“Low Carb” Foods


An image of Chicken Lettuc Wrap Sandwich

Many food products are now being advertised as “low carb” with terms such as “net carb” and “impact carb” on food labels. The terms “net carb” and “impact carb” have not been defined by the Food and Drug Administration. These terms have been created by food companies to make their food products more appealing to consumers with diabetes and to those who are attempting to lose weight.

To calculate “net carb” or “impact carb” companies subtract the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols from total carbohydrates. The rationale behind this is that the body does not digest fiber so it shouldn’t be counted as part of the total carbohydrates. Diabetes educators recommend “if a serving of food has more than 5 grams of fiber, one should subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrate grams”.

For sugar alcohols, manufactures claim that while sugar alcohols are technically carbohydrates and a source of calories, they have a negligible effect on blood sugar and shouldn’t be counted as part of the total carbohydrates. An American Dietetic Association publication for people with diabetes recommends that persons with diabetes managing their blood sugars using the carbohydrate counting method “count half of the grams of sugar alcohol as carbohydrates since half of the sugar alcohol on average is digested”. Sugar alcohols are used as sugar substitutes. Sugar alcohols commonly used in food products are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and maltitol. Sugar alcohols may cause gas, abdominal discomfort, or diarrhea when consumed in excess amounts.

Don’t be mislead by confusing terms on food labels. Calories do count. “Low Carb” foods are not calorie free. If you have questions about carbohydrate information on food labels, check with a dietitian.

Submitted by Karen Halderson, MPH, RD, LD
Extension Diabetes Coordinator
Adapted from materials from the American Dietetics Association and Diabetes Forecast