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The Truth About White Foods

Should you give up white foods and their 'bad carbs'?
WebMD Expert Column

White foods - essentially, "bad carbs" like sugar and baked goods made with white flour  - have been fingered as a culprit in America's obesity epidemic. But is it true that you should kiss white foods goodbye if you want to lose weight and eat healthfully?

Avoiding refined carbohydrates came onto the national radar when low-carb diets like Atkins and Sugar Busters became popular.  It didn't help that a 2004 study showed that people who ate too many refined carbs were at increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

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It is easy to overeat foods like cookies or white-flour pasta - and it's even easier to drink sweetened beverages.  It's estimated that Americans drink 22% of our total calories, much of that from beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

The diet truth is that carbohydrates are essential for health and are your body’s preferred form of fuel.  We can’t live without them -- but we'd be healthier if we got most of our carbohydrates from "smart carbs" like fruits, vegetables, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains.  The bottom line: White, refined foods can be part of a healthy diet, but moderation is key.

What Is White Food?

White food generally refers to foods that are white in color and that have been processed and refined, like flour, rice, pasta, bread, crackers, cereal, and simple sugars like table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. 

Natural, unprocessed white foods, such as onions, cauliflower, turnips, white beans, and white potatoes don't fall into the same category.  (Of course, health goes out the window when you deep-fry these or any other vegetables, or slather them with butter, sour cream, or cheese.)

The difference between refined white foods and their healthier counterparts is processing and fiber.  Most white carbs start with flour that has been ground and refined by stripping off the outer layer, where the fiber is located.  Vitamins and/or minerals are frequently added back to enrich the refined product. 

'Bad Carbs' Are Less Satisfying

In addition to being easy to overeat, refined carbs are less satisfying than "good carbs." The body absorbs processed grains and simple sugars relatively quickly.  Increased blood sugar triggers a release of insulin, and, in an hour or two after eating, hunger returns.

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