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When a Carb's Not a Carb: The Net Carb Debate

Will counting net carbs help or hurt weight loss efforts?

The Skinny on Sugar Alcohols

But researchers say the impact of sugar alcohols on blood sugar levels and the body is not fully understood, and they may also cause problems in some people.

 

"There are some sugar alcohols that can raise your blood sugar," says Karmally. "Certain sugar alcohols do have a higher glycemic index, and they still are not counted as carbohydrates by these companies."

 

"When you tell a person 'net carbs' or 'impact carbs,' it's very confusing," says Karmally. "A person with diabetes may think, 'It's fine for me to have as much as I want.'"

 

People with diabetes are advised to closely monitor their intake of carbohydrates because their bodies can't produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range.

 

"I think we should not misguide people and make them aware that these sugar alcohols also contribute calories," says Karmally. "Too much of them can actually have a bad effect, and some of them can also have a laxative effect."

 

Although sugar alcohols have been used in small amounts in items like chewing gums for years, researchers say little is known about the long-term effects of consuming large amounts of these substances.

 

Registered dietitian Jackie Berning, PhD, says she steers her patients against products containing sugar alcohols for those reasons.

 

"I just don't know how they're going to react. We've never put that much in," says Berning, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. "Some are going to get diarrhea, and some are going to have gastrointestinal problems."

Calories vs. Carbohydrates

Berning says the larger issue she has with products that tout a low "net carb" count is that they also often contain a lot of calories.

 

"It's my guess that most people are restricting carbohydrates because they want to lose weight," Berning tells WebMD.

 

"The point I think they're missing is that you may have 2 net carbs in this bar but you've also got 260 calories," she says referring to double chocolate Powerbar. "I don't care that it's only 2 net carbs. The thing is, have you done enough exercise, have you balanced the rest of your diet to put in 260 calories in that bar -- whether it has 30 grams of carbohydrates or 2?"

 

Rather than focus on what she calls "the little c" of carbohydrates, Berning says people interested in weight loss should focus on the "big C"-- calories.

 

Karmally agrees and says terms like net carbs shouldn't trick dieters into thinking, "This is a free lunch, and I can have as much as I want," just because a food company says the impact or net carbs are only so much.

 

"You lose track of the fact that foods have calories, and what has impact on weight management is the number of calories you consume and the amount of exercise you do," says Karmally.

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