Dr. Day is a cardiologist/electrophysiologist at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah. He graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School and completed his residency and fellowships in cardiology and electrophysiology at Stanford University. He is the former president of the Heart Rhythm Society and currently serves as the president of the Utah chapter of the American College of Cardiology.
Should I Avoid Carbs?
Should I avoid carbs is something I am asked all the time. Indeed, the low-carb craze today differs little from the fat-free craze a generation ago and, for that matter, the low-protein craze a hundred years ago.
Diets are like fads, they go in and out of style because they aren’t based on science. That’s why I hate the word “diet.” It turns something that couldn’t be more natural, food, into something harsh and rigid.
Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
Here’s the thing: Not all carbs are created equal. While it is true that carbs from sugar and processed foods cause weight gain — and lots of it — carbs from vegetables, legumes and fruit have the exact opposite effect.
In general, what determines whether a carb causes weight gain or weight loss is determined by how fast it is converted to sugar in our bodies. The flour in even a slice of whole wheat bread, for example, is converted to sugar faster than a Snickers bar. In contrast, broccoli carbs — yes, there are carbs in broccoli — take hours to digest. Those are good carbs.
The Science on Weight Gain and Carbs
In a study that looked at more than 130,000 people over nearly a quarter century of food consumption, researchers from Harvard and Tufts University found that the more carbs you get from vegetables, fruits and legumes the less you will weigh. Meanwhile, another Harvard study — this one including 120,000 people — showed that the more carbs you get from sugars, sweets and processed foods the more you will pack on the pounds.
Want more proof? The longest lived people in the world, the people of Okinawa, Japan, who also happen to probably be the healthiest and leanest people as well, eat mostly carbs – the good ones.
Avoiding all carbohydrates because things like processed bread can contribute to weight gain is like avoiding all liquids because soda pop is a scourge to public health. In my experience, the number one factor of weight gain or weight loss is the type of carb you pick.
Tip: Get to know your carbs.
There’s a tremendous difference between filling carbs and hunger carbs. And once you understand the difference, it makes it a lot easier to decide which is which.
The Filling Carbs
Filling carbohydrates are a part of “real food,” which is how I think about food that isn’t highly processed (or processed at all, for that matter.) Sweet potatoes have good carbs. So do vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, and unprocessed grains. These carbs fill you up and keep you satiated for a long time.
The Hunger Carbs
Hunger carbohydrates are a very big part of “fake food,” which includes just about anything that doesn’t look like the ingredients from which it is made. This includes processed breakfast cereals, potato chips and most breads — especially those that are made from pulverized, very fine flour.
Take Home Message on Carbs
The best way to get to know your carbs is to memorize a very simple mantra from food guru Michael Pollan: “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”
Do you limit carbs? If so, which carbs?
Please leave your comments and questions below and I’ll do my best to quickly answer every question. If you liked this article, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter. If you would rather listen to these topics, please subscribe to my podcast.
Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.