Are Carbs Making a Comeback?
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
“Lose 15, 35, 100+ pounds and never feel hungry... eat what you love and get slim for life… eat the carbs you love, lose weight fast”… these are some claims made in The CarbLovers Diet, a new book from the Editors of Health magazine. As a registered dietitian (not to mention self-proclaimed lover of all things carb-- doughy bread, warm soft pretzels, and fresh pasta among my favorites), I try to help consumers be savvy when it comes to their diet book purchases (let’s face it, they’ll never go out of style!). When I saw The CarbLovers Diet, I had a feeling that consuming carbohydrate-rich foods—even those shunned or outright banned by many—might become the next big dietary trend. Does it sound too good to be true—can we really have the carbs we want and at the same time, get over our weight woes once and for all?
To get a little insight, I spoke with the book’s coauthor, registered dietitian Frances Largeman-Roth. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
As a registered dietitian, I believe most if not all foods can fit into any healthful diet, even one that’s calorie-controlled to promote weight loss. But some of the book’s claims such as “eating pasta, bread, potato chips, and pizza will make you thin” made my eyebrows raise. Can you explain?
For years Americans have been told that to lose weight, they’d have to cut out many of their favorite foods (such as pasta, pizza, and bread). Not true! Some of those foods people tend to avoid including potatoes, pasta, bread, rice, and even potato chips contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that helps you feel full and burn more fat. The CarbLovers Diet is all about eating your favorite foods in moderation as well as choosing whole grain, high-fiber options of your favorite foods. A recent multicenter study of thousands of people (published in JADA in 2009 by Anwar et al), found that the slimmest people ate the most carbs and the chubbiest ate the least. The researchers concluded that your odds of getting and staying slim are best when carbs comprise up to 64 percent of your total calorie intake or 361 grams a day. Low carb diets often restrict carbs to just 10 to 20 percent of calories.
You say resistant starch burns or melts fat. Can you discuss the research behind this claim?
Nearly 200 studies on resistant starch have shown that it’s an effective weight loss aid because it’s not absorbed into the bloodstream or broken down into glucose. It also doesn’t raise blood sugar. Resistant starch has also been shown to produce fatty acids that turn on enzymes to melt belly fat, and encourages the liver to switch to a fat burning state. It also helps boost satiety to keep you feeling fuller longer—feeling satisfied and not hungry are keys to sticking to a diet.
Why do you think this diet is unique and easy to follow?
The nutrition science community has always endorsed a carbohydrate-rich diet—one that’s rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—to help people stay healthy and slim. The CarbLovers Diet was designed to help people achieve permanent weight loss without feeling deprived or missing out on key nutrients. This diet is unique because it doesn’t eliminate anything. It emphasizes resistant starch and whole grain options and also includes fruit, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and monounsaturated and omega-3 fats. No foods are off limits, so there’s no risk of bingeing on “bad” foods dieters crave. Phase 1, the Kickstart Plan, provides approximately 1,200 calories, and Phase 2, the Immersion Plan provides approximately 1,600 calories. The diet recommends one food rich in resistant starch (called a CarbStar) at each meal—except for potato chips, these include healthful foods such as bananas, oatmeal, beans and lentils. One quarter of a person's plate should be a CarbStar food, and the rest should be from lean meats, low fat dairy products, "good fats" and fruits and vegetables.
Is it really possible to follow this diet and never feel hungry? Won’t people feel hungry especially during Phase 1 (the first week) when they consume a mere 1,200 calories a day?
The CarbLovers Diet incorporates filling, low-calorie, high-volume (but never fake!) foods into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to keep you feeling full so that you don’t find yourself running to the vending machine between meals.
What would you say to the naysayers who think of carbs as the devil and something they should avoid—especially if they want to lose weight?
Other than touting the benefits of eating a high fiber, nutrient rich diet, I would challenge them to try The CarbLovers Diet and see how much better they feel. We hear time and time again how our dieters feel great and have enough energy to not only exercise, but exercise longer and harder than they did before. If you don’t supply your body with carbohydrate-rich foods, it’s incredibly challenging to exercise and feel well.
The Bottom Line: A recent report by the Advisory Committee of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that there’s no optimal proportion of carbohydrate, protein, and fat for enhancing weight loss or weight maintenance. When it comes to weight loss, my advice is to consume enough calories to meet your energy and nutrient needs, find a way of eating that you can sustain for life, and to stay active.
How do you look at carbohydrates?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com, and www.nutritionatyourfingertips.com. Follow Elisa on Twitter and Facebook.