Carbs for Weight Loss?
Can certain starches really aid weight loss?
Just as we've been hearing more and more about good and bad fats, diet gurus
are starting to talk more about good and bad carbohydrates. And word is getting
On her television show, Oprah Winfrey claimed to have lost weight by
switching from bad carbs to good. Likewise, many diet programs, such as
Body-for-Life, tout the health benefits of good carbs. But are there really
such things as good and bad carbohydrates?
"Some carbs are better than others, but it's not really a question of
one carb being 'good' and one being 'bad,'" says Jack Alhadeff, PhD,
professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
"If you're eating to get energy for physical activity right away, simple
carbs -- pasta, white bread, processed cereals, and the like -- work well. If
someone is heavy or wants to manage weight, it is smart to chose high-fiber
Why? Because all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, or glucose, which
is the body's fuel. Carbohydrates with little fiber break down quickly. Those
foods with carbohydrates trapped in fiber take longer to break down. The rate
at which this happens can be represented on what nutritionists call the
Foods high on the glycemic index turn to glucose fast. But that speed can
cause a spike in levels of the hormone insulin, which the body needs to process
glucose into physical energy. Foods low on the index -- sweet potatoes, brown
rice, leafy greens, fat-free milk -- break down slowly and result in lower
"Unless you're a diabetic, glycemic index may not be all that
important," says Alhadeff, who adds that since most of us eat a variety of
foods in a meal, the accuracy of the index can be questionable.
But what about the notion that glucose from high-index foods is more likely
to be stored as fat?
"The scientific literature is very clear that eating carbohydrates that
are embedded in plant cellulose -- complex carbohydrates -- is always
better," says Nagi Kumar, PhD, director of clinical nutrition at the
Moffitt Cancer Center and professor of human nutrition at the University of
South Florida in Tampa. "But the reasons it is better are not because it
somehow lessens or alters fat storage."
She says that fiber-rich carbohydrates increase the bulk of the meal, making
you feel fuller. This in turn, helps moderate the amount of food you eat.
So, what is fiber, exactly?
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Nutritionists describe
soluble fiber as a sticky substance that is found in fruit, vegetables, dried
beans and peas, and oat products. Insoluble fiber, which is gritty in texture,
accounts for 70% of the fiber in our diets, mostly from wheat bran.
The Benefits of High-Fiber Carbs
We eat way too many calories and way too many empty calories," she says.
"Fiber can help you avoid overeating. We've also found that fiber can bind
with cholesterol in the digestive tract, thus lowering blood
Another important point about fiber-rich foods is that they tend to be
loaded with phytochemicals that appear to have anticancer functions, says
"Pertaining to cancer, we've found 65 or so non-nutrients and nutrients
that have action against cancer," she says. "We've seen soy, lycopene,
bicarbanol, to name just a few of these, have significant effect against
Along with these benefits and its role in weight maintenance, fiber helps
prevent the following:
- Diverticulosis -- an intestinal disease where pockets, which can become
infected, develop in the intestinal lining
The next time you have a choice about what to buy at the store -- for
instance, between fluffy, white bread and a dark, brown loaf of whole wheat --
what do you do?
"Buy the bread that you have to drag out of the store, because the loaf
is so heavy and dense," says Kumar. "Everything comes down to the
amount of fiber you can get into your food."