Carbohydrates – Part III

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

Does eating carbohydrates cause weight gain or make it difficult to lose weight?

That depends. Eating too many calories from any type of food will cause weight gain. But foods with low fiber content often contain a lot of calories without any nutrients. They are metabolized very quickly into glucose. The sudden spike in the blood glucose level triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage. This means it is easy to gain weight by eating too many of these types of foods.

Foods with high fiber content are metabolized more slowly without causing a big insulin rush. The body can use them as energy over several hours. In general, foods with high fiber content are higher in vitamins and minerals so they are healthier foods to eat.

Is it possible to eat a healthy diet without eating any carbohydrates?

Weight loss is the most common reason why people decide to go on low carb diets. Experts in diet and nutrition agree that a low carb diet can be a good way to jump start weight loss, but it is hard to follow for a long time. Another caution is that many low carb diets include large amounts of unhealthy oils. Low carb diets that are high in animal fat may actually increase the risk of heart disease. And the long term effects of very low carb or no-carb diets are not known. A diet that includes a moderate amount of healthy carbohydrates like whole grain products, fruits and vegetables is the best diet for long-term weight management and health. It is also the easiest kind of diet to follow.

What does a food’s nutrition label tell me about carbohydrates?

Nutrition labels are a good source of information about the kinds of carbs and how much fiber a food contains.

Summary of characteristics of good and bad carbohydrates

Good carbohydrates (High fiber content)

  • Slowly digested (body can use food as energy over several hours). Slowly digested foods result in a gradual increase in blood sugar.
  • Unprocessed foods. Natural ingredients are not removed during the making of the food. Examples include whole grain breads, beans and cereals and products made from whole wheat flour, along with vegetables and fruits.
  • Helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes; helps prevent obesity; and keeps the digestive system healthy

Bad carbohydrates (Low fiber content)

  • Rapidly digested. Rapidly digested foods cause a spike in the level of blood sugar (The spike triggers the pancreas to make more insulin, which is a hormone that makes the body store more fat.)
  • Processed foods. Natural ingredients have been removed or changed during the making (the ‘processing’) of the food. For example, to make white bread, the bran and germ from wheat grain needs to be removed to make the white flour used to make white bread. Other processed foods include cakes, cookies and other bakery items made with white flour; white (processed) rice and some cereals.
  • Increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

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