The Skinny on Low Carb Ingredients

The Skinny on Low Carb Ingredients

The low carb diet craze has waned a little, but low carb products are here to stay.  They offer smart alternatives for people looking to manage their sugar intake and their weight, and make ideal snacks as they don't send blood sugar through the roof and are often high in fibre.

The majority of low carb bars in our market are imported from the USA or Canada. These are normally labelled under the US food regulations, despite the fact they are meant to be labelled in compliance with Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) requirements.  The US regulations are different to ours and we've had several questions about their labelling.

 

Carbohydrate Content Analysis

In the US, carbohydrate is effectively labelled as ‘carbohydrate by difference’.  The term carbohydrate by difference (CBD) stems from the 'proximate analysis' typically performed by a food chemistry lab when testing the composition of a food product.

Proximate analysis involves testing the fat, protein, moisture and ash content of the food.  The ash content is the mineral content (everything else burns off, leaving only a mineral ash). The fat, protein, moisture and ash are then subtracted from 100 to determine the carbohydrate content, i.e. it is assumed that everything else is carbohydrate.

This assumption is more valid for some foods than it is others.  In some foods, CBD will include some compounds which, while being carbohydrate in chemical nature, i.e. hydrates of carbon, are not metabolised in the same manner as conventional carbohydrates (like sugars and starches).

Fibre is perhaps the most obvious example.  While based on the same subunits as starches, its high degree of cross linking means the human gut is not able to break it down and it therefore passes on into the large intestine undigested.

Our local FSANZ code recognises this and allows manufacturers to go further and subtract a number of non or partially metabolised carbohydrates from CBD.  These must however be included separately in the nutrition panel and their energy value must still be included in the total energy content of the food.

We’ve used three of these ingredients in our CarbLess Bars range.

 

Maltitol

Maltitol belongs to a group of ingredients known as polyols or sugar alcohols.  The term sugar alcohol should not be taken to mean that these ingredients are either alcoholic or sugar in nature.

Maltitol is manufactured from natural starch.  It is slowly and only partially digested in the small intestine.  It then passes to the large intestine where it is slowly fermented.  According to one of the major manufacturers of maltitol its Glycaemic Index (GI) is estimated to be 29, and its metabolisable energy content is 16kJ/g (conventional carbs such as starches are 17kJ/g).

 

Glycerine (aka glycerol)

Glycerine is essentially the three carbon molecule that forms the back bone of a triglyceride (fat) molecule.  Each carbon has an alcohol group attached (in a triglyceride these are replaced with a fatty acid).  It is a commonly occurring compound in human metabolism and found naturally in both plant and animal products.  While metabolised and absorbed it does not elicit a significant blood glucose or insulin response.

The practice of not including glycerine in either carbohydrate total or the energy content of bars got several US bar manufacturers in trouble with the US FDA.  Under the FSANZ code it can be subtracted from the carbohydrate total.

 

Polydextrose

Polydextrose is made up of glucose units that have been highly cross-linked (in the same manner as fibres).  It behaves in a similar manner to fibre and is resistant to digestion.  It does not have a significant glycaemic effect.  Its metabolisable energy content is 5kJ/g.

 

Net Carbs and Impact Carbs

Many imported bars use these terms in a panel separate to the nutrition information.  It is essentially the carbohydrate by difference with compounds such as polyols, fibre and glycerol subtracted.  USA manufacturers have basically invented this term, faced with older, more restrictive food labelling regulations.

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