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Pressure grows to restrict low-carb claims

A consumer advocacy organisation is calling for carbohydrate claims to be clearly defined and labelled. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) wants the Food and Drug Administration to regulate implied ?low-carb? claims and prohibit ?net carb? claims.

The demand comes as low-carb fever sweeps the US food industry. Two-thirds of Americans currently on a low-carb diet say it is ?very? or ?somewhat? important to them that food items have low-carb labels, according to a survey conducted by Massachusetts-based Opinion Dynamics Corp.

But as more products are making implied low-carb claims such as ?carb smart,? ?carb aware? and ?carb sense,? CSPI contends they are misleading and has called for them to be regulated as though they were ?low carb? or ?reduced carb? claims.

?People assume they can?t gain weight on foods with claims like ?carb smart,? just as they assumed ?fat-free? on the package meant ?fat-free? on your waist. It?s a huge leap of faith to assume the calories in a lower-carb food don?t count,? said Bonnie Liebman, CSPI?s nutrition director.

The subject of ?net carbs? has also attracted criticism. Manufacturers calculate these by subtracting fibre, sugar alcohols and other carbs that supposedly have a minimal impact on blood sugar. For example, Arizona No Carb Green Tea actually has 2g of the carbohydrate sorbitol. The label explains, however, that these are not ?net effective? carbs.

?Is a carb that doesn?t raise blood sugar no longer a carb?? asked Liebman. ?Consumers need to know that ?minimal impact on your blood sugar? does not necessarily mean ?minimal impact on your hips?.? Lo Carb Garcia Lo?s organic tortilla chips sound low carb, though they have 13g of total carbs. After subtracting the 4g of fibre, however, the label claims 9g of ?net effective? carbs per 1oz serving. The FDA permits the phrase ?net carb? on a label ?so long as a company is consistent and logical in how they make their calculation.? However, the FDA could issue a proposal to standardise or even nullify such claims as early as August.

Because the FDA has yet to define low-carb statements, manufacturers cannot use such descriptors as ?free,? ?low,? ?less,? ?reduced,? ?light,? ?good source,? ?high? or ?more? in relation to carbohydrates, in accordance with the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act.

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