Monday, March 4, 2013

N=2: Atkins PB Cups

My husband Chad and I are very big nerds.  We love science, and we love numbers, figures, and graphs, especially when it comes to low carb stuff.  So when we first got our glucose meter, I knew we would be doing some very interesting experiments with it. 

I found myself walking through Walmart's supplement isle a couple weeks ago, when I noticed a whole line of Atkins items.  Bars, meal replacement shakes, and snacks.  The thought of being able to eat sweets on a low carb diet is incredibly enticing to me, but I've seen the Diet Doctor talk about how processed Atkins foods are a fairy tale, so I was hesitant.

But being the science nerd that I am, I had to find out for sure what these foods do to blood glucose levels.  So I bought the one item I knew I could find in a conventional form to test against.

The front of the box says there are only 2g net carbs, but the back says different.  This is what you'll see on the back:

According to their logic, you should subtract all of the sugar alcohols from the total carb (18 - 5 - 11 = 2).  And although I know you can use this simple math if the sugar alcohol in question is erythritol, that's not the case with the Atkins PB cups.  Here's what's inside this item:

Ingredients: Maltitol, cocoa butter, peanut butter (peanuts, mono & diglycerides, salt, mixed tocopherols), polydextrose, chocolate liquor, clarified butter, peanuts, less than 2% of peanut oil, sodium caseinate, milk powder, natural flavor, vanillin, tocopherols, palm kernel and palm oil, soy lecithin, salt, sucralose
 The first ingredient in this list is maltitol, which, yes, is a sugar alcohol, but that doesn't automatically mean that it's carb free.  It's hard to find hard data on the internet, but from what I was able to scrounge up, maltitol syrup has a glycemic index of 52 (whereas table sugar has a GI of 60).  Powdered maltitol is a little lower with a GI of 36, but that's nonetheless a blood sugar response.  Some sources say that you can count the carbs for maltitol by cutting them in half.  So if the label says there are 11g of sugar alcohols, then your body will absorb 5.5g.

 But like I said before, I would much rather find in first hand what this would do to my blood sugar than blindly believe whatever I read on the internet.  So Chad and I went out and bought the Atkins cups, some Reese's cups, and some extra glucose test strips.  For comparison, here's the nutrition and ingredients for the Reese's:

Ingredients: Milk Chocolate (Milk Chocolate contains Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Nonfat Milk, Milk Fat, Lactose, and Soy Lecithin and PGPR (as Emulsifiers), Peanuts, Sugar, Dextrose, Salt, and TBHQ (to Preserve Freshness)
The first test we did was on the Atkins cups.  We took base readings, then took readings every 30 minutes after finishing the candies.

I have to admit, we were both pleasantly surprised at how nice the Atkins pb cups are.  They're smooth and chocolatey, and the peanut butter tastes like real peanuts.  The chocolate does have a bit of a cooling effect from the maltitol, but I did rather like them.  They're actually better than the Reese's, which really surprised me, considering I used to practically worship Reese's when I was a kid.

These charts have no key, so I'll just say that the red bar is Chad, and the green bar is me.

So here is the chart for the Atkins:

We then tested the Reese's the next day, at the same time, to make sure we got a similar reading.

(Before I get too far, I want to say that my last reading was actually at 130 minutes, but I couldn't figure out how to properly chart that, so I just stuck it on the 120 line.)

We had full intentions of only testing as many times as we did for the Atkins.  However, after getting such a high (and sustained) reading, Chad decided to keep testing.  And toward the end there, I started to feel really hungry, so I thought I should test another time as well, to see what was going on.  Now I'm a little bit disappointed we didn't test longer for the Atkins cups.  However, we made sure to keep track of our hunger after eating both kinds of pb cups, and neither of us felt any increase in hunger with the Atkins the way we did with the Reese's (I was positively ravenous by the time I got dinner on the table that night).  

I want to also mention how interesting it is to see the difference between our blood sugar levels.  Chad is a tall, skinny but muscular guy, whereas I'm a medium height, chuncky girl with a history of PCOS (I actually weigh a little more than Chad, despite his being nearly a foot taller than me).  But despite the fact that you would think that I should be less insulin sensitive, Chad has always gotten higher and longer sustained blood sugar levels when we test.  But, I do tend to eat lower carb than he does, so maybe that's made me super sensitive.

After eating the Atkins cups, Chad and I felt pretty normal.  He said there was a little bit of the aftertaste he gets when he eats real sugar, but it wasn't very strong, and I didn't notice anything at all.  However, after eating the Reese's cups, we both felt pretty crappy.  He had a strong aftertaste after eating them, and then after the 120 minute mark, I started feeling incredibly hungry.  At the 150 minute mark, Chad said he was feeling really tired.  We ate dinner shortly after that, but for the rest of the night, both of us were so tired we mostly just sat on the couch, and then we ended up going to bed at 9PM(!).  Now, I can't say for certain that the Reese's caused our extreme tiredness.  Chad may have been going through caffeine withdrawal, and since we have been actively trying to have a baby, I could possibly be pregnant (tiredness is an early symptom).  I find it strange that we didn't start feeling tired until after we ate the Reese's cups, though.

My conclusion is that, although the Atkins peanut butter cups could raise your blood sugar a little, they're not nearly as bad as the Reese's cups.  The ingredients list on the Atkins, while not perfect, is actually pretty decent for a candy.  I wouldn't recommend eating these every day, but if you're just transitioning to the low carb lifestyle, or if you have a hankering for something indulgent, these could be a useful tool on your journey. 

(And no, I'm not at all connected to the Atkins or the Reese's companies, I didn't get any compensation, and I paid for both products with my own money.)

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