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The Trick to Counting Carbs
Thursday November 09 04:10 PM EST

By Paul Wolf, From


Bob Haber had done the dieting thing always with the same so-so results. But earlier this year the 43-year-old television station director lost an impressive 23 pounds.

He did it on the Dr. Atkins diet, which is known for its virtual elimination of carbohydrates.

Success, however, came with a price. Haber was plagued by fatigue and headaches. So he upped the carbs from an austere 20 grams (the equivalent of one grapefruit's worth of carbs) to 60 (the equivalent of three). The weight has stayed off, his appetite is both satisfied and under control, and he feels great.

How many Americans can say that? Too many of us are desperate to lose weight so desperate that we no longer believe we can win the battle of the bulge on our own.

So we choose our camp in the low carb (Robert Atkins) vs. high carb (Dean Ornish) diet wars. Or we take our chances in a minefield of "miracle" weight loss creams and gadgets. But a few, like Haber, have put faith in themselves and made this fight against fat personal.

That means Haber listens to his body and what it needs including carbohydrates, while obeying his mind in terms of eating sensibly. "I have choices," says Haber. "I can have a baked potato or a piece of garlic bread, if I want. I mainly have to stay away from processed sugars and desserts."

While high- and low-carb diet extremes can come with a host of health problems, evidence does suggest that many people do better on a controlled carbohydrate plan, even if that means eating more protein and fat. The key is choosing the right kinds of carbs and in the right amounts.

"There is no doubt that many people do overeat carbohydrates, particularly refined ones," says Jo Ann Hattner, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

The accessibility of foods like bagels, crackers and muffins is so great it's hard not to overindulge, she says. They may be convenient snacks, but they also cause a rise and fall in blood sugar.

When Dean Ornish and Robert Atkins debated the carb issue at the recent American Dietetic Association conference, the exchange was as predictable as a showdown between Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan: Not much room for agreement.

But a middle ground is just what many Americans need in their ongoing fight with fat.

"We learn fat is not good, so we go to the other extreme of eating way too much carbohydrate," observes Hattner. "I think it is a mistake to now swing back in the other direction against carbohydrates."

Carbs aren't the problem, says Hattner, but rather refined carbs white bread, pastas, white rice, juices and candies.

Unrefined carbohydrates (whole fruits and vegetables, beans and peas and whole grains) release glucose into the blood stream at a slower rate. They also help us to feel satisfied.

Foods like potatoes, oatmeal, apples and beans have a higher satisfaction per calorie index than cornflakes, potato chips and croissants, according to a well-publicized study from the University of Sydney. Likewise, it's been established that water content in conjunction with fiber help make foods satisfying with relatively few calories.

In his new book Syndrome X, Stanford endocrinologist Gerald Reaven, says carbohydrates are more of a problem for some, like the 25 to 30 percent of the adult population who suffer from some degree of "insulin resistance."

What that means is that when they eat a large amount of carbohydrates at one sitting, they fail to secret enough insulin to stabilize blood sugar. The result, he writes, is weight gain and a host of health problems.

"Odds are your physician and health-oriented friends have been telling you to cut back on fat and eat more carbohydrates," Reaven writes. "That may be good advice for some of us, but it's not the best advice for those with [insulin resistance]."

Instead, eat a little protein, carbohydrate and fat at every meal, advises Reaven. And emphasize monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low-cholesterol protein sources.

In other words, don't overdo the low-carb thing. Near zero-carb diets work by putting the dieter in a metabolic state called "ketosis." When carbs are virtually eliminated, the body uses fat particles (ketones) as fuel instead of glucose.

Cutting back on your morning bagel won't trigger ketosis. For ketosis to be a concern you'd have to go down to 40 or fewer grams (160 calories) of carbohydrates a day. Foods like milk and nuts have plenty of carbohydrates so it's almost impossible to go into ketosis without making a conscious effort to do so.

Low carb dieters have other health concerns to contend with. They may complain of some of the symptoms Haber had (headache and fatigue) not to mention sleeplessness, dizziness and even bad breath.

Moderation in carbs may be the safest alternative for you, provided that you take control. What that means, says Hattner, is asking yourself these questions: How do I feel? How is my weight? Have my cholesterol and blood pressure improved for the better?

Eat fewer carbs without sacrificing vitamins, minerals and fiber:

Eat lots of vegetables and a limited amount of whole fruits.

Restrict processed carbs, which means anything that comes in a package.

Avoid foods made with white sugar or white flour.

Favor cheese and cottage cheese over regular milk, which has a lot of carbs.

Limit carbs from juices and sodas.

Max out on carrots, broccoli, squash, asparagus, red and green peppers and peas. These are loaded with fiber and vitamins.

Don't fear potatoes and yams, as long as they're not fried.

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