The Right Carbs

March 22, 2016 in Diabetes, Diabetes Management, Foodland, Health, Nutritionism, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Although the food processors are doing a fabulous job of masking the inclusion of excessive added sugar in processed foods the fact remains that the public health professionals have done an equally fabulous of helping the public realize that too much sugar is a detriment to health. As the public health educators continue to help the public find the hidden sugar in foods, the food processors will likely characteristically continue to find improved ways to disguise cheap sugar in processed foods. One of those ways is certainly using other forms of sugar or other names for sugar. By breaking up sugar into multiple names and forms, SUGAR does not jump out as the first thing on the ingredients label. But when you add them all back together, EXCESS SUGAR should be screaming out at you from the deciphered label.

I’ve written heaps of material regarding cereal and whole grains; if you didn’t catch them the first time around you might want to review a couple. One that I especially enjoyed writing was Twinkies for Breakfast, another is Consumers Get Confused – Ya Think? Today I want to cite the results of some new work. The strong confirmation of this new work is that the old work is not invalidated. The new work is just providing stronger and stronger support for the old advice of eating whole grains.

Maybe I should start with a little word of why it matters – really nothing new here – increased weight gain, diabetes risk and heart disease risk from eating too much sugar and starch.

Last year a large study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by the dean of Tufts University, and others, Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, found that higher starch consumption increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. The research found potatoes to be the number one culprit for the increased risk of type 2 diabetes. There is actually good news from this study. This news: higher intake of total fiber, cereal fiber and fruit fiber were all linked with lower diabetes risk. The bottom line is that the quality of the carbohydrate chosen makes a big difference.

In a brand new study published in the same journal this year, the researchers found that the overall carbohydrate intake was not linked to diabetes risk one way or the other. They did find, however, some really interesting associations.

  • Starch increased diabetes risk by 23%
  • Total fiber decreased diabetes risk by 29%
  • Cereal fiber decreased diabetes risk by 29%
  • Fruit fiber decreased diabetes risk by 20%

Those in the study that had the highest ratios of carbohydrate to cereal fiber often consumed the most processed and refined grain products (like white rice, crackers, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, and bread and pasta not made from whole grains). They also had greater intake of starchy foods like white potatoes and corn. These were the ones with highest risk of diabetes.

Tufts and The American Heart Association together came up with a calculation to help identify foods that are too starchy. Get a copy of Tufts University’s Health & Nutrition Letter for March 2016; it’s on the front page. When you use it, their calculation will help the consumer really understand the quality of processed whole-grain food products. Unfortunately, the food processors can put substitute fiber into products – not really the original fiber that an item comes with in nature. Messing around with inulin and other additive fibers does not necessarily provide the original nutrients that are in the bran and germ of the whole grain. But the calculation is a chance to at least point the consumer toward whole grains.

In essence, what we’re saying is that cereal grains are a great source of nutrients for healthful living, but those grains need to be whole to reap the benefits. We know to watch out for sugar (and all its varieties) but beware of starch too.

Although I’ve already shared some review articles with you that cover breakfast cereal (aka candy in a box), I want to say just a few words about processed cereals. First, don’t buy the argument that breakfast cereals that brag about being fortified with vitamins and minerals are a healthy choice. The marketing of breakfast cereals certainly makes it difficult for families to discern a healthy breakfast cereal from the plethora of boxes of sugar and starch. The food processors remove 17-plus major nutrients from whole grain products and add back five. This is one of the food processors’ tactics that drives me to say, “They take an impoverished food (processed grain) and throw in a few cheap vitamins and minerals and call it ‘enriched.’ Then they market it as healthy.” It’s frustrating for me – a prime example of nutritionism.

One of the take away lessons from Mozaffarian is that all calories are not the same. Humans do not respond like a test tube; they have complex mechanisms that help or hinder weight long-term. There really is a difference between whole grain cereal and processed cereal – especially the ultra-processed cereals often referred to as children’s cereals.

I accidently discovered last year, that my grandchildren will eat my Original Post Spoon-sized Shredded Wheat; served with milk, fruit and sliced almonds. I was shocked that they did not balk at all. I, of course, did not have any Lucky Charms or Trix on hand for a surprise visit. You can have a nourishing breakfast and fairly easy breakfast, without resorting to ultra-processed foods.

If you’re trying to keep within the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans, then it only takes one serving of many of the ultra-processed cereals to hit the maximum total sugar suggested for a day. And that’s before the available starch is even considered. On top of that I wonder if one serving of the processed (starchy and sugary) cereal is enough for your active teenage boy or girl to start the day?

The Right Carbs are whole grains, vegetables and whole fruit (stay clear of fruit juice). The right carbs are not starchy processed white or ‘enriched flour.’ Increase your chance of staying healthy by eating the right carbs – whole grains, fruits and vegetables.