Stripped Carbs: The Emperor’s New Clothes

I promised a friend that I would write another post about stripped carbs and processed edibles. Sometimes stripped carbs are called simple carbs, but there’s nothing simple about them. Stripped carbs include white flour, white rice, corn starch, corn syrup, sugar, fruit juice, and beer. It’s not that you can’t eat them at all; it’s that Americans are drowning in them.

In nature, carbohydrates virtually always come with an intact fiber matrix. Whether fruit, legume, vegetable, whole grain, or even sugar, the quintessential stripped carb, stripped carbs start as an intact carb, such as dates, beets, sugar cane, or fruit. The fiber and germ are removed, or stripped, and all that’s left is white powder. It’s not a coincidence that white flour looks exactly like corn starch and powdered sugar. The processed edibles industry has removed most of the essential elements from the original foodstuff, and all that’s left is a pile of powder.

Here are some examples. White flour starts out as whole grains of wheat, with bran and germ intact. White rice is “polished,” meaning that it is stripped of its husk. Corn starch and corn syrup are derived from corn. Most sugar is extracted from sugar cane, less often from dates or beets. Fruit juice starts as fruit. I like to think of beer as “liquid bread.”

Perhaps you’ve seen the term “enriched” flour in an ingredient list. What does that mean? “Enriched” flour is stripped flour to which minerals and vitamins (mainly iron and B vitamins) have been added so as to prevent anemia and other nutritional deficiencies. How did we figure out that stripped carbs did not nourish the way intact grains do? The hard way — after a great many sick patients presented themselves for medical care. “Enriched” is the industry’s term, not mine. It would also be accurate to call it “stripped flour with B vitamins and iron, but still without the fiber or the oil-rich germ.”

You may have heard of “fortified” flour. “Fortified” flour is stripped flour to which folate has been added. Folate is one of the B vitamins. A deficiency of folate is the cause of a particular class of birth defects called neural tube defects, of which spina bifida is the best known. Beginning in the 1990’s, approximately 20 years after a causal link was first suspected between spina bifida and a folate deficiency, the U.S. Congress finally mandated that folate be added to flour. The word chosen to describe flour to which folate was added was “fortified.” And, yes, the prevalence of neural tube deficiencies fell after that. But fortified flour still contains no fiber or germ.

Shortly after rice stripped of its husk was first introduced into the food supply in Southeast Asia, a processed called “polishing,” a significant rise was noted in the numbers of deaths from a disease called beri-beri. Tens of thousands of people died. Beri-beri is caused by a deficiency of thiamine, which was, not surprisingly, present in the husks that had been removed. This is why white rice is now “enriched” with thiamine, among other micronutrients.

Corn starch and corn syrup are used extensively in the processed edibles industry. Actually, that’s an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that the processed edibles industry is virtually dependent on the presence of corn starch and syrup. Americans began to eat large amounts of corn starch and corn syrup in the 1970s, soon after the industry identified corn syrup as a significantly less costly alternative to sugar.

Everything is relative, however. What is less costly in one way turns out to be extremely expensive in another. Beginning in the 1970s, obesity rates in the U.S. began to soar. Whenever I travel overseas, I obsessively check ingredient lists on product packages on the grocery shelves. I have noticed that whereas virtually all American candy and baked items are made with corn syrup, the candy, cakes, and bread sold overseas are made not with corn syrup but rather with sugar. There is less obesity. The obesity epidemic is multifactorial, and not due simply to corn syrup. But it is a contributing factor.  

The American diet is packed with stripped carbs: Mini-frosto-hoho-choco’s for breakfast. Coffee-cake muffins. Single-serving yogurt with 4-5 teaspoons of corn syrup. Doughnuts, crackers, and brownies for snacks. Sandwiches for lunch, with corn chips. And then pasta for dinner. You’re eating stripped carbs all day. Am I saying you should never again eat anything sweet? No, absolutely not. Everyone should enjoy a treat now and then. Maybe it’s a cookie and milk every afternoon, or a slice of pie once a week. But that’s not what’s happening.

I don’t know exactly how much stripped carb you can tolerate. That depends entirely on you, and you’re going to have to figure it out. It depends on your metabolism, your genetics, your activity level, your stress levels. Which is better for you — leftovers or oatmeal? Which is better for your oatmeal — maple syrup, raisins, or peanut butter? You can figure this out.

Remember that it’s not carbohydrate per se that’s the problem. It’s stripped carb, and that’s something entirely different.





What’s the Best Way to Eat?

An article entitled Can We Say What Diet is Best for Health? by David Katz and Stephanie Meller, from Yale’s School of Public Health, was published in the Annual Review of Public Health a few years ago. A story about the article was published in the Atlantic by James Hamblin, who called it Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food. I would have edited out the word “Real” and simply called it “Food.” Then I might have presented a review of the differences between Food (With a Capital F) and manufactured calories. Continue reading


Newsflash: The American Diet Causes Obesity

Have you ever heard anyone say that all you have to do to make your diet more nutritious is to stop eating white flour and sugar? Does that seem radical to you? What’s wrong with white flour and sugar? What would such a change accomplish? I’m not going to say you can never eat white flour and sugar. My motto is moderation. Most people can tolerate a treat now and then. But let’s look at what’s really happening. Why are two-thirds of Americans currently overweight or obese? Because the standard American diet is so nutrient-poor that most people are literally hungry all the time. So they eat.

It’s not about willpower; it’s about nutrition. Continue reading


When it’s Not Really Fruit or Vegetables

If I had just ten seconds to share nutrition advice, I know exactly what I would say: Eat more fruits and vegetables. And I don’t think that would surprise anyone. We all know that fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses, rich in not only fiber but also phytonutrients, and everyone knows it’s a good idea to eat more of them. Especially since most of us don’t eat enough produce to begin with.

Now, the brand managers in the food industry know that we know we should eat more fruits and vegetables. This is why there are so many processed food items containing fruit-related words, or some version of the actual word “fruit.” Vegetables, too, to a lesser extent. Like vegetable oil. And which “vegetable” would that be, please? Continue reading


Most Manufactured Salad Dressing Isn’t Food

I recently decided that it was time to look at the ingredient lists of salad dressings, whatever that means, so I picked four popular brands to examine. You will be very interested to learn what I discovered. The first ingredient in the first product I picked up, Wishbone Italian dressing, was water. Frankly, that seems like a very expensive way to buy water. And surprising, too, given that Italian dressing consists primarily (and traditionally) of olive oil and vinegar. Not Wishbone Italian dressing, though. Continue reading



Trying to Eat in a Hospital

My mom doesn’t take diabetes medicine; she keeps her blood sugars normal through a combination of common sense and careful carbohydrate consumption. A few years ago, she had to be hospitalized at her local hospital for what she called a “minor procedure.” The procedure went fine, but the food did not. Continue reading