My Responsibilities As A Low Carb Retailer And Are Carb Counts On Products Correct

This is the first version of this document which I am posting on 3/6/2004. I expect to update it when more information comes out about the subjects covered. If there is a significant change in it, I will announce it in our weekly email newsletter.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been promising you an article about how we all need to take responsibility as low carbers to dispel all the lies, inaccuracies, and negative stories about the late Dr. Atkins and YOUR low carb lifestyle. Because our industry is so new and there are so many controversies surrounding low carb, I’ve decided to first look at what you should expect from me as the owner of CarbSmart especially since carbohydrate counts on labels are being questioned. Due to the media’s craze to jump on the “low carb bandwagon” they are more than happy to present stories that are both positive and negative. Also, because industries like bread,

orange juice and pasta are seeing their first dip in sales ever, these manufacturers and product producers are slamming Low Carb in the media instead of creating products for you to fill the gap in their sales. But one big issue that has started to be challenged in the media this year is if the carb counts presented on low carb product food labels are correct. It is my opinion that in general the
answer is yes and no. What I am saying is that I believe that some of the labels on the 1,200 products we sell are probably wrong.

What I want to let you know as my customer is that my goal is to only sell products that are good for your low carb lifestyle AND are truthful in their labeling. This article is to let you know that label inaccuracies happen for a couple of reasons:

  • Carb counts can vary by batch produced
  • Carb counts can vary due to moisture content in the product (and moisture content changes over the life of the product)
  • Carb counts can vary between the time the product is produced and when you consume it
  • Carb counts can vary do to how the product is shipped (by air, through high elevations, etc.)
  • Carb count testing is not an exact science
  • Some vendors may be lying or cheating about their labels

Although I believe that most of the manufacturers of the products I sell are extremely reputable, the last point is the problem that worries me the most. I am actively trying to determine which products we sell are inaccurate due to dishonest manufacturers vs which products’ carb counts are off due to normal circumstances. If information comes out in the media or elsewhere about a possible inaccurate carb count, it is important for all of us to not think that we are being intentionally deceived by every manufacturer.

If and when we find a possible inaccurate product carb count, it will be immediately investigated and if  necessary, taken off our site and out of our stores. Then we will work together to determine if and why there is a possible error.

In general, if you are enjoying a low carb product and you are still losing weight or not seeing changes in your blood sugar levels, you are OK to still eat that product.

The History of CarbSmart

I stared CarbSmart as an online store in May of 1999 after I lost 50 pounds on the Atkins’ plan. As an online strategist for Gateway Computers, I was familiar with online marketing and was surprised to see that there was very little information and products available on the Internet. I found 150 good low carb products, built the first web site and opened for business. I received 3 orders that first day. CarbSmart has continued to grow and I added over 1,000 more products and other features to the Web site such as recipes and an online magazine (currently over 400 articles and stories). We even built our first two physical stores in 2003 and are currently developing a franchise plan that will put CarbSmart stores all across the US. Over these last five years my goal has been to not just sell low carb and sugar free products but to be a leading information source and advocate for responsible low  carbing and truth in advertising, labeling, and packaging. As some new information comes out about low carb and low carb product claims, I want my customers, readers, and friends to know about it first so you can make educated decisions in the marketplace. I also want you to know how we will change our product mix and/or marketing as these changes occur.

The FDA and Low Carb and Net Carbs Definitions

Did you know there is no FDA (Food and Drug Administration) definition of “Low Carb”? The term Low Carb and Low Carbohydrate Diet was developed by Dr. Atkins to describe his reduced carbohydrate eating plan for losing weight and reducing the effects of diseases like diabetes. Over the years, the terms have been used in diet books, recipe books and food product labels. Manufacturers with product servings of 0 to 20 grams are calling their products “low carb”, “xx% lower in carbs than other brands” or similar. In general, this practice is meant to tell the consumer that the product is good for them because it is lower in carbs than other regular versions of the product. In fact, almost every product we sell at CarbSmart has these claims.

Dr. Atkins also created the concept of “Net Carbs”. The original concept of net carbs was developed because when Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution became popular again in the 90’s, the biggest complaint from dieters was constipation due to a lesser use of vegetables, fruits, and other dietary fibers. Dr. Atkins considered these claims and determined that since the body needs dietary fiber and dietary fiber is a component of Total Carbohydrates, that the dieter could subtract out dietary fiber from their daily carb count in the following way:

Total Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber = Net Carb Count

This lasted a couple of years and was even adopted by other Low Carb book authors as well as many medical practitioners. BUT, Atkins Nutritionals (the company started by Dr. Atkins to develop and sell low carb products) as well as other manufacturers who were intrigued by this new market found that there were other ingredients they were using in their products that were creating a “minimal”, “negligible”, or “no or little” impact on the blood sugar level of the person consuming the product. These ingredients included glycerine (an ingredient added to protein bars to help their digestibility) and sugar alcohols (a category of sugar substitutes that add sweetness and bulk to products but unfortunately also has a laxative effect depending on the amount  consumed). These manufacturers took it upon themselves to say “well, these ingredients are not affecting the consumers’ blood sugar level so let’s subtract their carb counts out of the Total Carbohydrate count.” So the current definition/use of the Net Carbs claim is:

Total Carbohydrates – Dietary Fiber – Glycerine – Sugar
Alcohols = Net Carb Count

BUT, Is The Net Carbs Definition Real?

Studies are starting to show that sugar alcohols actually affect different people in different ways depending on many factors including the consumer’s likelihood to be diabetic or pre-diabetic. What this means is that the net carb counts listed on low carb products may or may not be accurate depending on your own situation. Very soon, the FDA will start to discuss and hopefully sooner than later will develop acceptable claims for manufacturers to make for low carb as they have for the terms “low fat”, “light” and “sugar free” as well as a definition for net carbs. At this time CarbSmart sells hundreds of products with labels that list a net carb or net impact carb count based the current net carb count definition. In order to help you decide if these products are for you: CarbSmart will continue to sell these products with these label claims for net carbs until there is a FDA ruling that either defines the concept, changes the definition, or rules that the claim can not be made. We will do everything we can to help educate our consumers about the issues and any possible changes. Last week, CarbSmart started to change the way we list the manufacturers’ net carb claims on our Web site:

  • Changing from “Net Impact Carbs = 1
    grams per serving.”

  • to “Net Impact Carbs as listed by the manufacturer on
    their package = 1 gram per serving.”

CarbSmart will suggest that if you decide to purchase any product with a Net Carb claim, please keep careful track of your carbs consumed for that day and determine if eating that product had any effect on your blood sugar or weight loss.

But why is there so much controversy about low carb product carb counts? Part of the answer relies on how food products are tested for their nutritional information which is printed on the label.

The FDA’s Definition of How the Total Carbohydrate Count is Calculated and How it affects the Carb Count on Food Labels

The following definition comes from the FDA Web site:

How is “total carbohydrate” calculated? “Total
carbohydrate” is calculated by subtracting the weight of crude
protein, total fat, moisture, and ash from the total weight (“wet
weight”) of the sample of food. 21 CFR 101.9(c)(6)

So according to the FDA, anything left over after crude protein, total fat, moisture, and ash is counted is a carbohydrate! There is no official test for carbs!

What this means is that most food manufacturers come up with the nutritional facts for their product by sending samples of their products to three different independent testing labs. Each one of these labs tests for crude protein, total fat, moisture, and ash and then calculates a carb count from those results. In most cases, each lab comes up with different results for the tests! Sometimes the differences are very small and sometimes the differences are as many as a couple of carbs per serving! There are many possible  reasons for this including but not limited to:

  • Differences in lab testing equipment
  • The moisture content of a product can change depending on
    altitude of the testing lab

  • How the product was sent to the lab (ground shipment vs air shipment)
  • Did the labs do their tests on different days
  • And many other factors

The most important factor why carb counts can differ is due to the fact that the inherent nature of food products is that they are organic and nutritional values can be different from batch to batch. For instance, products made with almond flour can vary in its nutrition count depending on when the crop was harvested or if the ingredients came from different producers in different parts of the country.

So after getting 3 independent lab results, its up to the manufacturer to choose the carb count to list on their label. Some will take the lowest value presented and some will average the three test. It is then the manufacturers’ hope that the carb count for all the batches that they produce, will be close to the carb count they list on the label.

Where Do We Go From Here?
Even though I sell over 1,200 low carb and sugar free products, I am the first person to tell you that you do not have to buy a thing from CarbSmart to be a good low carber. Almost everything we sell is a comfort food. If you are able to lose weight, maintain your weight or improve your health by following low carb principles of eating beef, pork, fish, eggs, cheese, vegetable, fruits, etc., I will be the first one to congratulate you. BUT, if you want to add some of the foods you have been missing from your low carb lifestyle like bread, chocolate, pasta, or pancakes, than I am here for you with low carb versions of these products. I can’t guarantee that you will like the taste of everything we sell, but I will guarantee you I will:

  • Provide a wide selection of products for you to choose from
  • Check out every vendor to see if their products taste good and if they seem reputable
  • Try to the best of my abilities to make sure that nutritional claims on the labels are accurate
  • Provide timely information about your chosen lifestyle which will be found in our online CarbSmart Magazine
  • Try to provide you the best customer service before and after your purchase

For those of you who know me personally and those of you learning about me, the Low Carb Lifestyle is my life and my passion. I don’t just sell low carb products to make a buck. We are all in this together so that we all reap the benefits of our chosen lifestyle – weight loss and maintenance, a healthier body, and a longer life.

If you have any question about carb counts, this article, or anything else, please send me email at [email protected]. I try to answer every email I receive and if there is a common theme in a series of emails, I will answer it online.

Thank you for reading this article and being part of the CarbSmart family.


Check Also

Things Take Time Podcast

How’s Your New Year’s Resolution? Remember Things Take Time – CarbSmart Podcast Episode 6

So how are those Low-Carb New Year's resolutions coming? I'd like to add one to them if you don't mind. Be patient. Remember Things Take Time. Impatience is the death of most diet and exercise regimens, whether undertaken for the new year or at any other time. In our podcast, Dana Carpender examines the expectations of Low-Carb Resolutions and how to turn them into Low-Carb Reality.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.