Hidden Carbs in Foods

It has been shown by Dr. Robert Atkins and others that obesity, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and other problems are precipitated by a high level of carbohydrates in the diet. Contrary to "official" recommendations by the ADA and AMA, research has shown that restricting the amount of carbohydrates in your diet will result in weight loss, lowered blood glucose levels, lowered LDL cholesterol, and lowered triglycerides.

In order to follow a strict low-carbohydrate diet, it is important to understand how many carbohydrates are really in the food you eat. Food labels are very helpful, but they are often misleading, especially in the U.S. where food manufacturers are allowed to round the numbers. For example, one serving of heavy cream is listed as having 0 carbohydrates, when in fact, there are .6 grams per ounce.


Be aware of fillers in foods such as artificial sweeteners, fiber supplement mixes, sugar-free fruit drinks, sugar-free gelatin mixes, and other products that come as dry powders for mixing. The filler used is commonly maltodextrin, dextrose, or corn syrup solids, all made from manipulating the starch contained in corn. These additives are all carbohydrates and must be counted. In fact, all three of these fillers have the same glycemic index as does glucose. Dextrose is chemically equivalent to glucose.

Sugar Alcohols and Glycerin

Another possible trap to watch out for are sugar alcohols, or polyols. There is disagreement among authorities as to whether or not they may be safely used on a low-carb diet. Dr. Atkins says that they should be avoided. Yet xylitol, a sugar alcohol, is included as an ingredient in Dr. Atkins Advantage Bars. Other "low-carb" bars also include sugar alcohols. Though technically sugar alcohols are not carbs, they are typically listed as carbs on food labels, except for the low-carb products, which typically do not list them.

Glycerin (glycerine, glycerol) is also not technically a carbohydrate, though it does contain about the same number of calories per gram. Glycerin is a type of alcohol that is one of the by-products of fat metabolism. If the manufacturer of a food product chooses not to list glycerin and sugar alcohols as carbohydrates on nutrition labels, then the calorie count will add up differently than you would expect using the generally accepted formula of counting 9 calories per gram of fat, 4 for carbs, and 4 for protein. Some people who are resistant to weight loss report that glycerin and sugar alcohols can produce stalls.

Alcoholic Beverages

Alcohol cannot be used directly for fuel by the body. Instead, it goes to the liver for processing. There, it is chemically converted to an aldehyde and then to ketone bodies which are used as fuel. Alcohol contains about 6.9 calories per gram. Beer and wine also contain carbohydrates in addition to the alcohol. Due to its caloric density, and because it is used first for fuel, alcohol may result in weight loss stalls.

Some Foods with "Hidden" Carbs

  • Cream -- 0.6 grams per ounce
  • Cheddar Cheese -- 0.5 grams per ounce
  • Swiss Cheese -- 0.9 grams per ounce
  • Eggs -- 0.6 grams each (large egg)
  • Sugar-Free Jello (mix) -- 1 gram per 1/2 cup serving (maltodextrin)
  • Sugar-Free Tang -- 1 gram per cup (maltodextrin)
  • Coffee -- 0.7 grams per cup
  • Metamucil -- 2 grams per serving; not counting fiber (maltodextrin)
  • Artificial Sweeteners -- 1 gram per packet (dextrose or maltodextrin)

One additional point -- although not technically "hidden" because the carb count is contained on the label, many people mistakenly believe that just because it's meat, it must be carb-free. That is not always the case. Highly-processed meats, like hot dogs and lunch meats, contain carbohydrates.

For example...

  • Deli Ham -- 1 to 3 grams per 2-oz serving
  • Deli Turkey -- 1 to 3 grams per 2-oz serving
  • Deli Beef -- 1 gram per 2-oz serving
  • Hot dogs -- 1 to 4 grams per dog
  • Spam -- 1/2 gram per serving
  • Smoked Sausage -- 4 grams per serving

So, before you order your shaved turkey or ham, ask to read the label on the meat package.

Imitation crab meat is also rather high in carbs. That's important to remember because the seafood salads in many restaurants are made with "fake" crab meat. In addition, liver contains carbohydrates, because that is where the animal starch (glycogen) is stored. A point to remember is not to assume anything. ALWAYS read the label.

DISCLAIMER: The material on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Do not use the information as a substitute for medical care or treatment by a licensed health care professional. This web site is not intended to provide or confirm a diagnosis nor is any claim made as to therapeutic efficacy. No claims here have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.


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