Dear Healthy Professor: My doctor said if I want to lose weight, I should cut out carbohydrates. How do I do this?
A: Carbohydrates supply about half of all the energy our body uses to keep our brain, muscles, tissues and cells functioning. With that in mind, I wonder if your doctor meant cut down on carbohydrates rather than avoiding them completely.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: Carbohydrates are not fattening. A gram of carbohydrate is the same number of calories as a gram of protein (4 calories/gram).
Why do carbohydrates get a bad rap? I think I can explain it by asking a question. Which foods do most people tend to overeat; grilled chicken, pasta or bread? See what I mean?
When we think of carbohydrate-rich foods, we mostly think of breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, baked goods, desserts, candy and sugary drinks. However, carbohydrates are found in all plant foods: whole grains, vegetables, beans and fruits along with milk products. Some carbohydrate-containing foods can support efforts to maintain a healthy weight while others can sabotage it.
Carbohydrates exist in foods as sugars, starches and fibers. A major difference among these forms is how long it takes to digest them. As a matter of fact, fibers can't be digested at all, and pass through the intestines contributing a myriad of digestive and heart health benefits. The fiber in carbohydrate-containing foods also contributes to a feeling of fullness, which helps control how much you eat.
Sugars and starches are broken down into life-sustaining glucose, also known as blood sugar. Glucose supplies the energy to do everything from reading this column to running a marathon.
Generally speaking, it doesn't take much digestive effort to break down the sugars, so they tend to raise blood sugar rapidly. Most starches are more slowly digested and raise blood sugar at a slower rate. No matter the source, if we eat more than we need, the excess glucose is stored in adipose tissue as fat.
Carbohydrate food choices can make a big difference when it comes to weight control and overall health.
Limit processed snack foods, chips, desserts, candy and soda. These sources of carbohydrates contain a hefty dose of sugar, fat and salt and not much else. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, stick to the nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods like whole-grain pasta, oatmeal, brown rice, fruit, vegetables, beans and low-fat milk. They will ensure a good dose of vitamins, minerals and fiber along with lots of energy.
Don't be too restrictive. If you totally cut out your favorite carbohydrate-containing foods, you will only want them more. (Ask anyone who has tried the Atkins Diet.)You could make them less caloric by changing how you eat the food rather than avoiding it. For example, add lots of vegetables to whole-wheat pasta instead of a rich, high-fat meat sauce. Or make your own pizza using a whole-wheat crust topped with mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and grated cheese; less fat and just as delicious.
Your doctor will be pleased.