Book Review: Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs

I have an announcement, ladies and gentlemen: carbs are back! Nothing could make me happier, from a diet trend perspective.

For over a decade, carbs have been the bad boys of food; we’ve all been trying to minimize them to lose weight. Keto, paleo and Atkins diets, with their emphasis on protein and fat, are seen as the best way to burn fat in your body and stay slim.

It always seemed unhealthy to me to exclude so many plants from the diet, and to make such choices like buttered coffee for breakfast. But there is a lot of evidence that low-carb diets work. People do lose weight on them. So they must be the way to go, right?

But people on low carb diets struggle to maintain them over time. Carb-deprivation tends to make them feel deprived and unhappy. And their bad cholesterol numbers go up. Not to mention they have to contend with the body odor that comes with successful keto. Low-carb is not sustainable for most people.

Guess what else? Studies show that people on low fat diets lose weight too.

Dr. David A. Kessler’s new book, “Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: The Simple Truth About Food, Weight and Disease” may provide an answer to the perennial dilemma of what to eat. It’s right there in the title—he makes a distinction between “fast” carbs and “slow” carbs. “Fast” carbs include refined flour and table-sugar-based foods like white bread, processed breakfast cereals and cookies. These should be avoided because they spike blood sugar and get quickly converted to fat in the body.

This is the essential point—not all carbs are equal. Don’t throw the carb babies out with the bathwater. “Slow” carbs, like steel-cut oats, whole wheat pasta, beans and lentils, do not spike blood sugar as quickly. They also provide essential fiber and other nutrients the body needs

The book also makes the case that many different diet trends, from paleo to plant-based, agree on a couple things. One is that you can eat as many vegetables as you want. Most vegetables offer slow-digesting carbs and healthy fiber. The other universal agreement is to ditch unhealthy carbs like the afore-mentioned flour and sugar-based foods. Experts agree that these diet decisions will make you healthier.

Where the diets differ is in the rest of their recommendations. The author asserts that as long as you are avoiding slow carbs and adding vegetables, you will be ahead of most people in maintaining a healthy weight. He urges the addition of healthy or “slow” carbs over high-fat, meat-based food to round out your diet for optimal health.

Dr. Kessler is not alone in his efforts to rehabilitate (some) carbs. Another new book, “Fiber Fueled,” by Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, makes a convincing case that the healthy carbs in fiber are mandatory for good health. The older book “The Starch Solution,” by Dr. John McDougall, has been making the case since 2013 that healthy carbs are essential to good health and will not cause weight gain.

A limitation of “Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs” is that Dr. Kessler doesn’t address the other concerns, beyond weight gain, that many people have with eating carbs, such as fears about gluten and lectins. The book “Fiber Fueled” does a good job of addressing these concerns as over-inflated. True gluten sensitivity is rare, and lectins are removed by preparation and cooking. Don’t let these issues stop you from eating slow carbs, unless you have diagnosed celiac disease or a food allergy.

Dr. Kessler is also the author of “The End of Overeating,” and is a well-credentialed guy, as the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. He was also dean of the medical school at Yale, and graduated from Amherst College, the University of Chicago Law School and Harvard Medical School.

I don’t know about you, but I’m celebrating the return of (slow) carbs to our good graces.

Here’s my review of “The Future of Nutrition,” by T. Colin Campbell.

Read about “Breathe: The New Science of a Lost Art,” by James Nestor.

Read my review of “The Healthy Deviant: A Rule-breaker’s Guide to Being Healthy in an Unhealthy World,” by Pilar Gerasimo.

Vicki Spellman

Vicki Spellman is a certified Holistic Nutritionist (AFPA) and Senior VP at a large healthcare communications firm.

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