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Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

Choose whole grains to boost your health -- and help you lose weight
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

You may think a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate -- after all, breads, rices, pastas, cereals, all seem pretty much alike. But the truth is that not all carbs are created equal, at least not from a nutritional standpoint.

The processed carbs that Americans so love -- white bread, white rice, cookies, and soft drinks - have led to carbohydrates' being blamed for everything from our expanding waistlines to heart disease to the epidemic of type II diabetes. And there's no doubt that over-consumption of simple sugars and refined-flour products has contributed to the problems of obesity and type II diabetes in our country.

But there's another type, far more nutritious, type of carbohydrate -- one that now accounts for only about 5% of our total carb consumption. Whole grains are less processed and maintain more healthful properties than their more refined counterparts.

Whole grains contain the germ (as in wheat germ) and the bran portions of the grain, along with all the antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains are high in fiber, virtually fat-free, and are more slowly digested and absorbed than refined carbohydrates.

The Surgeon General recommends that everyone get three servings per day of whole-grain carbohydrates. Yet the sad reality is that most of us only get about a half serving per day. It's estimated that only 10% of the population consumes even one complete serving a day of whole grains.

Food products that are at least half whole grain and have 3 grams of fat or less per serving are entitled to carry this statement on their labels: "Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers." The hope is that this information will encourage consumers to purchase more whole grains.

Weight loss and longevity

Whole grains are absorbed more slowly by the body and, because of their bulk, tend to be more satisfying and keep hunger at bay. That may be why people who regularly eat more whole grains tend to weigh less than others whose diets are made up of more refined carbohydrates.

A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that people who ate nine servings a week of whole grains weighed 5-8 pounds less that those who ate less than two whole-grain servings per week.

In an ongoing study out of the University of Minnesota's School of Public Health, researchers found that women who ate at least one serving a day of whole grain -- usually bread or cereal for breakfast -- were healthier and lived longer.

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