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Women's Health

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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?

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.

Earlier this year, the FDA's Obesity Working Group also advocated a simple "calories count" approach to battling obesity and helping people make healthy food choices.

"Our report concludes that there is no substitute for the simple formula that 'calories in must equal calories out' in order to control weight," says FDA Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford in a news release announcing the report.

In addition, the report recommended that the FDA respond to requests to define terms such as "low," "reduced," and "free" carbohydrates as well as provide guidance on use of the term "net carbs." Several industry and consumer groups as well as food manufacturers have petitioned the FDA to set official "low carb" levels as well as take action on "net carb" claims.

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