Good carbs, bad carbs

Eating bread, potatoes and pasta will pile on the pounds, right? Forget what you've heard—our bodies need carbs. Here's how to enjoy them without adding extra inches

What you can learn from low-carb diets

While they aren’t your best approach to healthy eating, there are a few things the low-carb camp got right.

We overeat starches Unlike a chicken breast or an egg, starchy carbs often don’t come in preformed portion sizes, so we tend to heap them on our plates. While we should limit our starch portion, we often take enough pasta to fill our plates or pile on mounds of rice and mashed potatoes.

Most fast foods are carbs Cheap, unhealthy convenience foods rely on inexpensive ingredients and refined carbs are some of the cheapest out there. That’s why fast-food companies depend heavily on white flour, potatoes and sugar to produce an array of fattening eat-on-the-run foods. So while your doughnuts, french fries, bagels, pop and pizza cost little to buy, you may end up paying with your health.

Today’s carbs are worse for us Janet Beam, a registered nurse and the owner of Lifestyle Wellness Clinic in Fort Erie, Ont., says that modern processing technology and the hybridizing of wheat plants have made today’s flour—even whole-wheat flour—increasingly glutinous. This makes wheat flour both harder on our digestive system and gives it a higher GI rating. Only ancient grains such as kamut and quinoa still have a low GI rating—they get converted to glucose slowly and fill us up longer.

We tend to load carbs with fat We smother our baked potatoes with sour cream, prefer alfredo sauce on our pasta and slather fresh rolls with butter. Since fat’s got nine calories per gram, you only have to eat a little fat to take in a lot of calories.

We get hungry again when we eat carbs If you’re feasting on carbs with a high glycemic index, your stomach will probably start growling not long after. Choosing fibre-rich carbs or combining them with some protein can sate you until your next meal.

You can lose weight painlessly—at least in the short run Studies show these diets do help people drop pounds. According to Theresa Glanville, associate professor of nutrition at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, obesity specialists sometimes put very obese patients on these diets on a short-term basis and monitor them closely. Thanks to ketosis—a starvation-like state where your body starts sourcing energy from body fat because it can’t find any carbs to make into usable energy—you can take in just 1,000 calories a day (half of what most people eat) and not experience a single tummy growl. Plus, since you’re eating lots of meat, cheese and other fats, you won’t feel as if you’re on a depriving rabbit-food diet. The question is whether or not you’ll maintain it.