Low-carb junk food review

While looking for something else, I came across this review of packaged low-carb foods in Salon.com written in May 2004 at the height of the low-carb craze. The reviewers, all chefs and/or food writers tried a number of the products available and had little good to say for them. I tried most of these same products back then and felt pretty much the same way.

But man cannot live on rump steak alone; occasionally, he may also want corn chips. And these days, thanks to the wizards in the prepackaged-food industry and their new faux-carb substitutes (including unlikely products like low-carb ketchup, ice cream bars and milk), he might be able to have a few. Instead of using the delicious but deadly white flour and sugar, these products use alternative staples: spelt, soy, nut flour, etc. (The good news? They are all made with fat, the bane of the ’80s dieter’s existence.)

A few of the companies that made the test products are no longer around, so don’t bother looking for these delicacies, should you want to, because you won’t find them. Which, to my way of thinking, is not a bad thing. I would put most of this stuff in the category of low-carb junk food. But I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as junk food–there is junk and there is food. If that is true, I would then classify most of this stuff as junk.

As I told my patients and as I tell anyone who asks, the best diet is a whole-food, low-carb diet. People who got fat eating bagels, brownies, chips and ice cream aren’t going to get skinny eating the low-carb version of those same things, no matter how much they want to believe they will.

A sampling:

CarbSense Soy Tortilla Chips — Original flavor (lightly salted)

Ingredients: Masa corn flour, soy protein concentrate (non-GMO), safflower oil, black beans, oat bran, rice flour, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, salt. 140 calories, 12 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat.

CarbSense Soy Tortilla Chips — Pico de Gallo flavor

Ingredients: Masa corn flour, soy protein concentrate (non-GMO), safflower oil, black beans, oat bran, rice flour, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, seasonings (salt, torula yeast, chili peppers, onion, garlic, tomato powder, lemon powder, spices, cultured whey, celery, natural smoke flavor). 140 calories, 12 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat.

CarbSense Soy Tortilla Chips — Habanero flavor

Ingredients: Masa corn flour, soy protein concentrate (non-GMO), safflower oil, rice flour, black beans, oat bran, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, seasonings (salt, spices, chili peppers, onion, garlic, autolyzed yeast extract, lactic acid, extractives of paprika, citric acid). 140 calories, 12 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat.

Schoenfein: [Takes an “original”-flavored chip.] They taste brown. Like cardboard.

Bittman: Yes, like sawdust glued together. [Takes a pico de gallo chip.] You know, if you put these flavors on it, it actually masks the sawdust.

Miller: [Takes an “original”-flavored chip.] This is horrible. [Munches thoughtfully.] Unless … you think of it as some sort of health snack. Like some hippie side dish. They just shouldn’t make it in the shape of a chip.

Bittman: As a health cracker, it’s excellent. As a chip it’s a failure.

Schoenfein: There’s a toasted sesame flavor that’s actually kind of nice.

Miller: It’s just the damn soy aftertaste that lingers.

As the taste test wraps, one of the participants sums it up nicely:

When the taste test was over, all four testers were rubbing their bellies with some unhappiness, and a few were opening and closing their mouths, as if trying to remove a sticky substance from their tongues. “We’ve determined that low-carb food tastes worse than low-fat food,” Miller said.

After a pause, she reconsidered: “I think this is actually unfair to low-carb diets, because you don’t need to eat this stuff to be on one. You can eat fresh, lean foods that have nothing in common with these mixes.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I’m often asked if it isn’t better to eat this low-carb junk than to eat low-fat junk or even the real junk. My answer is that if you’re on a low-carb diet and you’re going to succumb to a bagel, then you’re probably better off eating a low-carb bagel once in a while. But if you want to recreate the diet that made you fat in the first place, using all these low-carb faux foods instead of the real ones, and think you’re going to lose weight and get healthy because you’re going low-carb, you will be living in a fool’s paradise.

Eating ‘low carb’ crackers and cookies and pasta and cereal and chips all day will leave you unsatisfied and fat. If you’re going to eat all that crap, just eat the real stuff, enjoy it, and stay fat. Why knosh on cardboard and sawdust all day instead and still stay fat?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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21 thoughts on “Low-carb junk food review

  1. Boy do I agree! I have a friend that went on Atkins and started using low-carb tortillas and low-carb this and low-carb that. He used to be a “low fatter,” and would eat low-fat ice cream bars and such. He’s not grossly overweight because he is pretty active, but probably carries 15lbs more than he should. All these low-carb products were the worst thing to happen to the low-carb diet, relegating it to the status of “fad”. Of course, the reality is that if people ate meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, healthy oils (olive, coconut, palm), and a little starch (depending on activity levels), they would have little problem losing weight. No one has ever gotten fat off of carrots or apples.

    Hi Scott–

    You are right on the money.  All these crap low-carb foods became the low-carb diet in the minds of many, and when it didn’t work, they blew off the idea of low-carb.  Sad, sad, sad.



  2. I avoid most processed foods and haven’t really found many lc foods that were worth it. I do like ChocoPerfection dark tho.

    I was looking at a food a web-site said was “healthy” and “trans-fat free” to see if it really was and found “Vegetable Glycerine” as an ingredient. Web searches say it’s safe for foods, but it’s highly processed. Is this a new thing they’re going to be using? Thoughts about using it? (I won’t be!)

    Hi Cindy–

    Glycerine has been around for ages.  It’s sort of like a carb, but doesn’t absorb as well.  It’s kind of like a sugar alcohol. I think it’s got a nasty taste.




  3. funnily enough this & similar articles have been appearing in our papers here since yesterday & not before time in my opinion soy’s dangers to all the population can not be ignored however in the pursuit of the almighty dollar I doubt authorities will do much about it.


    Clair Weaver

    Cancer patients are being warned to avoid foods rich in soy because
    “they can accelerate tumour growth”.

    The Cancer Council in NSW will for the first time issue guidelines
    today warning about the dangers of high soy diets and soy supplements
    for cancer patients and those in remission.

    At particular risk are people with hormone dependent cancers,
    including those of the breast and prostate, the two most common in

    Cancer survivors are also being urged to avoid high doses of soy “as
    they may be more vulnerable to relapse”.

    The council said it did not support the use of health claims on food
    labels that suggested soy foods or phyto-estrogens protected against
    the development of cancer.

    Research had found high consumption of soy products could also prevent
    the effectiveness of conventional cancer medicines.

    “There is evidence to suggest women with existing breast cancer or
    past breast cancer should be cautious in consuming large quantities of
    soy foods or phyto-estrogen supplements,” the council said.

    Sunday Mail (Adelaide, SA), Jan 14, 2007: page 17.

    Hi Helen–

    Thanks for the article.  I’ve been worried about soy for years; I’m glad to see my fears are now appearing in the mainstream press.



  4. Hi Mike–12 g of carbs per serving? Doesn’t sound that low to me. (And I wonder how small a “serving” is.) The corn flour, vegetable oil, and soy stuff don’t sound healthy either (sorry but soy scares me–have read too much negative info). Give me a tomato and cheese omelet any day (cooked in real butter). If I’m going to have lots of carbs (which is rare) it’ll be the real thing!

    Hi Paul–

    I know.  It tastes like crap, and it still isn’t low-carb.

    I’m with you on the omelet.



  5. Hi Mike~

    The low carb junk food police are alive and well here in Canada.
    Our Canadian Gov’t seems to be keeping anything with “Low Carb” on the label off of the shelves.
    The low carb craze products were pulled off of the shelves almost as soon as they appeared.

    If I wanted “cardboard “or “sawdust” I would likely have to order it from a low carb store online.

    My junk food these days consists of an occasional thin slice of low carb bread.


    Hi Patty–

    Sounds like you’re eating just about the right amount of junk food.



  6. I keep some low-carb junk in my house, but try to eat it sparingly. Low-carb ice cream is way too good and I’m temporarily banishing it from my house. I still have some bags of low-carb Doritos (since discontinued), and they don’t taste bad at all, but again, I don’t eat them often.

    My basic diet is meat and veggies, and I maintain easiest on that, without the cravings that junk food can give me.

    Hi Victoria–

    Of all the low-cab junk foods out there low-carb ice cream is the one I can tolerate.  And not only can I tolerate it, I tolerate it way too much.  Therefore, I keep it out of the house so that I’m not tempted in a weak moment. Because like Oscar Wilde, I can resist anything but temptation.



  7. i’m interested if you consider shirataki noodles ‘junk.’ i eat a serving everyday and love them smothered in butter and garlic. they remind me of ramen! they are made of japanese yam flour and tofu but of the 3 carbs per serving 2 are fiber. they are only 20 calories a serving. i don’t think they were designed to be ‘low carb,’ i think they are just a japanese noodle that happens to be mostly fiber. they also make one that does not contain the tofu, which i haven’t tried yet but is said to have not quite as nice a texture.

    ps. i can’t have LC ice cream around either or chocoperfection -too yummy!

    Hi Susan–

    I”m not familiar with shirataki noodles (neither is MD), but if they are truly as low in effective carb as you say, they sound like a grand low-carb food.  I’ll look for them and give them a try.



  8. Wasn’t it poor sales of low carb food that supposedly ended the “lowcarb craze?” Makes me think that lowcarbers are the smartest of all the dieters, we knew not to buy junk food regardless of the marketing. And if the craze is really over, why are there still so many of us?

    Hi David–

    Yes, it was the cratering of many companies (including Atkins Nutritionals) that brought an end to the low-carb craze.  In my opinion the low-carb craze was driven by people who thought they could have their cake and eat it too my eating all these so-called low-carb junk foods.  Once they realized how crappy they tasted, and once they realized that they weren’t going to lose weight switching from one junk food to another, they quit, the companies that made the stuff went belly up, and the press reported the end of the craze.  Those of us who had been following whole-food low-carb diets just kept on keeping on.



  9. It is sad that so many people associated our healthy low carb nutrition with the failed “Industrial Low Carb”. My sister still thinks I live on chemicals (even as she downs her low-fat industrial ice cream).

    Fortunately, the low carb products that remain on the supermarket shelves are the ones that deserve to be there- like low carb ice cream.

    And Heinz “One Carb” ketchup.

    Hi Karen–

    Yep, it’s sad, but the failed ‘industrial low-carb’ craze is what many think is low carb.  Too bad they didn’t get to experience the real thing.



  10. I tried a few of the products when they came out and yes, most tasted like cardboard. On my budget, I’d rather reserve my money for steak. Besides, our hunter ancestors didn’t get tortilla chips off store shelves, and I’d rather stay as close as I possibly can to natural unprocessed food.

    Smart move 

  11. I have never used low carb products to live my low carb lifestyle. Now, from time to time, I would use low carb tortillas on taco night.I purchased some bagels that have been in my freezer for a month.I use Orowheat low carb bread for toast and sandwiches. Basically my low carb diet is a true lifestyle that I have practiced for 4 years. I have never used these products on a regular basis. I have to say that they do come in handy from time to time. But if these products were to fall from the face of the earth, I would still be a low carber…easily.

    Hi Mary–

    Every now and then I’ll have a low-carb tortilla, but as far as I’m concerned most of those products have fallen off the face of the earth.



  12. Ice cream, I make my own and it is better than the store bought low carb ice cream. My husband gave me an ice cream maker for Christmas. Thank goodness it is small. For the first time in my life, I have had to monitor my ice cream servings.

    I’ve had to monitor mine for a long time. 

  13. I also recently started using shirataki noodles. I used them recently in a salmon “fettucine ” recipe, recently.

    Dr. Eades, they are found in the refrigerated section.Our grocery store just began selling them. I have also purchased them at Whole Foods. I have had the fettucine shaped noodles here at home. I have had the ramen typed noodles in a chicken soup prepared at a low carb cafe.When you open them they should be rinsed well. They are fully cooked so all you need to do is heat them.

    Hi Mary–

    Thanks for the info.  I’ll track some down as soon as I get back home.



  14. Shirataki noodles take some getting used to, but I like them now. I have to order them online. Which reminds me – I’m out and need to place another order.

    Here’s where I get mine.

    Hi Victoria–

    Thanks for the info.


  15. On the other hand, though, I never would have heard of a low carb diet if it weren’t for the hype. It’s not exactly something they teach in school health programs. Fortunately, I never got into the junk side of the diet.

    Hi Carly–

    You’re living proof that every cloud has its silver lining.



  16. I have seen the shirataki noodle bags at Trader Joes, in the refrigerated case next to things like soy cheese, soy burgers, soy hotdogs, Fakin’ Bacon, and marinated tofu, etc. At my store that is in between the bagged salads and the cheese. I haven’t tried them, nor am I likely to, but I have seen other customers put several packages in their carts so they must be popular.

    I also like to make ice cream. Yum! I haven’t had much luck with sugar-free batches (too icey) but with reduced sugar qty it tastes great, stays creamy, and doesn’t seem to have much impact on my blood sugar as long as I have a good low carb dinner first.


    Hi Anna–

    Thanks for the map to the shirataki noodles; I want to give them a try at least once.

    Get some polydextrose and use it to replace sugar in your ice cream recipe.  You’ll have to fool with the amounts and the sweetener (we use erythritol and/or Splenda) to get it to work right.  You have to use a little less sweetener because the polydextrose is a little bit sweet itself.  At any rate, that should get rid of you iceyness problem.

    Keep me posted.



  17. When I first started low-carbing I fell prey to the temptations of low-carb junk food. Fortunately most of it tasted like crap, but I will admit to missing Atkins ice cream, which disappeared when Atkins Nutritionals went under. Now “no sugar added” is the new low-carb, and I do use stuff like the Del Monte canned fruits and the Land O’ Lakes whipped cream, both sweetened with Splenda, to get my sweet fix–in moderation, of course.

    Shirataki noodles are sweeping Low-Carb Nation right now, but I’m among those who leave them on the shelf–I bought a package, opened it up, and the fishy smell grossed me out so much I couldn’t bring myself to eat the noodles (I loathe fish). I’m told that the smell goes away once the noodles are cooked, but I couldn’t get past it. Speaking of noodles, I was wondering what your opinion was of (if you know about it) Dreamfields pasta, which purports itself to be low-carb but lists wheat as its first ingredient. It tastes like regular pasta … and with me, unfortunately, acts like regular pasta, e.g. bloating me up. Other low-carbers I know, however, swear they’ve had no setbacks in eating it.

    Hi Patricia–

    I’ve had the same reports on Dreamfield’s Pasta.  Some people seem to think it causes them no problems; others–especially diabetics–claim that it sends their blood sugar skyrocketing.  Since I don’t eat pasta (I don’t particularly like it) I haven’t given Dreamfield’s Pasta all that much attention.  As I understand it, Dreamfield’s has got some special treatment that somehow prevents the absorption of the carb in the pasta that they don’t want to reveal until they’ve got their patent approved.  That excuse is BS because a preliminary patent can be had easily and will give patent protection until the full patent comes through.  Seems to me that they’re hiding something.  I’m going to a huge natural foods expo in about a month and a half.  I’ll see what I can find out.



  18. Hey Doc,

    I think you a missing the boat a little with the low carb junk food. Yes, ideally a person should eat only low carb whole food. However, given a choice between low carb junk food or traditional American junk food, the healthiest choice must be the LC junk food. People who eat the LC junk food are weaning themselves off sugar and white flour and allowing their bodies to perform with less insulin surges. We must acknowledge, too, that the surges that they do have must be less intense if the net carbs in their junk food snack are closer to 10 instead of closer to 100.

    I agree the traditional American junk food may taste better, but the health benefits, whether or not one is losing weight, of eating low carb food is the key here.

    Hi J.C.–

    I don’t think I missed the boat.  Of course I would rather people eat low-carb junk food than regular junk food, but I would rather they ate no junk food at all.  That’s the point.

    One of the problems with the American diet is that it is filled with all kinds of snack foods that weren’t available 30 or 40 years ago before everyone became obese.  The best way to wean oneself from this snack-laden diet is to convert to a whole food low-carb diet.  Merely switching to a lower-carb version of the same junk food diet doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot.  Sure, insulin levels may go down a little and blood sugar may get better, but no real dietary habits have been changed, which is what is required for long term success.



  19. Good Morning Doc: Sorry for crashing into your blog yesterday in the Jan 27 Weight watcher’s article with unrelated issues. I was so thrilled to e-mail you, I didn’t pay attention. By the way, for your info, your show has a great time slot in Rhode Island at 5 PM on WGBH out of Boston and is HIGH DEFINITION no less.

    The colors of the food look great – which leads me into the junk food issue. What you have done for my wife (a diabetic) and I, that Atkins never succeeded at, is allowing us to feel good, mentally, about what we put into our bodies – in a holistic sense (from organic dairy products and meats, to judicious use of oils). Yesterday’s show on pizza waffles was so good that I can’t wait to make them tonight – we used to put cheese, veggies and meat on the La Tortilla low-carb wraps to make pizza, but your idea is fresher and will be more deep-dish like in nature. And our kids who hate veggies will now be fooled with the added purees. I can’t help but people-watch like you and I notice that people who go to, or talk about their fast-food excusions generally feel guilty about it. They know its not good. My wife goes crazy with me because I rarely if ever cheat on this diet, and the reason is that mentally I know that what I’m eating is healthful and good for me, and on the flip side that the high carb junk will destroy me if given a chance. What you and MD have done is elevate, to an even higher level, the feel-good nature of eating downright tasty food. When my wife and I devoured the clam chowder made with celery root last week along with the rye bread (try adding caraway seeds – are they healthful?), it tasted great and we knew it was good. Thank you.

    Two questions, are you thinking of expanding past the recipes you have in the Low Carb Cookworx and the Comfort food book (we have both), and second, is there a reason other than familiarity that you always use almond meal and olive oil (as opposed to the hazelnut flour and peanut or sesame oil) that we would like to try? I have been eating almonds for years and have read about their health benefits – not sure of hazelnuts. I have two degrees in chemistry and a law degree so perhaps understanding the science behind what you talk about makes sense to me, but what holds back the large majority of medical practitioners from also endorsing low carb? Please don’t tell me its a money issue.

    Thanks again and I don’t expect a speedy response! Both of you are life-savers!!

    David and Susan Futoma

    Hi David and Susan–

    Thanks for the kind words about the show. We’re glad you enjoy it.

    In answer to your questions, we use almond flour because that’s what we’ve used for years. Before we could get it, we made it ourselves. There is no reason that other nut flours wouldn’t be just as good. We use olive oil because we like the taste of it and it has a pretty good fatty acid composition. If we cook at high temperatures, however, we use coconut oil, which is mainly saturated and doesn’t break down or oxidize in the heat. Both peanut oil and sesame oil aren’t too bad, but we prefer the coconut oil for its better fatty acid profile. Unless we’re cooking Asian, in which case we use sesame oil for the taste.

    Most doctors don’t buy into low-carb because most doctors have neither the time nor the inclination to spend a lot of time studying the situation. The ones who do, go low-carb. The ones who don’t, rely on the mainstreamers to tell them what to do, which is all too often, information that comes directly from the pharmaceutical industry.

    Finally, as to expanding our recipes…we’re always working on them, or I should say MD is always working on them.  If you haven’t found it already, catch her blog, which is devoted primarily to cooking and recipes.  



  20. Sorry Doc: Didn’t mean to call the other Dr. Eades that is part of your team, MD. You both deserve the respect you’ve earned. When I e-mail you, I know in effect, that she is also included. Sorry.

    David and Susan Futoma

    Huh?  Don’t worry about it.  We don’t stand on formality around here.



  21. Thanks Dr. Eades for the useful response on oils and nut flours, and new recipes from the companion blog.

    As to the medical practitioner issue, I appreciate all that you’re doing in trying to educate the medical establishment. It can be very frustrating for me and my spouse (a type 1 diabetic) in our struggles to find an endocrinologist who subscribes to (or even tolerates) low carb – let alone understands, that low carb is not bacon-eggs and cheese, with a little steak thrown in. Shouldn’t the endocrinologists study this more acutely,(the Boston/RI corridor is not poorly educated), and do more than promote insulin pumps as a solution to diabetes? Unfortunately Dr. Atkins did not live long enought to erase the notion that it isn’t just that, but was anyone listening anyways? I’m thrilled that you and Dr. Eades have expanded from the protein power label (which certainly included low carb all along!) to the “Low Carb Cookworx” moniker. I think that you’ll be GREAT spokespersons for the “whole foods idea”, because as my wife and I note (last night with the Thai chicken and spagaroni) – you always explain the healthful aspects of every item you use. And the statistics from WHO on Thailand and heart-related and cancer were shocking! All that my wife and I can do is to continue to present this evidence to our doctors, and hope that the light goes on eventually.

    Once again, thank you. You can sleep well at night in the knowledge that the diet you advocate will be spread by us, and others like us, perhaps incrementally in terms of success, but eventually science will win out.

    Finally, from my background as a practicing chemistry educator, I’m wondering — is the expert command of chemical compounds and the biochemistry that you demonstrate on your show – all self-taught, or were your undergraduate degrees in that field? Impressive!

    David Futoma

    Hi David–

    Again, thanks for the kind words.  We try our best to spread the word, but we need all the help we can get.  Thanks for pitching in.

    When I was in medical school my plan was to become a surgeon.  Surgeons are macho and they don’t have time for biochemistry, which is for geeks.  Consequently, I almost failed my biochem course in med school.  All my biochemistry knowledge, such as it is, is self taught in the years since I became interested in nutrition, which is nothing but applied biochemistry.