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Get the lowdownon low-carb products

New low-carb or "light" ice creams and juices are attracting more dieters, but they may not be the best choice.
New low-carb products, such as Carb Karma ice cream from Ben & Jerry's, have been streaming into grocery stores, but they may not offer as much benefit as consumers hope.Ben And Jerry's / BW

New low-carb products are drawing more dieters back into the dessert and beverage aisles of grocery stores, but can they actually help people lose weight?

Since dropping pounds ultimately comes down to burning more calories than you consume, these products may not provide much benefit. In this week's Nutrition Notes column, Karen Collins discusses the pros and cons of two of the latest low-carb products now available on the market.

Question: Does low-carb ice cream help people lose weight?

Answer: Keep in mind that there is no legal definition of low-carb. Ice cream labeled "for use with low carb diets" uses sugar substitutes for sweetness and gums and cellulose gel for thickness. The brand most widely available right now produces an ice cream containing 130 to 140 calories in a half-cup serving, which is the same as regular ice cream. The total and saturated fat content of the products is about equal, too.

Since the bottom line for weight control is how many calories you eat compared to how many you burn up, low carb versions of ice cream offer no advantage. You should certainly avoid thinking that this "diet" ice cream allows you to eat larger portions.

If you want to lose weight and still include ice cream in your diet, "light" ice cream is a better choice. This ice cream cuts the fat (and cholesterol-raising saturated fat) in half and reduces calories by 10 to 20 percent.

Another option, "no sugar added light" ice cream cuts fat about in half and uses sugar substitutes, so calories are reduced 30 percent below regular ice cream. Ice cream that's 98 percent fat-free lowers calories even further, but even this fat reduction only saves 50 calories in a half-cup serving. You're almost sure to cut more calories than that by simply eating only half of your usual portion. Or instead of a nightly necessity make it a weekly treat.

Q: What should I know about the new "light" juices?

A: Because of the widespread interest in low-carbohydrate diets, juice consumption has dropped. In response, food companies are offering lower carbohydrate versions.

If you look closely, however, you'll notice that these drinks are labeled "juice beverages" or "juice drinks" — not "juices." An equal serving of these lower-carbohydrate products contains less sugar and fewer calories than regular juice. But that's because these products are diluted with water, flavorings and possibly a no-calorie sweetener, and contain only 10 to 60 percent juice. Nutrients are added as well to make them comparable to 100 percent juices in the amount of vitamin C, B-6 and folate that they provide.

Some products even add more nutrients not usually found in juice, like calcium and vitamin E. While these new products are a reasonable way to get vitamins and cut calories by about one-third, you could also drink a smaller portion of 100 percent juices. For example, try a USDA standard serving size of six ounces, instead of eight or more ounces. This way, you would have an excellent source of vitamins and obtain the full array of cancer-fighting, health-promoting phytochemicals found in undiluted fruit juice.