by Kris Sollid
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
“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
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
Friday, April 10, 2009