Health effects of carbs: Where do we stand?
By Carina Storrs, Special to CNN
(CNN) Bread glorious bread! It was once considered a status symbol, and has been a nutritious dietary staple for all classes for millennia.
But starting in the second half of the 1990s, bread became bad. So did the whole menu of starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes, as well as sugary carbs including milk and cookies. Cue the Atkins Diet, and even “good for you carbs” such as fruits were off the table.
The argument of Dr. Robert Atkins, Dr. Arthur Agatston (of the South Beach Diet) and many others was that, because low-carb diets reduce insulin in the body, they reduce fat accumulation and eventually lead to fat burning. The way they saw it, drastically slashing carbs, and consequently consuming more protein and fat, was the only way to lose weight.
In the last decade, the medical view of carbs is becoming more balanced. To lose weight, we have to cut calories, and that can happen by cutting carbs or fat (or both), according to the recent report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which will inform the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans due out later this year. The report did not make specific recommendations to lower carbohydrates, although some criticize that omission.
The important thing is to pick a diet you can stick to. Atkins might be easiest for some; experts have suggested the high-protein and high-fat diet helps us feel full longer. For others, a more balanced strategy, such as Weight Watchers, may be the way to go.
“I think Americans are slowly getting the message that … breads and grains are fine as long as they are whole grains so we get fiber and nutrients,” said Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor of programs in nutrition at Boston University.
Blake attributes USDA’s My Plate visual dietary guides with helping Americans understand that carbs are OK, especially if they are whole grains and “from Mother Nature,” such as fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy, and balanced with protein and good fats.
Through the ages, however, exceptions have come to bear. Let’s take a look at the timeline.
2 million B.C. headline: Man cannot live on meat alone
The Paleo diet may be misunderstood: It might not have consisted of only meat, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Recent research suggests that starchy foods, especially potatoes, were also an important component of their diet.