Q: I'm confused. What does "Net Carbs" on a food label mean?
A: Food labels and restaurant choices commonly are advertising "net carbs" or "carbs that count" now. "Impact carbs" and "effective carbs" are other similar terms often found on food labels. Net carbs are defined as total carbohydrate minus dietary fiber and sugar alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration is working on defining low carb or net carb levels, much like the guidelines that define use of the terms fat free, low-fat and low-sodium foods.
For about 10 years, "carbohydrate counting" has been recommended by the American Diabetes Assn. for controlling blood sugars in people with diabetes. Since fiber in foods is not digested and absorbed like other carbohydrates, our bodies do not convert it into blood glucose. Carbohydrates in the form of fiber and sugar alcohols have less impact on blood sugar than do sugars and starches. They cannot, however, be ignored altogether.
When there are 5 or more grams of fiber per serving, people with diabetes have been advised that they can subtract the grams of fiber from the total grams of carbohydrate to determine how much of the carbohydrate will affect their blood glucose. People with diabetes also have been told that any food with more than 10 grams of sugar alcohol (such as erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol) should be counted as containing half the listed amount as carbohydrates. (For example, 12 grams sugar alcohol would be counted as 6 grams carbohydrate.)
This is the general concept that is now being applied -- but with a twist -- to the new food labels with "net carbs" or "zero carbs that count." The main concern with these new food labels is that the subtraction process has been generalized to all fiber grams and all sugar alcohols. However, eating sugar alcohols can cause blood sugar to rise. And one needs to be cautious in eating foods with 10 or more grams of sugar alcohols, since this amount may cause intestinal gas and diarrhea.
If a food label displays these new terms, you could ignore the claim as an advertising gimmick by the manufacturer, or you could check the total amount of fiber that they are subtracting and be sure it meets the guideline of being 5 or more grams. Remember to count the sugar alcohol content if it is more than 10 grams per serving.
Q: Can you give me an idea of which carbs I should choose more often?
A: Here are a few examples of carb choices to use often (these are foods high in essential nutrients and fiber, and that do not contain added sugars):
Fresh fruits: bananas, cranberries, cantaloupe, strawberries, nectarines, blueberries, oranges, apricots, peaches, watermelon, plums.
Dairy products: milk and plain yogurt.
Non-starchy Vegetables (higher in fiber and low in carbs): summer squash, leafy greens, cauliflower, tomatoes, green beans, radishes, carrots, peppers, cabbage, broccoli.
Starchy Vegetables (higher in carbs but also high in fiber and essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants): cooked dry beans, sweet potatoes and yams, winter squash, corn, white potatoes, peas.
Whole grains (high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants): brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, high-fiber ready-to-eat cereals, bulgur, rolled oats, barley.
Nutrient Dense/High Carb Foods (while considered healthy, these foods are high in carbs for the portion size): dried fruit and 100 percent fruit juices
Examples of carb choices to use occasionally (foods without much fiber, and containing primarily refined flours and added sugar): bagels, muffins, white bread and rolls, white rice, white pasta, white tortillas, pretzels, pie, cake, cookies, doughnuts, most crackers, many ready-to-eat cereals.
Sweetened foods (sweets are carb dense and usually contain little or no fiber): juice drinks with added sugar, canned or frozen fruits with added sugar, sweetened custard-style yogurt
Foods with refined sugars and starch (foods and beverages containing little or no fiber or other beneficial nutrients): beer/wine, regular soda pop, jelly and honey, candy, syrup, potato chips.
-- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.