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Our Dietitian Breaks Down The 'No White Food' Diet


May 05, 2018

Our Dietitian Breaks Down The 'No White Food' Diet

Maria Zamarripa, MS, RD

        When talking about weight loss, you’ve may have heard the advice to “just avoid any white foods”. This statement is more common these days, and even areas of the medical community have latched onto this “anti-white” food movement as well (1, 2). The principle behind the No White Food diet is to lose weight by avoiding white foods. Specifically, this diet avoids foods high in simple sugars such as white rice, potatoes, sugar, flour, milk, and white bread.  But, does this No White Food diet have any merit? 

White bread is a simple carbohydrate whose sugars get quickly absorbed compared to complex carbs.

At first glance, the concept makes sense.

        Sugar molecules are the building blocks of carbohydrates. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates (which the No White Food diet eliminates) are sugars that are quickly absorbed because of their simple chemical structure.  Complex carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly, and generally contain more fiber (3).

Certain foods are higher in either simple or complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates: white bread/rice, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, candy, sugary cereal, cookies.

Complex carbohydrates: beans, 100% whole grain bread, starchy vegetables (like sweet potatoes or peas), quinoa, oatmeal.

        Simple carbohydrates, added sugar, and refined sugar all refer to the same types of foods, and lead to the same result: a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin production (3). By eating less of these foods, we can better control our blood sugar levels. We produce less insulin when our blood sugars are controlled, which may promote weight loss (4).

To learn more about the science behind sugar, read our blog post here.

Controlling intake of simple carbs can improve blood sugar levels.

But, as with all trendy diets, the No White Food diet has its drawbacks.

        First, fad diets tend to oversimplify things. There are usually one or more food groups that are restricted. For example, the Ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates, the Ornish diet restricts fat, and the Paleo diet restricts dairy and grains (among others).

        With the oversimplification of the No White Food diet, we fail to see the bigger picture: no one food makes or breaks a diet. Eating one cookie will not make you fat, just as eating one piece of broccoli will not make you healthy.

The No White Food diet also makes some big assumptions.

        The main premise of this diet is to avoid simple sugars from foods like white sugar. But, this leads many people to assume that “natural sugars” like honey, agave, and maple syrup are healthier than white sugar.  While maple syrup may have some antioxidant activity (5), it still provides the same number of calories from sugar, as does agave and honey. Whether it’s naturally brown, yellow, or made into a “Paleo Poptart”, sugar has excess calories and limited nutritious value (6, 7).

        Furthermore, people may interpret the No White Food diet as avoiding ALL white foods. However, there are many white foods that are very nutritious like cauliflower, eggs, bananas, onions, and garlic! Additionally, the protein content of cow’s milk can provide great benefit, especially when used to make gut-friendly foods like yogurt. Claiming that all white foods cause weight gain is misleading.

Not all white foods are unhealthy!

        Another common assumption is that by eliminating white foods, you are therefore eating healthier. The drawback of most trendy fad diets, is that they miss one key point: the benefit of ADDING healthy foods. You can avoid all white foods and sugar, and still have poor diet quality if you do not include nutritious variety. Life is much more enjoyable when we focus on adding nutritious food to our diet. 

What should we do instead?

        Research consistently shows us that it’s not the type of diet we follow, but rather the quality of the foods we eat that matters (8-10). Be wary of food labels like “low-fat”, “sugar-free”, and “low-calorie”, as these labels do not necessarily indicate a health food. Avoid the temptation to denigrate whole food groups or certain food attributes (like color).  

        Instead, consider each individual whole food, and try to eat more foods that are closer to their natural form. For example, choose a handful of low-salt nuts instead of a nutty granola bar, pick plain yogurt and a handful of berries instead of flavored yogurt, and select steel-cut oatmeal over sweetened cereals. Provide variety in your diet through different fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and high-quality proteins.

        We should aim to eat a diverse, colorful, and plant-rich diet. However, encouraging color doesn’t mean that all white foods are bad. While limiting sugar and refined white foods is helpful, also consider which wholesome foods you can ADD to your diet. Calories are still important, so be mindful of calorie intake, and include foods that provide more nutrient density, i.e. a more nutritious “bang for your buck”. Making these changes in your eating patterns will make life more enjoyable (less focus on restriction), and is a sure-fire way to improving your health.

References:

  1. https://www.livestrong.com/article/336585-list-of-no-white-flour-foods/
  2. https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/eliminating-four-white-foods-may-make-it-easier-to-eat-less-lose-weight/
  3. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4038351/
  5. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2009.0029
  6. http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/gone_coconuts_new_sugar_or_old_hype
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174149/
  8. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2673150
  9. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/best-diet-quality-counts/
  10. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1014296


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