Low Carb Products: The Low Down (cont.)

"The drawback is that because they have alcohol, they're really good at attracting water," says Camire. "If you eat too much, those alcohols pull water into your gut because they're not digested and then you end up with diarrhea."

Camire also warns that you may get the same effect from eating low-carb breads or pastas. In order to lower the carbohydrate content of these traditionally carbohydrate-rich foods, manufacturers often add extra protein or a type of highly processed starch that is hard to digest in order to add texture and bulk.

"What happens is that you can process starch so that very little of it is digestible, and we call that 'resistant starch,'" explains Camire. "It ends up being analyzed for the food label as dietary fiber."

"You don't want to get far from the restroom, but that's a good thing," says Camire. "The body recognizes it as fiber, and most Americans aren't getting enough fiber anyway. So it's a win-win situation, you get lower carbohydrates and more fiber."

But by taking whole grains out and replacing them with other fillers, Heller and Camire say that low-carb dieters may also be missing out on nutritional benefits, such as the natural antioxidants and phytochemicals found in whole grains.

It's the Calories That Matter

Nutritionists say that America's obesity epidemic shows no signs of waning, and the low-carb craze may go the same way as the low-fat frenzy a decade ago.

"During the low-fat craze, people ran out and bought low-fat Snackwell cookies," says Lindner. "Well, guess what? They have the same number of calories as Oreos and Chips Ahoy, and you're not going to lose weight if you keep eating those. It's the same thing with the low-carb products. They essentially have as many calories as the things they are meant to replace, and you're not going to lose weight if you don't eat fewer calories."

Heller agrees and says winning the battle against the bulge isn't about replacing one source of empty calories, such as beer, with another lower carbohydrate version. Instead, it's about making healthy lifestyle changes.

"You can lose weight by eating healthy food or unhealthy food," Heller tells WebMD. "We would prefer, and your body would be happier, if you were trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy food."

"A low-carb approach is not the answer to a healthy diet," says Heller.

SOURCES: FDA. Larry Lindner, executive editor, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter; instructor, School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University, New Orleans. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, New York University Medical Center. Mary Ellen Camire, PhD, professor, food science and human nutrition, University of Maine; product development expert, Institute of Food Technologists. Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Miller Brewing Co.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 7:03:03 AM