MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
So now it's the new year, and with it comes the usual onslaught of diet advice and the latest fads. But if you're looking for a healthy approach to eating that doesn't require counting calories every day or giving up carbs, then listen up. From our Life Kit podcast team, NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on one strategy that focuses on slow carbs, not no carbs.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If you want to eat in a way that makes you feel good or maybe even slim down a bit, you may assume that calories are part of the story - and they are. Matt Hartings, a chemistry professor at American University, helps demonstrate how calories are calculated.
MATTHEW HARTINGS: So what we're going to do is we are going to burn our food.
AUBREY: We've got two foods here - a piece of white bread and some whole wheat kernels. And to get a calorie count, he will calculate how much heat each piece of food generates as it burns.
HARTINGS: Now, you see the smoke coming out from in there?
AUBREY: Oh, yeah. Look at that flame.
HARTINGS: These things are burning, and we're measuring the amount of energy that comes off when they burn. It's the same reaction that goes on in our bodies.
AUBREY: Turns out, the white bread and the wheat have about the same number of calories, but there's a catch. This doesn't mean they offer the same nutrition.
HARTINGS: How the calories themselves burn in our bodies is different from one food to the next.
AUBREY: Once you understand this, it may help you make better choices, especially when it comes to which carbs to eat. Not all carbs are created equally. Here's David Ludwig, a physician and co-director of an obesity prevention center at Boston Children's Hospital.
DAVID LUDWIG: We've known for decades, if not a century, that different foods affect the body differently apart from their calorie content.
AUBREY: What I've learned is that when I eat foods akin to white bread, full of a bunch of highly refined flour and sugar, I'm starving an hour later. These processed foods can actually make me feel hungrier. But by comparison, if I eat whole grains, say, with an egg for breakfast, I feel full for hours. David Ludwig says these whole grains have a lot more going for them nutritionally.
DAVID LUDWIG: When you eat a whole kernel, minimally processed - so things like wheat berries, barley and rye - they take a while to digest. Blood sugar rises relatively more gently. You produce less insulin calorie for calorie.
AUBREY: And over the long term, this is good. By sticking with foods that give you plenty of fiber, protein and healthy fats, you can help prevent spikes in blood sugar. And limiting foods full of refined carbs like that white bread and sugar may help prevent weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. Ludwig says the more processed the grain, the more good stuff has been processed out, leaving just a bunch of starch.
DAVID LUDWIG: And it slams into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar and insulin, potentially stimulating hunger, maybe even slowing down metabolism.
AUBREY: Given this advice to aim for slow carbs that digest slowly, how might you think about dinner differently? David Ludwig teamed up with his wife Dawn, a chef, to write some cookbooks. As a rule of thumb, you want to fill half your plate with veggies and leafy greens. And then Dawn Ludwig says, to build a meal, don't just pile a bunch of pasta on your plate.
DAWN LUDWIG: First, look at what's your fat, what's your 4 to 6 ounces of protein? And then think about what is going to be the slow carb.
AUBREY: Maybe a side of brown rice or quinoa. Then, to top it off, she says make a tasty sauce.
DAWN LUDWIG: I do a lot of really simple five-minute sauces that I have in my fridge - you know, Greek dressing or a Moroccan sauce or a coconut curry.
AUBREY: She says having these sources on hand is a simple way to turn a few ingredients into a healthy meal. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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MARTIN: For more tips on healthy eating and lots of other tools to help you get it together, check out NPR's Life Kit podcast at npr.org/lifekit.
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