By JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFI
Just when we thought we had survived the Fat Free craze, along comes the Low Carb craze to send us into a tailspin! We have become so accustomed to defining food by what is not in it that we have forgotten the primary reason we are meant to eat — to fuel and nourish our body with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water and fiber!
The Fat Free food craze had a lot of us believing that foods were healthy as long as they were low in or contained no fat. What we didn't realize was that when something is removed, something else has to be added, and in this case it was usually sugar! So the Fat Free craze left a lot of us with high insulin, triglyceride and LDL levels and abdominal obesity, setting the stage for the Low Carb craze to supposedly solve all of our problems. Of course, this won't be the answer either — once again, if you are removing something from a product, you are generally loading up on something else, and in this case it is frequently saturated fat.
Look at most of the packages of "low carb" chips, cookies, ice cream, even macaroni and cheese, and you will find a potpourri of chemical cuisine that offer fewer carbs, but not necessarily healthier or lower calorie options. One popular chain offers a "smart eating low carb" menu where most of the entrees contain about 1,000 calories. One could easily be seduced into a sense of false security thinking that these are healthier options because they are low carb, but again this doesn't mean low calorie, and often it does mean high fat, especially saturated, or worse yet, damaged fats (partially hydrogenated oils or oxidized/rancid fats).
These foods often fall under the "low response cost, low yield" foods that Dr. Phil warns us about, as they don't offer much nutrition, while frequently stimulating our appetite by acting as "hunger drivers." I know when I taste-tested a bag of low carb soy chips, I couldn't stop at the recommended 1/2 bag serving and I doubt I am the exception to this. After all, who stops at half a bag of chips? Ask Challenger Judith Blowe; I am sure she would agree with me! Moreover, I typically never eat chips, but I felt like I could as they were supposedly healthy. So they supplanted my normal snack of fruit and nuts so it was a double bad: I ate too much of something I shouldn't have had in the first place, and missed eating something healthy that I would have eaten.
Having said this, I have found some low carb products that I do think are a healthy addition to our diets. The take away is that you can't just assume that because something says it is low carb that it is better than the higher carb options or healthy for you. Many low carb products have only slightly fewer calories than their regular counterparts and more saturated fat. Some have just shrunken the serving sizes to be able to make the low carb claim while charging more for the products. And right now, the low carb claim still isn't regulated by the FDA, so currently it is actually illegal to use and basically meaningless. And by the way, just because there are fewer "net" carbs, doesn't mean there are fewer calories! You still need to read the label to ensure that you are getting healthy ingredients. If you need help learning how to read a label, click here.
Here are some of the "low carb" products that I recommend: