As many Americans seem to be fighting the battle of the bulge, the general population assumes that by cutting carbs from their everyday diet, it will eliminate unwanted fat. But are dieters losing more than just that “spare tire?” Best Food Facts nutrition specialist and registered dietitian, Carolyn O’Neil, discusses the implications of eliminating carbs from the diet.
We asked Carolyn to rate this statement on a scale of true to false: "Nutrition experts recommend eliminating carbs from the diet."
Carolyn says this statement is false.
Against the Grain
There’s a whole lot of confusion about whole grains. A battle over the breadbasket rages as advocates and experts take sides – either for, or against, the grain. Called into question are the health benefits associated with eating wheat and other gluten-containing grains including barley and rye. “Carbohydrates are awful for the brain,” claims neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of a newly-released diet book called Grain Brain. He says even those without celiac disease or gluten intolerance should be avoiding most whole grains. “Eating carbohydrate foods increases blood sugar levels which causes inflammation and can lead to dementia," says Perlmutter.
Nothing could be further from the truth, according to nutrition experts who point out that foods with carbohydrates actually provide glucose, (the preferred fuel of the brain) and contain nutrients like B vitamins that are beneficial to brain health. “Research shows that grains, especially low glycemic intact whole grains, reduce inflammation. They are part of the solution, not part of the problem,” says Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for Oldways and The Whole Grains Council. She cites a recent University of Nebraska study that showed eating whole grains (barley and brown rice) changed the makeup of microbes in the gut that improved inflammation in the body.
There are a growing number of people diagnosed with celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten-containing grains that can cause a range of health problems, but nutrition experts who specialize in this area in the U.S. and Canada say there is no evidence that gluten-containing whole grains pose widespread health risks for the rest of the population. In fact, quite the opposite could happen. Dietitians of Canada issued a statement in response to the advice in Grain Brain saying, “Diets that eliminate gluten, carbohydrates or categories of foods without medical justification may put the health of Canadians at risk.”
Perlmutter is particularly critical of wheat as being a culprit in increasing rates of obesity and degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Judy Adams, registered dietitian and president of the Wheat Foods Council responds by saying, “He can’t connect the increase in obesity rates and incidence of brain health problems with the consumption of wheat. We are actually eating less wheat today than we were 100 years ago.”
Harriman says a study done by Centers for Disease Control researchers projected diets would be extremely low in folic acid and iron and there would be shortages of B vitamins if enriched and whole grains were eliminated from the diets of Americans. She adds that even those with a gluten digestion problem can enjoy their choice of many nutritious gluten-free grains, including amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats (if certified as gluten-free), quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff, and wild rice.
Safe at the Plate
While carbs may be at the center of the debate, all sides seem to agree on a few principles for good health for the body and brain including the key roles of physical activity and sleep, the essential contribution of healthy fats such as those in olive oil and avocado, and the value of the Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes the consumption of fruits, vegetables and seafood.
Do you follow a gluten-free diet?