs, and protein. When you see that reject the bar- who knows what else is incorrect.
I feel that this is a diet that I can live with. I always gained weight on the low fat diets.
When you REALLY look at the labels on those bars, you get an eyeful. A lab concoction with flavor.
The alcohol sugars are also seen in the 'no-sugar' candies that are coming out all over the place, in all brands. That's fine if you have a sweet tooth and can stick to one serving, but ---- go over the few small pieces in 'one serving' and those sugar alcohols, which by-pass the digestive process, go straight to the gut and can ruin your day.
I'm always suspicious of who is making a negative comment on lo-carb anything. It always seems to be someone in the nutrition or dietetic fields. Everyone has an agenda, and I never know who is in it for their own furtherance. (is there such a word?)
Low-carb is easy, once you've detoxed all the sugars out of your system. Good food, the way it used to be, is the way to go.
One other thing, while I'm at it ---- The term "lo-carb" is being tossed around as tho it is a negative thing. The term should be "proper-carb. That describes these diets better.
A peach, minus the water, is 90 percent sugar. Half the sugar is sucrose (cane sugar), 1/4th glucose (blood sugar requiring no digestion), 1/4th fructose (an isomer of glucose). Nutritionally, it is similar to eating 2 fun size Snickers candy bars with a glass of water. I don't get where fruitarians come up with modern non-naturally occurring high-fructose fruit being healthy for you. If someone can explain this to me Im all ears.
Since April 1st, I have dropped 75.2 pounds. This is as of my last weighing last Sunday morning. I weigh myself tomorrow so that total is sure to increase then.
Exercise is a major component of my plan. I do two daily walks of 3 miles or more. One in the morning before breakfast and another one at lunchtime. Keeps the metabolism cranking.
I get fed up with people who say that a low-carb diet is "unbalanced" and have the perception it is some wacked-out "all-meat" diet. I have more vegetables than I ever did before in my life. When you aren't having side-dishes of rice and potato all the time, you are more inclined to have vegetables.
Loved your peach info. You'd think people would know. Eat a peach and your hand afterwards feels like it had just been stuck in a vat of honey.
Snickers bars have peanuts in them. Would your comparison be more appropriate with something like, say.. Two Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (I trust the peanut butter isn't real). Heh.
Beware if "nutritional experts" who never listened to Dr. Atkins for thirty years. They can't accept that they have been preaching balony for years.
DUH! Your mother told you this with fewer words, when you were peeing in your crib!
People shouldn't focus so much on low carbs that they're afraid to eat unrefined carbs "like dried beans and peas, a bowl of lentil soup, or whole grains or a piece of fresh fruit," said Mara Lamb, the New Profile center's licensed dietitian. Nor should they be indifferent to the difference between bacon and butter fats compared with the healthy fats in olive oil, fish oils and nuts. ..........
DUH! hitting forehead with palm... suddenly a light came on... sheeesh
"For some people," Cohen said, "low-carb diets are the only way they can succeed."
DUH! Why in the hell did it take so long for these morons to admit this?
.........Different people need different foods, Westbrock said. Those with heart disease are especially vulnerable to saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates are worse for the insulin resistant than for others. No matter what fond hopes leap off the best-seller list, he said,
DUH! Stricken with the obvious, but did it take a Ph.D. to figure that out?
"There's no perfect diet for everyone."
DUH! This is the closest thing to an admission that they (the pencil necked geeks) may have caused millions of people to become obese with their obstinate refusal to at least admit Atkins was on to something 30 years ago, even if it needed some tweaking.. Their admission may have come too late for too many.. but not too late for others... but they still won't say it, not without this adolescent escape clause! "There's no perfect diet for everyone."
However, it occurs to me that the stuff you eat on Adkins is what you are *meant* to eat, what your body was designed for. Consider mankind in the pre-historic era, the diet was berries and other animals. It's far more natural than any of the other diets that make you load up on carbs.
I'm particularly disgusted when I remember the public school education showing us the "food triangle" with carbs taking up the top tier - particularly those with a high glicemic index.
You are not kidding about the sweet tooth thing. I have been a all carbs all the time kind of guy for most of my life. I went on the Atkins last September and lost 40 lbs. before Xmas. It took about 2-3 weeks for me to detox from the sugar based diet that I had been on for so long. After that, it was not that difficult to stick with and it was the first diet that allowed me to maintain a stable energy level throughout the day. I did find that the Atkins bars did slow my weight loss so I stopped using them except for once a week or so.
Unfortunately, I returned to my old ways after Xmas due to a lack of money (good food isn't cheap but a cup of ramen noodles is $.34) and due to the stress of looming bankruptcy, unemployment, a failing business, and the associated depression that seems to follow. I did finally get a good job that starts this week and I will go back to the Atkins as soon as I get a paycheck. I put on over 50 lbs since January. (D'oh)
These products may cause more people to fail the "Atkins Diet" (Low Carb Lifestyle) because these people will never learn how good the absence of cravings for "something sweet" feels. People may be less likely to stick to their eating plan because these products keep them a step closer to diving into real carb / sugar-dense food.
The low-carb candy might be like giving "Near Beer" to an alcoholic. It will be interesting to see if people continue to be successful with low carbing, now that all these products have hit the shelves.
Then again, they could also be viewed like nicotine gum for smokers. A temporary substitue with less of the addictive drug, which makes it easier to wean oneself off of the sugar rather than going full-bore cold turkey.
If I am going to break down, perhaps sugar alcohol candy as an emergency stop-gap is better then diving into the real thing! Actually, I know this is the case for me, but at the same time, as long as I'm consuming the low carb bars, candy, etc., I don't feel as if I've stabilized my blood sugar levels.
Correct. I've always wondered about flour and wheat products. Take a raw stalk of wheat out of the ground and consider it. Darn it, people, it is simply NOT food! You have to pulverize it, add water, add yeast, add sugar, add oil, and who knows what else, then stick it in a furnace, to turn it into something palatable! Bread, in it's most simplistic, "wholesome" form, even home-baked bread, is a "manufactured" food.
Wheat is not food, any more than the dirt it grows in. It is a weed, and an ugly one at that! Grains are the scourge of the earth in my opinion.
I figure that when I start maintenance, I will stay away from sugar, white flour and rice. I should be able to maintain. I will follow more the sugarbusters diet for maintenance. You can have an occasional sweet potato and brown rice.
I have only had bread two or three times since April and then, only a small piece rubbed in olive oil at dinner. My bread cravings are gone and it was almost instantaneous. I used to have eggs and bacon in the morning but now I have eggs and yogurt. I still make bacon occasionally for salad toppings or to wrap around scallops (delicious).
If you absolutely must have toast, try whole wheat or that brand of bread recommended earlier in this thread. Beware of supermarket "wheat" breads however. Many of them are little different than white bread.
This is the classic example of why low-fat diets are disastrous for many people. When your body does not get the calories and fat that it needs, it begins to "slow down" so as to conserve it's energy. Any carbs you take in are immediately converted to fat for later use. Your body is essentially in "starvation mode." Your metabolism slows down and as you say, every calorie you take in seems to count double! Now when you give up on the diet and go back to your regular way of eating, you put all the weight back on and then some, because remember, your metabolism is now running slower. This is why so many people end up even heavier than they were before they started.
BTW, the human body does this as a defense mechanism against famine, something that human beings dealt with on a regular basis up until recent times. It is never a good idea to starve yourself on one of those low-fat diets.
What makes low-carb diets (such as Atkins) so successful is that you are not going hungry. Your body is satisfied and has no reason to panic and slow its metabolism down. If exercise is combined with the diet, your metabolism actually increases and you burn off fat even faster.
Sucralose is in a lot of stuff, and after reading the articles about it, I wouldn't recommend anyone touch it. It's really still untested over long term use and has some pretty toxic byproducts and potential risk. Here's some info: