Low Carbing: The Mysterious ECC -
Effective Carb Count
I bent down to grab a box of my currently favorite low-carb bars off the shelf and the young woman standing next to me, reading the nutritional information on another brand, glanced over to see what I was reaching for. Acknowledging her interest, I said all friendly-like, "These are my favorites right now." I figured she would know what I meant about "right now" because you get tired of the same bars after awhile and need a change.
But taste apparently wasn't the issue on her mind; she literally snatched the box out of my hand, flipped it over with the skill of a seasoned label reader, ran her finger down the nutrition panel and replied with urgent authority, "No, these have too many carbs!" and then shoved the box back to me.
I leaned in, eyes all squinty, and noted the 21 carbs listed. Knowing that was just a boilerplate number, I started to explain but I barely got out the words, "But it doesn't matter because…" before she snapped back, "No, it does matter, yours has too many carbs."
Since the very last thing on my TO DO list that day was to get into a shouting match over carb-counting in aisle 4 of Wal-Mart, I quietly slipped my box into my basket and left her to her own wisdom. I was muttering to myself though, as I sauntered away, "Honey, life is too short to be so tightly wound…"
I was also smiling because her carb bars had 3 ECC and mine had 2. So, what is this ECC? Effective Carb Count or "Net Carbs".
In a nutshell, the theory behind Net Effective Carbs is that they only include those carbs that cause a noted effect on your blood sugar levels. The Low-Carb gurus all support Net Impact Carbs or the Effective Carb Count (ECC). Simply translated this means that you can gleefully subtract the carbohydrate counts of ingredients that do not affect blood sugar levels. This includes dietary fiber, sugar alcohols, hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, and Glycerine (Glycerol).
There is enough controversy over ECC calculations to warrant doing a deeper personal investigation for those who are diabetic or have serious carb sensitivity though. For the sake of this article, I will assume that the reader's health is average and that he/she already has some experience with the sugar alcohols.
To calculate the ECC you start with the Total Carbohydrates and subtract the Dietary Fiber first. This often makes a big difference right off the bat. Dietary fiber is an indigestible complex carbohydrate found in plants. Fiber has no calories because the body cannot absorb it. The most common source of fiber is fruits, vegetables, and bran. Xanthan Gum has a net carb count of minus 1 because the fiber count is 1 gram higher than the carb count. I've always wondered if this meant that using Xanthan Gum as a thickener would make me lose faster. Just kidding.
Next, if the product contains Sugar Alcohols, which are sugarfree sweeteners called Polyols, you can deduct these grams in total. Polyols are carbohydrates but they are not sugars. Unlike artificial sweeteners like Aspartame and Sucralose, which are used in minute amounts, Polyols are used in the same quantity as sugar. Chemically, Polyols are considered sugar alcohols because part of their structure resembles sugar and part is similar to alcohols. However, they are neither sugars nor alcohols. Maltitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Lactitol, Xylitol and Erythritol are examples of Polyols. Simply stated, the body does not recognize these as carbohydrates and so they do not affect blood glucose, or so it is claimed. This is a blanket statement and, of course, doesn't cover all metabolisms and/or individual digestive systems.
There are other ingredients, like Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate and Glycerine that are listed as carbohydrates but these also make a negligible impact on blood glucose so they can be deducted as well. There is a caveat here that should be inserted which suggests that the impact of Glycerine on blood sugar is directly affected by whether or not there is glycogen in the liver. Ketosis indicates the glycogen levels are low, which means glycerol is converted to glucose. But then again, this is not a rule of thumb for all metabolisms either. Some low-carbers lose weight even without being in ketosis. I, for example, am one of those who never see the ketosis stick turn purple, and yet I still lose weight.
There continues to be some debate about the sugar alcohols and how they should be counted. The jury is still out apparently. Some people claim even small amounts stall weight loss. So how do you count them in your carb budget for the day? Some, like I, say zero carbs, so just go by the label and only count the carbs from any sugar or starch in the food. Others recommend counting the full amount as carbohydrate grams, especially for patients using carb-counting for insulin dosage and insulin pumps. Still others take the middle road and suggest counting each gram of Maltitol as 0.5 carb grams.
Serious dieting and weight maintenance is nothing if not a personal quest and everyone has to find the path and products that work for each individual. It is my contention that sugar alcohols and indeed all sugarfree sweeteners are used in limited daily quantities, or should be, anyway and are TREATS not meals so the impact should be minimal. The object is to get off the sugar merry-go-round and still have the freedom to choose a sweet to end a meal or eat for a snack without falling off the wagon.
It is my experience, and I am speaking as a life-long sweetaholic here, that the low-carb diet provides for a satisfying eating life-style, with nothing to long for or miss because there are so many good things out there to choose from. Effective Carb Count, if it works for you, just makes the choices easier.
Conclusions? Well, it seems that some people can eat many things, many people can only eat some things, a few people can eat anything, any people can eat a few things and all people have to figure out for themselves what things they can and can't eat. I can't tell you what will work for you and personally I'm not listening to anyone else but my own good judgment for myself. It's worked pretty well for me going on five years now, regardless of the hype and the circus that LOW-CARB has become.
One of the joys of tossing out the sugar alcohol carbs, for me, is looking at a recipe and seeing that I can convert it without changing the integrity while still keeping very low carb results. Lime Meringue Tart is one of those great recipes that derives most of its carbs from sugar. But by simply substituting the sugar out with a sugarfree sweetener without sacrificing taste is nothing short of a culinary triumph!
By the way, the original recipe I converted to low-carb also happens to be an old family favorite of James MacDonald, master science fiction writer and author of The Apocalypse Door (Tom Doherty Associates Books). He credits his mother, Margaret E. Macdonald, and his grandmother, Anna Karolina Esterl for Lime Pie and he gave me carte blanche to convert it into low-carb for which I thank him sincerely. You can find out more about James and his great Sci-Fi books on his website.
The Lime Meringue Tart is so light and fresh, it is the perfect dessert to pair with my low carb Chicken Chili. Cook this convenient recipe in your slow cooker so it will be waiting for you, after a long day, with the most delicious aroma. You will be so glad you took the time to get it started.
Another great recipe to make in your slow cooker is Cheesy Broccoli Chicken Soup. Here again, once you have taken a few minutes in the morning to get it going, the rewards, later in the day, when you don't want to think about cooking, will bring tears of gratitude to your eyes. Trust me on this.
While we are making low-carb meringue recipes we shouldn't forget the wonderful Chocolate Coconut Meringue Pie from my cookbook, 101 Low-Carb & Sugarfree Dessert Recipes.
Adhering to the ECC, Net Impact Carb theory, or not, is actually far less important than your own personal results. For example, I ate a low-carb bar every single day for five plus months and still lost 35 pounds. There are many unwavering low-carb purists who will tell you that the carb bars are evil and stall weight loss. I say, whatever floats your boat…. All I can counter to this kind of opinion is with my own experience and my own success. My advice to anyone else? Find out for yourself what works for you and what doesn't.