The current food labels mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration provide consumers with the most accurate, thorough and useful information to date for making healthful food choices. For followers of the Atkins Diet, the labels provide a quick and convenient method of calculating the carbohydrate content in food without having to crack open a nutritional-analysis book at every meal. Of course, not all food products---notably, produce and meats---come with a label, so you may still need to have that book handy. But for the great majority of products, especially those that do contain diet-busting carbohydrates, food labels will help keep you within your carb limits no matter what phase of Atkins you're in.
- Skill level:
Find the "Total Carbohydrate" line on the food label. This will give you the amount of carbs (in grams) that this food product contains per serving. This number includes both digestible and indigestible carbohydrates. Since Atkins dieters look for "net carbs," the amount of carbohydrate that is absorbed and used by your body, these indigestible carbs need to be factored out of the total carb count, as we will do in Steps 2 and 3.
Look for "Dietary Fiber" under the "Total Carbohydrate" line. This number will also be given in grams. Fibre is the structural part of plant food that can't be digested, and which passes through the digestive system unabsorbed. Subtract this number from the "Total Carbohydrate" number, as these carbs won't have an impact on your blood sugar or fat storage. As an example, let's say you're looking at the label for whole-wheat bread. The total carbohydrate count for one slice is 18g. The Dietary Fiber count is 3g. Subtract 3 from 18 for a net carb count of 15g.
Look for the "Sugar Alcohols" count under the "Dietary Fiber" line, which is again given in grams. Don't confuse this with just plain "Sugars," which is also listed under fibre. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrate-based sweeteners that are absorbed so slowly by the body that they have no real impact on a person's blood sugar. Not all products contain sugar alcohols; they are routinely used in low-carb versions of sweet treats and energy bars. Once you find this number, if there is one, subtract it from the "Total Carbohydrates" as you did for fibre in Step 2. You now have your net carb count. So, using the accompanying food label as an example, after subtracting 6g of fibre and 1g of sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates (16g), you are left with a net carb count of 9g.
Tips and warnings
- Be aware of the serving size of the food you are about to eat. The food label calculates the carbs per serving, but it's up to you to determine how many servings you are going to eat. One package of something is not necessarily one serving. Read carefully.
- Look for foods with a high fibre content. Because fibre grams lower the total carb count of a food, you can get away with eating more fibre-rich carbohydrate foods (Fiber One breakfast cereal, for example) than carb-heavy foods that contain little or no fibre (such as white bread and pasta).
- Beware of too many sugar-alcohol grams. In large amounts (25g or more), sugar alcohols are known to cause intestinal distress, such as cramping, diarrhoea and gas. Some people are more sensitive to them than others.