Hidden Carbs in Food
While the FDA recommends that the average adult consumes around 300 grams of carbohydrates per day (2), some low-carb diets could have someone consuming as few as 20 grams per day. For those individuals trying to ingest as few carbs as possible, it is critical to understand which foods actually contain carbohydrates and exactly how many.
Many foods hide significantly more carbohydrates than you might expect, so it is important to not only read nutritional labels, but also to understand how your food is being prepared and do research in order to get the best idea of how many carbs you are eating.
Certain foods – such as potatoes, bread, and sugary snacks – have a reputation for being high in carbs (5), but these are not the only foods that contain carbohydrates. Other foods such as milk substitutes (soy, almond, etc.), yogurt, and store-bought tomato sauce and salad dressing also contain hidden carbs, despite their healthy connotations.
Carbohydrate Content in Common Foods (per the USDA):
- – Soy milk (15g per cup)
- – Non-fat fruit yogurt (47g per cup)
- – Tomato sauce, such as Prego chunky mushroom (26g per cup)
- – French salad dressing (2.5 per tablespoon or 39g per cup)
Anything with lots of added sweeteners is going to be high in carbs, even if that sweetener isn’t necessarily sugar. Stevia is considered a good choice for those following a low-carb diet, because the leaf and extract do not contain any carbs. But beware of stevia blends (which are often blended with maltodextrin and contain 25 grams of carbohydrates per cup) and other low-calorie sweeteners because these contain hidden carbs as well. (6).
Alcoholic drinks often contain more carbs than you might realize, and are an important area to consider if you are trying to consume fewer carbs. Pure spirits, such as vodka or gin, contain no carbs, but beer, wine, and mixed drinks do contain them.
Carbohydrate Content in Common Alcoholic Beverages:
– Vodka soda (0g per drink)
– Gin and tonic (16g per drink)
– Beer (13g per drink)
– Wine (2g per drink)
– Champagne (1g per drink)
– Wine Coolers, such as Smirnoff Ice (31g per drink)
A common misconception among dieters is that a gin and tonic has no carbs, because a vodka soda has no carbs. While a vodka soda is indeed carb-free, unfortunately, a gin and tonic contains 16 carbs per drink. Many people do not realize that tonic water contains carbs.
It is also important to understand what rules food companies are required to follow and what that means for the foods you are eating. For example, American companies are legally allowed to round down nutritional information on their packaging (3) as long as it is does not exceed a pre-determined value (which varies depending on the nutrient).
What that means for foods such as heavy cream (which typically has a serving size of around 1 tablespoon) is that the label will show a value of 0 grams for carbohydrates. Even though it might seem like heavy cream has no carbs, one cup of heavy cream (16 tablespoons) has over 6 grams of carbs because of the way nutritional labels are regulated.
In order to successfully follow a low-carb or keto diet, it is important to understand the nature of the foods you are putting into your body. Many foods are considered to be high in carbs, but there are often very simple alternatives to these carb-heavy foods.
Sparkling water and coconut milk are going to have significantly less carbs than tonic water and cow’s milk, broccoli is a good alternative to potatoes, and homemade salsas, sauces, and dressings are usually going to have lower carb counts than anything you’ll find at the store.
While most people do not need to follow a low-carb diet, for those that do, it only involves a few small steps to limit your consumption of carbohydrates. Read labels, understand what they mean, and do your best to make smart carb decisions.
Carbs may seem like they’re everywhere, but they can’t hide forever.