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Carbohydrates, Canadians, and Weight Loss

Posted Jul 29 2009 5:30pm
  If you are slim in Canada, it is because you eat lots of carbohydrate. The Canadian Community Health Survey Cycle conducted a study of eating habits and the weight of almost 4500 Canadians age 18 and older. The survey took place in 2004-5 and the results were just published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (volume l09, pages 1165-1172).   Contrary to what the proponents of low carb-high protein diets have been telling us for years, (Dr. Atkins, are you listening, wherever you are?), the fattest Canadians ate the least carbohydrates and the thinnest ate the most.   Slim Canadians avoid large amounts of protein and fat and get between a half and two-thirds of their calories from starchy foods, fruits and vegetables.    So why are we in the U.S. being told over and over again to avoid carbohydrates as a way of losing weight?   The reason for telling people this is in the hope that they will stop filling up on junk-food carbohydrates that may also be high in fat and salt. Doughnuts, French fries, chips, cookies, high-fat chocolate and ice cream have very few nutrients, lots of fat and sugar or starch. Soda is sugar water with flavor and now is thought to be a major contributor to our country’s obesity problem since people drink it instead of water or liquids, like diet sodas, without calories. So if you tell people to stop eating carbohydrates, then they may, possibly, eat fewer bags of Doritos or drink fewer cans of Coke. The other reason for telling people who want to lose weight to stop eating carbohydrates is that eliminating carbohydrates from your diet causes your body to lose water. And when you do this, you see your weight going down on the scale. Even though the reason your weight decreases is due to water, and not fat, loss, it still is motivating and may keep you on a diet for a few days longer.  But as the Canadian survey showed, weight can be kept under control when a large part of the diet consists of carbohydrates. Of course, the carbohydrates they are eating are not junk carbs. Potatoes, corn, vegetables, fruit, oatmeal, cereals, bread, rice and pasta are all carbohydrates that contain fiber, vitamins and minerals.  But how do eating starchy foods full of vitamins and fiber keep Canadians thin?   The answer is in what happened at dinner last night. We took friends out to an Italian restaurant and of course we all had pasta.   The portions were not large but none of us could finish what we were served. When the waiter came over to ask if we wanted dessert, we all patted our stomachs and said that we were so full we did not even want to look at the dessert menu. One of us said,” Even though I know that carbs are extremely filling because of what they do to serotonin (he was the one who discovered that eating carbs causes the brain to make more of this chemical), I keep rediscovering it every time I eat pasta.”   The other male added that he always has an urge for something sweet after eating protein for dinner. “My stomach may feel as full as I feel right now,“ he said “ but my brain doesn’t. It is amazing how protein can fill you up physically but not leave you satisfied.”   His wife nodded. “I have to keep something sweet in the freezer; otherwise he wanders around the kitchen looking for a sweet snack. I know he is not hungry because I know what he ate for dinner. He just needs to eat some carbs.”Pasta, or any other carbohydrate, satisfies the appetite in ways that protein cannot.   This is because the pasta or other carbs will allow the brain to make serotonin, the chemical that shuts off appetite. The frozen yogurt-eating male may have a full stomach after his protein dinner but his brain is not satisfied. This is why he prowls the kitchen for a sweet carbohydrate. When he eats pasta for dinner, his stomach and his brain are full and the frozen yogurt goes uneaten.  Have the Canadians, the thin ones at least, discovered this? Do they traditionally eaten lots of starchy carbohydrates because they are healthy and leave them satisfied? Are they more resistant to diet fads than we in the U.S. who fell for the theory that high protein diets would make us thin?  Whatever the reason, this survey certainly shows that starchy foods mean skinny bodies.  
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