There are a heck of a lot of carb-counting "tools" out there. Today, we're taking a look at the utility of one in particular...
My 10-year-old son Rio and I have been watching the 1960s Sci-fi show Time Tunnel on DVD. It's about two government scientists lost in time. Every week it's a different century. So my first impression of the new SureCount "carb tool" was that it must have fallen out of the Time Tunnel. It's state of the art — for diabetes 1960. But for today?
SureCount is the brainchild of Melanie Weiss of Oak Park, Illinois. Weiss doesn't have diabetes. Her children don't have diabetes. None of her family has diabetes. In fact, Weiss confesses that she's never even spent an entire day with a person who has diabetes. So what on Earth would inspire her to spend the last three years assembling a twenty-year out-of-date diabetes tool?
Weiss has a Master's in health administration and a passion for health education. She says that at first she started to work on a meal planner for weight loss, but that over time, as it evolved, she felt it was better suited to help people with diabetes. She turned to four different CDEs to help her develop the SureCount system.
The CDEs must have fallen through the time tunnel, too.
Counts or Exchanges?
SureCount is poorly named. It's billed as "a carb counting tool," but there's not a single carb count in it. What the tool really is, is a modern, well-organized, portable and durable exchange list. It's about the size and thickness of a checkbook, with full-color printing on slick card stock and a small metal spiral binding across the top.
Wait a minute. Did you say exchange list? Does anybody use that system anymore? In a word: No. Oh, wait. There's that one little old lady in Tulsa. She still uses it. But generally speaking, when we talk about carb counting, we're talking about adding up the carbs in a meal, using reference guides to help us figure out exactly how many carbs are in our meals. And SureCount can't help with that. At all.
SureCount contains nine pages of food servings that are purported to be 15 carbs each, broken into categories like cereals, grains, fruits, etc. Weiss tells me that in her research for SureCount she was surprised to learn that fruit and milk had sugar in them.
So, with that, my next question was inevitably: How sure is this SureCount?
SureCount seems to be forcing round pegs into square holes, by making everything 15 carbs, and some errors jumped out at me immediately. SureCount lists one slice of bread as being 15 carbs. Of course, a slice of bread can range between 9 and 19 carbs per slice, depending on the type. I find most run 18. What do you find? Do three extra carbs matter? It does if you're off by three carbs on everything you eat. SureCount shows a small apple, banana, or pear at 15 carbs. Really? My other resources show a typical apple at 21 carbs, a pear at 25 carbs, and a banana at 28 carbs.
Who's SureCount For?
SureCount's marketing materials and website boldly declare that the booklet is "especially tailored to meet the needs of people with: pre-diabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes." Really? All of us?
Weiss admits that she took some copies to a local type 1 support group recently where it generated very little interest. She says she now thinks her product is best suited for newly diagnosed type 2s, women with gestational diabetes, and family members of people with diabetes who want to understand what to cook when "grandpa comes to visit."
A Downloadable Alternative
If you want a book to help count carbs the modern way, I would suggest that you get your paws on a copy of Sanofi's Take Charge by Counting Carbs (downloadable at the site), an excellent carb data base only slightly larger than Weiss' SureCount. Take Charge not only lists the carb counts of various foods that don't have labels, but teaches you how to read labels on foods that have labels.
Plus, Take Charge has a measuring guide, sorely missing from Weiss' SureCount book. To her credit, wherever possible, Weiss gives us countable food items: 5 chocolate Kisses, 8 animal crackers, 12 tortilla chips; but as with all carb guides, she's had to fall back on 1/3 cup and 3 ounces too much of the time. The real-world problem is that most of us (including me) are very bad at estimating how much 1/3 of a cup of rice is when it's on a dinner plate. Take Charge gives us a reference guide to sizes using concepts like servings the size of a bar of soap, a ping pong ball, a nine-volt battery, or a light bulb.
Why Not Just Use a Smartphone App?
With an abundance of food and carb apps in the world, I asked Weiss what advantage she thought her dead-tree pocket book had. "If you're newly diagnosed and out to dinner, you don't know what to look up" in a smartphone app, she says. She feels the format of her booklet makes it easy for new members of our club to see how much of various foods they "can" eat. She views SureCount not as a lifelong resource, but as an educational tool to "get grounded," and as an out-of-the-starting-gate meal planner.
So think diabetes nutrition boot camp. But that assumes you subscribe to the notion of a diabetes diet based on eating a set number of carbs in a given meal. Quoting Weiss' "How to Use SureCount" document: "People who have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or diabetes need to keep their blood glucose in a targeted range by managing the amount of carbs they eat throughout the day."
Off to a Rough Start
Weiss originally planned a launch of her product at the American Diabetes Association New York Expo, which was scrubbed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Now she's been focused on optimizing her website, which she confesses has had only 71 unique visitors. A statistic, Weiss says, that "is kind of embarrassing."
She's also submitted to Amazon and hopes she may be able to generate sales there. She's confident that there is nothing else like her booklet on the market. And that's true. But is there any need for it?
Despite all my criticisms, maybe so. It's a quick way for someone new to the effects of food and drink on blood sugar to compare... well, apples to apples. For a newbie, a simple, well-organized pocket reference guide that lets you see that, for example, 40 Goldfish crackers has the same carb count as three cups of popcorn or a half cup of refried beans, could be eye-opening information.
But is it worth $6? I guess the market will decide that.
In the fullness of time.