How To Read Food Labels & Low Carb Food Brands I Use
Click here for my list of foods for the low carb pantry. It is evolving all the time as I stumble upon better food brands and products. If you know of a better brand, let me know and I will try to take a look. Look for the best quality with the least ingredients, colours, preservatives or any other nasties. Look for products which have had as little human intervention as possible.
You will become an expert on how to read food labels when choosing brands. You will also become incredibly confused. Firstly you need to understand the difference between total and net carbs.
TOTAL CARBS = sugars + starches +fibre
NET CARBS = total carbs – fibre
Carbohydrates will be on the nutrition label and may be broken down into carbohydrate, sugars, starch and fibre. However, each brand displays their nutritional contents differently. And depending on which country you are in they will either show NET or TOTAL carbs, and sometimes it isn’t clear which they are referring to.
Typically the US nutrition labels show TOTAL CARBS
Typically UK nutrition labels show NET CARBS
NZ/AUST show net carbs (and stating fibre is optional)
If you’re not sure whether the label is stating total or net carbs, and you minus the fibre from an already net value, you will get a “too good to be true” value or even negative value. Another hint is to see the country of manufacture, US and it’s probably total carbs, UK/NZ/AUST and it’s probably net.
Try to choose the food which has the least amount of sugar. Sugar is full of empty calories (i.e. zero nutrition) but more importantly, sugar and high carb junk foods ‘crowd out’ the nutritious foods. There are many different names of sugar so get used to the following written on labels – agave syrup, anhydrous dextrose, beet sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, confectioners powdered sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, HFCS, honey, invert sugar, dextrose, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, nectars (peach, nectarine etc), raw sugar, sucrose, white granulated sugar, sugar alcohols ……
When you begin low carb way of eating you may want to use a tracking app to see where your carbs are coming from. Once you have been eating the low carb way for a while, you instinctively know what is low carb, what is high carb and what to avoid. You also will be eating more real food which doesn’t come with labels such as meat, fruit and vegetables. All this label reading cuts down dramatically. I calculate all my recipe nutrition panels using cronometer.com and so I show total carbs. The nutrition panels I produce are a guide only and for complete accuracy calculate for yourself using the brand of food you have actually used, as they vary so incredibly.
These are the oils I use. Extra virgin olive oil for low heat cooking and salad dressing, I reserve macadamia oil and avocado oil for salad dressings. Coconut oil I use for baking, fat bombs and frying some foods. Being a kiwi girl, I have to recommend Anchor butter. It is the most beautiful grass fed butter made here in NZ. Also when I drive through our beautiful countryside, I love seeing all our NZ cows grazing on green open fields. Personally I like the salted kind and I use it in scrambled eggs, sautéing onions or bacon in some recipes on a low heat so it doesn’t burn.
Coconut oil is great for frying and for adding to recipes. High in lauric acid which is antibacterial, antifungal, it contains medium chain triglycerides which increase blood concentration of ketone bodies which can help reduce seizures in epileptic children, dementia patients and other brain disorders, raise good (HDL) and reduce bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Low Carb Baking – Sweeteners
This has to be hands down the number one question I ever get asked. It is an incredibly personal choice as to whether you use sweeteners or not. Just by cutting back on my baking I have removed most of the sugar I used to consume, but when some form of sweetener is needed, then I personally choose to use stevia or erythritol (Natvia or Swerve brand). These brand are all granulated and measure spoon for spoon in place of sugar.
Sugar, stevia and erythritol are all natural and all processed, but I choose stevia or erythritol as they do not raise blood sugars. Don’t be fooled by the so-called healthy alternatives to refined sugar such as honey, agave, medjool dates, are too high in sugar regardless that they are unprocessed. Your body will still raise its insulin to respond to the natural sugars. However, you may decide that using unprocessed honey or dates is a better alternative for you, especially if you can tolerate more carbohydrates. Just don’t think that by choosing honey, is any better for you from a carbohydrate point of view. It is really down to you, as long as you are aware natural sugars count too.
And don’t be fooled by so many recipes claiming they are refined sugar free, look closer and they are generally packed with coconut sugar (sugar), dates (sugar), honey (sugar), agave (fructose which is worse than sugar), maple syrup (sugar) or rice malt syrup (yup, glucose).
Ground Almond Meal/Flours
Here are a few almond meal brands. Ground almonds, almond meal and almond flours are all interchangeable. Some brands may be finer than others, some may contain the skins and others may be pale and the skins removed. Like cooking with wheat flour, sometimes the humidity in the air and the size of your eggs used will affect the overall texture of the cake so you may have to adjust other liquids that the recipe calls for or adding more almond meal/flour/grounds.
Always use unsweetened cocoa powders. You must use baking cocoa not drinking cocoa. The cacao flavour will not be strong enough in the drinking chocolate and may have added sugar.
Dark chocolate is a great source of fibre, magnesium, iron, copper, selenium, zinc …I use Lindt 85% or 90% chocolate for snacking and for special chocolate desserts, because it is such a relatively small 100g packet and therefore quite expensive for a cake. For my chocolate heaven cake I use Cadbury’s Old Gold 70%. You can uses Ceres Organic Cocoa Nibs in baking instead of chocolate chips. If you need and other reason to eat more chocolate, read the 7 Amazing Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate.
Psyllium Husk & Linseed
Psyllium husk is 100% fibre and generally used as a colon cleanser. It is also used in baking to add volume and thickener. It is used in linseed wraps , lemon coconut cake and wheat free crackers to help the mixture bind together and give a great crumb texture. Ground linseed (flaxseed) is another rich source of fibre and plant omega 3. Examples of it’s use are the base of my muesli and linseed wraps.
Coconut cream brands vary widely. The higher the fat content, the more creamy the consistency and you can use it for smoothies, mousse, ice cream etc. Some brands which say they are a coconut cream, are more like a coconut milk. Check the carb content, some brands start creeping up there especially if they are the ‘lite’ versions. They replace the fat with some sugars to make it palatable.
Make sure your coconut cream contain 25% or more fat and less than 2% carbs.
It is hard to find low carb AND high fat yoghurts. I choose natural unsweetened yogurts which are generally 4g carbs per 100g but none seem to be particularly high in fat so I add some coconut cream to boost the fat which keeps me full until lunch, and sometimes beyond. Again, don’t go for the ‘lite’ versions as they actually have a higher carb count to keep the fat low. And certainly don’t choose the low fat fruit varieties. Some contain 20g sugar per individual serving.
Always buy the regular, standard, full fat cream cheese. All cream cheese brands vary incredibly. Ensure you don’t choose the lite, low fat or spreadable versions as they are more processed and higher in carbs than the regular blocks. One particular brand shows the following – regular cream cheese contains 6.8g/100g carbs and 35.6g/100g fat, however the ‘Lite’ cream cheese contains 15.8g/100g carbs and 16.5g/100g fat. By going ‘lite’ your carb intake is double than if you eat the regular and there is not enough fat to keep you full and satiated.
I use Philadelphia Regular Cream Cheese blocks. Do not use the spreadable Philadelphia in my cheesecakes or fudge recipes as they have a tendency not to set properly. Philadelphia only contains 2.3% carbs so is my choice overtime as it is thick, creamy, dependable and lowest in carbs that I have found yet.
Always choose unsweetened coconut. I use desiccated/shredded fine coconut for cakes and if I want fine texture in muesli/granola. Thread coconut and coconut chips are great if you want a real crunchy texture and bite in your muesli/granola. Many people miss the crunchy texture of cereals so these are a great option. Again, check which brand you choose as they vary widely.
Eat a variety of nuts but do not overdo them. Go for the unsalted natural nuts (definitely not those roasted in vegetable oils) and seeds if you can. Be aware of the carb content of some nuts (cashews are the highest). The following are a guide to total (net) carb content/100g . Almonds 22g (total) 10g net, brazil12g (8g), cashews 30g (27g), flaxseed (linseed) 29g (2g) macadamias 14g (5g), pumpkin seeds 11g (5g), sunflower seeds 20g (11g), pecans 14g (4g), walnuts 14g (7g0. Some of the seeds seem high, but this values are per 100g and it is likely you will only be eating a handful or there will be a small quantity in your grain free granola.
We also have to be aware of balancing our omega 3 and omega 6 ratio. Eating too many seeds will increase our omega 6’s , but again. variety and balance are the key. P.S. Macadamias and brazil nuts are the lowest.