What the heck do you mean by usable carb?

If you've read either my book, How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds!, or Protein Power, by Michael and Mary Dan Eades, you'll understand the term, but if you've read one of the many other low carb books out there, it may well be a mystery -- and you may well be limiting your diet more than you need to! The Eades introduced this concept under the name "the Effective Carbohydrate Count" or ECC, and it is a real breakthrough for low carbohydrate dieters. Here's the lowdown:

When you read a nutrition label on a packaged food, or when you look a food up in a food count book, the number that you find listed as "Total carbohydrate" on the package, or as "Carbohydrate" in the food count book, actually can be broken down into three separate parts: sugars, starches, and fiber. On food labels, you'll see sugars and fiber listed right under the Total Carbohydrate listing -- they don't list starches, for some reason. In a food count book, of course, the fiber will be listed in the column headed "fiber". (This is why you want a "food count" book rather than just a carb counter. I often use The Complete Book of Food Counts, by Corinne T. Netzer.)

You see, fiber is, technically speaking, a form of carbohydrate. However, it's a carbohydrate that is too big for you to digest and absorb, which is why you can't live on grass the way a cow does. Therefore, fiber will not raise your blood sugar level, nor will it cause an insulin release. Better than that, fiber will actually buffer the absorption of the sugars and starches eaten with it, moderating their effect on your blood sugar level!

So when you read a food's carbohydrate count, you need to read its fiber count, too -- and subtract the number of fiber grams from the total grams of carbohydrate to get the number of grams of "usable carb" -- the grams of carbohydrate that you will actually absorb, and will effect your insulin release. This can give you a lot more food! For instance, a half-cup of broccoli has 4.9 grams of carbohydrate, but 2.8 grams of that is fiber, so there's actually only 2.1 grams of carb that you have to worry about in there -- less than half of that original count! Pretty cool.

When it comes to fruits, this can make the difference between being able to eat them and not being able to eat them! For instance, a half a cup of blackberries -- which I grow in my backyard -- has 9.2 grams of carbohydrate, which is pretty high if you're in the early phase of your low carb diet. But when you subtract out the fiber, there's only 5.6 grams, which sounds a lot better, doesn't it? You could fit that into almost any low carb diet.

There are even some baked goods that are "fiber enriched" enough that they'll fit into a low carb diet. As I've mentioned in a previous issue, I buy some crackers called "Fiber Rich" that are mostly bran stuck together. They have almost no usable carb in them! They're not wonderful by themselves, but they're pretty good with tuna salad or dips, and it's nice to have something crunchy like this that we can eat.

Of course the other big benefit to this "usable carb" concept is that we no longer have to worry about getting enough fiber on a low carb diet -- by choosing foods with low total carbs and high fiber content you can get all the fiber you need. By the way, if you've been thinking that by knocking grains out of your diet you've lost your best source of fiber, guess again. Vegetables are far and away the best source of fiber, and you can eat plenty of vegetables on a low carb diet. Further, you remember those studies that indicated that fiber was important for preventing colon cancer? More recent studies show that fiber, in and of itself, does not prevent colon cancer -- eating vegetables does!

So eat your low carb, high fiber vegetables, and enjoy your healthy diet!