My neighbor was hanging out in her front yard yesterday as I returned from picking up my share of the community supported agriculture (CSA) program. “What did you get?” she asked. I opened the box – it felt like getting an early Christmas present – and discovered okra, peas, jalapenos, spaghetti squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potato greens, onions and cilantro. And in recent shares, I’ve had potatoes, corn, acorn squash, rosemary, green beans, summer squash, zucchini, pears, peaches, figs and melons.
But what seemed so healthy yesterday had a different look today after the news came out that low-carbohydrate diets may be better than low-fat diets for weight loss and cardiovascular health. Based on that fact, several of my goodies from shares past and present – such as corn, potatoes, peas and winter squash – would be suspect if you go by the face value of what’s reported.
So let’s go to the research. The study out of Tulane University in New Orleans involved 148 obese men and women who didn’t have a clinical diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or diabetes. These people were divided into two groups. One group ate a low-carbohydrate diet while the other ate a low-fat diet. Both groups were counseled about their diet at regular intervals. The people in the low-fat group were asked not to eat more than 30 percent of their daily calories from fat at the start of the study. In comparison, the people in the low-carbohydrate group were limited to 40 grams of carbohydrates daily (which is the equivalent of two slices of bread).
Researchers collected data on the participants’ weight, cardiovascular risk factors and dietary consumption at the start of the study and then at three-month intervals for a year. They found that 82 percent of the group assigned to the low-fat diet and 79 percent of the group who were assigned to the low-carbohydrate diet completed the intervention. After a year, the group that consumed the low-carbohydrate diet had lost more weight and had better indicators (such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels) as far as their cardiovascular health than the people who ate the low-fat diet.
This is a small study, but there have been other studies that have suggested low-carbohydrate diets may help people lose weight more quickly and then maintain that loss. The Tulane researchers do point out that their study only lasted for one year so there could be a greater long-term effect.
So which diet is better for you? I think both have their merits, but I also think that an all-encompassing umbrella branding carbohydrates as food to avoid is problematic.
Here’s an example of my logic. The humble acorn squash that was in my CSA share a week ago is primarily made up of carbohydrates (90 percent). A baked acorn squash contains 29.9 grams of carbs, which is right at three-fourths of the amount of daily carbohydrates recommended in the Tulane study. But this vegetable is so much more than the carbohydrates. This vegetable has nine grams of fiber and offers numerous health benefits since it is an important source of carotenoids and key antioxidants. Winter squash is really high in vitamin A and also is a good source of vitamin C. Furthermore, some studies suggest that some types of starch – such as that in the squash – offer protective health benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and insulin-regulating properties.
Because of the health benefits of this squash, I’d encourage you to delve a little deeper when you consider what to cut out of your diet. Know that there are a number of natural sources of carbohydrates, including many types of produce (both fruits and vegetables), milk, nuts, grains, seeds and legumes. If you want to lose weight and want to follow a low-carb diet, I’d encourage you to talk to a nutritionist to make sure that you’re making the right cuts and are not deleting some really nutritious foods!
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Bazzano, L.A. (2014). Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine.
Bruso, J. (2013). What vegetables are high in carbohydrates? Livestrong.com.
George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Squash, winter.
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet.
MedlinePlus. (2014). Low-carb beats low-fat for weight loss, heart health: Study.
Published On: September 02, 2014