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"Net Carbs": The Lowdown on Low-carb Labeling


In light of the increased popularity of low-carb dieting in the US, food manufacturers have invented new claims to make their products more appealing to consumers. Instead of touting a low total carbohydrate content, these products use the phrases “net carbs,” “effective carbs,” and “impact carbs” to reflect only the number of carbohydrates that have a significant impact on blood sugar. The theory is that only carbs that cause a rapid insulin response “count” in low-carb dieting. Measures of “net carbs” often subtract out the carbohydrates due to sugar alcohols. The scientific basis for discounting all sugar alcohol effects is questionable. It is based on the assumption that all sugar alcohols behave the same in the body, and in a way that is significantly different than other carbohydrates – an assumption that is largely untrue. The use of phrases like “net carbs” on product labels can cause confusion, resulting in important health risks to the consumer. While the FDA is responsible for regulating labeling claims, they have yet to take significant action in resolving the confusion surrounding “low-carb” claims.

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