The New Atkins & Sugar Alcohols

One of my big issues with TNA is the concept of subtracting sugar alcohols from Net Carbs.

IMO, the most fraudulent practice in the LC field is the total subtraction of SA's in the calculation of net carbs.  There are 1.5-2.5 cal/g for most of them (except erythritol which is 0.2 cal/g) and these calories are from carbs!

Here's what TNA says on the subject:

"When it comes to low-carb foods, you subtract grams of sugar alcohols (including glycerin), as well as of fiber, from total grams of carbs to get the Net Carb count."
"Many low-carb products are sweetened with such ingredients as glycerin, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, lactitos and maltitol. ... Because sugar alcohols are not fully absorbed by the gut, they provide roughly half the calories that sugar does, although each one varies slightly. The incomplete and slower absorption results in a minimal impact on blood sugar and insulin response. This means that sugar alcohols don't significantly interfere with fat burning, making them acceptable on Atkins. ... Most people find that they can handle 20 to 30 grams a day without undesirable effects."
I imagine this was quite a point of contention between the powers that be at Atkins Nutritionals and these three respected researchers. There's much to be read between the lines of how it is written.

The veteran low-carber is probably aware that the "missing carbohydrate" on Atkins labels for some of their products is attributed to glycerin (aka glycerine, aka glycerol!).   Apparently AtNu tried, unsuccesfully, to get glycerin classed as a fiber, when, in fact, it is clearly a sugar alcohol and WP&V make a point of identifying it as such.  I may be reading too much into this, but I get the feeling this was a face-saver for these three.  In exchange for going along with subtracting sugar alcohols, they got to inform the consumers of Atkins products and "out" glycerin is a sugar alcohol in hopes the LC community would pick up on this?  That's just my feeling on the whole issue. 

In any case, they acknowledge the caloric content of SA's but not the carb content. If slowed release of carbohydrate doesn't "interfere with fat burning", then what's the point of counting carbs at all so long as they are ingested in very small quantities?   Glycerol is absorbed and metabolized ... and turned into ... drumroll please ... glucose!! These grams are not even accounted for on Atkins' labels (or they weren't last time I looked -- I don't eat these, ever).  We're often talking about 20 or more grams of sugar alcohols in a serving of "product".  Subtracting these completely can result in a 10g or more "error" in your carbs.  That's significant, and if it's not, what's the whole hub bub about counting carbs anyway? 

The authors seem obsessed with the carbs in lemon juice.  So much so that Rung 7 for adding more includes 2T more lemon juice.  I do best on LC lately when I drink cayenne lemonade all day long.   If I have a cup of lemon juice per day (6g sugars, ~20g total carb) or 20g sugar alcohols, which do you think is going to impact weight loss in the right direction??  It's for this reason I harp on this seemingly minor aspect of the book.  They can't have it both ways.  One of the things they advocate to counter stalls is to go back to counting carbs -- Net Carbs of course.  They don't address laying off the sugar alcohols for stalls.  But too much protein, that's the staller!

In such a self-proclaimed "grounded in science" book, they fail to even mention the difference between erythritol and the other sugar alcohols.  Again, perhaps because AtNu doesn't use it much in their products?

In the end, I would like to see a more forthright discussion of the carbohydrate content of sugar alcohols.  If we can't expect that from these trusted scientists, who can we turn to?


David Isaak said…
I too have been puzzled by the general open-armed embrace of sugar alcohols by so many in the low-carb community.

My only explanation for this is that many people have the belief that whatever is good for diabetics must be somehow equivalent to low-carb intake. Sugar alcohols, to the extent they are absorbed, operate more like "slow-carbs" (low glycemic index foods) than non-carbs. Spreading your carb-absorption out over time might be a good idea for a diabetic who is trying to keep blood suggar levels under control, but that's a different project than is being undertaken in cutting daily carb intake.

Seems obvious to me. Seems obvious to you. Apparently not so obvious to a great number of folks out there.
CarbSane said…
I have the original Atkins book, and while he mentions sugar alcohols the "read between the lines" message is not promoting them. That pre-dated the low carb product boom, the first wave of which was mostly "meal replacement" bars and shakes. Atkins Nutritionals focused their product development in these and SA's seem to be essential in some formulations. It would have been a sorry business model if the diet that bore his name didn't allow for the products that did. Too many in the LC community take whatever the "experts" say at face value. So if Atkins says so, it must be true. Well, Atkins also spoke of some fat mobilizing substance in the urine of low carbers (not ketones) in his first book....

The Atkins Nutritionals folks are singularly {grin} deceptive in their inclusion of glycerine in some of their products. These are the "missing" carbs that AN tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to get classed as fiber. Glycerine is another name for glycerol.