You don't need to cut out white carbs in favour of brown ones to lose weight and be healthy, dietitians say
- It's a misconception that white carbs are "bad" for you, three dietitians explained to Insider.
- Brown bread, rice, and pasta are slightly higher in fiber than their white equivalents, but both offer nutritional value.
- When it comes to weight loss, which one you choose will make very little difference as the calorie counts are near identical.
- "White foods don't equal unhealthy," registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence MS, RDN, CDN told Insider.
When you want to lose weight, many people's first port of call is cutting out carbs.
However, it's a complete myth that removing starchy foods from your diet will lead to fat loss (you'll likely lose some water weight at first but that won't affect your body composition).While some people understand that a calorie deficit is what leads to weight loss, not cutting out a food group, it remains common to believe that white carbs are "bad" and brown or wholegrain versions are "good."Advertisement
The truth is that although there is generally more fiber in the brown versions of carbs than their white counterparts, the health credentials (or supposed lack thereof) of each type have been widely over-exaggerated, as three registered dietitians explained to Insider.
There's not as huge a difference between the two types of carb as most people think, and the calorie counts are actually very similar, so it's not true that replacing white carbs with brown will magically lead to weight loss.Insider asked three dietitians to explain the truth about brown and white carbs.
Brown carbs are whole grain
Many of us are drawn to the words "brown" or "wholemeal" over "white" in the grocery store without really understanding what the difference is."The most notable difference between brown/wholemeal and white bread, brown and white rice, and brown and white pasta is that the brown/wholemeal versions are whole-grain foods, therefore have some additional nutrients compared to their white counterparts," registered dietitian Eling Tsai MPH RD told Insider.Advertisement
"Whole-grain foods include all components of a grain (the bran, germ, and endosperm). Alternatively, 'white' carbohydrates don't contain the bran and germ (only the endosperm).
"The bran and germ are usually put on a pedestal due to the fact that they are a source of fiber, B vitamins, and other minerals, whereas the endosperm is more recognized as a source of carbohydrate and protein."
The main difference between brown and white carbs is the fiber contentThe biggest difference between brown and white carbs is that the former provides more fiber — white bread is more refined due to the removal of bran and wheat germ, so is lower in fiber.Advertisement
The difference isn't drastic though: while 100g of brown rice contains 2.1g of fiber, the same quantity of white rice offers 1.3g.
"Brown rice and bread have higher fiber than white bread and rice. We should have complex carbs in the diet which helps with digestion and our gut health," registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence MS, RDN, CDN told Insider.Advertisement
"Brown rice and bread will also cause a slower spike in our blood sugars. But pairing it with some protein will help with this."
In some countries such as the UK, it's a legal requirement that all flour that isn't wholemeal is fortified with important nutrients including iron, calcium, and thiamine (Vitamin B1), and for this reason, registered consultant dietitian Ro Huntriss stressed that "bread of any kind significantly contributes to the intake of important nutrients within the diet."She added: "Similarly, with white or brown pasta and rice, the white versions are more processed so may contain slightly fewer nutrients and less fiber.Advertisement
"The main reasons for the promotion of brown rice or pasta is the fiber content. Both white and brown pasta have a low glycemic index so their glucose (energy) is released slowly after consumption."Unlike in the UK, American nutritional professionals don't actually use the glycemic index as a tool to provide dietary guidance.
Not everyone needs more fiberConsuming enough fiber is important for a multitude of reasons: It promotes regular bowel movements, lowers cholesterol, and stabilizes blood sugar levels, according to the Mayo Clinic.Advertisement
People following western diets typically under consume fiber — a 2016 study found that only 5% of Americans hit the recommended daily target of 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
But more fiber isn't the answer for absolutely everyone.Advertisement
"When it comes to choosing a brown over white carbohydrate, on paper, the brown is generally the better choice, mainly due to the higher fiber content, and we generally under-consume fiber," Huntriss told Insider.
"However, some people with gut issues, for example, may find that fiber is a trigger to their symptoms, so for these people, the white alternative may be a better choice."
The calories in brown and white carbs are practically the sameCarbs, and white ones in particular, have been unfairly branded as "fattening," but the truth is there's no one food group that will make you gain fat. Advertisement
The only way weight gain will occur is if you're in an energy surplus: Consuming more calories than you're expending.
And when it comes to brown and white carbs, their calorie content is practically the same."Many people think that brown bread is lower in calories because it's thought of as being 'healthier' but actually the calories between white and brown bread are very similar," Huntriss said.Advertisement
"Breads containing nuts and seeds can be higher in calories due to the healthy fats found within the nuts and seeds."
For example, an average medium slice of wholemeal bread is 93 calories, and an average medium slice of white bread is is 95 calories.Similarly, 100g of wholewheat fusilli pasta is 154 calories, and 100g of the white equivalent is 159 calories.Advertisement
When trying to reduce or maintain body weight, many continue to assume that bread must be abolished from their diet. In terms of energy, there is no difference between white or brown bread. And whilst the latter contains more fibre [which may increase satiety], one would be better placed to evaluate total ingredients consumed with bread in order to determine a more holistic perspective. Not least because bread is rarely consumed alone. These additional ingredients equate to additional calories. In this example, smearing on a few of generous knifes of peanut butter and jam (components of a ‘hearty’ PB & jelly sandwich) more than quadruples the total calorie content of the consumed food. Consequently, all of a sudden the debate is not about consumption of bread in the first instance, or it’s colour in the second. Adding an often invisible 10g of butter to a warm slice of bread will result in the calorie value of the ‘bread’ increasing from 95 calories to 169. Thus, though it’s visibility is dormant, it is the butter that nearly doubles the calorie value of what we often perceive as the consequence of ‘eating bread’. Standing alone, bread is merely one calorie variable. Using the examples shown in my graphic, there can be multiple additional calorie variables. The quantity of additional variables will influence the overall calorie value of that eating episode. Bread may not be the problem after all. This principle can be applied to one’s rationale when assessing and addressing their overall diet. In doing so, one can move away from unwarranted demonisation of a food which can be utilized as energy like any other. Of course, one may over consume bread. But unless their diet comprises of only bread, this is a mere contribution to a bigger sequence of variables. To catastrophize bread as a nutritional problem is to catastrophize a minuscule variable out of many. A calorie surplus over time results in weight gain, not bread. - - #portioncontrol #bread #toast #snacks #peanutbutter #jam #carbs #snackfood #fatlosstips #fatlosshelp #caloriecontrol #losefat #caloriesincaloriesout #losingfat
A post shared by Graeme Tomlinson (@thefitnesschef_) on Jun 17, 2020 at 10:38am PDT
When it comes to rice, 100g of brown is around 119 calories, and the same quantity of the equivalent white rice is 117 calories.
Brown doesn't mean better
So, if the calories in white and brown carbs are generally the same and the fiber difference isn't huge, is one type "better" than the other?"I always hesitate to use the blanket term 'better' when comparing foods, because by labeling a food as 'worse' or 'better,' we are fueling fear around food," Tsai said.Advertisement
File under simple pleasures. Or something to do with the tiniest bit of leftover rice #tamagokakegohan #quarantinecooking #eeeeeeats #fromwhereieat #fromwhereicook #f52grams #japanesecooking #leftoverrice #intuitiveeating
A post shared by Eling Tsai MPH RD (@nutritionwitheling) on Apr 30, 2020 at 11:22am PDT
"I'd rather acknowledge the differences between foods and the variety of benefits they can each provide. For example, all of these foods offer carbohydrates, which are the brain's preferred source of fuel in addition to providing necessary energy for everyday living."
Tsai said it's a misconception that 'white' carbs do not offer any nutritional benefits at all, and in fact they can be an important (and affordable) source of energy and nutrients."Having a sensible quantity of starchy carbohydrates in the diet can help to promote good health," Huntriss added. "Try not to be blinded by the title of 'superfoods' and take foods for what they really are and what they really provide."Advertisement
You shouldn't feel afraid to eat white carbsIf you don't really like white carbs, you don't have to eat them. But if you do, there's absolutely no reason not to.
"I want people not to be scared of eating foods they enjoy," Spence said."If you prefer regular french fries to sweet potato fries, eat the regular ones. The vitamins and minerals will be different but you can get those in, in other foods. White foods don't equal unhealthy."Advertisement
—thenutritiontea (@thenutritiontea) June 4, 2020
Tsai pointed out that although white carbs have been demonized, they are a staple food in a variety of cultures."By telling people to completely avoid white rice or white flour, we are asking them to turn away from foods that have fed and nourished their communities for generations," she said."Rather than educating people to cut out an entire food group, we should talk about what foods we can add into an eating pattern that provides a variety of nutritional benefits."Advertisement
Spence agreed that instead of focusing on what not to eat, you should think about what you can add into your diet, so don't cut carbs from your diet, add in more variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
"We should remember that the general recommendations are to make half of all the grains you eat whole grains — not for whole grains to be 100% of what you eat," Tsai said."We don't eat any one food in a vacuum. When we get hyper-focused on labeling one specific food as 'bad,' we lose sight over the bigger picture of eating."Advertisement
Combine white carbs with other foods to increase the fiber
If you're concerned about eating enough fiber, you can still eat white carbs, simply combine them with fiber-rich foods.
"Yes, brown rice and bread have more fiber and other vitamins and minerals, but you can find ways to make this up with vegetables and fruits, or other whole grains you enjoy eating," Spence said."You shouldn't feel obligated to eat foods you don't like."Advertisement
Both white and brown carbs offer nutritional value, and you can make a meal even more nutritious by combining carbs in meals with legumes, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats, and enjoy a piece of fruit after a meal.
"If fiber and additional vitamins and minerals are what you're looking for, you can always add those nutrients in without having to eliminate white carbohydrates," Tsai said.She recommends pairing white rice with fiber-rich beans, or white flour tortillas or flatbread with lean protein and vegetables.Advertisement
"This way, we are creating a balanced, nourishing meal," Tsai said.Read more:Stop cutting out white potatoes — they're as healthy as sweet ones, dietitians sayAdvertisement
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