A reader sent along an interesting link to me to an article titled 8 reasons carbs help you lose weight.
To be totally honest I don’t have a huge problem with this title, as you can certainly make an argument that carbs can help you lose weight. A reasonable person would simply point out that they provide fuel to help you train more intensely, and they help you to recover from that training, among a few other things.
Unfortunately reasonable recommendations are not sexy, and sexy sells. So instead this article has paragraph headings like eating carbs makes you thin for life, carbs control blood sugar and diabetes, and carbs blast belly fat. It also focuses on the term resistant starch, without providing any real world examples of resistant starch foods.
The author refers to research without providing any references. I will admit that I do this in my blog too, because it is a blog, not an article. However when readers ask for the references, I gladly provide them. There were requests, but no follow through as far as I could tell.
This just might be my favorite quote in the whole piece:
“A recent multi-center study found that the slimmest people also 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 make up to 64% of your total daily caloric intake, or 361 grams.”
First, you can’t conclude anything from observational research. It simply provides data to generate a hypothesis, from which you do intervention trials to test that hypothesis. You want to know when your odds of getting and staying slim are best? When you don’t eat to caloric excess. Lame I know, but true.
I also love how we all require 361 grams. So a 110lb 75 year old sedentary female requires the same amount of carbohydrate as a 250lb 22 year old linebacker? Does that make sense to anybody. Your carbohydrate needs are dependent upon many, many things, not some pre-determined number.
How about carbs control blood sugar and diabetes?
“The right mix of carbs is the best way to control blood sugar and keep diabetes at bay. In one study at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Center at the USDA, participants who consumed a diet rich in high Resistant Starch foods were able to lower their post-meal blood sugar and insulin response by up to 38%.
Eat the carbs you want, but you need to combine them so that they don’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. Instead of eating white rice, switch to brown and combine it with beans, corn, or other high Resistant Starch foods that keep your blood sugar more balanced than low-carb diets.”
First of all, extrapolating data on blood sugar and insulin response in healthy people to a diabetic population is a recipe for disaster. People with diabetes have an altered metabolic response to carbohydrate, and their post-meal blood sugar and insulin will be vastly different than that of non-diabetics.
Second, when are people going to realize that the difference in blood sugar response between white rice and brown is virtually non-existent? On top of that, blood sugar response to any food is highly variable by person, as well as the other foods in the meal.
Third, yes let’s tell diabetics to just eat the carbs they want, but to simply combine them with these special foods and magically their blood sugar will remain stable. Pay no attention to amounts, those aren’t important.
Finally, carbs blast belly fat.
“Carbs help you lose your belly fat faster than other foods, even when the same number of calories are consumed.
When scientists fed rats a diet rich in Resistant Starch, it increased the activity of fat-burning enzymes and decreased the activity of fat-storing enzymes. This means that the belly-fat cells were less likely to soak up and store calories as fat.”
Again, this research is simply theoretical. Ok so it certainly seems like resistant starch might be helpful, but did these altering of the enzymes actually lead to less fat accumulation? Soft end points are all well and good, but if the research did not look at a hard end point (like actual weight loss), you can’t extrapolate it out to actual weight loss! Where was the control? Did the control group also see the same result? This research could be completely meaningless.
In the end I think articles like this do more harm than good. Are carbohydrates these evil foods that they have recently been made out to be? Clearly not. Do some people do better with less of them in their diet? Absolutely. Do some people do well with lots in their diet? Yes to that too. Telling people that simply eating carbs, and resistant starch, is going to lead to long-term weight loss is ridiculous. Its like telling people that just eating protein is going to lead to weight loss. Neither is true.
Long-term weight loss or maintenance of a healthy body weight is not achieved by a singular focus or removal of any one macronutrient. Especially one as easy to over-consume and make poor choices with as carbohydrate.
The key is to focus on the actual food sources of your carbohydrate intake. Foods that have sustained humans throughout history, not nutrient-empty refined foods (white flour, sugar, HFCS, etc). Things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, fruits, vegetables, etc should make up the majority of your carbohydrate intake.
The next focus is on amount. I firmly believe that most people would do best with a moderate intake of all of the macronutrients. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but I think it fits best for the majority of the population. As long as you maintain energy balance and the majority of your intake is from real, whole, minimally processed foods you should be A OK.
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