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Low-carb Foods Labeled for Dieters

Posted - Nov. 22, 2003 at 8:20 a.m.



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The Healthy Eating column generates a considerable volume of mail from readers. Here are some of the recent questions:

Q: Many low-carb products on the market have a carbohydrate facts section on the label, which contains information about net carbohydrate content. What are net carbohydrates?

A: There is no legal definition for the term, according to registered dietitian Tammy Saksa of Duluth, Minn. "Food companies use it mainly as a marketing strategy to target carbohydrate-conscious dieters," she said. "Manufacturers define `net carbs' as the level of carbohydrates in the product with the greatest potential to affect blood sugar levels."

Carbohydrates such as fiber and sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and others) have minimal effects on blood glucose compared to sucrose and other carbohydrates, and thus are subtracted from the total carbohydrate content to arrive at the calculation for net carbs.

But what the calculation doesn't account for is the fact that sugar alcohols do contribute to the caloric content. In most cases, the low-carbohydrate products contain the same number of calories as their regular counterparts.

For people with diabetes who may count carbohydrates to control blood sugar, the American Diabetes Association advises that the carbohydrates from all sweeteners, including sugar alcohols, be accounted for in the meal plan.

Bottom line: "From a health and weight-loss perspective, there is no convincing reason to spend your money on the low-carb products," said Saksa. "Your best bet is to control portion sizes of regular (non-diet) foods and lead a more physically active lifestyle."

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Q: Does decaffeinated green tea offer the same health benefits as regular green tea?

A: Whether or not the health-promoting substances of tea are maintained during the caffeine removal process probably depends on what method is used. Many of the major companies decaffeinate their green tea using carbon dioxide and water, claiming that this method retains a higher percentage of the disease-fighting antioxidants, compared to another common process, which uses a chemical called ethyl acetate.

Regardless of the method, the quality of commercially decaffeinated tea is rarely exceptional, because it is very difficult (perhaps impossible) for tea processors to remove caffeine from tea without degrading its quality.

Given this, why not create your own decaf tea? Caffeine is very water-soluble, more so than many of the flavor components in tea. This means it is possible to prepare regular tea in such a way that removes most of the caffeine from the finished product, while preserving flavor.

The Tea Association of Canada describes how:

1. Boil enough water for twice as many cups as you intend to drink.

2. Pour the normal amount of water over the leaves (or tea bag) and infuse for 20 to 30 seconds.

3. Pour off the resulting brew and discard, keeping the leaves (or bag).

4. Bring the remaining water to a boil again and pour it over the same leaves (or bag), this time infusing for the normal three to five minutes. This infusion is the one to drink.

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Q: Where can I find a list of approved ingredients for a gluten-free diet?

A: There are several excellent Internet resources with information about the gluten-free diet. The Twin Cities chapter of R.O.C.K. (Raising Our Celiac Kids) at http://www.twincitiesrock.org/ offers a downloadable "Family Guide" which, among many other things, provides gluten-free ingredient and additive lists, baking tips, guidelines for eating away from home and snack ideas.

Another outstanding Web site is The Celiac Disease and Gluten-free Diet Support Page at www.celiac.com. Here you will find "safe" and "forbidden" lists related to the gluten-free diet.

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Q: My grandmother was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. What books and cookbooks do you recommend?

A: The American Dietetic Association has identified several resources that may be helpful for managing diabetes. Here is a sampling:

- "The New Family Cookbook for People with Diabetes" by the American Dietetic Association and the American Diabetes Association (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

This cookbook combines the most recent nutrition recommendations with contemporary culinary tastes. It includes more than 375 recipes with nutrient analysis and the exchange values.

- "ADA Guide to Eating Right When You Have Diabetes" by Maggie Powers (Wiley, 2003). From the American Dietetic Association comes this definitive guide on eating right to maintain normal blood sugar and an active, healthy lifestyle. Special features include a week of detailed sample menu plans for different calorie levels, listing of glycemic index of foods, a fast-food restaurant guide and more.

- "The American Diabetes Association Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating" by Hope Warshaw (American Diabetes Association, 2002). Written by a registered dietitian, this book is a thorough resource for those who eat in America's most popular family and chain restaurants. Includes practical tips for more than 55 eating establishments, along with servings/exchanges for more than 3,500 menu items.

- "The Diabetes Carbohydrate and Fat Gram Guide" by Lea Ann Holzmeister (American Diabetes Association and American Dietetic Association, 2000). This handy reference shows how to count carbohydrate and fat grams and exchanges, and why it's important. Dozens of charts list foods, serving sizes and carbohydrate, fat and exchange values for generic and brand-name products and fast foods.

For more information on books and newsletters covering a broad range of nutrition and health topics, refer to the Good Nutrition Reading List, found at the American Dietetic Association's Web site, www.eatright.org.

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(Marsha Erickson is a registered dietitian at Miller-Dwan Medical Center in Duluth, Minn. Have a question about nutrition? Write to her c/o The Duluth News Tribune, 424 W. First St., Duluth, Minn. 55802 or e-mail her at merickson@smdc.org.)

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(c) 2003, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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