What Does Low-Carb Really Mean?
FDA will soon weigh in on low-carb food and beverage claims.
Are you craving chocolate, but trying to stick to a low-carb
diet? No problem. A flood of "low-carb" treats from beer to pasta and
even candy has hit supermarket shelves in recent months to fulfill the cravings
of dieters who are counting carbohydrate grams rather than calories.
With claims such as "low-carb," "reduced carb,"
and "carb-smart," these products promise to help Atkins and other
low-carb diet devotees stay true to their weight-loss plan while satisfying
their hunger for traditionally high-carb foods.
But is a low-carb beer any better for you than the regular
version? What does low- or reduced-carb content really mean?
That's where experts say the marketing is way ahead of the
science. Unlike "low-calorie" or "reduced-fat" claims, the FDA
has not legally defined what "low-carbohydrate" means.
Next week, the agency will finally weigh in on the low-carb
debate when its Obesity Working Group presents a report to the FDA commissioner
on Feb. 12. The group is expected to recommend stricter labeling requirements
to help consumers make smarter food choices.
Industry and consumer groups have called on the FDA to not only
provide a definition for low-carb claims but also address the use of implied
low-carb claims and "net carb" counts on product labels.
"People assume that they can't gain weight on foods with
claims like 'carb-aware' and 'carb-smart,' just as they assumed that 'fat-free'
on the package meant 'fat-free' on your waist," says Bonnie Liebman,
nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest
(CSPI), in a news release. "It's a huge leap of faith to assume that
the calories in a lower-carb food don't count."
How Many Carbs Do You Need?
According to Institute of Medicine, the organization that sets
the recommended daily intake of nutrients, adults and children over the age of
1 should eat 130 grams of carbs a day.
However, not surprisingly, most people exceed this daily
amount. Depending on age, the IOM says that men typically eat about 200 to 330
grams of carbs a day while women eat around 180 to 230 grams daily.
Carbohydrates are the brain's primary fuel source and the daily
minimum requirement is based on this need. The Institute notes that people
following an extremely low-carb diet may not be getting enough daily carbs.
What Is 'Low-Carb?'
Experts say that until the FDA takes a stand on the
carbohydrate issue, it's up to consumers to educate themselves on how to
interpret low-carb claims on product labels. By law, food manufacturers are
required to list the number of total carbohydrates in a product on the
nutrition facts label. But makers of low-carb products often include another
box next to the nutrition label that has information on the "net carb"
content of the food.