May - Jun 2012

The Truth about Carbohydrates

By Julie Walenta, MPH RD LDN

 

Many trendy diets send the message that you have to cut carbohydrates (carbs), or starchy foods, to lose weight. But these diets are really just low-calorie diets.  You see, when you get rid of all the starchy foods in your diet, the types of foods you can eat are limited, and therefore so are your calories.  When calories go down, so does your weight.  But most people can’t stick to these low-carb diets and the weight comes right back when their eating habits go back to normal.  In fact, studies show that people who include healthy carbs when trying to lose weight are more successful with their weight loss. The best way to lose weight and improve your health is by choosing the right kind of carbs.  Not all carbs are created equal. Let me explain.

 

All carbs eventually break down into sugar.  This is alright, because our bodies need carbs and the sugar they get from them for energy.  But, our bodies prefer to work for that sugar.  You see, some carbs break down to sugar more quickly than others.  When this happens, we tend to get a rush of sugar into our blood stream, followed by a crash in energy a few hours later and usually more sugar cravings.  Examples of foods that tend to work like this are: 

  • Regular soda and other sugary drinks
  • Sweets (baked goods, candy, etc.)
  • White bread
  • White rice

These foods are processed and provide calories but are stripped of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.  Because of this, our bodies do not get much nutrition or “fuel to run on.” This is certainly not what you are looking for when trying to lose weight.

 

But, there are carbs that give us lots of vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber,

to support our bodies.  Examples of these carbs are: 

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal  and other whole-grain cereals
  • Fruits and vegetables

Making small changes adds up to big benefits:

 

Choose this ….

In place of this…. (to get more fiber)

1 cup of raisin bran  = 8 grams of fiber

1 cup of corn flakes = 1 gram of fiber

1 medium apple = 4 grams of fiber

1 cup of apple juice =  0 grams of fiber

1 slice of whole wheat bread = 3 grams of fiber

1 slice of white bread = 0 grams of fiber

½ cup brown rice = 2 grams of fiber

½ cup instant white rice = 0 grams of fiber

 

Because these carbs break down slowly we get more long-term energy, and we tend to feel fuller for a longer period of time.  This helps with weight loss because we end up eating less.

 

Remember, for long-term weight control, it is important to adopt habits you can live with for the rest of your life.  By choosing the right type of carbs the majority of time and reducing, but not eliminating, the others, you’ll make changes you can stick with that will improve both your weight and your health.