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[This is another in our series on the How and Why of Eating Healthy.]
The best research that we have says that you can lose weight by eating a low carbohydrate diet. Such diets may be slightly more effective than a Mediterranean style diet as far as weight loss is concerned. There is some difference between the two diets as far as the effect they have on blood sugar and cholesterol, but all in all eating fewer calories has been shown to help you lose weight no matter how you do it.
If you are like me, you don't particularly want to spend your time severely restricting any particular food (especially carbs). I'm sorry, but give up pasta? Never!
That said, part of the reason that a low carbohydrate diet works so well is all of the poor quality carb choices folks generally make. Taking potato chips, French fries, Cheetos, candy, cake, ice cream, etc. out of your diet makes it pretty easy to lose weight. This is the reason that Atkins or South Beach style low carbohydrate diets work for people. They simply quit eating junk.
Quite simply, you don't have to quit eating carbs, just make great choices. This is another great example of how to eat great food and eat healthy by choosing the best quality calories.
It's pretty easy really. A Milky Way Bar has 240 calories. Of that there are 41 grams of carbohydrates, of which 35 grams are sugar. That works out to about 9 teaspoons of sugar (rather a lot). As with many low quality calorie foods, there's also a lot of fat: 10 grams of fat per bar (7 grams of saturated fat). Open the candy bar, eat in a few minutes, full of sugar (and fat) and it's gone.
Compare this to having a large apple. Fewer calories (190) and a bit less carbs (30) but without the fat. Full of fiber and really filling. Interestingly, there's good research showing that folks are just as satisfied eating the apple (but don't feel quite as guilty as when they have chocolate). The numbers are similar with the other low quality junk food – lots of high carb food (often jam packed with saturated fat).
The other key to making carbohydrates part of your diet is portion control. By simply knowing what the best choices are and how much is in a serving you can have your carbs and eat them too.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
July 13, 2009
Last updated: 07/13/09