Have you hit a weight-loss plateau in your low-carb diet? As a diabetic, are your blood-sugar readings higher than you want them to be? An estimated 45 million Americans are on a diet, but their efforts are often undermined by the very foods they think will help them.
Carbohydrates lurk in many seemingly innocent foods. Although these foods don’t pose a danger on their own, consuming several of them regularly can add an alarming amount of sugar to your diet.
The two keys to avoiding hidden carbohydrates are to read all food labels carefully, and to prepare your meals from scratch whenever possible. Carbohydrates can be listed as less obvious additives, such as dextrose, lactose, and maltodextrin, so always refer to the sugar content in the nutritional chart.
Check below to see if any of these common foods are a regular part of your menu.
Diet salad dressings: Many diet and low-fat salad dressings contain added sweeteners for flavor, or carb-heavy fillers for texture. An easy option for a healthy salad dressing is to make your own with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and the spices of your choice, like powdered garlic along with salt and pepper. It’s healthier, has no mystery chemicals, and you’ll also save money.
Protein bars: Studies have shown that some protein bars are not much better for your diet than a candy bar. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concern over one protein bar company’s use of the word “healthy” and is now reviewing its regulations on such food claims. Many protein bars contain honey, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar. It’s best to avoid most protein bars if you’re limiting your carbs. If you want to keep protein bars in your diet, carefully read labels, and opt for bars with the fewest ingredients and additives.
Diet cookies and snacks: Just because a food is “sugar free” doesn’t make it “carb free.” Some reduced-fat or fat-free products have a high sugar content due to fillers added for texture. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, some reduced-fat and fat-free cookies contain more calories than their non-diet equivalents. Be sure to check package labels for carb content, and as with all treats, eat them in moderation. Or, enjoy a piece of fruit instead.
“Special diet” restaurant foods: Dining “light” can be frustrating, because you can’t see your food being prepared. Many restaurants grill their meats with spice mixes that include added sugar, and prepare vegetables in a glaze of butter and sugar. Restaurants also add heavy amounts of sugar to tomato sauces or to cooked greens to mask bitterness. The next time you are dining out, ask for meat to be grilled unseasoned, and for vegetables to be steamed. You can always add salt and pepper to taste.
Condiments: Some condiments add more than flavor to your food. Splashing only one tablespoon of Teriyaki sauce into your healthy stir-fry adds over two grams of sugar. Most people know to check barbeque sauce labels for sugar content, but they might not realize the low-fat mayonnaise in their fridge contains added sugar. In an article for Fox News, Dr. Tanya Zuckerbrot reveals that one fourth of a bottle of ketchup is sugar. She recommends substituting spicy salsa or hot tomato sauce for ketchup, and avoiding mayonnaise altogether by blending Greek yogurt with lemon juice and spices. Other low-carb condiments are Tabasco sauce, yellow mustard, and horseradish sauce.
Meatloaf: Skipping the mashed potatoes doesn’t mean your meatloaf dinner is low-carb. Most meatloaf contains generous amounts of ketchup, breadcrumbs, and pre-packaged soup mixes that contain added sugar. Your best option for meatloaf is to prepare it yourself. Substitute tomato sauce and the spices of your choice for ketchup, and use fresh chopped onions and garlic.
Imitation crab: Sticks of imitation crab meat appear to be an easy, high-protein snack option. What you might not know is even though ground pollock is the primary ingredient, imitation crab also contains added starches and sugar for texture and flavor. It is more expensive, but your best bet is to stick to real crab meat if you want to indulge in this seafood treat.
Bouillon cubes and powders: Beef or chicken broth is the base for many healthy homemade soups. Also, experts recommend drinking meat broth at the beginning of a low-carb diet. But many cubes and powders contain carbohydrates, high levels of sodium, and other additives, such as MSG. The easiest way to avoid these unwanted additives is to prepare your own broth. Your local butcher can provide soup bones for preparing beef broth.
Fillers in processed meats: Avoiding “honey baked” or “maple cured” cold cuts isn’t the most reliable way to avoid carbs. Many processed meats contain fillers and binding agents, such as wheat flour and corn starch. Breakfast sausage, even the healthier turkey option, also contains many added fillers that pack in the carbs. Carefully check all labels. If your lifestyle permits it, the best way to avoid these additives is to prepare your own meats and sausage.
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