Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Great "Net Carbs" Scam

The other day, a Bacardi Rum TV ad, passed before me claiming that it had "no carbs" and "no sugar." Bacardi must think we are nitwits, so besotted with booze, that we don't have enough brain cells left to recognize that "no carbs" entails "no sugar." The clear implication of the TV ad to someone like me who was not paying much attention is that Bacardi rum is calorie free. There might have been a written or oral disclaimer countering that inference but I didn't catch it.

The title link confirms what I have said and goes on to say
Even fans of incredibly popular carb-free programs who choose to drink need not deprive themselves of an occasional cocktail because a BACARDI® Superior Rum and Diet Cola cocktail offers a refreshing solution with no carbs and no sugar. It tastes smooth, light and fantastic - with 0 grams of guilt.
What Badardi rum does have is alcohol and alcohol is not calorie free. At Wilstar's Low Carb Pavilion, it is said
Alcohol cannot be used directly for fuel by the body. Instead, it goes to the liver for processing. There, it is chemically converted to an aldehyde and then to ketone bodies which are used as fuel. Alcohol contains about 6.9 calories per gram.
There is a great irony here -- something that contains primarily alcohol and water is being promoted to the "low carb" crowd. There is another class of products that is running the same scam, namely many of the things you can buy at one of the "low carb" stores in your town. These are the products with low "net carb" numbers. I have before me one of the very tasty Snickers Marathon "Low Carb" energy bars. If you look at the nutrition rating of these bars you discover that this "Low Carb" bar actually has 19 grams of carbohydrates.

So, what are the 16 mystery carbs (19 minus the 3 "net carbs") in my very tasty candy bar? They are sugar alcohols and fiber. The list of ingredients in these bars is neatly covered up by the fold in the wrapper. It lists malitol and sorbitol. Back in the day, sugar alcohols (polyols) like these were used in chewing gum and the wrappers claimed this gum did not contribute to dental caries and those that contained no sugars were relatively safe for diabetics but these wrappers always made quite clear that these gums were not diet products. Now they are, it seems. What changed?

Nothing changed. What happens to sorbitol in the body is not absolutely clear. In a research study of sorbitol metabolism, it is claimed that less than 3% of 35 grams of orally ingested sorbital is eliminated through the urine. What is important about sorbitol for dieters is that ingestion of 35 grams of sorbitol does not significantly increase blood sugar in normal subjects and that sorbitol provides a significantly smaller increase in blood sugar in diabetic patients than ingestion of sucrose. But what is the bottom line for dieters. At Calorie Control it is claimed that sugar contributes some 4 calories per gram while malitol and sorbitol contribute 2.6 calories per gram. Neither is as sweet as sugar but malitol has the virtue of allowing a reduction of fat in a product since it gives a "creamy texture."

The "net carbs" rating for a candy bar like this reflects a deduction of grams of fiber from the total carbs (which, in the case of my bar, reduces us from 19 to 11 grams). This is a legit reduction. There is one gram of sugar, which takes us down to 10 grams of our sugar alcohols. Since malitol and sorbitol each contribute 2.6 calories per gram, we may assume that these guys contribute 26 calories of the 170 total calories of the bar. So, our three net carbs are due to the sugar. We are back where we began -- polyol carbs don't count as carbs because they are actually alcohols sort of like Bacardi rum. Don't worry, you can't get drunk on Snickers "Low Carb" bars.

The beauty of these polyols is their slow metabolism in the body. This makes them valuable to diabetics and also makes them valuable to those who have gone beyond the induction phase of the Atkins diet because there is said to be a correlation between a rapid metabolism of carbohydrates and a rapid onset of hunger. The whole "glycemic index" and "glycemic load" based diets, originally designed for diabetics are useful to all dieters. It is this that drives the low carb diet machine.

What about booze? The role of booze in weight gain and weight loss seems to depend on whether or not the booze replaces food. Alcohol contributes almost as many calories per gram as fat does so. So these calories are not guilt free for dieters, as the Bacardi people suggest. Moreover, it is well-known that alcohol is metabolized and burned (as ketones) first and this slows down metabolism of stored fat. That's the negative side. The positive side is that consumpiton of alcohol also raises the metabolic rate, which could lead to weight loss provided that the alcohol calories replace food calories. So, the ideal way for someone to drink and lose weight is to replace food with booze and become skinny like the alcoholics that can be found on the streets of our cities. What a plan!

Check out Shapefit and Weight Loss for All for facts about alcohol. At least I hope they are facts.

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Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

I think that what Bacardi's actually doing is playing with the difference between 0 carbs (there's none in it) and carbs-free (it doesn't produce any). We saw the same thing with the cholesterol craze.

1:53 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

I just realized that I said "`no carbs' and `no alcohol'" but meant "no sugar" for the latter. Your comment caused me to go back and look.

2:38 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Are we seeing the beginning of a new craze...The LG Plan?!

Personally, I've always thought of beer as "liquid bread".

As we used to say when I was a freshman,

If you're not wasted, the day is.
If you are wasted, the day isn't!

Alas, all those wasted brain cells! : )

4:48 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I only drink to make other people more interesting
& I don't drink 'hard' alcohol only 'soft' alcohol.
& I drink it straight because it's better for you that way.
Also, I drink only after 5:00 pm because people who drink in the morning have a problem w/alcohol.
& now, when I go on my low-carb diet I can still drink, because Bacardi says it's O.K. :p
makes perfect sense to me.

8:24 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

L>T, you are getting more and more confident and interesting as time passes. I am very happy you found this site.

Ibdairon, the first chair of Linguistics at OSU said that Estonians back and the day would bake bread and make their beer out of the result. So, if you prefer, you can see beer as liquid bread but note that you can't get drunk and destroy your liver on bread. You can get fatter than a pig.

7:55 AM

Blogger Marc André Bélanger said...

I don't remember who, but there was an historian who claimed that civilization came about with the discovery of beer. One had to stop moving around and settle in order to cultivate the land and be able make the beer.

8:56 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Ibad beat me to the LG diet plan thing. You could seriously get rich selling this idea to college girls that are already skinny but don't think that they're skinny. Or basically almost anyone in the 18-24 demographic.

By the way, I discussed something linguistic today, if you're interested. It's sort of like your "linguistic pet peeves" except it's one of my pet peeves, and I finally figured out why it bothered me so much.

10:29 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Gee LG, thanks. :)

I consider most advertising an insult to intelligence. The pushing(pushing as in 'pusher') of alcoholic beverages in my opinion is one of the worst offenders. In the first place they always go after the young & naive.
When was the last time you saw a liquor commercial with anyone that looked over 25 in it?
They go on about getting together w/friends & having a good time, etc... Never addressing the other issues related to drinking, except maybe a blurb at the end about drinking responsibly.

Another thing that pisses me off is television networks like MTV, that cater to very young people, lauding about the joys of drinking in shows like Spring-Break & The Real world. What fun!
Poor kids, they've got MTV telling them how much fun it is & MADD ready to stomp them when they get caught drinking irresponsibly.

1:28 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Years ago, someone remarked that booze has always, since prohibition at least, gotten a "good press." We see winning teams after Superbowls, World Series, and NBA Champions shaking champagne bottles and spraying them over each other. Formula 1 drivers spray it over their crews, each other, and whomever else they can reach.

Ohio State does not allow the sale of booze at games -- unless you are rich and have access to the luxury boxes or an inner circle of seat license seats. These folks can go back to a plush area and drink and might even be able to bring it back to their seats. But no booze advertising is allowed.

The university now automatically suspends a student for a quarter if caught dui on campus. Universities around the country are very concerned about binge drinking, as they should be. Ohio State was, I think, the first to ban booze outside the football stadium. Actually, if you are discrete and don't exhibit your can you can get away with it. But the ambience before, during, and after games is way better than it used to be. Loud drunks are largely a thing of the past.

2:23 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I would guess most colleges have basically the same policy now?

I wonder if the liquor industry should be treated like the cigarette industry, as far as advertising goes.

7:45 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Thanks, LG. I'll have to look at those. I'm not quite sure how to think about the issue, but it was bothering me anyway.

10:47 PM

Blogger helen said...

You need not dieting, but healthy food! Diet is temporal and health is permanent!

2:54 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

you are confusing carbs and calories. there are no carbs in distilled spirits. the calories come from the alcohol itself. alcohol has a lowering effect on blood sugar and a zero GI. other health effects of alcohol are a separate discussion

5:42 PM

Blogger Puma59 said...

I suggest your assumption that everyone knows the equivalence is invalid.

10:01 PM


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