Low Carb Diets Depend on “Good” Carbs

Good carbs include those that have little to no effect on blood sugar after ingestion. They can be divided into natural products and chemical products used as fillers and additives:

  • Vegetables: most of them
  • Whole fruits: Apples, strawberries, blueberries, strawberrries, cherries,etc.
  • Legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, peas
  • Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts,
  • Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds.
  • Whole grains:  whole ones  as in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice
  • Low glycemic index fruits: blueberries, strawberrries, cherries, etc
  • Non-absorbable sugar alcohol: erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol.
  • Non calorie fillers: polydetrose, cellulose, maldextrine

good vs bad carbs and blood sugar

 

A carb is a carb is a carb, right? If this is so, then why do some products marketed to low-carb dieters have one number on the “Nutrition Facts” panel, and a much lower number labeled “Net Carbs,” “Net Atkins Count,” or something similar, prominently displayed on the front of the label?

Blood Sugar Response to Carb Ingestion

It’s all about blood glucose. The whole idea of a low carb diet is that we are eating in a way to keep our blood glucose from spiking up.

Food manufacturers have found that some ingredients, while classified by the FDA as carbohydrates, don’t cause as much of a blood sugar rise as pure starch or sugar. Unfortunately, however, it’s not so straightforward as these manufacturers would like us to think. Some of the ingredients are better than others, and probably all of them vary according to the individual. So when you see that “Net Carb” label, it should be a sign that you’d best get out your magnifying glass and read the REST of the label very carefully. Here are some of the things you might see:

Fiber: Body’s Natural “Filler”

Fiber is the most straightforward. The idea of subtracting fiber from the total carbohydrate when figuring out the carb count of a food came from the authors of the Protein Power books over 20 years ago, and it makes good sense. By definition, fiber is not digested in the small intestine and so isn’t broken down into glucose and absorbed into the blood.

This is true for any natural fiber that is eaten as part of a plant. But what about manufactured ingredients that have the chemical structure of fiber? When I see “oligofructose syrup” I have to wonder if this ingredient acts the same way in the body as oligofructose which naturally occurs in a plant, even though these molecules could be regarded as fiber.

One of the difficulties with determining “net carbs” is that even with regular whole foods, it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the blood glucose reaction of any one person to a food. If you look at this list of the glycemic indexes of foods you will see that there is a great amount of variation to any one food. This is also going to be true for many of the ingredients that are not counted as “net carbs” on some labels.

Reading a Food Label

Sugar Alcohols: Not really Alcohol, Non-Absorb-able Sugars

Sugar alcohols (mostly with names ending in “tol,” such as sorbitol, maltitol, and erythritol) are sweet substances which have a highly variable impact on blood glucose depending on which one. If I was going to advise people to avoid a single ingredient in “low carb” products, it would be maltitol. The other sugar alcohols range from a little to a lot better than maltitol, with erythritol being the best. There is a chart at the bottom of this article about sugar alcohols which compares the different types.

Sugar alcohols must be included in “total carbohydrates” on the label, and if used in sugar-free foods, also have their own line on the label so you can see how much of the total carb count is from sugar alcohols.

Glycerine: Filler

Glycerine (or glycerin) is an interesting and sort of mysterious molecule. The glycerol molecule (another name for glycerine) is the backbone of the triglyceridemolecule – the storage form of fat in our bodies (3 fatty acidsa are “hooked on” to each glycerol molecule). It is not a carbohydrate, but our bodies can use it to make glucose. Although there is not as much research on the blood sugar impact of glycerine as I’d like to see, the signs are pointing towards it having quite a low impact in most people.

Polydextrose: Filler

Polydextrose sounds very suspicious, doesn’t it? “Dextrose” is sugar, plain and simple. Polydextrose is a sweet manufactured product from dextrose which supposedly acts like fiber (although it is not counted as fiber on food labels). I’ve only been able to find one study which looked at its impact on blood glucose. In that study, done in China, it did not raise blood sugar.

Oligofructose and Inulin: Filler and Thickener

These substances are in a class of carbohydrate (oligosaccharides) in between sugars and starches. They have a lower impact on blood glucose than sugars, because most of oligosaccharides makes it through the small intestine without being digested, at least in most people. Interestingly, by the time they get to the colon, oligosaccharides have positive effects.

Maltodextrin: Filler and Thickener

Another ingredient that you might see in so-called sugar-free products is maltodextrin.  Basically, it is a high-glycemic carbohydrate that raises blood glucose more than sugar, and is even sometimes used in products for athletes because it is so effective at getting sugar into the blood.  Even so, it is sometimes counted as fiber on nutrition labels, which is very confusing indeed!  More About Maltodextrin

These are a few of the most prevalent ingredients which can add to the puzzle of shopping for sugar-free and low-carb products.  To be on the safe side, it’s probably better to stick to foods with ingredients that you don’t need a web page to understand!

A carb is a carb is a carb, right? If this is so, then why do some products marketed to low-carb dieters have one number on the “Nutrition Facts” panel, and a much lower number labeled “Net Carbs,” “Net Atkins Count,” or something similar, prominently displayed on the front of the label?

It’s all about blood glucose. The whole idea of a low carb diet is that we are eating in a way to keep our blood glucose from spiking up.

 Food manufacturers have found that some ingredients, while classified by the FDA as carbohydrates, don’t cause as much of a blood sugar rise as pure starch or sugar.  So when you see that “Net Carb” label, it should be a sign that you’d best get out your magnifying glass and read the REST of the label very carefully.

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