Carbohydrates: How low is low?

514967821I heard about a study recently that said low-carb diets worked better than low-fat diets. My question is, how “low” is low-carb?

You’re likely talking about a study published in early September in the Annals of Internal Medicine called “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: A Randomized Trial.”

The authors’ conclusion — that a low-carbohydrate diet was more effective for weight loss and heart health — got a lot of press. But other experts raised their eyebrows after reading the whole study.

For the study, researchers followed 119 participants for a year and found those placed on a low-carbohydrate diet lost an average of 12 pounds, compared with an average of just 4 pounds for those on a low-fat diet.

For this study, “low-carb” meant less than 40 grams of carbohydrates daily. If you’ve ever counted carbs, you know that’s not a heckuva lot. A cup of milk has 13 grams of carbohydrates. A medium apple, 25 grams. And that’s not even counting bread or pasta. You get the point: Critics of low-carb diets suggest that most people find them too restrictive to adhere to for long, and they suspect any weight loss associated with them is essentially due to overall calorie restriction.

This study seems to support those points: Nearly all of the weight loss enjoyed by the low-carb group occurred in the first three months, where the group also reported consuming 190 fewer calories a day than those on the low-fat diet.

Additionally, the low-carb participants reported a higher consumption of carbs than they were actually supposed to eat: about 80 grams daily at first, and up to 112 grams daily by year’s end.

That said, there remains serious discussion about standard dietary advice that suggests a hefty portion of the diet — 45-65 percent of calories — should come from carbohydrates.

Some evidence suggests that moderately restricting carbohydrates to 25 to 45 percent of calories a day (that would be equal to 125-225 grams on a 2,000 calorie per day diet) and at the same time boosting protein and healthy fats could help weight loss by reducing hunger pangs. But most dietitians believe that very low-carbohydrate diets — those that restrict carbs to less than 50 grams a day, or 5-15 percent of calories, aren’t feasible for most of us.

Most dietitians agree that a healthful diet can take many forms, as long as it includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats, and restricts added sugars. The key is to find something you can live with for the long term.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People program specialist for Ohio State University Extension, the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

Some carb choices better than others

177349526I recently had a physical, and the results of my blood sugar test were a little high. Since then, I started examining carbohydrate amounts on Nutrition Facts labels, and am surprised at how many carbs are in one of my favorite foods, black beans. Can I fit black beans into a lower-carb diet?

You don’t say how low in carbohydrates you want to go, but the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get 45-65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, with 10-35 percent from protein and 20-35 percent from fat. To do the math, you need to know that carbohydrates and protein each have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. So, if you’re eating, say, 1,800 calories a day, and want to trim carbohydrates to 45 percent of your diet, you still can have 200 grams or about 800 calories a day in carbohydrates.

Instead of trimming all sources of carbohydrates, nutrition experts recommend consumers focus on cutting way back on added sugars and refined grains, including products made from white flour instead of whole wheat or other whole grains. Carbohydrates found naturally in foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat or nonfat dairy are generally considered to be healthful. They provide important nutrients and, often, lots of fiber — an important consideration.

A half-cup of black beans has about 23 grams of total carbohydrates, with 6 or more of those grams as fiber. Because the human body cannot digest fiber, it doesn’t contribute to increasing blood sugar. Many dietitians recommend that when eating a high-fiber food — one with 5 grams of fiber or more — you should subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrate count. In the case of black beans, you would subtract 6 grams of fiber from 23 grams of total carbohydrate, for a final carbohydrate count of 17 grams.

Fiber is important for a few reasons. First, it helps you feel full without added calories, and it helps keep your digestive system “regular.” Also, research indicates that people who eat 20 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed, which would be 36 grams of fiber on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, have better blood sugar control. The standard recommendation is to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories. Most Americans don’t get that much.

So, go ahead and enjoy those black beans. They’ll do you good.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Lots of options with potatoes, rice

Which is better for you, potatoes or rice?

Nutrition professionals tend to chafe when asked to categorize foods as good or bad, especially staples like potatoes and rice. The truth is, both can be part of a healthful diet.

But, of course, there are differences. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

First, the basics. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNational Nutrient Database, one medium baked potato (about 2.25 inches by 3.25 inches) with skin has 130 calories, 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 30 grams of carbohydrate, and it also offers about 30 percent of the Daily Value of vitamin C, 21 percent of potassium, and 15 percent of vitamin B6.

About the same amount (1 cup) of long-grain white rice weighs in with more calories (about 200), less fiber (0.6 grams) and more carbohydrate (45 grams). It’s a better source of protein (4 grams) than potatoes, and it’s a good source of manganese, with 37 percent of the Daily Value, and folate, with 23 percent.

You have a lot of choices when it comes to both rice and potatoes. For example, as a whole grain, brown rice contains valuable micronutrients and more fiber (4 grams in 1 cup) than white rice. It also has less of an effect on blood sugar. In fact, a 2010 study from Harvard’s School of Public Health found that replacing white rice with brown rice lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Potatoes also can cause blood sugar spikes, even more than white rice can. You can moderate that effect by topping your spuds with high-fat foods, such as butter, sour cream and cheese, but that also has the obvious downside of adding a lot of calories and unhealthy fats to the diet. Instead, add salsa, broccoli or other vegetables, which can have a similar stabilizing effect.

Or, try topping potatoes (or rice, for that matter) with a few spoonfuls of chili with beans. It’s not nearly as high in fat as other common toppings, and offers a wider range of nutrients and more fiber from the beans and tomatoes.

Another option is to choose sweet potatoes or yams instead of white potatoes. Sweet potatoes have loads of vitamin A and a good amount of iron in addition to other nutrients. As with white potatoes, though, watch the toppings: Loading up sweet potatoes with butter and brown sugar might be tasty, but the added fat and sugar certainly make it less healthful.

For white or sweet potatoes, try roasting them instead of baking, mashing, frying or boiling: Cut them into cubes or wedges with the skins on (skins are loaded with nutrients), coat with a small amount of olive oil and your favorite herbs and spices, and roast in a hot oven. You won’t need any additional toppings to enjoy these spuds.