Recently, simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and refined grain products) have been demonized as the root of all weight gain, blamed for stoking our hunger until we just can’t help but gorge. Advocates of this position swear that nixing carbs curbs hunger and forces the body to burn fat.
What’s with the flip-flop? Have carbs become the new fat?The Science:
It comes back to calories. Americans are eating more of them, as well as too many sugary and/or refined carbs. So it makes sense that cutting back on carbs helps with weight loss simply because, again, you’re trimming calories.
Health experts, however, are quick to point out that carbs per se are not the villain. In fact, what’s often forgotten in the debate is that complex carbohydrates -- fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains -- are also carbs. These dietary good guys are essential to a successful weight-loss plan for many reasons including the fact that they’re high in fiber: Fiber fills you up before you have a chance to eat too many calories. It also helps your body absorb food more slowly, preventing a rapid rise in blood sugar.
“A healthy diet isn’t just low in fat,” says Dean Ornish, M.D., founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California. “It’s low in simple carbs and high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which are high in disease-fighting nutrients and low in disease-causing substances. To the degree that you reduce fat and simple carbs, you’ll lose weight and be healthier.”
It’s a view that -- surprisingly -- even those in the Dr. Atkins camp share. “You can succeed on a low-fat diet if you control your calories and choose foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” confirms Colette Heimowitz, director of education and research at the Atkins Health and Medical Information Services in New York City. “It’s when you add refined carbs to the mix that you run into trouble.”The Bottom line:
Not all carbs are evil, but they’re not created equal, either. So you should dump the junk in favor of those that are highest in nutrients and fiber.
The Bottom Bottom Line: Regardless of the camp they’re in, weight-loss experts agree that if you want to lose weight, you need to cut calories -- period. The key is finding a weight-loss plan that suits you.
Radically skewing your diet toward one food group or another means the possibility of missing out on certain nutrients. And you might regain the weight. “Your body begins to crave what you haven’t been eating,” according to Lee Kaplan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the MGH Weight Center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. That’s why people can’t stick with diets strongly biased toward one group of nutrients or another for very long.
Finally, get some exercise. Hosts of studies show that combining working out with cutting calories helps keep the weight off.