Sugar is a carb. It is the worst carb. This should be stating the obvious, I know, so apologies if you already understand this. But I really feel it needs to be said because I’ve had some distressing conversations with patients. They’re very careful to avoid a potato with dinner, but think it’s fine to have a little something for dessert. “Potatoes are a bad carb,” they tell me.
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 are happy to eat natural sweeteners like dates or agave (which are pure fructose)?
As a clinician on the front lines, I can say that major confusion has been caused by the low-carb, low GI message. In the past, people used to intuitively understand that dessert is unhealthy (I don’t recall having these conversations with patients 15 years ago). Now, people fear carrots and rice because they’re “carbs”, but eat fruit juice and date balls because they’re “natural”.
Just as a little gentle clarification, let me explain:
The word carbohydrate does not mean starch.
A carbohydrate is any one of a large group of organic compounds, including long-chain polysaccharides (such as starch and cellulose), but also including single sugars such as fructose. And fructose is the bad carb. It is by far the most damaging, obesity-causing carb. Fructose includes sugar, but it also includes sweeteners such as agave, honey, and dried fruit.
Long glucose chains (polysaccharides) include vegetables, potatoes, and rice. They 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 inflammatory and so do not qualify as a gentle carb.
Eaten as part of a meal, starch is NOT high GI. It is high GI only if it’s eaten entirely on its own (who would do that?). When starch is combined with protein, fat and vegetables, the absorption of glucose is slowed right down.
According to 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, provide a fiber called resistant starch, which promotes healthy intestinal bacteria. Resistant starch creates the short chain fatty acid butyrate, which is good for gut bacteria and the immune system.
Butter is another source of butyrate. So please go ahead and have that baked potato with butter. And then seriously think about skipping dessert.
Please also see:
Yours in health,