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
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including obesity screening and nutrition counseling, at no cost to you. Learn more.
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
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
'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.
Further, many refined-carb foods -- particularly sweetened beverages like
sodas -- provide little nutritional value other than calories.
Less-processed "good carbs" are higher in volume and tend to be more filling
than refined ones. And controlling portions -- and ultimately, your
weight -- is easier when you choose foods that are filling.
If you follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines and make half of your
daily grain servings whole grains, this will slow absorption, help meet your
fiber needs, and keep you feeling full longer.
But keep in mind that not all whole grains are a good source of fiber.
For example, brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because it contains
the whole kernel of rice, but it's not necessarily a good source of fiber.