Now that the holiday season is nearly over, a priority New Year’s resolution is to go on a diet and lose weight. On January 2, millions of Americans will start their diet by cutting carbohydrates. People often forget that carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet. It is the primary fuel that gives energy to the body to use for everything we do. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The majority of carbohydrates in our diet should come from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These foods are high in fiber and nutrients.
An easy way to think about carbohydrates is to break them down into starches and sugars. Starches include complex carbohydrates, which are breads, pasta, rice, starchy vegetables, cereals, and the whole grains. The sugar-based carbohydrates include those which contain natural sugars such as fruit, fruit juice, honey, agave, and molasses. In contrast, the other sugar-based carbohydrates can be defined by those which have “added sugar”.
Although we need carbohydrates in our diet, many people do not know how much or what kind should be consumed. Individual recommendations vary based on body size, gender, and activity level. However, for weight loss, weight control, cholesterol and diabetes management, it is essential to watch the total carbohydrate and sugar intake, with an emphasis on the reduction of REFINED carbohydrates and ADDED sugars. All grains and starches are extremely carbohydrate dense. All these foods can be included in a healthy diet, but it is imperative to watch serving sizes and portions of these foods.
Most people are often surprised that the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. Sugar is added to processed foods for taste, texture, and shelf life. Unfortunately, food labels do not differentiate between added and natural sugars. In the ingredients, the line for “sugars” indicates both added and natural sugars. To reduce added sugars, one needs to be sure to look at the ingredients and the following “buzz words” that indicate that sugars were added. Some of the most common buzz words used include corn syrup, brown sugar, agave nectar, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, honey, sugar, cane sugar, malt sugar, beet sugar, and any sugar ending in “ose”. Dietary sugar should be limited to 9 teaspoons a day for men and 6 teaspoons a day for women. Massive amounts of sugar are present in our everyday beverages. For example, one Starbucks Frappuccino, 16 ounce Venti, no whip, contains 15 teaspoons of sugar. A regular 16 ounce can of soda contains 11.5 teaspoons of sugar. One 16 ounce bottle of 100% pomegranate juice contains 13.5 teaspoons of sugar.
The best way to start the New Year’s diet is to first not label it as a diet, but to think about it as changing one’s eating habits. This is what is included when we say that therapeutic lifestyle changes need to be made in one’s life. One should start by eating whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, because they contain ample amounts of dietary fiber. Fiber functions to slow digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and keeps one full and satisfied. Unfortunately, whole grains are often refined during food processing and most fiber is removed. I tell my patients to avoid eating anything that is “white” because it is just like eating a simple sugar, which needs to be limited to optimize weight loss and to keep a healthy diet. For more information, you can go to http://www.lipidcenter.com