In the 1990s, many dietary experts advised us to consume foods low in fat. Many products were marketed to take advantage of this eating trend. What happened, unfortunately, was an increase in overweight individuals, including a rise in the incidence of diabetes. Close scrutiny of these low-fat foods showed that they contained more sugar and certainly not any fewer calories. Thus, one bad food substance was substituted for another. Sugar has been termed as addicting and poison by some; but simply, it represents useless calories that do nothing more than deposit more fat in our bodies. There are three basic forms of nutrients in our foods that supply calories: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates, in turn, are divided into either refined or complex.
Complex carbohydrates are comprised of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These carbs are good for you as they are slowly absorbed into our bloodstream, thus allowing a slow rise in our blood glucose, keeping our fuel needs satisfied for a sufficient period of time. Refined carbohydrates (also known as simple, processed, bad or white carbs) are what I will merely refer to as sugar. They are refined because they have become converted into a substance that differs from their natural form. These foods, in contrast to complex carbohydrates, are rapidly absorbed after ingestion because they do not require much energy to be broken down by our digestive system.
This quick absorption causes a more rapid rise in our blood glucose, which then provokes a surge in insulin to push the sugar into our cells for its needs. This is fine if our needs at that moment require a rapid source of fuel as in vigorous exercise. If our requirements are not as demanding, however, the body will tend to store the sugar as fat. Additionally, the insulin surge will cause a more sudden drop in our blood glucose, promoting hunger too soon after our last meal. Supply this want with more sugar and the vicious cycle continues. This may explain the addictive nature of sugar; the more we eat it, the more we crave it. Will power is required to avoid this; eating sugar in moderation can be quite difficult.
There are many examples of foods that should be avoided if we want to eat a diet low in refined carbohydrates. The prototype is sugar itself, which pervades into much of our cuisine. Even food marketed as healthy can have significant amounts of sugar (many cereals, health bars and dark chocolate, to name a few). Fruit juice is another food that masquerades as healthy. A serving of juice has virtually as many calories and sugar as pop. Fruit in its natural form has more fiber and is more filling (and avoids the processing-induced loss of vitamins and minerals) than juice.
Food made with processed (white) flour also acts just like sugar once we eat it. These substances, as they are refined, are already broken down before they reach our digestive system. White pastas and breads fit this category. White rice is also refined from its natural form, thus behaving just like sugar. When one decides to remove refined carbohydrates from their diet, dramatic weight loss often follows. For example, to eliminate as little as one bottle of cola (16 ounces, 200 calories) a day amounts to 20 pounds a year! Add to this many of the other sugar-containing foods that we eat, and the results can be significant. The weight loss, of course, will likely be blunted somewhat if we substitute healthier foods in their place.
Thus, in order to make our diets healthier, with weight control as one of the objectives, cutting out sugar/refined carbohydrates must be a major priority. Avoiding these wasted calories will help attain our desired goals.
Dr. Scott Lewis is a primary-care internal medicine physician at Premier Internists/Millennium Medical Group PC in Southfield.
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