Sugar is a carb. It is the worst carb. This should be obvious, I know, so apologies if you already understand this. I really feel it needs to be said. I’ve had some distressing conversations with patients lately. They tell me that they are very careful to avoid a potato with dinner, but they seem to think it’s fine to have a little something sweet for dessert. “But potatoes are a bad carb,” they say.
How did we get to the point where starch with the evening meal is believed to cause more weight gain than dessert? Why do people fear rice, but feel absolutely fine about the so-called natural sweetener agave (which is pure fructose, by the way).
As a clinician on the front-lines with patients, the low-CARB, low GI message has caused major confusion. People used to intuitively understand that dessert is fattening (I don’t recall having these patient conversations 15 years ago). Now, with a bad carb label slapped onto carrots and rice and every other thing, people just don’t know what to think.
For those that might need a little gentle clarification, let me explain. The word carbohydrate is not synonymous with starch. The official definition of carbohydrate is: any one of a large group of organic compounds, including single sugars, such as fructose, and long chain polysaccharides (such as starch and cellulose).
The damaging, obesity-causing carbs are the concentrated single sugars such as table sugar, sucrose and fructose. This includes the fructose sweeteners agave, honey, and dried fruit. They are the king of bad carbs.
The good carbs are the long glucose chains (polysaccharides) in vegetables, potatoes or rice. These are gentle carbs, or safe starches according to Paul Jaminet. I was so happy to discover his book after someone mentioned it on my Gentle Carb post. (Gluten-grains are another story, and do not qualify as a gentle carb.)
Eaten as part of a meal, starch is NOT high GI. It is only high GI if it’s eaten entirely on its own (who would do that?). Combine starch with protein, fat and vegetables, and the absorption of glucose is slowed right down.
According researcher Professor Richard Johnson:
There’s a fair amount of evidence that starch-based foods don’t cause weight gain like sugar-based foods and don’t cause the metabolic syndrome like sugar-based foods. Potatoes, pasta, rice may be relatively safe compared to table sugar. A fructose index may be a better way to assess the risk of carbohydrates related to obesity.
Starch has another benefit. Starch in general, and potatoes in particular, contain a fibre called resistant starch, which promotes healthy intestinal bacteria. Resistant starch creates the short chain fatty acid butyrate, which essential for the bowel and immune health.
Butter is another source of butyrate. So please go ahead and have that baked potato with butter. And then seriously think about skipping dessert.
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Yours in Health,