People are afraid of carrots?

I am constantly trying to undo disordered thinking about food.  By the time most people come to my clinic, they have tried every weight loss program out there.  Sadly, most of the programs in the world are not based in science.  Most are based on calorie counting and cheerleading – which is not super helpful for most of us that struggle with excess weight.  Some programs try to incorporate some science – teaching people about low-sugar and high-sugar foods. 

It’s true that foods vary a lot in their sugar content.  It’s one of the reasons we don’t teach weight loss and nutrition simply based upon macronutrients.  Forty grams of carbohydrates from broccoli is radically different to the body than forty grams of carbohydrates from pancakes!  

And yes, a serving of strawberries has more sugar than a serving of romaine lettuce.  If you are trying to cut back on your sugar content, it makes more sense to choose romaine over strawberries, right?  However, we have to look at this concept as part of a global nutrition plan and not in isolation.

So many of my patients are afraid to eat things like carrots and tomatoes – concerned about the sugar content in these foods. They have them labeled as “bad” vegetables and often tell me how they steer clear of them as part of their eating plan.  True, carrots and tomatoes traditionally have more sugar in them than cauliflower and asparagus, but in the grand scheme of things, they have relatively little sugar overall.  They certainly have less sugar in them than a banana or a piece of whole-wheat toast!

We have to start looking at nutrition in a more global context than in tight categories.  Putting foods into columns and ranking the foods in the columns – “bad” vegetables vs “good” vegetables is illogical.  Conversely, ranking grains as “bad” or “good” is illogical.  Telling someone that to lose weight, they need to limit their carrots but that they should have four servings of “good” grains instead makes no sense!  

If you are trying to limit your sugar, choosing carrots over ANY grain is preferable. We have no data whatsoever telling us that eating carrots causes weight gain.  Even if they do have more sugar than brussels sprouts!  

A person’s entire global food intake is much more important than their individual food choices.  People that only eat one vegetable per week are much more likely to have a weight problem than people that eat four servings of vegetables per day – even if the vegetables are always carrots or tomatoes.  People that eat grains with every meal (even if the grains are labeled “whole wheat”) are more likely to have a weight problem than people that eat grains once per day.  

Nutrition is complicated.  But we need to stop trying to make it more complicated than it already is.  Nothing is absolute, but I tell patients all the time that if Mother Nature handed us a food that we can grab from the earth and eat immediately, it’s probably not going to cause a weight problem!  Of course, there are exceptions – if you lived on honey (which is found in its pure form in nature), you probably aren’t going to be the healthiest.  Thankfully, Mother Nature surrounded that food with stinging insects to deter us from that path!  

Things like carrots and seeds and nuts and fishes and birds and eggs can be obtained from nature, altered only slightly (cooking fishes is preferable to eating them raw!) and are highly unlikely to make us less healthy than we were before eating them.  Things like strawberries and blueberries and apples can also be found in nature and can be eaten in their most basic form – although, if you think about it, Mother Nature only gives us these foods for a few weeks each year – which probably means she didn’t mean for us to use them as the basis of the human diet.  

Mother Nature did give us wheat, but a stalk of wheat is radically different from a piece of whole wheat bread.  In fact, humans have altered wheat so much from what it used to be that it’s almost recognizable.  But even if you were to grab that stalk of wheat from the earth and start gnawing on it, your body wouldn’t process it the same as it processes wheat cereal or wheat muffins.   Once a food is dramatically altered from its natural form, what happens to it inside the body is dramatically different as well.  

Moral of the story:  don’t be afraid of carrots or tomatoes!  

If you need more information, you know where to find me – we talk about this stuff all day long in my clinic!

Courtney Younglove, M.D.

ATTENTION LAWRENCE PATIENTS: 18th Street is closed at Wakarusa until further notice due to construction. You can access our parking lot via Research Parkway and Research Park Drive. Expect traffic delays and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to our office.
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