Lowcarbezine! 31 January 2002

WebMaster's Note: If you are looking for the March 22 2002 issue, please click here. I neglected to change the first hotlink in the Lowcarbezine digest that was mailed out March 22 2002.

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Hey, Gang

Here it is! And I hope you enjoy it, because it's the last one until March. As I mentioned, I have to focus on the cookbook if I'm going to get it to my publisher by deadline.

Just thought I'd mention here, though, that I hope you all saw 48 Hours Friday before last - you know, the CBS news magazine show. It was all about weight loss, and it gave a far more respectful review of low carb diets than I've ever seen in the mass media before. They showed several low carb dieters, all of whom were thrilled with their weight loss, with improved blood work, and with how just plain great they felt.

More importantly, they showed a university researcher who compared the Atkins diet to a food pyramid based, calorie controlled diet - and found that the low carbers lost more than twice the weight that the low fat/high carb people did, and stuck with it longer to boot - I'm thinking because of the reduced hunger, not to mention all the great stuff we get to eat.

All in all, I was thrilled, and more than a little shocked. Looks like the word is finally getting through! My thanks to local reader Deb Crites, who called me up to tell me this was going to be on; I would have missed it without her. She also called me when ABC's Peter Jennings had Gerald Reaven (inventor of the term "Syndrome X" for hyperinsulinemia) and Walter Willett (the man who's been running the Harvard Nurses' Study) on, talking about the dangers of a high carb diet. Thanks, Deb!!

Okay, on to the 'zine! Read on!


Doing Your Own Low Carb Research

This question comes from Jeannette Childers in Las Vegas:

I read where you tested your blood sugar to see how different foods affect you. I've bought a kit for the same purpose but was wondering when and how often you tested. Since it's not the same as a diabetic testing I am not sure just when I should test.

This is a very good question, Jeannette, because the explanation will allow all of you to become a citizen's army of low carb food testers. Not only will this let you know if some food is messing up your blood sugar more than you originally thought, which can only help your low carbing efforts, but it may also uncover some foods that are thought to be low carb, but are, in reality, a danger to us all.

I did modestly extensive tests of my blood sugar when I was trying to determine if those widely advertised "carb blocker" pills work. (Panic not; I'll repeat my findings at the end of this article.) Here's how I did the tests:

1) I acquired an inexpensive glucometer - if I recall correctly, it ran me $15 at Kmart - and a supply of glucose testing strips and lancets, which, I'm sorry to say, ain't nearly so cheap. The instructions that came with my glucometer were quite clear and easy to follow. However, I'm afraid that doing tests of this sort do, indeed, involve sticking numerous holes in your little fingies. The blood has to come from somewhere, you know. Science is a stern master, but knowledge is worth any sacrifice, don't you agree?

2) I took my fasting blood sugar - since I work at home, it was no big deal to simply do all my testing first thing in the day. If your schedule doesn't permit this, you'll want to wait until you haven't eaten for at least 3 - 4 hours. I recorded this number, and the time the measurement was taken.

3) I then ate a carefully measured portion of the food I was testing - for the carb blocker tests I used, alternately, either 1 cup of brown rice with a little "Butter Buds" - I didn't want to alter the results by adding a lot of butter into the equation - or 2 slices of toasted 100% whole grain rye bread, a dense, heavy, chewy bread with conveniently equal-sized slices that I get from the local health food store. I did split 1 teaspoon of butter between the two slices of rye bread, since I'm not wild about dry toast, and Butter Buds would have made it soggy. I'm willing to perforate my fingers for science, but eating soggy toast is right out.

4) I then took another blood sugar measurement approximately every 15 minutes for 3 hours or so. Each time I recorded the time and my blood sugar level. This, of course, is the part that involves mutilating one's fingertips. Still, it taught me some very interesting things. In particular, I learned that a cup of brown rice on an empty stomach is enough to drive my blood sugar into the low diabetic range. I also learned that even with a low impact carb like whole grain rye bread, my blood sugar comes down fast and hard once it starts to drop - I found a 40 point drop in 15 minutes. I could actually feel this. And I learned that for me, that driving hunger starts to set in when my blood sugar gets back down to 140, even though that's still considerably higher than fasting levels. All of this convinced me that it was a very good thing that I gave up on a grain-heavy diet when I did.

5) Having established my body's reaction to a goodly dose of relatively benign carbohydrates (No way I was trying this with white bread and Tater Tots!), I then re-did the tests, taking the carb blockers, eating the same quantities of the same foods - this is where the "carefully measured portion" part comes in - and tracking my blood sugar for about 3 hours each time. I actually did the tests with the carb blockers a few times with each food, because I talked to some folks who had more experience with them than I. They told me to forget about the instructions that say to take the pills 15 - 20 minutes before eating, and instead to take them right as I started eating, and even to take 1 or 2 more when I was halfway through. I did this, and did, indeed, get somewhat different results.

How does all of this relate to you? After all, I've done the carb blocker tests, which means, ostensibly, that you don't need to. Aha, but you might want to find out if you're one of the people whose blood sugar reacts badly to, say, your favorite low carb protein bar. Here's how I'd structure that experiment (and this is, indeed, an experiment I intend to make, sometime after my manuscript has gone off to my publisher):

1) I'd take my fasting blood sugar, recording the time and blood sugar level.

2) I'd eat some basic, very low carb protein food, in a portion that would give me roughly the same amount of protein and carbohydrate as was claimed on the label of the bar I planned to test. For instance, I have a bar here that claims 12 grams of protein and 130 calories, with only 1 gram of carbohydrate. This is as near to the macronutrient content of 2 boiled eggs as makes no difference, so that's probably what I'd use as a baseline test food.

3) After eating the baseline test food I'd take my blood sugar every 15 minutes or so for 3 hours, keeping track of the time of each test and my blood sugar level each time.

4) The next convenient day, I would repeat the whole process above, only I'd eat the protein bar instead of the eggs. In short: Take and record fasting blood sugar, eat protein bar, take and record blood sugar approximately every 15 minutes for the next 3 hours. If I found a significantly greater rise and steeper fall in blood sugar after eating the protein bar than I'd found after eating the eggs, I'd know that the protein bar was a problem for me, and possibly even mislabeled.

You could short-cut this experiment, I suppose, by leaving out the part with the test food. Your results wouldn't be nearly as conclusive, but if you eat a food that is labeled as having only a gram or two of carbohydrate, and your blood sugar jumps from, say 92 all the way up to 180, you can be pretty darned sure that something's fishy. Or sugary.

So that's how to conduct meaningful, if admittedly amateur, blood sugar experiments. If any of you have a go at this, I would be very interested to hear about your findings.

Now, about those carb blocker tests:

When I did the tests by taking the carb blockers according to the package directions - ie, 1 capsule 15 - 20 minutes before eating the carbohydrate food - they did not work at all. I got virtually identical blood sugar readings as I had when I had tested the foods without taking the carb blockers.

However, when I redid the tests taking 3 carb blocker capsules, one just as I started to eat the rice or rye bread, and another 2 halfway through eating, I found that there was some result. Not a huge, phenomenal result, you understand - just some result. My blood sugar still went up fairly high, and came back down again, so my body was, indeed, digesting and absorbing at least the majority of the carbs I ate. However, my blood sugar came down more slowly, instead of crashing down the way it had without the carb blockers. This would appear to mean - and I want to make it clear, this is only a hypothesis - that my body was not secreting as much insulin, as rapidly, as it had without the carb blockers.

In short, carb blockers may be a modestly effective damage control strategy for when you choose to have a carb Indulgence. But carb blockers will not let carb intolerant people simply go on eating all their favorite carb foods on a regular basis, while losing weight and maintaining their health.

One last caveat: These things work only modestly on starches; they do not work at all on sugar. Be warned.

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Reader Success Story

This one's short, but sweet. Reader Mary Lou Smith writes:

First, thanks for the carbezine. I appreciate the recipes, but I really Love the ammo I need

to defend myself!!

I am a success story. On Jan 3, 1999, at 271 lbs, I began the Atkins diet. This morning, I

weighed 178 lb. My "good cholesterol" is higher than my triglycerides, at last check in May.

If you would like more details of all this for your book, I would be pleased to provide them,

just let me know. Obviously, it's a long tale, with ups and downs, lessons learned, and

ultimate victory (size 12 pants) still not won, but I'm close!!

Zowie! Down almost 100 pounds! Good for you, Mary Lou. I'm thinking that with that sort of weight loss, and those blood work stats, you don't need me for ammo. And yes, I'd love to have all the details! Congratulations.

Reader Review of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds!

This Really Works!!!

Our daughter loves this diet and encouraged my husband and I to try it. We started on June 1,

2001, and by the middle of September we had lost a combined total of 100 pounds. Since then, we have shared this book and diet with many friends and all have had success. With the maintenance plan, we have kept the weight off and plan to stay on this eating plan forever. I also have to share this; before the diet, I was on Lipitor and blood pressure medication. Since being on

this plan, my cholesterol and blood pressure have dropped so I no longer need any medication. WOW!!

Cheryl R Wester from Maple Grove, MN , January 5, 2002

Thanks, Cheryl, and congratulations to all of you!

To read this and other reviews of How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds!, visit


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Regarding Somersweet

A couple of issues back I wrote about the various low carb sweeteners available on the market. At the time, I said that I didn't know what the new Somersweet had in it, only that it was being marketed by Suzanne Somers, who said it was fabulous, gave the textural effects of sugar - moistness, browning, crispness, etc - and was "all natural". Indeed, while I failed to find the ingredients of Somersweet on Suzanne's website, I did find her statement that Somersweet was better than Splenda because, after all, Splenda wasn't natural, and Somersweet was.

Well, a few of you kindly sent me the ingredient list for Somersweet - one reader even sent an image of the label. Here is the list:




sprouted mung bean extract

acesulfame K.

Further, the label states that 1/4 teaspoon of Somersweet has the equivalent sweetness of a teaspoon of sugar. And it says that that 1/4 teaspoon of Somersweet has "less than 1 gram" of carbohydrate.

Okay, let's take that last statement first: A teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of carbohydrate, and since it consists only of carbohydrate, you can figure that a teaspoon of sugar weighs four grams. This means that 1/4 teaspoon of sugar would contain just exactly 1 gram of sugar - and of carbohydrate.

Now, according to US labeling laws, a food can claim to have "less than one gram of carbohydrate per serving" if it contains between 0.5 and 0.9 grams of carbohydrate - if it has less than 0.5 grams, it can claim to have 0. This tells us that Somersweet has somewhere between a half a gram and just under a gram of carbohydrate per 1/4 teaspoon - or, conceivably, almost the same amount as sugar, although of course one would use less.

The label also says that Somersweet has "less than 1 gram" of fiber per serving, but since this is non-specific, we can't assume that the quantity is the same as the "less than 1 gram" of carbohydrate. Could be, but we can't know.

My big gripe here is that by using 1/4 teaspoon as her "serving size", Somers has made it impossible for low carbers to know how many grams of carbohydrate they might be getting if, say, they decided to make cookies from the stuff.

Second gripe: Fructose, despite sounding all healthy-like, because of the association with fruit, is the substance which, more than any other tested so far, jacks up triglyceride levels. It's here, no doubt, because it has a low glycemic index, but I have read reports which suggest that that low GI rating is deceptive. Fructose, you see, consists of two sugars, glucose and sucrose, bonded together. It takes the body a while to break that bond, which accounts for the good-looking blood test results. But some scientists feel that the blood sugar rush is simply delayed, and that when the body does break down fructose into its component sugars, the blood sugar reaction is about the same as that of fructose's parts. This may or may not be, but it is pretty much undeniable that fructose is bad for triglyceride levels, and we don't know how much of it there is in

The other carbohydrates in there - oligofructose, inulin, and mung bean sprout extract, may be more benign. "Oligofructose" is the same thing as "fructooligosaccharides", aka FOS. This is good stuff; FOS has a glycemic index of zip, and is good for your intestinal flora to boot. Inulin, too, has a glycemic index of zero. These two components of Somersweet strike me as a good idea. The sprouted mung bean extract is a mystery; I couldn't find any info on it, so I don't know what sort of sugar accounts for any sweetness it might have. The most common sugar in sprouted seeds is maltose, however, and maltose is a fairly high impact carb. I don't know the point of having this in here; I'll have to wait for more information.

So what we have so far is a combination of sugars and other carbohydrates, of varying degrees of healthfulness. However, you can bet that this combination ain't very sweet by itself; FOS is only half as sweet as table sugar, and inulin isn't very sweet either. Yet Somersweet is "five times as sweet as sugar".

Enter acesulfame-K. As you may (or may not) recall, acesulfame-K is an artificial sweetener. It's been on the market for several years, and like sucralose (the sweetener in Splenda), saccharine, and aspartame, ace-K is intensely sweet, many, many times sweeter than sugar. Clearly, what Somers has here is a combination of sugars that will hold moisture, brown, etc, but aren't very sweet, combined with an artificial sweetener to buck up the sweetness level.

This may well be a good idea; I have no doubt that this product will give foods a texture that is closer to sugar than, say, Splenda will, as good as Splenda tastes. I'm concerned about that fructose, and have no way of knowing how much is in there, and I'm concerned that people can't really know from the label how many carbs, exactly, they're consuming if they eat more than 1/4 teaspoon of Somersweet in a day. But I'm ready to believe that this might be a product that is at least occasionally useful to us.

But I am mightily ticked about all the garbage that Somers has been putting out about how "natural" her product is, when it turns out that the only reason that it's five times sweeter than sugar is that - surprise, surprise - it contains an artificial sweetener. Don't get me wrong - I don't have a problem with the fact that this product contains ace-K. I have a big problem with Somers' rhetoric about how awful Splenda is, because it's "artificial", when her product is artificial, too.

Recently, Somers has backpedaled, and said that her product is "99.9% natural". Overlooking the fact that many of the most toxic substances in the world are totally natural, I might point out that only a tiny fraction of Splenda is made up of sucralose - since sucralose is 600 times as sweet as sugar, the vast majority of what you get in a box of Splenda isn't sucralose, but the malto-dextrin used to bulk it. Malto-dextrin ain't great for you, but then, neither is fructose, and at least I know exactly how much malto-dextrin I get in a cup of Splenda, while I have no earthly way of knowing how much fructose I'd get in a cup of Somersweet.

Somersweet is quite expensive - the Suzanne Somers website sells two cans for $14.95, plus $6.95 shipping and handling, for a total of $21.90. Those two cans are the equivalent of about 3.3 pounds of sugar in sweetening power. By contrast, I pay about $4 at my grocery store for a box of Splenda that is the equivalent of 2 pounds of sugar, so Somersweet is roughly three times as expensive to use as Splenda. I would like to point out that this is not necessarily a rip-off, since I know that FOS is mighty expensive stuff, while malto-dextrin is cheap. However, it doesn't matter much to this girl's budget whether the price is justified or not; I can't afford to use Somersweet. And despite the fact that there are some textural differences, my Splenda sweetened desserts have been coming out just fine, thank you.

This is all currently moot, anyway, since Somersweet is back-ordered at the Somers website. There's currently no plan of which I've heard to make Somersweet available in stores; it looks like you'll have to order it from Suzanne, or possibly from QVC or the like, which of course means always paying shipping and handling charges.

All told, this is an interesting if extremely expensive and somewhat mysterious product. I would feel a lot better about it if A) it was made clear just exactly how much carbohydrate was found in, say, a cup of the stuff, and how much of that carbohydrate was in the form of absorbable stuff, like fructose, and B) Somers would cut out the "Splenda's artificial and evil, Somersweet is natural and good!" routine. That kind of meaningless rhetoric gets us nowhere.

If you decide to try Somersweet, you should also know that, like all non-absorbable carbohydrates, FOS and inulin can cause gas and diarrhea if eaten in too great a quantity. Personally, I count this as a plus; I love the notion of sweets that enforce moderation. Still, it's important to keep in mind.

A big thank you, by the way, to all of you who took the time to send me info about Somersweet. I swear, I spent 20 minutes at the Somers website and couldn't find what I needed!

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Let's Nag McNeil!

On a related note, I spoke yesterday to the nice customer service folks at McNeil, the company that makes Splenda. I had called to ask some questions about liquid Splenda, most particularly when would it be available in the US? Imagine my dismay when the representative on the far end told me she'd never even heard of liquid Splenda, or, for that matter, Splenda tablets.

These are products which are available right now in other countries, yet apparently McNeil has no plans to release them in North America, at least not that they've let their staff in on.

Why is this of concern to you? For a very simple reason: Splenda has 24 grams of carbohydrate per cup (0.5 grams per teaspoon, 1.5 grams per tablespoon, etc) because and only because of the malto-dextrin used to bulk it up to the same volume as sugar, to make measuring easy. This is nice and all, but some of us would far rather carve another who-knows-how-many grams off of every low carb cookie, muffin, cheesecake, etc, that we make, than go for the easy measuring thing. And liquid Splenda has zero carbs. None. Zip. Zilch.

Splenda tablets have a tiny bit of carbohydrate, but nowhere near as much as the powdered stuff. They're mostly good for carrying in your purse or pocket, to sweeten coffee or tea, so the potential for major carb savings is nowhere near as great. Still, if you're drinking four or five cups a day of Splenda sweetened coffee or tea, there are some carb savings to be had here, as well - and the plastic container will hold up far better in the bottom of a purse or pocket than those little packets will.

It seems to me (and to Jennifer Eloff, of http://www.sweety.com , whose cookbook I reviewed a few issues back - she's the Splenda queen - we talked about this) that McNeil hasn't realized yet that a whole bunch of us don't use Splenda to cut calories, but rather to cut carbohydrates, and that we want the zero carbohydrate liquid Splenda!

It's up to us to let them know. So here are the toll-free customer service phone numbers:

In the US: 1-800-777-5363

In Canada: 1-800-561-0070

It's up to you to call McNeil, and tell them in your most positive, friendly, cheerful, upbeat manner that you love Splenda (assuming you do), but that you'd love it ever so much more if you could get it in the carbohydrate-free liquid version. Tell them that you don't count calories so much as carbohydrate grams, and that while Splenda is far lower carb than sugar, those 24 grams per cup do limit how much you can use. I'm figuring that if McNeil gets a few hundred calls, it might sink in that there's a big market for liquid Splenda out here!

Let's give it a shot, shall we? Remember, be as nice as you possibly can, but emphatic about wanting the liquid. We'll see if we can change corporate policy!

(Hmmm. Interesting. I just noticed, here on my Splenda box, that McNeil is based in New Brunswick, NJ, my dad's hometown. My family's roots go very deep in New Brunswick. Think I should call back and tell them I'm a hometown girl, at least by descent, and see if it sways them?)

You and I May Be Feeling Broke, But The World Is Full of the Genuinely Poor

And they don't just have a tight food budget - they're starving. You can help, every day, and it will cost you nothing but a moment of your time. Just go to: http://www.thehungersite.com and click on the button, and The Hunger Site's sponsors will donate food to the hungry worldwide. Then go to http://www.stopthehunger.com and click on the button, and Stop the Hunger's sponsors will donate food to hungry folks in the USA.

I know of no easier way to do a little charity. So bookmark the sites, and click every day!

That's it! See you when my manuscript is on its way to the publisher!


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To request a full-text version of this newsletter by e-mail, just send a message to htt020131@holdthetoast.com (Message and subject can be blank.)