Learn Good Carbs / Good Fats; Avoid Bad Ones

November 3, 2015 in Foodland Chronicles, Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

A couple weeks ago the New York Times published an article written by Jane E. Brody, called; The Fats You Don’t Need to Fear, and the Carbs That You Do. It’s a nice review of how we got to where we are; that is, 75% of men and 67% of women – overweight or obese. It’s important because it so often drags health down. The Times article begins with how we became confused with the fat phobia phase; you may want to review my article Revisiting the Snackwell Syndrome. In essence, people got the idea that all fats were bad and all carbs were great – enter, profitable refined starches and sugars.

The point of the New York Times article is that the public must distinguish between healthy fats/bad fats and healthy carbs/bad carbs to move away from the obesity and high cardiovascular risk. Brody spoke with Dr. Frank B. Hu of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. I admire him and have quoted Dr. Hu in the past. Hu made clear that saturated fat is what raises blood levels of cholesterol and it’s not healthy. But including fats high in monounsaturated fatty acids, like olive oil, canola oil, avocado and nut oils is important to health. Also, he says that we need to abandon the idea that all complex carbohydrates are good.

Although starch is more complex than sugar (all forms), we have enzymes in our mouth and stomach that snap the little pearls of glucose off the string. It’s fast!! So the point is that eating processed starch is very close to eating straight sugar. It raises the blood sugar quickly and calls upon the pancreas to secrete insulin. Doing this frequently leads to insulin resistance and fatty liver disease. So what are the carbs that we should be concerned about: sugars, white bread, crackers and all the products made with cornstarch and refined white flour (not whole grains). Also minimize white rice and potatoes. Try brown rice, fewer potatoes, and then with skins.

Brody’s article continues with a very nice description of David S. Ludwig’s work on glycemic index/glycemic load. This work implicates sugars of various kinds in diabetes and related ills. The bottom line is to embrace whole grains, beans, whole fruits, and vegetables. This, of course, is not a news flash for you, if you’ve been reading this blog. But I think it helps to dispel old errors, like fats are always bad and carbs good. The best practice answer is more nuanced than that.

Although I’ve written about the glycemic index many times, it seems to me that the glycemic jargon and concepts can be confusing. It’s easier to me to say eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables and be careful with sugar and processed foods. But having said that, I know that some will want to know more specifically about each food; so you can get the actual numbers on Harvard’s chart. They also have a number for the glycemic load, which is a practical application of glycemic index.

As I’ve written before in this blog, the reason it matters to control simple carbs is that when you eat them, your body releases lots of insulin. This clears the carbs; but you are quickly hungry again, which, of course is counterproductive if you’re trying to keep your weight down. Low-glycemic foods that are rich in the “good” fats and fiber, delay hunger. Brody cited Ludwig’s 2002 writings that said that changes in food-processing technology could largely explain the rise in overweight and obesity among Americans of all ages. One large part of that is that processed starches are cheap and are added to a huge number of processed foods to increase profits.

One way to respond to this problem is to strive to eat processed foods in limited amounts and very infrequently. The story continues to be the same; making the bulk of your food choices from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, poultry and low fat dairy if desired.