I’m still waiting for the day that broader society believes refined carbohydrates are behind the simultaneous burgeoning in our country of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer over the past thirty years.
This is for the part of me that would like to see my fellow Americans escape the Centers for Disease Control’s prediction that one out of three Americans born today will develop diabetes, and reverse the past three decades’ tripling in childhood obesity (which is heavily correlated with diabetes and heart disease).
But it’s also for the part of me that wants to be able to eat at a diner and not have refined carbohydrates piled on top of every item on the menu. White toast with every entree. (This includes toast they call “whole wheat” toast that’s really predominantly white.) White bread on any sandwich or wrap. White rice with any Asian dish. White pasta in any Italian dish. Particularly now that I’m not eating animal products, there’s extremely little I can eat on any menu, and often with the one or two items I can eat, I have to ask for substitutions or else forgo a key item in the dish. (Chicken salad without the chicken, without the bread on the side, without the sugary dressing.)
Regardless of my motivations for wanting Americans to accept that refined carbohydrates–and not overeating or lack of exercise–are primarily responsible for our fast-declining health, it’s clear that we don’t. Or we simply wouldn’t be putting these things in our bodies meal after meal, while simultaneously trying to starve ourselves because somehow we think that eating less of these foods will make us healthier.
But on to the point of this post: scientific evidence is increasingly mounting, in publicly reported studies, that refined carbohydrates are the problem.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tested changes in diet on 2300 postmenopausal women. The diet sought to test concerns over whether a low fat diet, which often results in people eating more carbohydrates to make up for the reduced fat, is actually worse for diabetics than a high fat diet. They found that it doesn’t have to be–if the added carbohydrates are in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains–in other words, whole carbohydrates.
Those who reduced fat intake and replaced it with fruits, vegetables and grains ended up with lower blood sugar and insulin levels (two key markers of diabetes) and lost weight. But those who continued eating refined carbohydrates (sugar, white bread, white pasta, white rice) did not see these improvements.
To anyone who’s read Gary Taubes’s Good Calories, Bad Calories, this should come as little surprise. A healthy diet doesn’t require you to starve yourself, but to eat the right foods. This new study strongly supports this idea.
But I don’t expect this idea to catch on quickly. Even the newspaper articles covering this study continue to talk in terms of how much fat, how much carbohydrate and how much protein we’re supposed to eat.
But that’s not the best way to think about diet. Eat as much fat, protein and carbohydrate as you’d like, as long as it’s coming from the right foods. Real foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and minimally processed foods like whole grain pasta (which, if you check the label, should have only one ingredient). And naturally-raised animal products (industrially raised animals are fed food they traditionally don’t eat, and it changes the nutritional content of its meat, milk and eggs in unfortunate ways.) I defy you to gain weight, or worsen your diabetes, on this diet. (But I’m not a doctor, so as always, check with yours first before you make any major dietary changes.)