While trying to maintain healthy eating habits, one thing to do is to know what ingredients are present in the foods you are consuming. According to nutritionist Dr. Alvin Berger, MS, Ph. D, Adjunct Professor of Nutrition, University of Minnesota, and Co-Founder LifeSense Products. “It is important to understand the amount of Carbohydrates on the nutrition facts label,” he believes.
In the Unites States, our dietary food labels are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), says Alvin, who is also the author of the e-book “Coconut Oil: Is it Actually Good for you?”. “These regulatory bodies have made every effort to improve our food labels for clarity and accuracy over the years. And yet, there is tremendous confusion on how to interpret food labels,” he adds.
Here are tips to understanding the carbohydrate and sugars on the label, due to the negative health consequences of consuming excessive carbs; as a courtesy to the huge amount of people trying to cut back on their carb intake to follow popular low carb “keto” diets; and as a service to the diabetic community, that truly need to understand what they are consuming for the best management of their situation.
Total Carbohydrate (TC): If you are maintaining a “Low-Carb” lifestyle, and TC is high (more than 20 grams per serving), the food could still be healthy and acceptable. TC also contains fiber (insoluble and soluble forms), and fibers (also known as pre-biotics) are the healthy molecules that are not-digestible by human cells, but are a great energy source for colonic microbes, and can also slow down simple carb digestion. So, the first order of business in deciphering TC is to subtract off the fiber, resulting in “Net Carbs” (NC). If the fiber content is 11 grams, NCs are 14 grams.
Sugars: Sugars refers to the amounts of monosaccharides (glucose and fructose as examples) and disaccharides (sucrose as an example) that are determined to be present based on chemical analysis, or determined by a reference source (less accurate). A food can have small amounts of naturally occurring sugars, but most of the sugar on a label comes from “added sugars”, those sugars that are not naturally occurring in the food, ingredient, or supplement. Unless you are performing rigorous exercise, the levels of simple sugars in a food should be low (well under 10 grams per serving) because high levels of simple sugars are converted to fat and stored in our adipose tissues; can cause low energy swings; contribute to cavities; and make it more challenging to burn fats; and there are many other concerns for high levels of simple sugars in our food and liquids. Simple sugars in liquids are faster absorbed and the negative consequences amplified. Sugars in and of themselves are not health villains, it is the amount of sugar that matters.
Starches: Dietary starches can be detrimental to health when consumed in larger amounts; and when converted to simple sugars in our bodies, raise blood sugar (in some cases, rapidly, think corn starch). Many people think of starches as healthy and focus more on the sugar content on the label, rather than the TC. Understanding starches is not simple, because the rate of generation of sugar depends on processing, storage, and source. Starches are naturally occurring (as in breakfast cereals) or added molecules consisting of long linkages of glucose simple sugar. The rate at which a starch releases simple sugars upon digestion relative to a reference is known as the Glycemic Index or GI, a high GI being detrimental. Examples of high GI starches to avoid are corn starch and the starches in white bread.
Polyols: Polyols (also known as sugar alcohols) are types of carbohydrates added to foods to provide “bulk” that upon digestion yield less calories than sugars typically due to incomplete digestion. Examples include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol. In some sensitive people, polyols may cause GI discomfort, but in smaller doses, and for the masses of people, they are not a concern.
Clearly, as a Nation, we need to decrease the amounts of sugars we consume and by reading the labels is a first step. “Sugary diets are linked to not only obesity and contributing to the current obesity epidemic, but to also increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, poor dental health, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol,” according to Alvin.
The increase in sugar intake is alarming. About two hundred years ago, Americans ate 0.09 ounces of sugar per day. In 1970, we ate 5.4 oz of sugar per day, and today, about 6.7 oz daily, or 3 pounds or six cups of sugar per week. The United States ranks as having the highest average daily sugar consumption per person.
“As a general guideline, when reading the food labels, if sugars are less than 10 grams, and preferentially five or less, consider purchasing,” Alvin advises.
About Dr. Berger: Nutritionist and lipid biochemist Dr. Alvin Berger (MS, Ph. D, Prof) is also a specialist in ketogenic fats with 89-peer reviewed publications in scientific journals and 139 presentations on lipids at technical conferences. Dr. Alvin Berger has 30 years of research experience in nutritional and pharmaceutical sciences in both academic and commercial settings. He has been responsible for leading teams and identifying research directions to support business goals, and developing, designing and releasing new products. A past NIH Fellow, Adjunct Professor Nutrition, and CEO of Sciadonics, Inc., Dr. Berger is also the co-founder of Life Sense Products, and is a featured specialist in the web series, “Real Skinny on Fat,” where he provides insights about KetoMCT and other ketogenic fats, which most recently was spotlighted on The Dr. Oz show.