Essential Carbs?

Don't dieticians recommend 5-6 grain portions a day?

Yes, they do.  Did you know the Canadian Diabetes Association advises type II diabetics to eat starchy foods with every meal?   Why is that, when type II diabetes is associated with overweight?

I have spent a lot of time online looking for reasons why.  I didn't find any good ones to convince me I might be missing out on any essential nutrients if I don't eat commercial bread or pasta.

Of course grains give us a ready source of energy, but what if I already have plenty of energy stored away on my hips and thighs?

It is true that glucose is essential to the body.  However, what many laypeople aren't aware of is that any glucose you eat never makes it to the brain and tissues without first undergoing a series of complex transformations.  Your body manufactures that glucose, and it can use fat, proteins or carbs to do this.  I have written a more detailed explanation of the process at this link

The Heart & Stroke Foundation has a position paper dated 2004, warning people to be careful of diets advocating low carbohydrates.  One of the links is a referral to a document produced by The Dieticians of Canada.  This document, in turn, refers back to the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

Neither organization warns consumers to eliminate sugar, refined grains and trans fats.  I was not able to find any specific reference to sugar being harmful.  Instead, they advocate diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and recommend reducing consumption of trans fats.  This is misleading to people who may not know better and are looking to organizations such as these for guidance.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation's rationale for being cautious about low carbohydrate diets is partly because of lack of research.  But note that H&S paper was dated 2004. 

There are an unbelievable number of credible resources, including papers published in peer reviewed journals, lending support to various angles on low carbohydrate eating.

It's astounding that the nutritional authorities that people look to for advice are not keeping up with current research.

For example, there is this two year study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (August 2010), which concludes:
Successful weight loss can be achieved with either a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet when coupled with behavioral treatment. A low-carbohydrate diet is associated with favorable changes in cardiovascular disease risk factors at 2 years.
Another example comes from a long term study published in November 2006 in the New England Journal of Medicine, which concludes:
Diets lower in carbohydrate and higher in protein and fat were not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
It seems to me that the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada has - at minimum -  a responsibility to the public to stay up to date with research coming from peer-reviewed journals such as these.


Bread doesn't grow out of the ground. It is probably the world's oldest processed food.  So old, in fact, that we don't even think of it as a processed food any more.  It's a staple that we take for granted.  It's hard to imagine living normally without eating bread.

I also spent a lot of time looking for the nutritional benefits of bread.  Conventional health wisdom tells us that it's good to eat wholewheat bread.  Certainly, it's better than white bread.  However I have baked a lot of bread myself, and I know that even a wholewheat loaf tastes way better when it has a substantial portion of white flour in it.  Often wholewheat bread is little more than white bread with bran thrown back in.  So it's probably very seldom that you are eating a whole grain.

There's one thing you can be sure of:  the bread that is served in cafeterias, hospitals and other institutions is not whole grain bread.

As such, there are no essential nutrients in that bread that you need for optimal health.  It took me a while to realize that.  It's more about the sensory gratification:  the smell of freshly baked bread and the taste of a wonderful crust.  Isn't that why you eat bread?

I know what you're thinking.  Why give up something that smells and tastes so heavenly?  Well, what if I told you that after a little while, you will stop being drawn to bread in that way?  You won't even really be tempted?

That's what happened to me.  In fact, after about 4 months without bread, I tried some.  It was good, but I was a little surprised to find it didn't quite have the same appeal it used to.  And my stomach felt really heavy in the morning - a most uncomfortable feeling.  It's hard to explain this convincingly, but other people have noticed the same thing.


Pasta is one of the cornerstones of the Western diet.  But, just like bread, it is made of wheat, and by far the most pasta is made of white flour.  Even wholewheat pasta has a high carb content.  So if you cut it out of your diet, your body won't be deprived of anything it can't miss.  You can easily substitute it though:  try spaghetti squash or julienned zucchini with your pasta sauce, perhaps with a sprinkling of toasted nuts for a meal that leaves you feeling pleasantly full.

Ancient Grains and Lentils

I spent a lot of time looking up the nutrients of other grains like quinoa, millet, barley and the like, as well as pulses like lentils.  They are undoubtedly better for you than a similar quantity of bread.  But they also contain a lot of sugars.  That's something to keep in mind.  You might want to continue to eat them in controlled quantities, or you may choose to eliminate them almost altogether, like I have done.   It's up to you.  As healthy as quinoa, millet and barley are, I'd love to see some evidence that your health is compromised if you don't eat them.

At the end of the day, weight loss occurs when you use up more energy than you consume.  Carbs give you a burst of energy, and then your blood sugar dips and you become hungry again.  At such times it's easier to reach for a starchy snack with a high glycemic load like a cookie or a glass of pop to make you feel good again.  And there are not likely to be any essential nutrients in that kind of snack!

Portion control is very hard for many people, and most of us are much more sedentary than our ancestors were.  This is how weight creeps up as we get older, especially after we reach middle age.  If you didn't see it already, please check out the post on the carbohydrate curve for a really visual explanation of what happens to most of us when we subsist on a carbohydrate-filled diet.

When you reduce the glycemic load in your diet, you won't experience the ups and downs as much and you won't feel as hungry because your body doesn't experience that down cycle nearly as quickly. 

Another way to put it is that something has to give in order to lose weight.  By eliminating the non-essential food choices, it leaves more space for the foods that are better for you and which won't leave you wanting to eat more than you need to.

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