Atkins - Atkins - Frequently Asked Questions

02-24-2004, 03:27 PM

We hope you find answers to your questions here: If not, please feel free to post any question(s) you may have :D

Another Note: There is another FAQ Thread in the Low Carb section on the 3FC's boards.... don't forget to visit there :)

This information has been provided by forum members and fellow Atkins followers, and is not considered official Atkins information, nor is it official 3FC information. We make every effort to provide accurate information, but do not guarantee against errors. We recommend you see your physician before following this or any other weight loss advice.


Before You Start
Artificial Sweetners
Bad Breath
Sugar Alcohols
Muscle Cramps
What Should My Goal Weight Be
Water (how much should one drink)
Counting NET Carbs
Body Odor (Armpit)
Weight Stalls
Specialty Foods
Low-Carb Products May Jeopardize Weight Loss Efforts

02-24-2004, 05:23 PM
Before you start:

• Read the book! There is no way around it. The information Dr. Atkins has provided is vital to your health and success.

• Understand that this is not a diet. Diets are something you go on and off of. They are a quick fix. This is a way of changing your lifestyle to bring eating under control and to teach good eating habits.

• Expect withdrawl symptoms. Most of us have starch, caffeine, sugar (or all three!) addictions. Withdrawl happens with any substance you are addicted that you stop giving your body. Headaches, fatigue, nausea, or irritability are common symptoms for any type of withdrawl. Recognize the symptoms for what they are and be assured that they will go away within a few days.

• Understand each phase of Atkins. Life does not begin and end with induction. Be sure you understand how to transition correctly.

• Exercise is a must. Yes, you’ll probably drop some weight by changing your eating habits, but you’re success at losing and maintaining your loss will is significantly more likely if you exercise.

• There is no one way that works for everyone. What worked for your neighbor may not work for you. Research your options and make the best choice for you.

Tips and tricks:

• Do not try to satisfy sweet cravings with sweet things. Doing so defeats the purpose of this way of eating. The point is to get control of the bad stuff, not to find a substitute for it. If you have cravings, try eating something fatty like cheese or bacon. L-Glutamine supplements will also help control cravings.

• Avoid sugar alcohols. They are notorious for causing stalls as well as having a rather profound laxative effect. There’s a whole thread on sugar alcohols for more information.

• Read the nutritional charts and the ingredient lists. What is printed on the front of the package does not always match what is on the back. Most people have found that subtracting only fiber from the total carb count is the most effective way to go. Sugar alcohols are not always included in the total carb count, so be sure to check the ingredients!

• Stalls happen. Don’t get discouraged or upset. They happen. It’s part of life. Just keep working and you’ll get past it.

• Be adventurous with your food! There are thousands and thousands of low carb recipes floating around out there. Try some! Variety is essential for success as well as health. Avoid getting bored.

• Be adventurous with your exercise! There are lots of ways to get your exercise without going to the gym or doing aerobics. Take brisk walks, power-clean your house, try pilates or bellydancing, jog, walk your dog, dance, go join some young kids on a playground….you get the picture!

• It's all about attitude. You must be willing to take charge of your body and your lifestyle. Losing weight is work. Keeping it off is more work. Decide you're worth it and go for it!

02-25-2004, 08:59 AM

Why do have I have such terrible headaches while on Atkins?

Your headaches could be caused by a number of things related to the change in your eating patterns. The most common reason for headaches is caffeine withdrawal. If you were a big coffee or caffeinated soda drinker, this is very likely the cause of your headaches. You can take aspirin or Ibuprofen for relief if your doctors approves. Withdrawal from sugar and other carbohydrates can also cause headaches. If the cause is withdrawal, the headaches should stop after a few days.

Another common cause of headaches is food sensitivities. Are you now eating more of any food to which you might be sensitive? Foods and ingredients that frequently cause reactions include dairy products, nitrates (found in processed meats, for example) and anything that.s fermented, cured or smoked. If so, eliminate all the potential culprits by eating only natural, whole foods such as fresh meat, poultry, fish and vegetables for three or four days. After that, reintroduce one new food every 48 hours. Keep a food diary so you can document your reaction to each and determine which one might be causing the headaches.

Yet another possibility is that you are skipping meals. Doing so can trigger a drop in blood sugar that will often bring on a headache. Finally, are you taking your supplements of multivitamins and essential oils? Are you drinking enough water? Essential oils act as an anti-inflammatory agent, preventing headaches. (Headaches may also be caused by inflammation in the head or neck area or a nutrient deficiency.) Headaches can also be one of the first signs of dehydration. So make sure to consume at least eight 8-ounce glasses each day. If none of these recommendations give you relief, try seeing a chiropractor or osteopathic doctor to rule out a structural problem, such as poor posture or a pinched nerve.

02-25-2004, 09:02 AM

Here are two letters, one is from the makers of Sweet'n Low and the other is Splenda. Bottom line, when you use either packet, count it as one (1) carb:

You know me, always digging for information. I know some of us use Sweet'n Low because we like things just a tad bit sweeter than Splenda and may not count the carbs because those little pink packages say less than > 1 gm. What's less than 1 gm you say ? Read this and make sure you start counting them if your not already.

Here's the letter I got back from S&L's rep:

Dear Eileen,

Thank you for visiting us on the internet. As it states in the "FAQ"
section of our website (, Sweet'N Low granulated sugar substitute contains 0.9 gram of carbohydrates per 1 gram packet.

Sweet'N Low Liquid, however, contains absolutely zero carbohydrates. If you would like to see our "Nutrtion Facts," please visit our website homepage and click on the image of the specific product you are interested in (for example, Sweet'N Low packets). Thanks for your interest in our product.

Best regards,

Tracy Eichorn
Consumer Relations

__________________________________________________ __

I wrote Splenda to find out exactly how many CARBS are in each little yellow packet of Splenda, here's a copy of the letter they wrote me: They listed both for GRANULAR and PACKETS so see both.

Dear Eileen,

Thank you for visiting the SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener website. We hope you became more familiar with SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener during your visit to the site.

The caloric and carbohydrate content for SPLENDA (R) Brand Sweetener is as follows:

SPLENDA (R) Granular
1 tsp = 0.5 gm carb = 2 calories
one half cup = 12 gm carb = 48 calories
1 cup = 24 gm carb = 96 calories

*1 tsp. = 1 serving

Packet of SPLENDA (R)
1 packet = .9 gm of carb = 4 calories

*1 packet has the sweetness of 2 tsp of sugar

Note: Per U.S. labeling laws, anything with less than 5 calories per serving, is properly labeled as "zero" or no-calorie.

The caloric and carbohydrate content for sugar is as follows:

1 tsp = 4 gm of carb= 16 calories
one half cup = 96 gm of carb= 385 calories
1 cup = 192 gm of carb = 770 calories

Note: The calories and carbohydrates in SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener comes from dextrose and/or maltodextrin, which are added for bulk. Sucralose the sweetening ingredient in SPLENDA (R) Brand Sweetener, has no calories and is not a carbohydrate.

Granular - sucralose, maltodextrin (0.5 gram per serving)
Packets - sucralose, maltodextrin and dextrose (less than 1 gram per packet)

SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener (sucralose) has no known side effects. Sucralose can be used by everyone; including people with diabetes, pregnant and nursing mothers, and children. The safety of SPLENDA (R) Brand Sweetener has been demonstrated as part of our clearance process with the FDA as well as other regulatory agencies around the world. There are no warning labels on the product to exclude anyone from enjoying SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener.

We hope this information is helpful; however, if you would like to learn more, you are welcome to contact us again through e-mail or call a SPLENDA (R) No Calorie Sweetener representative at 1-800-777-5363.

Tracey Ely
SPLENDA Consumer Relationship Center

WHY Artificial Sweeteners Are Not the Answer

Sweet taste ? even from artificial sweeteners ? causes an increase in calories coming from fat and protein. Why does this happening?

Sweet taste, even coming with artificial sweetener, raises glucose concentration in the blood before the food has a chance to be digested. Your body knows that eventually, it will have all the carbs you've swallowed and it doesn't wait until it that happens. Instead, it releases some glucose from the carbohydrate depots and hopes to get it all back. When the sweet food is real, the carbohydrates eventually get into the blood. And if they're not? Well, nature never counted on us inventing artificial sweeteners. Being fooled, your body reacts rather vindictively: it forces you to want more sweet food plus eat more next time, no matter what food you agree to have.

So, you'd be better off without artificial sweeteners. There are other tasty foods you can have on a low-carb diet.

02-25-2004, 09:05 AM

Lipolysis, the process during which your body primarily burns fat as fuel rather than glucose, causes ketosis, which in turn generates ketones, the by-products of fat breakdown.

During ketosis, ketones are released in your breath and your urine. While this can be annoying, the good news is that ketone breath is chemical proof that you're burning stored body fat. The more ketones you release, the more fat you've burned.

Drinking plenty of water helps dilute the concentration of ketones. Parsley, too, is a natural breath freshener as is oil of peppermint drops available at health food stores. (Read the label to ensure that it contains no sugar.) Chewing fresh parsley or taking capsules such as Breath-a-Sure, which can be found in any health food or drug store, also will help. As long as you drink enough water, the bad breath caused by ketosis usually lasts only a few weeks.

Atkins discourages the use of most breath mints because they may contain either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Even so-called "sugar-free" products are often full of carbs. However, they do recommend their sugar free mints and gum, which are sweetened with Xylitol and have 0 carbs per serving.

Ketosis may only exaggerate an underlying existing problem. Be sure to see your dentist regularly and have your teeth and gums professionally cleaned.

02-25-2004, 09:11 AM

These sweeteners are neither sugars, nor alcohols, but they are carbohydrates nonetheless. They are sometimes called POLYOLS, to avoid confusion. At the present time, they have not been legally classified for product labelling purposes, as are sugars, starch and fiber. So, some manufacturers are choosing to omit them from the total carb count in the nutrient data panel of the label (they MUST however declare the amount of sugar alcohol in the ingredient list). Because they aren't actually SUGAR, products that contain them may use the term "sugar free" on the label. Some manufacturers and distributors (esp. in Canada and Europe) are choosing to declare the full carbs in the nutrient data panel, and some diabetes associations and consumer groups are pressuring for gov't legislation to make this a legal requirement.

There are some claims that sugar alcohols don't have carbs, and therefore don't count; that they can be completely subtracted if listed on the label. This statement is not entirely "false" but it is misleading. Sugar alcohols do have carbs, and approx. 1/2 to 3/4 the calories of regular sugar. They are more slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine than sugar, thus producing a much smaller and slower rise in blood sugar ... and consequently insulin. But this is a YMMV thing. Some Type 1 diabetics have reported that they sense an immediate "sugar rush" from eating even a small amount. Others notice no change, and absolutely no effect on ketosis.

Sugar alcohols do have carb calories, and the body will use these as fuel, or store as fat, whether or not insulin is involved. You need to look at the total CALORIES for one serving of the product. Subtract from this total the number of calories from any protein in the product (prot = 4 cal. per gm), then subtract the calories from any FAT in the product (fat = 9 cal. per gm). What's left is the calories from carbohydrate ... divide this remainder by 4 (carbs = 4 cal. per gm). If the number you get is bigger than the number of carbs declared on the label, the product has hidden carbs, and it's most likely the polyol. Calories do not just disappear into thin air!

The "laxative effect" happens for two reasons. First, because the sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed, they hold on to a lot of water in the bowel. This causes diarrhea. Another consequence is that when undigested carbs reach the colon, the normal bacteria present there go WILD --- resulting in unpleasant gas, and bloating. Sorbitol and mannitol are the worst offenders in this department, maltitol less so. The effect is dose-related -- you would be wise to pay attention to the serving size listed on the product label. This amount would be considered "safe" for the average adult -- make note of this before giving to a smaller child! Nothing like watching your kid doubled over with cramps and diarrhea because they ate too many "sugar free" sweets. To the best of my knowledge, sugar alcohols ARE safe for children, and pregnant/nursing mothers ... just keep an eye on the dose.

There are some newer sugar alcohols slowly making their way on the market, which have less laxative effect, and even less blood sugar and insulin consequence. Erythritol, isomalt and inulin are a few to watch for. There's another called HSH (hydrolyzed starch hydrolysate) also called maltitol syrup. The thing is, the different sugar alcohols have different properties, and can't be used for all things. Sorbitol is used in hard candies ... it produces a nice, clear candy that doesn't crystalize, and stays hard and dry in a humid environment. Because it doesn't crystalize, sorbitol is used in ice cream to help it stay creamy. Mannitol also can absorb a lot of moisture before it gets damp and sticky, therefore it's used to "dust" sticks of gum, to keep them dry. Maltitol and erythritol provide smooth bulk, and are ideal for chocolates and soft candies to give a creamy "melt in the mouth" quality.

Sugar alcohols are not acted upon by bacteria in the mouth, and therefore do NOT cause tooth decay. In fact, xylitol actually INHIBITS oral bacteria, and is often used in sugarless mints and chewing gum for this reason.


We are all individuals, and our bodies will react differently to these products. Depending on other factors, such as what else we've consumed along with it or on an empty stomach, we may even find ourselves having totally different reactions each time we eat it. So proceed with caution.

Be aware that there is potential to cause a rise in blood sugar and insulin ... although slower. Also the possibility to knock you out of ketosis, if you're following a ketogenic program such as Atkins. Pay attention to the serving SIZE. A 45-gram (1-1/2 oz) chocolate bar may state on the label that one serving is 15 grams (1/2 oz). That's only 1/3 of the bar, so keep that in mind when you're about to chow down.

If you are following Induction level low carb eating, it would be wise to avoid these products until at LEAST the 2 weeks are up, and your body's metabolism is settled well into ketosis and fat-burning mode. Same for other low carb programs, which may not be ketogenic, but do have strong effects on the metabolism (eg. Protein Power, Carb Addicts). Give your body the chance to adjust to the new WOE first, then cautiously add these products.

KEYWORD moderation. Most low carbers find they can indulge very occasionally in a polyol-sweetened treat without consequence to their weight loss effort, and perhaps a mild laxative effect or some gas. It's a trade-off, but helps to stave off cravings for high-sugar goodies. A problem could develop though, for someone with carb-addiction .... these candies just become a substitute addiction. Also, the sweet taste can trigger EMOTIONS (for an addict) that will result in a "rush" of hormones and enzymes in the body, ultimately leading to an insulin spike ... and fat STORAGE. And remember that candy is NOT a meal substitute. There's little or no protein, vitamins or essential fatty acids.


"Reduced Calorie Sweeteners: Polyols" from the Calorie Control Council

"Letter to Health Minister Allan Rock from CSPI Canada" Sept/00, urging accurate labelling of food products containing sugar alcohols, health warnings of the Gastrointestinal effects, and recommendations for control of dose per serving.

"All About Polyols" from SPI Polyols (manufacturer)

02-25-2004, 05:00 PM
Muscle Cramps

Muscle cramps can be caused by a lack of either potassium, calcium, magnesium, or sodium. You lose a lot of these nutrients when your body loses lots of water (think first week of induction).

If you are experiencing leg cramps, check your nutrient levels. Meats are rich in potassium, so that is probably not the problem. You may want to consider taking a supplement with calcium and magnesium. Also try adding some salt to a meal.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Most people know that calcium is important for strong bones, but did you know that it's also used to break down fat in our bodies?

Here's a list of some low carb foods that are rich in calcium. For comparison, 8 ounces of milk has 300 mg of calcium. It is recommended to have 1000-1500 mg of calcium per day.

Yogurt: Dannon has a low carb version! (1 cup) - 400mg
Sardines with bones, canned (3.75oz) - 351mg
SF soy milk (8 ounces) - 300mg
Swiss cheese (1 ounce) - 270mg
Firm tofu (1/2 cup) - 250mg
Spinach (1 cup) - 240mg
Cheddar cheese (1 ounce) - 200mg
Mozzarella cheese (1 ounce) - 200mg
Broccoli (1 cup) - 180mg
Almonds (1/2 cup) - 180mg
Mustard, collard or turnip greens (1/2 cup cooked) - 140mg
Soy nuts dry roasted (1/4 cup) - 113mg
Almonds ~22 pieces (1 oz) - 75mg

02-26-2004, 09:22 AM

One FAQ that is really not about the Atkins plan per se, but about dieting in general is "What should my goal weight be?" This is a link that was originally posted, I believe, by Star. It's an excellent resource which compares various weight tables and shows the sometimes wide differential between "expert opinions" on this subject:

02-26-2004, 09:40 AM
How much water should a person doing Atkins be drinking?

On any eating regimen, a minimum of 64 ounces, or eight 8-ounce glasses, of water per day is the usual recommendation. Many people, particularly women, suffer from inadequate hydration, so it is important to be diligent about drinking water throughout the day. Water consumption will also help flush toxins from your body and combat such problems as constipation and bad breath. Note that coffee, tea and diet sodas do not apply to the daily minimum.

To read more about the benefits of water consumption, please go to

02-27-2004, 10:53 AM

Net Carbs: The Carbohydrates that can be Digested and processed by the body as dietary carbohydrate and therefore directly impact Blood sugar.

The figure for Net Carbs represents the total grams of carbohydrate minus grams of Fiber.

Net Carbs are the only carbs that you need to count when you do Atkins.

02-27-2004, 03:57 PM

Armpit smell:

Ok. A few of you've been aware that I've become a smelly person It's actually bothering ME quite a bit but I've yet to have someone actually come up to me and tell me I stink (maybe I don't but I just think I do?). Anyway, I emailed the question to Atkins to find out WHY this could be happening. This is my question and then their response:

I've started Atkins on 1/3/04 and have been taking the Atkins Basic3 and the Atkins Dieter's Advantage. I drink at least 64 oz of water a day but I'm pretty bad at the fact that I don't exercise like I should. My question is: Ever since starting Atkins my armpits have been the WORST smelling ever. I've never had them smell even when I was a teen and running around and didn't use deoderant. Is this normal? Could it be because of the Atkins vitamins/appetite control stuff reacting differently to me? I'm not going to quit Atkins just because of this but I'd like to know if you've run across this happening before--and if so what the cause was.
So far the only way to get rid of it is to wash my armpits a couple times a day. Just re-applying deoderant/anti-persperant doesn't help. I've even tried changing the brands I use.

Thank you for your inquiry.

When you burn fat on any weight loss program, the body will release stored toxins in adipose (fat) tissue. The effect is not as profound as when fasting but nonetheless is present during lipolysis/ketosis. Drinking lots of water will help dilute and flush the toxins from your system, and taking essential fatty acid supplements and a good multi-vitamin and mineral should help diminish symptoms associated with toxin release. It actually improves overall health to remove such impurities from the body.

We trust you will find this information helpful. If you have additional questions regarding the Atkins Nutritional Approach, please feel free to e-mail us again, or contact our Atkins Information Agents by phone at 1-800-6-ATKINS from 9am to 5pm EST. If you would like to place an order, our Ordering Department is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and on line for your convenience. If you are calling from outside the U.S. and Canada, please reach us at 1-800-757-5324.

We trust you will find this information helpful. If you have additional questions regarding the Atkins Nutritional Approach, please feel free to e-mail us again, or contact our Atkins Information Agents by phone at 1-800-6-ATKINS from 9am to 5pm EST. If you would like to place an order, our Ordering Department is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and on line for your convenience. If you are calling from outside the U.S. and Canada, please reach us at 1-800-757-5324.

Pamela Ryan
Atkins Information Agent
Atkins Nutritionals, Inc.

Mandatory Medical Disclaimer
The instructions and advice presented in this email are in no way intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical counseling. The information should be used in conjunction with the guidance and care of your physician. Consult your physician before beginning this program as you would any weight-loss or weight-maintenance program. Your physician should be aware of all medical conditions that you may have, as well as any medication and supplements you are taking. Those of you on diuretics or diabetes medication should proceed only under a doctor's supervision. As with any plan, the weight-loss phases of this nutritional plan should not be used by patients on dialysis or by pregnant or nursing women.

03-10-2004, 12:45 PM
Hi Everyone! I thought that I'd post this here again. We have a lot of newbies that might benefit from reading this. Does anyone know how to make this a sticky? I think it's important enough to keep on the message board all the time. :coffee:

Info about stalls especially in the first few weeks

I found this in another forum thought that it may be helpful for those that are beginning and feel that it is to frustrating. copy it and put it in your folder for later reading, it also pertains to those who have fallen badly and have gotten back on the wagon.

This article from Lynne's Lowcarb Page at or
discusses the common 6 week stall that low carbers exeperience after starting a low carb plan. If you are stalled at the 5 to 6 week mark, you might consider the following:


Common patterns of weight loss

From tracking a *lot* of people who become assimilated into the lowcarb lifestyle
(hehe...resistance is futile!) a pattern emerges....

the 2 week induction is pretty heady...weight lost just about every single day, enormous and unbelievable amounts of weight loss are reported.

This is often followed by complaints that weight loss "stalls" or that the rate drops to only 1 pound per week.

Many people just don't know that fat-loss ...the actual goal when on a weight-reduction" diet, is rate-limited. In other words, the human body has factors that prevent more than a certain amount of fatty-acid release from storage...and even more factors that prevent those released fatty acids from being used up instead of stored back into the fat cells.

A priority of the human body is survival. Anything that threatens its survival results in the cascade of events to maintain the previous status quo. Water fluctuations are one way the body does this. you done good on Atkins' during induction...lost 10 pounds the first 2 weeks.

Maybe 7 the first week and 3 the second. But, whoa! Weeks 3 and 4 there is NO loss! And weeks 5 and 6 is only 1/2 pound each! So... what gives?

Initially, the body jettisons the water attached to the glycogen stores that we diligently deplete to get into ketosis...this accounts for about 3-5 pounds of water. In addition, muscle stores of glycogen are not being replaced when used...which will account for the rest. All in all...MAYBE 1/2 pound of fat was metabolized during the first week... and MAYBE 1/2 pound of fat was metabolized the 2nd week. Of that 10 initial pounds, only 1 pound was fat and 9 pounds water...

The body senses this lack and sirens start shrieking: Warning! Warning! Losing water... new to get back to the status quo! Brain tells body to produce and release that vasopressin antidiuretic hormone....more water is retained, and no weight loss noticed. Fat loss is still occuring, MAYBE even 2 pounds per week, because ketosis is firmly established and appetite supression is in effect...but water retention is hiding that continuing fat loss. The body is preventing dehydration with this mechanism, and that's a *good* thing. From the perspective of the scale, it can be discouraging.

Which is why the mantra: Water retention masks fat loss (repeated frequently to oneself ) is helpful.

Water retention will mask ongoing fat-loss for as long as the body retains the water. We can combat this by drinking more water...but we aren't going to totally overcome this mechanism during the initial water-loss phase of the Atkins diet.

By weeks 5 and 6, things start to get back in balance, and the scale will begin to reflect the true fat-loss...which, as mentioned before is rate-limited. Individuals vary, but max weight loss runs about 2 pounds per week...under extremely optimal conditions... or 1% of body weight.(whichever is the lower number)

Take-home message: Even when the scale is in a stall, fat loss can be occuring. Don't use the scale as an excuse to undermine your progress!

03-10-2004, 05:28 PM
Should we add this?

Don't Rely Only On "Specialty Foods"
They are a great adjunct to low-carbing and can be very useful in cooking and for occasional snacks, but they cannot and should not make up the core of your diet. Whatever plan you follow, your diet should be based on good protein rich meats, fish, and fowl; fresh lowcarb (non starchy) vegetables, and some measure of whole grains or other fibers. Depending on your plan, you might also include nuts (especially macadamias and almonds), dairy products, and a limited amount of low-sugar fruits (berries, melons, peaches, etc.)

The "extras" like potato substitutes, low carb breads, etc should be added only after the first two weeks. And remember, they are extras, not the core of your dietary plan. Some of the specialty items (like bars, candies, etc.) are not tolerated by all. Some can eat them and still lose, but they can be stall-triggers for others. So add them in judiciously, and see if you can handle them. Do NOT try starting a low-carb plan with eating protein and snack bars, shakes, candies, crackers, etc from the first day. Get your body used to eating a basic, healthy diet.

05-19-2004, 02:50 PM


THANKS POOKIE :grouphug:

Hi all, I just got this email from WEB MD today. Thought it might be of interest on this forum. I lurk here because of all the great info your members post every day.

OK Back to my Home Forum --Pookie

Low-Carb Products May Jeopardize Weight Loss Efforts

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Medical News Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD
on Monday, May 10, 2004

May 10, 2004 -- It's SNACKWELLS all over again: They were low-fat so we wolfed them down, ignoring the high calorie count. Now, low-carb products could likewise sabotage our weight loss efforts, according to a new report.

Low-carb versions of comfort foods -- bread, pasta, and ice cream -- often contain more fat and calories than regular versions, says the June issue of Consumer Reports.

According to the report, 930 low carb food products have been introduced to the U.S. food market in the last five years. The products are aimed at the growing number of Americans trying to lose weight by cutting carbs. But there's a catch.

"Many of the low-carb food products now flooding supermarkets may in fact be cheating -- consumers, that is -- by undermining the weight loss they hope to achieve," the report says. The FDA is scrambling to figure out how to address this issue.

Among their findings:

"Low-carb" labels are meaningless. In manufacturing low-carb products, sugars are replaced with "unnaturally high concentrations" of sugar alcohols, refined grains, and starches -- all of which are carbohydrates and contribute to caloric intake.

Because these "replacement carbs" move through the small intestine without getting absorbed, manufacturers subtract them from the carb content. That's the "net carbs" number listed on the product label.

However, that net carbs number is based on research done with whole foods (like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) -- which have a very different composition and calorie content.

The original low-carb weight loss programs -- Atkins and South Beach -- work when people restrict carb-laden, high-calorie foods like bread, pasta, rice, soft drinks, potato chips, cookies, and fruits, says the report.

"Indeed, the very lack of availability of low-carb junk food might have been a boon for low-carb dieters," the report says.

Here's what you can do to follow a low-carb diet and avoid the calorie pitfall:

Eat whole foods: For 40 grams of carbs a day, you could eat a half-cup of lentils, a cup of carrots, an orange, and a slice of light seven-grain bread -- for a total of 274 calories.

Those foods contain plenty of natural fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals. Getting those 40 grams from low-carb snack foods might give you 1,440 calories and few other nutrients.

Carefully read calorie and fat content on product labels.

Also, treat treats as treats, no matter what the carb count, says the report. Don't eat five low-carb chocolate bars in a single sitting. You wouldn't eat five regular chocolate bars at one time -- or, at least, you shouldn't if weight loss is your goal!

SOURCE: Consumer Reports, June 2004; vol 69: pp 12-21.