Dietitian: Carb craze or carb crazy? | AspenTimes.com

Dietitian: Carb craze or carb crazy?

Eben Harrell

Counting carbohydrates confusing you? Not sure what to make of all the low-carb diets and foods currently on the market?

Don’t be fooled, a nutritionist from Aspen Valley Hospital said in a public lecture last week, because there’s no substitute to a balanced diet.

Hospital dietitian Michelle Maccarone gave a speech Wednesday titled “Carb Craze or Carb Crazy.” She argued that America has become the latter, falling prey to misleading marketing by a low-carb industry now running into the billions of dollars.

“The problem with low-carb diets is that we’ve become obsessed with weight loss instead of overall health,” she said.

Maccarone began her lecture by comparing the marketing of low-carb foods to the trend in the 1990s to market low-fat foods, even though those products often packed lots of calories.

“The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in. Low carb doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie,” she said.

Maccarone also said that foods that are labeled low carb ” especially nutrition bars ” aren’t necessarily so. She pointed to research done by http://www.consumerlab.com, an independent testing organization, that found as many as 60 percent of low-carb nutrition bars give erroneous information on their packages.

The “net carb” content listed on many of these bars is also misleading. According to manufacturers, net carbs consist of total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohols. It’s OK to subtract fiber, Maccarone said, but sugar alcohols such as glycerol have little impact on overall carb content.

Also, although sugar alcohols have been used in small amounts in items like chewing gum for years, researchers say little is known about the long-term effects of consuming large amounts of these substances.

“Glycerol is a carbohydrate and it provides carbohydrate calories,” Maccarone said. “It’s illegally not counted as carbohydrates in these bars. The FDA hasn’t approved it, but the companies are still labeling that way.”

She also said many low-carb diets are nutritionally deficient. The Atkins diet, for example, advocates no more than 20-60 grams of carbohydrates per day during the diet’s first few weeks. Maccarone said the human brain requires at least 150 grams to maintain optimum performance. Cutting out fruits because they contain carbohydrates can also cause serious nutritional deficiencies.

Low-carb diets aren’t all bad, however. Some of their fundamentals, such as avoiding nutritionally low foods made from white flour and simple sugar, are part of a sensible eating plan.

Instead of concerning yourself with your carbohydrate intake, Maccarone advocated focusing on the kind of carbohydrates you consume. Complex, fiber-rich carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, quinoa and brown rice are preferable.

Oh yeah, and if you splurge on chocolate cake, don’t freak out.

“All foods can fit into a healthy diet,” Maccarone. “We need to focus on health rather than weight loss. Think about improving your health and your waistline will follow.”

Maccarone spoke as part of the Aspen Valley Hospital and Aspen Given Foundation’s “Brown Bag” lunchtime lecture series. All lectures are rebroadcast on GrassRoots Channel 12 and are free and open to the public.

Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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