November 7, 2012

Don't Eat Anything White: fact or fiction?

I hear: "I don't eat things that are really bad, you know…nothing white" almost every day.  I'm not sure where this came from or who started it but it is certainly a national saying....a nutrition urban myth.  My patients brag this “healthy” diet to me all the time. 

The "No white" diet has been around for years and it’s still going strong.  The general guidelines are as follows as far as I can tell:  "Read labels and avoid enriched wheat flours, white flour, corn syrup, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. White bagels, pasta, rice, potatoes, breads, crackers, cereals, commercial baked goods, ice cream, potato chips and pretzels are all on the list of foods to avoid."   I argue that this isn't a specific diet but rather a general guideline to limit processed foods.
I like to Google nutrition questions and see what I find when I’m skeptical of something.  "No white foods" will produce people saying things like this:

If you avoid anything white you'll be safe.
I think it would be beneficial but I don't get it.
Don't keep it in your house. Never eat anything white
That's right – it’s used to produce diabetes.

Sound advice?  Likely not.  In my professional opinion, Eating Nothing White is a useless, vague, over-simplified and untrue diet myth.  There is no science behind it and I hope that any medical provider with nutrition knowledge would not tell a patient to follow this plan.  I personally would not encourage this plan because it is not evidence-based practice, is totally unclear, and I doubt it would make a difference to anyone's weight unless they usually spent all day eating Italian baguettes. 

I have created my own list of foods that are "white" that would be a mistake to cut from any healthy, well balanced diet.   I understand that what the diet is actually targeting is processed foods made from sugar and white flour, but the white-colored exceptions to the rule cannot be ignored: 
  • Cauliflower
  • Chicken breast
  • White fish
  • Scallops
  • Clams
  • Tofu
  • Pork
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Swiss, mozzarella, parmesan cheeses
  • White beans/garbanzo beans
  • Turnips
  • Jicama
  • Water chestnuts
  • White corn                                                                
  • White wine
  • Mushrooms  

If you follow the “Nothing White” rule, there are villainized white foods removed that could hold a place in a healthy, well balanced diet (bread, rice, flour, potatoes).  The foods that I believe cause problems for people aren't even white - do you know what color a trans-fat is?  How about corn syrup – have you ever seen it?  Juice is colorful; so is soda and candy but though they are made from sugar, they are not white in color and are caloric bombs that will shoot your blood sugar sky high and could cause weight gain over time. 

I think that instead of over-simplifying and placing foods into categories (good vs. bad), people should just call this diet what it really is: low carb.  Decrease your carbohydrate intake and you may see some weight loss related to decreased caloric intake especially if you over-consume these products in your diet.  If you call it a “whole foods diet” and cut back on processed foods, I will support you in that.

I generally encourage people to eat foods of different colors every day for health and I'm going to say it here today: you can include "white" foods as well!


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