The Atkins TestOctober 8, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
Convenience is a valuable commodity in today’s world. Many of us take business trips, commute or otherwise find ourselves away from home for at least some of our meals and snacks. This is one of the reasons why so-called “convenience stores” and fast food restaurants are more popular than ever. But we all understand that the quality of food found at those establishments is rarely health promoting. Still, we’re often in the position of having to make the best possible food choice in a less than ideal locale. This predicament sometimes leads us to the protein bar section of a liquor store or mini-market. But once there, you will find that not all nutritional bars and snacks are created equally.
When I look for a meal on the go, I try to choose something that will provide the following: 1) a good source of essential macronutrients such as fat, fiber and protein; 2) naturally occurring or supplemental antioxidants, minerals, phytochemicals, and vitamins; and 3) a food that will prevent my blood sugar levels from making a dramatic rise and rapid fall. All three of these characteristics are the bare minimum by which I judge any snack.
My recent weight loss journey and my subsequent ability to maintain a healthy BMI (body mass index) is largely thanks to my current food selection. Several progressive physicians and numerous scientific papers have taught me that maintaining stable blood sugar levels via diet and exercise is paramount to ensuring a healthier body and weight. The best way to select foods that will ensure an appropriate blood sugar and insulin reaction is to consume natural foods that are rich in healthy sources of fats, fiber and protein. However, it’s not always easy to find that combination of nutritional factors while on the road. (1,2,3)
It’s very important to me to present information that can be applied in a real world setting. None of us live in a controlled laboratory experiment and, as such, we need to be realistic about how to apply healthy principles into daily life.
To illustrate this point, I concocted a simple experiment that examines the health effects of common food items found in local health food stores and supermarkets. I selected three different snacks that can be easily be picked up while traveling or packed in a lunch sack prior to leaving the house – a protein bar by Atkins Nutritionals, a bag pumpkin seeds by Eden Foods and an all-natural chocolate-pomegranate nutritional bar by Think Products. The first two snacks are lower carbohydrate options. My third choice, the “super fruit nutrition bar”, contains a much higher level of carbohydrates.
- Snack #1 – Atkins Advantage Sweet and Salty Almond Crunch Bar – nut and seed blend (almonds, roasted peanuts, roasted sunflower seeds, soybean oil), maltitol syrup, polydextrose, rise crisp (rice flour, rice bran, raisin juice concentrate, honey, salt), water, salt, pectin, sucralose. Protein: 7 grams Fiber: 5 grams Fat: 14 grams Calories Per Serving: 180
- Snack #2 – Eden Foods Spicy Pumpkin Seeds – organic dry roasted pumpkin seeds, organic tamari soy sauce (water, organic soybeans, sea salt), organic garlic, organic cayenne pepper. Protein: 10 grams Fiber: 5 grams Fat: 16 grams Calories Per Serving: 200
- Snack #3 – Think Products Think Fruit Bar – dates, cashews, cranberries (cranberries, pineapple juice, sunflower oil), unsweetened chocolate, chicory root fiber, cocoa powder, pectin, flax seeds, natural flavor, pomegranate. Protein: 3 grams Fiber: 5 grams Fat: 7 grams Calories Per Serving: 200
I selected the first two items because there is some controversy about the effects that certain low carb products can have on blood sugar. For instance, the Atkins bar contains a few controversial sweeteners (maltitol syrup and polydextrose) that some experts claim can be harmful. These particular “sugar alcohols” are frequently present in candies and other sweets intended for diabetics. Sugar alcohols (polyols) are a type of carbohydrate that isn’t completely absorbed by the body. But part of the problem with polyols is that they don’t all have the same impact on blood sugar and insulin response. An example of this can be found in a 2003 study published in the journal Nutrition Research Reviews. It determined that some sugar alcohols, such as erythritol and mannitol, have a glycemic index (GI) of “0”. This means they have no detectable effect on blood sugar at all. However, other polyols (maltitol and polyglycitol) score considerably higher on the glycemic index. In addition to the blood sugar issue, there are other concerns about these sweeteners that mostly have to do with gastrointestinal side effects. (4,5,6,7,8,9,10)
I used the Think Fruit bar as a comparison model. Some holistically minded consumers believe that eating “all natural”, low fat bars is preferable to eating a higher fat option. In addition, although this product is relatively high in carbohydrates, it doesn’t include added sugars and sticks pretty closely to the principle of focusing on whole foods. It appears to be one of the least processed items of its kind.
Because of the controversies involved, I decided to test my own blood sugar response to each of these three products. In order to do so, I took a blood sugar reading just prior to eating each snack. I then retested a half an hour later. Finally, I checked my blood sugar one last time – two hours post snack. Here are the results:
- 1. Atkins Advantage Sweet and Salty Almond Crunch Bar (1 gram of sugar / 6 grams of sugar alcohols) Pre-Snack Blood Sugar: 83 mg/dl 30 Minutes Post: 87 mg/dl 120 Minutes Post: 86 mg/dl
- 2. Eden Foods Spicy Pumpkin Seeds (0 grams of sugar) Pre-Snack Blood Sugar: 80 mg/dl 30 Minutes Post: 78 g/dl 120 Minutes Post: 78 mg/dl
- 3. Think Products Think Fruit Bar (20 grams of sugar) Pre-Snack Blood Sugar: 75 mg/dl 30 Minutes Post: 95 mg/dl 120 Minutes Post: 91 mg/dl
This was obviously a very basic and uncontrolled experiment. However, it’s pretty plain to see that the snacks with the lower sugar content had less impact on my blood sugar. Although my response to the Atkins bar was more pronounced than that of the pumpkin seeds, it was still minimal and not a real cause for concern. My reaction to the “super fruit”, higher carbohydrate bar was expected. But it’s worth noting, as many “weight loss authorities” still advocate eating foods with this type of nutrient composition rather than “dangerous” higher fat items. It’s my feeling that this brand of “fat phobia” is likely contributing to our current obesity epidemic.
There are other factors beyond blood sugar control that should influence you when choosing a meal on the go or a mid-day snack. Of the three items that I tested, I prefer the pumpkin seeds for a variety of reasons – they’re all-natural, organic and rich in valuable nutrients such as magnesium, phytochemicals, potassium, zinc, etc. Knowing this, I keep plenty of these healthful treats on hand and frequently bring them along when I travel. This sort of planning is vitally important when trying to maintain a healthy diet or weight loss program. Paying close attention to how food affects you is equally helpful. This doesn’t mean that you have to test your blood sugar several times a day. But you should take note of how any particular food makes you feel. How long does it take for you to get hungry after eating a handful of almonds? Does drinking a “sugar-free” protein shake trigger cravings for other sweet foods? Do “healthy whole grains” leave you feeling lethargic? It doesn’t matter what effect a food is supposed to have. The real question is: How does your body react to it? Figuring that out will take you a long way towards finding the best diet for you.
Tags: Low Carb, Snacks, Weight
Posted in Diabetes, Diet and Weight Loss, Nutrition
October 9th, 2009 at 3:26 am
great investigative job! 🙂
what are the ingredients of that pumpkin seed bar? only nuts and seeds? can i find a bar like this one at my german “wholefoods” (here its “alnatura”)?
Thanks for doing that…
October 9th, 2009 at 1:02 pm
Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t actually test a pumpkin seed bar. The second snack item was a spicy pumpkin seed mix. I choose it because it’s sold in small resealable bags which are well suited for travel. The same manufacturer (Eden Foods) also sells a simpler version which only contains organic, dry roasted pumpkin seeds and sea salt. If these products aren’t available in Germany, you can probably find larger containers of the pumpkin seeds and simply place them in “zip lock” bags of your own. This is probably a more economical option as well. 🙂
By the way, I hope to write a column soon that describes how to make a homemade (all natural + low carb) protein bar. Experimenting with that should be fun. 🙂
I hope you have a great weekend!
October 9th, 2009 at 9:12 pm
You are an inspiration and a wealth of info!
October 9th, 2009 at 9:30 pm
Thanks, Anne! That’s very kind of you to say! 🙂
October 10th, 2009 at 5:57 am
thanks for the info and im excited about the homemade protein bar, nice idea and we would have the control about the ingredients.
i hope you have a wonderfull weekend too, our weekend is very lazy 🙂 the weather is soooo bad (cloudy, rainy and brrrr cold :-() but the good thing is: i have time to read your blog 🙂
October 10th, 2009 at 7:43 pm
Thanks, Nina! 🙂
October 16th, 2009 at 6:35 pm
You are the best! Nice experiment and you are my continued source of inspiration. I still think you should do youtubevideo at times. I love to read your articles but a lot of people would be reached if you had done it through youtube. Consider it please. I want you to reach a much larger audience. You have everything that a health expert needs, that is knowledge, experience, and kind intentions.
October 17th, 2009 at 3:31 am
Thank you, Vadim! You’re too kind!
I have another similar experiment in the works. This next time, it will involve different protein shakes. 🙂
I will indeed consider your suggestion. It’s a good idea. I just need to figure out how to get it done! I’m not very tech savvy.
Thanks again for your kind words and all your support. It’s much appreciated!
July 1st, 2012 at 10:52 am
Thank you for doing this! This was so helpful! LOL! I always find these things years after everyone else, but I’m just starting the glycemic load program and am a little fuzzy on what I can and can’t eat. I read a lot but when I go into the kitchen, I’m deer in the headlights. Yours was the most informative post! Thank you!
July 1st, 2012 at 12:13 pm
I’m so happy that you found it helpful, Sharon. I wish you the best of luck on your new program!