For Weight Loss and Health ─ Know Your Carbs

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

All Carbs Are ABSOLUTELY Not Created Equal

When it comes to carbohydrates, a little bit of discrimination can go a long way when your weight and health are concerned. Three 2014 studies published in the American Journal of Clinnical Nutrition provide some very simple guidelines. In the first study, researchers from Singapore, Harvard, and the University of Pittsburgh examined the connection between carbohydrate intake and heart disease death among more than 50,000 Chinese residents in Singapore over a 15-year monitoring period. Asian populations generally eat high-carbohydrate diets. The researchers found that the total amount of carbohydrates was not substantially associated with heart disease, however, consumption of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains contributed to a lower risk.

In the second study, researchers at Harvard analyzed health and dietary questionnaires submitted by more than 130,000 health professionals over a two-to-three decade period. Their findings provided further proof that eating a higher amount of high-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates is associated with an increased risk of diabetes. This well-known index ranks carbohydrate foods on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how fast they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI rating are rapidly digested and absorbed, and cause marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods digest and absorb more slowly, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health. Low-GI foods support weight control because they help control appetite and delay hunger. They also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance, a forerunner to diabetes.

In the third study, nutritional researchers in Spain investigated the effectiveness among overweight and obese adults of a diet with low-GI carbohydrates vs. a low-fat diet on weight loss. After six months, they found that the most effective diet for controlling weight and glucose and insulin metabolism was a diet featuring a moderate amount of low-GI foods.

 My Viewpoint: These findings aren’t particularly new but they clearly reinforce what we already know: that fruits and vegetables, and specific whole grains, are the way to go. Produce is filled with good fiber and healthy compounds, and without all the added fillers and taste enhancers that often come with processed food. Fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugar and release of insulin in the body, which is important for diabetes prevention, weight control and overall health.

 What This Means: A good way to protect yourself against developing diabetes is to check where your favorite carbohydrate foods rank on the glycemic index; the lower the number, the slower the absorption of sugar and the healthier for you. The foods with the highest GI rankings are sugar and corn syrup (right there at 100!), candy, instant rice, carrot juice, and cakes and most deserts. These are the foods to minimize in your diet.

 My Recommendation: Familiarize yourself with this handy glycemic index for 100 common foods and make it a point to choose lower-glycemic carbohydrates whenever possible. A short list of some of my favorite low and very low glycemic foods includes avocado, chard, asparagus, berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, olive oil, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, barley, steel-cut oats, buckwheat, quinoa, and amaranth. Make it a point to lighten up on pasta, bread, and bagels. These foods are generally made from refined white wheat flour and break down easily. I’m not a fan of wheat, and avoid it as much as possible, whether whole wheat or refined.

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