In the 1990s, many dietaryÂ experts advised us to consumeÂ foods low in fat. Many productsÂ were marketed to takeÂ advantage of this eating trend. WhatÂ happened, unfortunately, was anÂ increase in overweight individuals,Â including a rise in the incidence ofÂ diabetes.Â Close scrutiny of these low-fat foods showed that they containedÂ more sugar and certainlyÂ not any fewer calories.Â Thus, one bad food substanceÂ was substitutedÂ for another. Sugar hasÂ been termed as addictingÂ and poison by some;Â but simply, it representsÂ useless calories that doÂ nothing more than depositÂ more fat in our bodies.Â There are three basicÂ forms of nutrients inÂ our foods that supplyÂ calories: carbohydrates,Â proteins and fats. Carbohydrates, inÂ turn, are divided into either refinedÂ or complex.
Complex carbohydrates areÂ comprised of fruits, vegetablesÂ and whole grains. These carbsÂ are good for you as they are slowlyÂ absorbed into our bloodstream, thusÂ allowing a slow rise in our bloodÂ glucose, keeping our fuel needs satisfiedÂ for a sufficient period of time.Â Refined carbohydrates (alsoÂ known as simple, processed, badÂ or white carbs) are what I willÂ merely refer to as sugar. They areÂ refined because they have becomeÂ converted into a substance that differsÂ from their natural form. TheseÂ foods, in contrast to complex carbohydrates,Â are rapidly absorbedÂ after ingestion because they do notÂ require much energy to be brokenÂ down by our digestive system.
This quick absorption causes aÂ more rapid rise in our blood glucose,Â which then provokes a surgeÂ in insulin to push the sugar into ourÂ cells for its needs. This is fine if ourÂ needs at that moment require aÂ rapid source of fuel as in vigorousÂ exercise. If our requirements are notÂ as demanding, however, the bodyÂ will tend to store the sugar as fat.Â Additionally, the insulin surge willÂ cause a more sudden drop in ourÂ blood glucose, promoting hungerÂ too soon after our last meal. SupplyÂ this want with more sugar and theÂ vicious cycle continues. This mayÂ explain the addictive nature ofÂ sugar; the more we eat it, the moreÂ we crave it. Will power is required toÂ avoid this; eating sugar in moderationÂ can be quite difficult.
There are many examples ofÂ foods that should be avoided if weÂ want to eat a diet low in refined carbohydrates.Â The prototype is sugarÂ itself, which pervadesÂ into much of our cuisine.Â Even food marketed asÂ healthy can have significantÂ amounts of sugarÂ (many cereals, healthÂ bars and dark chocolate,Â to name a few).Â Fruit juice is anotherÂ food that masqueradesÂ as healthy. A serving ofÂ juice has virtually as manyÂ calories and sugar as pop.Â Fruit in its natural form hasÂ more fiber and is moreÂ filling (and avoids the processing-induced loss of vitamins and minerals)Â than juice.
Food made with processedÂ (white) flour also acts just like sugarÂ once we eat it. These substances,Â as they are refined, are alreadyÂ broken down before they reach ourÂ digestive system. White pastas andÂ breads fit this category. White riceÂ is also refined from its natural form,Â thus behaving just like sugar.Â When one decides to removeÂ refined carbohydrates from theirÂ diet, dramatic weight loss often follows.Â For example, to eliminate asÂ little as one bottle of cola (16 ounces,Â 200 calories) a day amounts toÂ 20 pounds a year! Add to this manyÂ of the other sugar-containing foodsÂ that we eat, and the results canÂ be significant. The weight loss, ofÂ course, will likely be blunted somewhat if we substitute healthier foodsÂ in their place.
Thus, in order to make our dietsÂ healthier, with weight control asÂ one of the objectives, cutting outÂ sugar/refined carbohydrates mustÂ be a major priority. Avoiding theseÂ wasted calories will help attainÂ our desired goals.
Dr. Scott Lewis is a primary-care internalÂ medicine physician at PremierÂ Internists/Millennium Medical Group PCÂ in Southfield.
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