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Carbohydrates are essential for a healthy body

by Kris Sollid
Dietetic Intern
In recent years, carbohydrates have been bashed in the court of public opinion, but the truth concerning the role of carbohydrates in weight loss can be revealed in an imaginary court of law.
This is the case of Fad Diets vs. Carbohydrates. The honorable Judge John Q. Public is presiding.
“I’ve had a chance to review Fad Diet’s testimony, and I must say, Carbohydrate, it’s quite convincing. What do you have to say to the appalling accusations that have been made against you?” the judge would pose intently.
“Your Honor, I wish to begin by declaring my innocence. Carbohydrates are not solely responsible for weight gain. If anything, carbohydrates are responsible for maintaining a healthy weight,” the defendant responds. “There are so many factors involved with weight gain that singling out carbohydrates as the culprit amounts to nothing more than slander. In fact, it is quite irresponsible. Simply put, I have been made the scapegoat by a Fad Diet industry bent on ruining my family, and today, I intend to clear the Carbohydrate name.”
Perhaps the most adamant and well known carbohydrate foe was the late Dr. Robert Atkins, whose books caused an explosion in high-protein diets. The author of the famous Atkins Diet maligns carbohydrates as the grim reaper responsible for the obesity epidemic. Atkins' claim has since been disputed.
A 2007 article published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association titled, “A Dietary Quality Comparison of Popular Weight-Loss Plans,” ranked the Atkins Diet worst on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, because it includes “the lowest in fruit and cereal fiber and the highest in red meat and trans fats.” High intakes of red meat and trans-fat, not carbohydrates, i.e. fruit and cereal fiber, are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
So, just who is the grim reaper?
Unlike trans-fat, carbohydrates are essential to the human body as one of only three nutrients to provide energy (protein and fat are the other two). Carbohydrates are more efficient than fat in providing energy.
 John L. Mego, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the University of Alabama, also defended carbohydrates in a December 2005 article, American Fitness Magazine. “If blame is to be placed on one of the three dietary nutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) as the main cause of weight gain, it should be fat, because it contains more than twice the calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein—9.3 calories per gram for fat and 3.7 calories per gram for carbohydrates,” Mego wrote. In other words, if cutting calories is essential to weight loss, and carbohydrates contain fewer calories per gram than fats, then clearly carbohydrates should play a vital role in any diet plan.
Fad diets also would urge that all carbohydrates are created equal, and equally bad. Depending on chemical structure and origin, carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates (with the exception of fruit) typically found in cakes, candy, and sodas are void of any nutritional content except calories. For this reason, the majority of simple sugars are empty calories, and as Atkins correctly argued, consumption of these carbohydrates should be limited.
On the other hand, complex carbohydrates are anything but empty and intake should be encouraged (though people with diabetes still should restrict carbohydrate intake, or consume them with a healthful protein source). Packed with essential B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, selenium and phytochemicals; complex carbohydrates also are an invaluable source of dietary fiber. Fiber increases feelings of fullness by slowing digestion, thus providing prolonged periods of energy and a reduction in total caloric intake.
Since feeling fuller from fewer calories cannot be detrimental to weight loss, Carbohydrates prevail, in part, in the Court of Public Opinion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

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