Hidden Carbs: Deceptive, Lurking, Invisible Little Carb Goblins
by Special Guest, DJ Foodie
What is a hidden carb? Well … based on the term, it seems reasonable to assume it’s a carbohydrate that you can’t see! I personally tend to give it a slightly broader scope than that. I define it more along the lines of “foods which have a greater impact on my blood sugar, than I was anticipating.” This can occur for any number of reasons, from too loose of labeling laws, to intentionally deceptive labeling techniques … and finally … to complete and total ignorance on my part.
So far, I’ve personally lost 142 lbs. by maintaining a low carb way of eating. I’ve got some skin in the game. Along the way, I’ve learned quite a bit and have successfully been tripped up by hidden carbs. I know the downside of these evil, shady, invisible gremlins.
True Story: I had been eating well and losing consistently and happily. Then, almost like walking into a solid concrete wall … I stopped losing. I hit a weight that I simply could not move through. I was stuck. Immobile. Going nowhere. Over time, this started to shake my confidence. It made me want to give up. Why continue to limit what I’m eating … if it’s not going to work!?!
(Flawed Thinking Alert: If you’re not losing … you’re “maintaining”! It’s a hell of a lot better than gaining!)
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out! I was eating clean, unprocessed foods, all under 20 grams of net carbs, per day. In fact, I was even focused on spreading the carbs out, throughout the day. What could it be?! Rather than give up, I stuck to my guns and started to dissect my diet. This pursuit took on a soul searching vibe. Whatever it was, it was preventing me from losing, and … I must be using it a lot because I’m consistently stuck. There was no sense of being stuck “some of the time”. I felt endlessly glued to a giant immovable wall of jiggly adipose tissue. I started to eliminate things from my diet. I eliminated sweet things. I eliminated tomatoes. I eliminated cheeses. Still stuck. Nothing.
Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I KNEW what it was … or … at least … what it had to be! I’d eliminated pretty much everything else!
Maybe I’m a total whackadoo, but … I’d formed a bad habit of adding a tasty-yummy powdered chicken bouillon base to almost everything. I added it to soups, salad dressings, seasonings for meats, etc. It had slowly manipulated its way into becoming my salt! Reading the label indicated that it has zero net carbs … so … it must be ok, right? Plus … it’s just chicken, so … it’s GOT to be good … RIGHT?!
Nope. Not at all. I’m a dumb dumb.
My little green lidded jars listed a teaspoon as the serving size. This was said to have zero carbs. However, I went to CostCo, where they had a big tub of the stuff. This has a tablespoon listed as the serving size … and listed 2 grams of carbs per tablespoon. AHA! BUSTED!!
A little more light reading would indicate … the second ingredient listed on the label was … SUGAR! … followed quickly by corn STARCH, as well as MALTODEXTRIN … all rich with carbs! There’s also the infamous “natural flavorings” which … could mean almost anything.
Needless to say, I stopped using it, entirely. About 3 days later, I experienced a massive WHOOSH!! I lost about 10 lbs. that week. YAY!!!
I also got back my sweet things, tomatoes and cheese! Over time … I’ve rolled back the chicken base, but … sparingly.
This was a case that highlights my own ignorance, and also what I feel is … misleading labeling. 2 grams per tablespoon may not seem like a lot, but … if you’re staying within a 20 gram range … 2 grams is a full 10% of the daily allotment! It could also be 2.49 grams per tablespoon, but … there’s no requirement to list this extra fraction.
Ken, the Atkins Diet Geek, does an excellent job of explaining hidden carbs in this video . I won’t go into the math, or the details of labeling, because Ken covers it … no one reads on the internet, anyway. Watch the video!
In addition to Ken’s video, there’s a great tool over at LowCarb.ca. It will help you find out a more realistic carb amount for the things you’re eating. It’s a Hidden Carb Calculator. Check it out!
While this is very probably a solid summarization of hidden carbs and what can happen as a result … I don’t feel that this story is complete.
Yes, there are carbs that just flat out don’t get included on labels. However, combined with this lack of information is a second category of information drop out. The polyols … or “sugar alcohols”.
I’m a fairly new blogger, but … it doesn’t take long to figure out that a significant percentage of people that adopt this way of eating are looking for ways to keep their chocolate. They want to lose weight, eat well, have their cake and … eat it, too! (literally!) This tells me that there is a lot of sugar free candy being purchased and eaten (made, usually, with sorbitol or malitol). There are a lot of cakes and cookies being made with Splenda (dextrose and maltodextrin). There are a lot of sugar free, diabetic friendly, low carb bars giddily being noshed upon with … vegetable glycerin!
HOLY GADZOOKS, BATMAN!
There’s a myth that that sugar alcohols are ok. A “net” carb, simply defined is: Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols = “Net” Carbs.
It’s simple, easy to wrap your head around and makes for quick math at the grocery store. Unfortunately, and ESPECIALLY for those people that are still eating sugar free candies, cakes, bars, cookies, ice cream, pudding mixes, etc. it’s going to cause a stall, eventually. It’s not really accurate. It’s simply not true …
I will eventually write something bigger and more elaborate about “Sugar Alcohols” as well as my own personal definition of a “Net” carb, but … here’s a quick break down.
My general definition is: Total Carbs – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols/2 = “Net” Carbs
Point being, I count sugar alcohols as 50% off … not 100% off. So, if something says it has 10 grams of sugar alcohols, I DO give it a 50% discount … to 5 grams, but I definitely count the full 5.
For me, there is only one exception to this rule, which … is when the sweeteners are erythritol, stevia and/or pure liquid sucralose. These 3 sweeteners get a full 100% discount, in my personal calculation. I suppose aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame potassium (Ace K) also each get a pass, but … for whatever reason … I rarely pay attention to these. Each sugar alcohol is different. Some are technically MORE than 50% and some are less, but … they all hover between 70% and 30%. For simplicity’s sake, I stick with a nice round 50% with the 3 exceptions, listed above.
SOME people are stricter than this and just count ALL carbs, including fiber and all sugar alcohols. Truth be told, this is probably the easiest to understand, the most basic and probably the safest approach, but it also tends to be more restrictive. My suggestion is to pick a method and apply it consistently. Consistency, combined with continued education and refinement of the method … is key.
Here are two good links which will help fill in a few possible blanks that I may have left open …
Low Carb Diet Tips & Basics – Hidden Carbs: http://www.lowcarb.ca/tips/tips009.html
Hidden Carbs in Foods: http://lowcarbpavilion.com/hiddencarbs.htm
Finally, a warning … red flag alert … honey, agave, yacon syrup, powdered splenda, vegetable glycerin, most all sugar alcohols and starchy fillers, booze, molasses, etc. There are little hidden carb land mines spread all over the place … even (and often ESPECIALLY) in foods that are labeled sugar free …
Watch where you step …
Good luck and … Bon Appetite!
Low Carb Food Dude