If you have been following my recent series titled “Keto Problems,” then you probably expected this week’s post to be on fats, given that the last two weeks were about protein and carbs. That series will continue next week. This week, I thought it was imperative to answer a question I received from a client. If you have a question that you would like me to address in a future blog post, I invite you to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, I was asked: “How do I know when a treat is keto-friendly and when it is not? What should I look for?”
This is a great question. She described the types of treats in question, so I went shopping for similar treats so I could share them with you (and I apologize now for the quality of these photos—the lighting was terrible). In fact, when I asked the sales associate about the foods I found, he told me “These are the foods we recommend to our shoppers who are looking for healthy snacks because these fit so many lifestyles.” He went on to say they are great treats for vegetarians and vegans, for low fat dieters, and for low carbers alike. Let’s see if we agree with him in this lesson on selecting healthy treats and spotting an imposter.
The first is Dried Okra. Notice that this is a whole food, which seems to fit the bill. What else do you notice when you look at the nutrition label? (It’s pretty small so I will tell you the answer.)
The nutrition label shows us that there are 7 grams of fat per serving, which is a good thing for low carb dieters but not so great for low fat dieters (not our concern). It also shows that there are a number of net carbs per serving which is our concern. To determine this, start with the total carbs and subtract fiber: 20G total carbs – 3G fiber=17 grams net carbs, which is very high for a low carb snack. This looks like a whole food snack because they are whole dried foods, and yet there must be carbs added to increase the net impact carb levels of this treat. Compared to raw okra, which has 4 net carbs per cup, this has what I call hidden carbs. Sneaky treat, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at the ingredients. They don’t look too bad, do they?
This dried okra contains dextrin. Dextrin is defined as a form of carbohydrate produced from the hydrolysis (chemical breakdown caused by a reaction to water) of starch and is often made from rice, corn, potato or wheat (National Center for Biotechnology Information, 2017). The form of dextrin most frequently used in the US is called maltodextrin. Although dextrin is sometimes undigestible like fiber, “maltodextrin is easily digestible, being absorbed as rapidly as glucose” (NCBI, 2017). Because we are unsure which type of dextrin this is, it is safe to assume that eating this treat may cause a glucose spike and subsequently raise insulin levels. Thus, it is not a good treat for keto dieters.
The second treat is Dried Green Peas. What do you see? Notice that the nutrition label reads similarly to that of the Dried Okra. This snack also contains 17 grams net carbs. Can you eat less than a full serving and reduce the carbs you obtain from this snack? Yes, you technically can, but eating foods such as dextrin that create a glucose spike in the body creates a higher insulin response than eating actual green peas or okra without the added dextrin. You are better off eating the whole fresh food or to select more keto friendly treats than to eat this dried snack.
Dried Green Peas
The third is Sugar Free Salt Water Taffy. What should we look for with keto friendly candy, besides the label that tells us there is no sugar in these candies?
Sugar Free Taffy
Always, always, always look at the nutrition label and the ingredients. You may not be able to see the label clearly from this photo (sorry, I was in a hurry!), but this nutrition label tells us that there are 36 grams net carbs per 7 pieces of this candy. 5 grams carbs per candy is not what I would call sugar free.
Notice that the ingredients label lists “maltitol syrup” and “corn dextrin (fiber)” as the first two ingredients. The fourth ingredient is “corn starch-modified,” a product that is high in starch. Corn dextrin and corn starch will spike glucose and insulin levels, so these foods are on the “avoid” list.
What about maltitol? Maltitol is a sugar alcohol and is an ingredient in many low carb treats. While some claim that maltitol does not spike their glucose levels, it is known to create digestive disturbances such as gas, bloating and diarrhea (see http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/4-common-maltitol-side-effects-more-reasons-to-limit-your-artificial-sweetener-intake/) for details. Another post explains that it is a dissacharide, which is made by connecting two sugar molecules together (see http://www.healthcentral.com/diabetes/c/5068/113060/sorbitol-disguise/). With so many unknowns about this, I would advise you to steer clear of a “sugar free” treat like this.
What should you eat for a keto snack?
- Bacon dipped into guacamole.
- Hard boiled eggs or deviled eggs.
- Coconut Butter (my favorite brand is by Nutiva).
- Pork rinds dipped in butter. It helps reduce the cravings for potato chips, which can be especially prominent in the early weeks.
What should you avoid for a keto snack? Dodge so-called “health foods” that are loaded with added unknown ingredients like they have cooties. Seriously. Whole foods make a great treat when they are fresh or frozen and there are no added ingredients.
9 out of 10 times, an added ingredient is sugar or has hidden sugars components that will raise glucose, raise insulin, kick you out of ketosis and in some cases (like maltitol) also make you feel sick.
Generally speaking, though, the need to snack indicates that you may not be eating enough food during meal times. If you eat three times a day and eat enough fatty protein and fats with each meal, you should be well satisfied for the 4-6 hours between meals. I cannot even eat snack and I only eat twice a day! I hope this quick post helps you to spot the imposter foods posing as heathy treats. When in doubt, selecting fresh, whole foods is always a safer bet than any food that has freeze-dried, packaged or otherwise processed.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Database; CID=62698, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/62698 (accessed Mar. 18, 2017).