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Food Fight continued...

The sugar alcohols in many low-carb products -- namely sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol -- particularly concern Roger Clemens, PhD, a food science communicator for the Institute of Food Technologists. Although the sweeteners have been shown to be generally safe, Clemens worries about the presence of the sugar alcohols in so many foods.

"The sweeteners were never intended for larger quantities," he says, noting that some people may experience stomachaches, gas, and diarrhea with greater consumption of such products.

Other low-carb ingredients such as fiber and soy can also cause gastrointestinal distress, warns Dorfman.

License to Eat

There are those who believe that the low-fat movement of the 1990s actually encouraged weight gain. Because people thought they were eating low-fat products, they reportedly ate more. Some food experts fear the same trend could happen with low-carb goods.

Katherine Tallmadge, also a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, is no fan of low-carb diets. Yet she does say the one good thing about them is that they initially kept people away from processed foods.

"Unfortunately, the trend is starting to undo itself," she says, pointing to the wave of low-carb junk food. "The one benefit of that diet is being undone with all of these low-carb products."

The folks at Atkins say they cannot account for other low-carb products, but foods with their company name are scientifically tested to meet the diet's requirements.

Plus, Atkins products are not meant to replace whole foods, says Matt Spolar, vice president of product technology. "Idealistically, yes, people should only focus on healthy fruits and vegetables, whole foods, and healthy meats," he says. "But the American consumers go up and down the aisles of the supermarket and buy other products. We want to provide them with an alternative."

When buying low-carb goods, Dorfman suggests looking at the food's total calorie content, total fat, fiber content (to avoid frequent bathroom visits), and any substitutes such as soy and sweeteners.

It's also important to keep in mind that there is no marketplace standard for low-carb products. The FDA is working on definitions for the terms "low carb," "reduced carb," and "carb-free." Until the agency comes up with a ruling, it's up to the consumer to decipher the meaning of carb-conscious edibles.

Published Aug. 10, 2004.

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