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Do all carbs have the same nutritional value?

Ask Peggy

Peggy Woodward, RD


DEAR PEGGY: Last night on the news, I thought I heard a story quoting Harvard Medical School or journal saying all diets are alike and work equally well if you stay on them and a carb is a carb is a carb. We have several diabetics in the family, and this contradicts what I was led to believe. What do you think? —F., W., Fresno, California

I read a summary of the study you're referring to, and I don't think the researchers are really speaking to what you might have learned from physicians and dietitians regarding carbohydrates.

The study's overall results show that no matter which diet the subjects were prescribed, the only factor that seemed to matter was that they cut calories. So no matter if they were following a low-carb diet, a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet, etc., it was the fact that they were paying attention to limiting their calories that helped them lose weight. This makes sense because weight loss is essentially about burning more calories than you take in.

I think the point above is different from what you may have learned about carbohydrates—choosing whole grains, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables and reduced-fat dairy products are all good carbohydrate choices. Those choices do matter for overall health. While 4-1/2 teaspoons of sugar may have about the same calories and carbohydrates as a medium apple and need to be covered with the same amount of insulin, the medium apple is still a more healthy choice.


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