Weight Busters: All Carbohydrates are NOT Created Equal

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Carbohydrates are important and necessary in our diets and have generated a great deal of attention over the past decade due to the low carbohydrate weight loss craze. Marketing trends have played off of that low carb craze and so have dieting plans that count "points" and provide different "rules" based on what carbs are being consumed. Could this confusing information and marketing ploy be affecting your weight loss success?

Most of us know the basic truth about carbohydrates. We know there are simple carbohydrates that increase the blood sugar level which brings a surge of insulin and roller coaster of highs and lows. We know we need to limit our intake as much as possible. We are equally aware that complex carbohydrates provide necessary energy for the brain and body need to live the active life we desire to live. We know about the importance of indigestible carbohydrates called fiber and the benefits it provides to our digestive health. In our healthy eating plan we watch our total carbohydrate intake and know that they come from a variety of foods such as sugars, fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk and grain products.

Extremely low carbohydrate diets that restrict intake to 20-30 total grams in a day are harmful to the body but since they provide weight loss results they have become popular regardless of the long term risks to the body. To me it just goes to show how willing we are to see a change of number on a scale that we are willing to ignore the long term risks for a short term benefit. Add to that the new marketing focus of "net carb" counting and you have a recipe for messed up metabolic responses and weight loss confusion and frustration. I think it is important to point out that there is NO legal definition for "net" "active" or "impact" carbs. The only FDA regulated carbohydrate information is total carbohydrate with the break down of dietary fiber and sugars. The idea that a food item can have 30 grams of total carbohydrate but only 2 grams of "impact" carbs counts because the other 27 grams are from sugar alcohols can make us feel better but if you skip the part on the label that says that those 2 grams of impact carbs also come with 260 calories, you have missed a lot. If you eat a food that provides 2 net or impact carbs and 75 calories or you consume 2 net or impact carbs from a food that provides 250 calories, you are kidding yourself if you think you are consuming equal foods. Using a made up marketing trend to measure your intake could be limiting your weight loss success.

What if I told you perhaps the simple versus complex versus total amount of carbohydrate discussion is only part of the story? Diabetics have known for a while that glycemic index guidelines can also be a helpful tool in managing blood glucose levels. There are many weight loss diets that have taken the glycemic index principles and packaged them as a diet regimen. For some it can be helpful especially if the person has a degree of glucose intolerance issues that are contributing to their weight management issues. For other people, following these diet guidelines could be a contributor to weight loss frustrations. Looking at glycemic index numbers alone only looks at part of the way the body uses carbohydrates but where weight is concerned, there is more to it than just the raise and rate of blood glucose levels. Something that may be even more practical is using the glycemic load. Glycemic load looks not only at the quantity of response but also the quality. The glycemic load is determined by the glycemic index plus the amount of carbohydrate available for the body to use. Consider this example - a large carrot has a high glycemic index, however, since it is made up mostly of water, there are only about 5 grams of available carb for the body to use. A cup of spaghetti on the other hand while it has a similar glycemic index also contains 38 grams of carbohydrate for the body to use so it has a glycemic load that is eight times higher than the carrot. Following a low glycemic index diet for blood glucose control makes a great deal of sense but if you are having trouble with weight loss using these same principles, focusing on glycemic load may be more beneficial.

A Harvard multi-year study that looked at overweight woman found that those who ate a high glycemic load diet increased risks of developing coronary heart disease as well as increased risks of diabetes, gallbladder disease and elevated triglycerides, cholesterol and c-reactive protein (which is an inflammation marker related to a number of diseases). Likewise, they found that the glycemic index/glycemic load ratio may play a key role in weight loss. So if you are having trouble moving that scale and you are eating enough calories and including the right types and amounts of your macro nutrients, consider lowering your glycemic load. When you look at the list and compare that with all those that talk about following a low carbohydrate diet and seeing results, perhaps you will find that maybe it was related more to changing the glycemic load and the amount of sugar the body had to process.

The Bottom Line
Your body needs carbohydrate energy every day, throughout the day. Your muscles need them if you are active and your brain needs them to keep you sharp and clear. It is important to be aware of simple carbohydrate intake and limit them when possible in favor of complex, whole grain options. For many people, making sure macro nutrient intake and total calorie intake are in line and balanced with activity is enough to reach weight loss goals. For other people, especially those with conditions that effect glucose metabolism, it is necessary to look at macro nutrients like carbohydrates a little closer to see weight loss success. Don't fall prey to the marketing and dieting ploy to use net carb as an evaluation tool. Instead, consider the foods that you typically eat and how they rate related to glycemic load. You may find that making some small modifications is all your body needs to see the results you desire.

Did you know that "net carbs" was not an official FDA definition? Have you ever thought about the glycemic load of your carbohydrate intake? Will you now?

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RAPUNZEL53 8/8/2020
Thanks Report
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SNUZYQ2 1/19/2020
Well written. Thank you for clearing up a lot of misinformation about carbs! Report
ELRIDDICK 12/13/2019
Thanks for sharing Report
We seem to be overlooking something. The Eskimos did not die off thousands of years ago because their diet lacked carbs. Report
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GI never seemed to make much of a difference for me, one way or the other. However, I generally do not eat "sugar" except in the form of fresh fruits. When I do eat "sugar," I tend to be too hungry all the time so isn't that a wonderful blessing! My body craves things which are good for me. Win-Win scenario! Report
Atkins has been totally discredited by reputable nutritionists -- much of the weight loss comes from the body's shedding of glycogen and water, both essential for health and optimal exercise, while body fat levels can remain high. This is why Atkins dieters immediately regain the weight once they abandon their diets -- the water and glycogen come right back. For moderate to strenuous exercise, the best route to lasting weight loss, your body needs complex carbs, and a lot them -- at least 50% of your daily caloric intake. Report
I had never heard of glycemic load before...interesting! Report
ok--I never fell prey to the Atkins diet because I knew that carbs were an essential part of a diet. and just with fat, there are good carbs and bad carbs. So, I liked this blog, but what it was missing was this--how do we read the nutrition labels to figure out if it is good carbs or bad carbs? I mean, sure, there are the more obvious things (like, wheat bread is better than white bread), but the paragraph of this blog that says, "If you eat a food that provides 2 net or impact carbs and 75 calories or you consume 2 net or impact carbs from a food that provides 250 calories, you are kidding yourself if you think you are consuming equal foods." just made me go, "huh?" Do I know there is a difference and I should be paying attention to the labels, yes, do I know what I should be looking for no! More explanation on that please??? I have really been trying to learn HOW to read nutrition labels. There is plenty I already know (i.e. "natural" does not mean "organic"), etc... but really when it comes to the nurtition content, in most cases, I am really flying blind. This doesn't apply to things like broccoli and chicken and stuff. but the snacky things. I try to buy what I think are healthy snacks... but I don't always know if I am succeeding! Report
I will give credit to Atkins for this: it did teach me how to eat a variety of foods I wouldn't otherwise have tried (broccoli, brussels sprouts, fish and seafood, kale, all manner of salad greens). It did teach me how to cook properly and how to use natural ingredients in my meals. It helped me kick the soda and fast food habits.

What it didn't teach was portion control. Just how to you measure 'plenty'? Why are are some seemingly healthy foods completely off limits?

The thought of eating as many fats as were allowed in that diet plan just made me gag. I've never been a big user of butter or sour cream or a big eater of things like bacon, sausage, and pork rinds.

SparkPeople filled me in on portion control. I learned that you can't eat 'plenty' of something just because it's got no carbs and you sure as heck can't eat 'plenty' of even the low carb vegetables because they still count up calories and will add weight. I learned that the quality of the food is more important than how many carbs it has (low carb bread, for instance, with white flour in it is still bad for you).

My doctor prescribed diebetic education classes filled me in on the rest: how to use the glycemic index and when, how to properly count those carbs. I learned I'd been starving myself because I thought that 1 carb serving meant 1 gram of carbs. I'd freak out when everything I tried to cook seemed to go over and I'd cut out foods with vital nutrients. The class taught me that 15 grams of carb = 1 carb serving for me and how many carb servings I'm allotted with each meal. Some of the stuff like butter, peanut butter, jams, and bread I still won't eat. I don't eat them because I don't feel well when I eat them. I've learned to eat the proper amounts of fruits and vegetables I'd previously thought off limits so that I can enjoy them without getting sick. I learned that I need to eat far more calories than I'd been previously told to eat.

Today, I combine these methods in a simple approach to cooking: if the first three ingredients on the label aren't a recognizable food source, we don't buy it. I cook with olive oil or other healthy heart oils instead of with butter. I eat my cheese in the right proportions. I use a food scale. Meat is a texture and flavor, not the main feature. We voluntarily cut the pork and beef out of our diet (I don't like how it tastes here and we can't afford the pork anyhow).

I've lost thirty-one pounds doing this. It's still a moderate low carb regimen but it's one approved by my doctor and dietitian. It works because certain types of foods make me ill (white flour breads and pastas come to mind, but processed potatoes are a close second) and I shouldn't be eating them anyhow. My blood sugars normalized. My triglycerides, HDL, and LDL are all in the healthy range without medications.

Most people also don't have to contend with a severely broken metabolism. Mine doesn't use the glucose as energy. It stores it all as fat, no matter what diet I'm one. The doctors are willing to deal with the moderate ketone production and monitor it and my kidneys carefully because it's the only way I WILL lose weight.

It DOESN'T work for everyone, but for me it does. The key was watching what kinds of carbs were being eaten and how many of them and in remembering that there's such thing as moderation. Ever actually measured out your dressings? 2 tbsp is A LOT. 3 ounces of meat is ENORMOUS. There's simply no need to eat more.

All I did was oust the 'plenty', make healthy food choices, and eat a variety of foods. It doesn't really matter that most of them are high fiber, moderate protein, and low carb. Report
I'm disappointed to see so much Atkins bashing from the coach and from so many sparkers. It's true that low carb eating can be done incorrectly - but that's no different than any other plan. Atkins, and its cousin, South Beach, are very similar to Weight Watchers core - once you progress past the first couple of weeks which are intended mostly to break the sugar addictions and bad habits of most.

I thought more people would be educated past the days of "all you eat on Atkins is bacon and cheese". You DO eat carbs on Atkins!! Try it - getting in 20 carbs of vegetables a day is a lot! If you do it correctly, you eat more fruits and veggies than you would on most other plans. Once you get to your goal you are completely encouraged to start adding in complex carbs - while monitoring your body to find your personal healthy balance.

Food junkies can find a way to corrupt any plan to feed their addictions - just look at the way those "100 calorie packs" are selling! I truly believe that my body doesn't like processed food and eating healthy meals of meat and veggies will not hurt me - even if my recipes come from Dr Atkins books. Report
We, as consumers, need to keep in mind the reasoning BEHIND the media hype. For example, drug companies are pushing their drugs so they will create a needs in the consumers. A false need.
just my two cents---and we all have our own two cents Report
Read THE SOUTH BEACH DIET and Arthur Agatston, M.D. explains the glycemic index very well. The book is full of good information. Report
excellent article/blog! leave it coach tanya to be on the cutting edge of health-filled info..coach, you rock my sparkworld! nancy Report
Sorry but I see a blanket statement like blog 24 "CARBS ARE NOT NECESSARY" and I have to remark. The body lives on carbs that are produced after being broke down in all foods. Other wise I would say "THE BODY NEEDS TWINKIES", how absurde. The difference is high complex or low, your going to have carbs reguardless, can't get away from it, just have to decide what's the best way to get the high carbs to live on. I mean no offence, one sould make a informed decision when discusing nutrition. Report
WISEWIFE, carbs ARE necessary. All veggies, fruit, and whole grains are carbohydrates. Your body cannot live by protein alone.

I do not think about the glycemic load or glycemic index of my carbs. All I care about is eating the healthiest ones, defined by me as foods that are recognizable by their source. That means veggies, fruit, and whole grains. I do eat multi-grain bread (not simple, flour-enriched breads), and I do eat crackers (Triscuits are great, whole-grain crackers), but I try to stay away from the processed, refined, boxed foods.

I also pair my carbs with protein whenever possible. Therefore, I'll have cheese and crackers, or meat and cheese sandwiches with lettuce, salad with shredded cheese, apples with peanut butter, etc. Report
Excellent article, highlighting, indirectly, the tendency of the wishful human mind to get what it wants as easily as it can no matter what. Smile! And demonstrating the depth of consideration actually needed to honestly do oneself good; to that end, the same mindset of getting it fast is in fact, the first stage of Atkins, who realized folks needed a psych boost to "motivate" them onto healthier eating and that is what the very very low and FIRST stage of Atkins does and achieves; the downside is, many people who started this, never finished looking at the BIG picture, which really doess take into consideration overall BALANCE, complex carbs with whole grains, and vegetbales and fruits as the 2/3 part of one's plate.....then protein. So if you work the program as it was FULLY intended to be worked, it works constructively; if not, it can and will work destructively. This is true for any lasting changes in any area of our lives that we want; physical, nutritional, spiritual, emotional........Life remains a balancing act and it must be tended to or you are gonna fall off.

I didn't know about "net carbs" I have tried to reduce the simple carbs out of my diet and try to eat as many whole grains when I do eat carbs.
I can't remember who wrote the book regarding metabolic typing, anyway some people think that the reason some diets work for some and not others is because of our metabolic typing.
Personally I know that we all have differences in our bodies that cause our bodies to respond differently to foods and activity levels. I guess the sooner we accept that the more able we are to move on and find what works best for oneself. Report
If I eat other then low carb my blood sugar goes up along with my blood pressure and I get more sores on my legs.

I have lost from 520 to 385, have got off two blood pressure meds and a thyroid med. I am able to go shopping without the use of a mart cart and am very happy that there was a doctor named Atkins. Report
Perhaps we should consider that what works for some, does not work for everyone.
For years, at 5'6", I tried to keep to a 1500 - 1800 calorie diet, eating the "right" foods and steadily gaining weight. I considered myself a failure, exercised daily, would fall off the wagon on family gatherings and beat myself up. Fruit, veggetables (which I can only stomach when coated in butter), pasta, potatoes, rice and bread are like poison to me: if I want to be anywhere near my healthy weight I have to avoid much more than a taste of them.
I tried Atkins years ago and it worked: but I was scared off by all the stories of how unhealthy it was. Finally, a dietician told me that it was unhealthier to weigh what I weighed than to be on Atkins. God bless her. I have lost 40 lbs. and feel great with energy to burn and a smile on my face. I can go anywhere and eat within the range of 35-40 carbs and enjoy myself. No more points and measuring and worrying.
But I know it isn't for everyone. I just know that anything that makes me feel this good, look this well and full of energy, is OK for me.
I am shocked to see that quick-cooking oats are not on the list. I follow an ADA diet and quick oats are seen as a good carb choice. I need time to process this article. It is confusing. What about non-fat yogurt and non-fat milk? Where does that fall? Report
After reading the list, I am confused. There basically is nothing left to eat when it comes to carbs that are not deemed unhealthy yet the article says if you don't eat carbs you do damage to the body. Exactly what carbs are recommended? Report
Carbs are NOT necessary! Report
This is a great blog! Informative. I have know all this for many years. I do LOVE LOW CARBING and it always keeps me fit and energetic. Eating too many complex carbs causes me bloating, gas, and makes me very sluggish. It also triggers me to eat more and more. There are so many misconceptions about low carb diets...that we eat a lot of red meat is one of them. NOT...I eat fish and chicken..little red meat. I don't count "net" carbs. I just stay away from "white stuff"! Simple. I eat veggies and fruit. I limit all SIMPLE carbs, not complex. My carb counting is beneficial to me staying between 60-140 most days, 1200-1500 calories, when I want to lose, and 1200-1800 to maintain. It's all just a balance. Exercising at least 5 days a week is crucial...it's what makes all the difference in the world to me! It's difficult for me to understand the huge problem in our society, except for the fact so many don't care about "balance". Could it be that a lot of people...just don't care? I would like to be more optimistic, but hey....look around! Common Sparklers, let's just DO IT!
I've definitely found that the *kind* of carbs I eat makes a difference in my weight! I used to eat a lot of rice and "white" carbs (pasta, white bread, potatoes). Now that I've switched to whole-grain everything most of the time (I still occasionally eat a *small* serving of the white carbs if I want it!), I'm finding the weight is coming off quite easily. And I'm not a low-calorie eater, either - I eat between 2,200 and 2,600 calories a day (I also walk 6+ miles most work days, plus have an active job, so I really do need those calories!) - limiting white carbs definitely made a difference!
A lot of this blog was too complex for me so I am only going to state something I have noticed for me.

The more fruits and vegetables I eat, the more apt I am to lose weight. When I upped my proteins I ate less freggies due to calorie constraints. And my weight held still.

Measure and weigh - I now can eat on average 15+ freggie portions daily and the weight drops, even now in the last few pounds. I find this satisfies my sweet tooth and my munchies without going over on my calories. The only downside is my carbs can be high with my fats low some days.

Balance and moderation.

Thanks for a great blog! Report
Yes, please. Pass the complex carbs and kill the refined ones. Let's rehabilitate the carb name. Report
I guess the point of this article cannot be stated often enough. Report
Great article! The GI/GL was very informative. From experience I know that the UK and Australian products taste different - probably less sugar. Thanks. Report
Thanks for the information i will look at carb's a little differently now.
Great article, thank you. Report
AUGIE06 --

Try http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm


for more info on GL.

Good luck with your weight loss journey! Report
I had heard of net carbs and wrote it off as a fad. To tell you the truth, though, the whole glycemic load concept may have stronger scientific roots, but it's just as confusing and complicated to apply to real life. I'd have to make it my full-time job. I count myself very lucky that I'm not diabetic and don't have any medical reason for dietary restrictions.

I just try to follow general, common sense principles: very few processed foods, lots of fiber from natural sources, limited saturated fat, and some protein with every meal. Looking at my SparkPeople reports, I end up with a healthy balance that enables me to lose 1-2 lbs a week, without having to worry so much about the science behind it. Report
While I am not diabetic, diabetes does run in my family. So, I am well aware of the glycemic index. Do I think about it ? Yes, I am mindful of it since certain foods do seem to spike my blood sugar. I have been trying to eat more foods that are high in fiber.

I make sure I eat plenty of healthy carbohydrates i.e. whole wheat bread, pasta and cereals. I also eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies. I tried going low carb once and it just did not work for me. No, it's not the carbs that made us fat, it's the crap that made us fat.

Great information !


i guess i'm still confused on what "glycemic load" is???

i grew up in a household with a diabetic (my dad), so we were always careful on what we ate... however, i'm still seriously overweight! my father had his gall bladder out 10/2005, and i soon followed in 06/2006. i haven't been diagnosed with diabetes, but if i stay the way i am, i'm well on my way.

help on the GL thing??? Report
Not being one for 'breaking down' what I am eating, I chose to follow the guidelines that SP has set for me, for carbs, etc...I also now track the ever so illusive 'fiber' and sodium levels of what I eat and prepare. I did not know that "net carbs" was not an official FDA definition,... having been a Nutrisystem dropout, I was somewhat aware of the GI...although I did not apply it to my "afterlife" and gained all my weight back...so... such is life... I am more aware of what goes past my teeth today than ever in my life...sigh... and the beat goes on! Report
To me, the bottom line is that every body has variations and nuances that create different reactions. We all need to find what works best for our own body, and the more information we have, the better we can tune our eating habits. When I started evaluating my eating habits in terms of GI and GL some patterns and associations emerged, so I was able to make adjustments. The connections I found weren't so much about weight loss as they were about appetite stimulation. For me there are foods that create a chain reaction that increases my hunger, appetite, even the frequency with which food comes to mind. There is a lot of very complicated neuro-chemical activity that impacts our thoughts and feelings, not just metabolism. Report
I was never tempted by low-carb b/c I love love love veggies and fruits. I cannot stand red meat and hardly ever eat other meat. So yeah, low-carb ...not a chance LOL And yes, I knew about GI but i don't bother checking the index all the time now that i'm very close to the goal. Report
I'm a little confused about GL -- the definition of GL is it's GI number divided by the amount of available carbohydrates. The definition of available carbohydrates is carbs - fiber. Isn't that the same thing as net carb? But the article says net carbs are fictitious. Can someone please explain the difference? Report
I have not heard of the net carb thing. It sounds like a way to justify what you shouldn't be eating in a healthy meal plan. I am learning so much about carbs and am loving it. Just getting a better grip on how everything works together to help in weight loss is wonderful and helping me succeed this go around. Thanks SP for the wonderful info you provide to all of us. Report
I had heard once about net carbs and at the time thought it was very confusing and made completely no sense. I looooove carbs and been loosing weight here eating them, just substitute for the healthier choice, who knew I would ever like whole grain pasta better than the regular one!? Report
Great article. Good information! Thanks. Report
What an eye opener. Knowledge is power. I enjoyed reading this blog a lot. Report
One really interesting point indicated by the GI/GL list is that in every single case, when a product is made and marketed by the same company under the same name in the US and elsewhere, the US product is ALWAYS higher GL--there is no doubt that our food has more added sugars, less fiber than the European, Australian, and even in many cases, CANADIAN counterparts! The list here doesn't list as many US foods as others I've seen, leaving one with the impression that the Australian version is equal to ours. Trust me, it's not! If you get a fuller list, or even compare your own favorite US food with the listed Aussie or Brit counterpart, you will see for yourself, and this is NOT good news, is it?

I had thought when I lived in England for some months that their "Kelloggs" cereals tasted different (better, but then I'm not fond of sweet things) but it wasn't till the first GI/GL lists came out that I began to understand why. Now that I can compare labels online, I've learned a lot, and it's kept me out of the 'center' of our supermarkets more effectively than any other single piece of information I can recall.

The other thing that puzzles me is why we must rely on an Australian study (not because it's not good--it is). Why don't we have a US study based on US brands? My guess--the companies would rather we not know, and it's too expensive for an independent agency. (paranoid? maybe. cynical? no...just sad). The calculation's pretty complex, so it's not something most are likely to do for themselves.
What an education! I knew about net carb because my husband and older sister areType 2 Diabetic. My sister took the time to educate me in helping to get my husbands sugar levels more balanced. (Now if only HE would cooperate and eat like I know he should!) I think diabetics, if educated properly, have a foot up on this topic. Report
Enter throngs of Atkins' cult devotees spewing pseudo-scientific "evidence" that low-carb "works", and is "healthy" because they have lost weight. Like any comforting myth, the low-carb lie will not die easily. Oye vey! Report