Kellie Collins

The craze for low-carb foods is still around. You’ve probably seen low-carb chocolate in the shops and it won’t be long before regular everyday foods like bread, cereal, Coca Cola and even potatoes have a low-carb sister!

With the overwhelming popularity of low-carb approaches to weight loss, food manufacturers are rushing to introduce low-carb foods. The US is already well ahead with special low-carb shops stocking thousands of low-carb foods. Restaurants have also jumped on the bandwagon and are cashing in on the low-carb frenzy by adding low-carb options to their menus.

Here in the UK, over 600 low-carb foods are available to order from various websites, so you literally don’t have to leave the house to sample low-carb fare, because you can order it online and have it delivered to your door.

This might sound like every low-carb dieters dream. But let’s stop and remember all those low-fat and fat-free products that have been so popular since the 1990’s. The beauty of these was that you could follow a low-fat diet but literally have your cake and eat it too! In some ways this was beneficial because sweet-toothed dieters could still have the odd junk food treat without jeopardising their weight loss. Or could they?? Some people failed to realise that these low-fat treats had the same calorie content as the regular varieties because the low-fat content was compensated for with high sugar levels. So people were eating entire packets of low-fat biscuits at a time and wondering why they weren’t losing weight!

Unlike low-fat foods that have strict labelling specifications set out by the Food Standards Agency, low-carb foods have yet to receive a specific definition so a low-carb label can be misleading. The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in America, however, has started to take action and is currently studying carbohydrate labelling.

Among their findings so far:

• "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 being 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 such as 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. So low-carb foods can be valuable if they help people to reduce their overall calorie intake, because that is the key to weight loss. But this isn’t going to work if people are going to eat low-carb chocolate and muffins instead of broccoli! It’s all about changing your old habits and re-educating your taste buds. If that means ditching the junk food, then ditch that low-carb website from your favourites list now and get yourself some healthier eating habits for life!

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 half a cup of lentils, a cup of carrots, an orange, and a slice of light multi-grain bread - for a total of 274 calories.

• Those foods contain plenty of natural fibre 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.

• If you’re craving something sweet, have a delicious natural snack like strawberries and cream – no additives or processing there!

Treat treats as treats, no matter what the carb count! You wouldn't eat five regular chocolate bars at one time so don't do it with low-carb chocolate bars! Specialist products can be a useful addition to your low carb plan but make sure they are supplemental to, not the basis of, your healthy diet.