The Hidden Danger of Bread, Pasta and Rice

Consuming carbohydrates with a high glycemic index increases the risk of coronary heart disease in women, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

If you’ve read my book “Living Low Carb: Controlled Carbohydrate Eating for Long-Term Weight Loss” then you probably understand the meaning of glycemic index. If you haven’t read the book, here’s the executive summary on glycemic index: it’s a measure of how quickly food affects your blood sugar.

That’s important, because when your blood sugar rises quickly, the pancreas responds by squirting a hormone called insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin’s job description includes escorting that excess sugar out of the bloodstream as quickly as possible. When you’re not exercising a lot, that sugar winds up in your fat cells which is why insulin is nicknamed “the fat storage hormone”.

High-glycemic carbs are the ones you want to avoid in your diet. They’re the processed carbs and the carbs with high sugar content (sodas, desserts). Unfortunately, most grains or grain products (like breads, pastas and the like) are high-glycemic, even- believe it or not- some of the “whole grain” products on the market. Rice is high-glycemic (both white and brown), as are most cereals.

All these foods raise blood sugar quickly and keep it up there for a long time, increasing the odds that your insulin levels will also be high– and that’s pretty much a guarantee that you’ll put on weight. It’s also the reason I so often counsel against high-carb low-fat diets. (Fat has zero effect on blood sugar and insulin; protein affects blood sugar but not nearly as much as carbs do.)

Last week I told you about a study in which added sugar was shown to increase measures of risk for heart disease. This week there’s a different study with even more bad news for high-sugar consumption. In this study, the diets of over 47,000 Italian men and women were evaluated for both carbohydrate intake and for glycemic impact. (Remember, not all carbs have a big glycemic impact- almost all vegetables, as well as many fruits, have very low glycemic indexes.)

The one-fourth of women who consumed the most carbohydrates overall- regardless of whether they were high- or low-glycemic carbs- had approximately twice the risk of developing heart disease than the one-fourth who consumed the least amount of carbs.

But  when the carbs were separated into “high” and “low” glycemic categories, it turned out that the increased risk for heart disease was coming only from the “high” glycemic carbs. Low-glycemic carbs didn’t increase the risk for heart disease at all.

Using the glycemic load- an even better measure of the effect of food on blood sugar- the researchers found that the one-fourth of women whose diet had the highest glycemic load had 2.24 times the risk of heart disease compared to the women with the lowest glycemic load diet.

You can find a complete listing of the glycemic index and glycemic load of every food ever tested here.

When will we finally figure out that it’s not fat that’s the greatest risk factor in the American diet? A much bigger risk is sugar. Low-fat diets are almost always, by definition, high-carb diets, and the vast majority of carbs that we consume are high-glycemic.

This study reinforces what i- and many of my colleagues- have been saying for years: Stop worrying so much about fat and start paying attention to sugar. If you consume a reasonable calorie diet (target weight x 10-12 for calorie goal), and get most of your carbs from low-glycemic vegetables and fruits, the percentage of fat in the diet doesn’t matter nearly as much as you might think.

But clearly the amount of carbs– especially high-glycemic ones- matters a lot.

Both for the state of your waistline and for the health of your heart.

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Author: Jonny Bowden

Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, (aka "The Nutrition Myth Buster") is a nationally known expert on weight loss, nutrition and health. He is a board-certified nutritionist with a master’s degree in psychology and the author of fourteen books on health, healing, food and longevity including three best-sellers, “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth”, “Living Low Carb”, and "The Great Cholesterol Myth".

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    I used to be a firm devotee of the high-carb, high-energy school of thinking but since dropping the carbs and upping my fat intake I’ve never felt better.

    I wish the magazines would stop touting that rubbish because that’s where most people get there information and It’s damn misleading.

    Thanks Jonny, for helping us to filter out the nutritional noise.

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    I agree with Chris above…… is so annoying that magazines still push the low fat thing………after all these years of being wrong. It actually makes me kind of angry when I see the headlines on the covers. Listening to the low fat lies led me down the wrong path and contributed to my weight problems. Thanks Jonny for getting the truth out………keep up the fight!!!!

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    As usual Jonny, I agree 100% with you. I’ve been telling my clients for years to simply try to get most of their carbs from fruits/veggies instead of so much grains. I’ve seen so many people start losing fat like crazy once they cut the grains out of their diet and focus more on healthy fats while getting all of their carbs from veggies and fruits instead.

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    Thank you. Dr Atkin’s had it right with the exception of not worrying about fats at all. If you keep your carbs low glycemic and keep your fats good, you are going to win! Also we need to debunk the no proteins from fruits and vegetables. Amino acids are in fruits and vegetables and are already broken down proteins. Love the layman explanation.

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    I have had greaqt success on the South beach diet and adapt it to suit me. I do need some fruit. My situation is complicated by the fact that I am being treated for hyperthyroidism due to Graves Disease. I’ve been on Carbimazole for nearly a year which my endocriniologist says is too long (he is agains low carb dietes). In June I am to undergo radio-active iodine treatment, which will lead to hypothyroidism and being on the drug thyroxine for the rest of my life. My metabolism will be slow for the rest of my life and most people after this treatment are grossly overweight. Can anyone give me advice on diet to help control my weight after the treatment? I am going to another city to see another enocrinologist (there is only one in my city) to get a second opinion before I have this drastic and irreversible treatment.

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      Dear Juanita Richards,
      You are right to seek a second opinion before you consider an action that will destroy or impair any gland or organ in your body by any means, i.e., surgery, chemistry, radiation, etc.
      You may want to Google Dr. David Brownstein and also Dr. Guy Abraham. Both physicians have done extensive research, writing and procedures involving thyroid disorders, and it would be wise to at least read what they have to say first, before taking any action that cannot be reversed.
      It’s also important to obtain and check out a doctor’s CV (resume) and then interview him before you hire him, to determine what his qualifications are.
      No matter whether you pay him yourself, or a third party (such as an insurance company) pays him, you are still the boss when it comes to hiring or firing any doctor.
      Some things you should question him about are how many of the procedures has he performed on average every month for the past ten years.
      You want to know too if he’s ever had any problems, e.g., botched procedures, malpractice lawsuits, reprimands from any hospitals or medical boards, and the like.
      Even if any such matters were settled and closed, you you are still entitled to know what they were about.
      You also need to know, for your own safety, if he himself has any communicable disease becaue if he does, it is always possible for him to transmit that disease to you. So you definitely need to know that.
      Now, if he take’s offense at such an interview, get up and walk out as fast as you can. Leave without another word because no competent physician would ever take offense at such questions.
      Why not?
      Because a patient has a right to know such things and the physician has an ethical obligation to provide such information before you even considers hiring him.
      Indeed, how can you give him “informed concent” to perform any procedure, prescribe any medication or treat you for anything unless you are in fact informed first about such matters?
      If you’d interview someone before you’d hire them as a landscaper or a plumber, why not a doctor?
      After all, isn’t your health and wellness more important than your front lawn or your kitchen sink?
      Also keep in mind, 50 percent of all doctors graduated from medical school in the lower half of their class.
      That’s something for you to consider, too.
      I wish you well.

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        Thanks for your advice. I live in New Zealand and we don’t have lawsuits here! Instead we have a useless Accident Compensation Corporation which is worse than any medical insurance company. I am going to another large city in a few days to get a second opinion from another endocrinologist. There is only one in my district and his only reply to my worries about weight gain were “Thats not my concern”. I know at least a dozen women who after radio-active iodine have gained at least 50lbs and several very much more despite eating 500 calories a day and killing themselves at the gym. Along with a slow metabolism, radio active iodine causes arthritis in all the joints and mental depression of varying severity. So we end up vastly overweight, in terrible pain and sad and depressed for the rest of our lives. The side effects are irreversible as the anti-dote, thyroxine, dies not work for 50% of patients and their metabolism will never be normal again. No diet is going to change this fact. If I don’t have radioactive iodine I will die of heart failure within 2 years, according to my endocrinologist. Great choices huh?

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      Hi Juanita, you could try the GAPS diet, works wonders on lots of medical conditions and although it wasnt originally designed for thyroid problems, it may just help.

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      Hi Juanita,

      I hope this reaches you time. This article is partly right but is only very small proportion of the much bigger picture here. Ok, what i’m going to say next is going to be criticised by many people but it’s the truth based on new research from the last 5 years by Dr Robert Lustig of the Unverisity of California, a professor, doctor and medical researcher with zero ties to any food industries. His research in short shows that sugar is essentially toxic to us. If you eat sugar on a regular basis (which you know we all do as it’s in essentially ALL processed foods) then you are essentially an alcoholic. The way sugar is metabolised by our bodies is exactly the same as with alcohol (ethanol). 90% of sugar diseases are identical to alcohol. The reason people put on weight from sugar is a very detailed biochemical reaction that Dr Lustig explains beautifully and with clear evidence (of which he has copious amounts). Everyone needs to watch his material.

      Start with his 2009 video from the university of california (which has 4.5 million views)…

      Sugar: The Bitter Truth –

      and then his continuation of that video 4 years later…

      Fat Chance: Fructose 2.0 –

      The university also has mini snippet episodes that comprise of what is in those first 2 which you can watch first if you’d like but i would recommend watching them after.

      Lastly, i a really good documentary (that features Lustig as wel) that is very enjoyable and easy going for anyone to watch. Perhaps a better way to apetise yourself into watching the rest of Lustigs material (above) –

      I do hope you will watch these all. It will save your life! I know that’s a bold claim but if you only watch all the material first, it will be all too clear to you. Obese people are not glutinous sloths…they are victims of the food industry who know just how toxic (responsible for nearly all modern diseases in society today) sugar is and addictive at a biochemical level (Which you cannot overcome with willpower). Sugar is the no. 1 evil in this world.

      Thank you for listening and i wish you Juanita all the best and to anyone who choses to watch the videos i have listed you will be enlightened beyond your wildest dreams and understand how and why your or people are really obese and/or diseased.

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    From my family’s personal experiences, one with with Graves (she had her thyroid removed as her concern with the meds on her having babies, and the other Hoshitmotos, ( thyroid stops functioning) both on the same amount of thyroxine tablets, I can tell you there is no need to be overweight. Don’t over eat. be physical.
    Both follow what I have been taught with consulting to the above program that lost my excess weight over 4 years ago.I joined the Company and now have helped hundreds to a healthier lifestyle. Low GI food, including choices of fruit and vegetables(some carbs there), proteins, less grain carbs and starches than I used to eat. Even being Coeliac, and I am still the same lighter weight. :)

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    Agree 100 percent, but be careful in thinking all of your proteins can come from vegetables. Lean preferrably grass fed meat, and fish, eggs, etc area great choice for COMPLETE proteins. Johnny gives us invaluable information.

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    I have decreased my high gycenmic foods to 1 or 2 servings at a meal. Basically I am eating fruits and some vegetables. I use low fat yogurt and supposedly I will lose weight. I definitely haven’t lost any weight, but I have stopped gaining weight. I have found that walking does help alot. When I was on a high carb diet and walked and exercised alot I lost about 20 pounds. But since I have decreased my walking and exercising I have regained about 16 of those pounds. And of course I was overwight supposedly even when I was alot more active, but my Physical Therapist told me that I didn’t need to worry about my weight at that time. I have gained more fat in my waist than I had before. I am a Diabetic and have been trying to not gain weight, but now I have tendenitis in my foot and therefore I am in alot of pain when I walk. That and all the Physical Therapy I did in the past . I have tried to decrease my high glycemic carbs to 2 a meal instead of 5 at a meal like I used to. But I have been using low fat yogurt and as you say the low fat yogurt has more carbs in it. I also have tried to eat a meat serving for breakfast because I was told that at breakfast is when I can start by increasing a meat exchange it will help me lose fat. But it hasn’t worked either.. I guess I will need to use regular yogurt in the future. Thanks for the article

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      You wont be losing weight if you dont eat some protein and fats. Fruit and yoghurt both contain sugar which is carbohydrate and even if you eat like a sparrow, you wont lose weight. Go true low carb and include healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, coconut oil and the more of the fats you include and the less fruit and sugar, the more weight you will lose.

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    Yes, I am a very active person as I don’t drive so walk and ride my mountain bike everywhere. I’ve had trouble controlling my weight since adolescence and it became harder after each of my 4 children. Eventually I managed to get down to 8 and a half stone, but when I went on the injection depo-provera I gained 3 stone in 3 months. A year later I stopped the injection but it took me 3 years to lose that weight again. I am prone to overweight and I know many people who have had radioactive iodine for graves disease and they are all grossly overweight despite taking thyroxine. It scares the hell out of me.

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    Can’t say I agree with the whole grain / weight gain issue. Being Macrobiotic from 1982 to 2004 I know a thing or two about carbs, and there is a very clear difference between whole grains and refined carbs (like sugar).
    From personal experience I did not experience any weight gain from consuming grains like brown rice, millet, buchwheat, and also whole grain breads (less frequently). Fat content is very low on this lifestyle.
    I speak not only for myself, but also anyone else I knew who practiced Macrobiotics with integrity. The only ones I knew that did have some excess weight also consumed more of the refined carbs which on the Macro diet would have been rice and barley malts, and in more extreme cases maple syrup, or dark cane sugars like sucanat for example.
    Carbs from fruit were not consumed often, and I learned recently that avoiding fruit can strenghthen your immune system if you have been abusing fruits and especially fruit juices.
    When doing live blood readings and I read on the consult form – high amounts of sweets, fruit juices – I inevitably see advanced bacterial and yeast overgrowth in the samples.
    Although I no longer practice or teach Macrobiotics it did serve me well while I was on it. I have since moved to a more living food diet where there is little place for high glycemic foods.


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    Hi John,


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    In reply to Antonio, it seems some people can tolerate carbs and not gain weight, but I’m not one of them. On Weight Wtachers I would lose weight everywhere except my stomach. It was the same with any low fat high carb diet. On the South Beach Diet I lost weight from my stomach for the first time ever, even though go to pump classes every day. The weight training was much more effective when I gave up eating starch of any kind. I had a flat tummy for the first time in my life. I don’t eat any processed food though and buy organic free range eggs, meat and dairy.

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      i’ve written about that quite a bit- the glycemic load is far more accurate and important than the glycemic index.

      insulin index is tricky and hard to find good data on, but of course it’s important. Remember though that there are always little exceptions- fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar (has a very low glycemic index AND load) but is really really bad for you! (and does cause insulin resistance just not through the mechanism of raising blood sugar)


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    I really appreciate all your wonderful nutrition info …. I have several of your DVD’s and they are great !

    What about the Ezekiel Breads ,which are made from only sprouted grains ?

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    Thanks for another great article.
    I think I’ll show this to my son – it explains a couple things very well (that I haven’t been able to explain so well).
    If there’s a similar article on HFCS let me know – my son has asked about that too. We cut HFCS out of our house 2 yrs ago & I’ve never felt better. The only thing that worries me is that I keep loosing mass/weight & I didn’t have anything to loose to begin with. I can fit size 5 pants now – that ain’t right at my age. I do nothing low fat so I should be keeping some girth. Ah, well.

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  1. The Hidden Danger of Bread, Pasta and Rice | Southbeach | doing the southbeach diet you need supplementing - [...] Original post by Dr. Jonny [...]
  2. Eliminate Sugar to Drive Weight Loss « Optimal Health Resource - [...] from processed carbohydrate foods including candy, bread, pasta and baked goods cause blood sugar levels to surge after every …

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