The Carbohydrate Addict’s diet was written in 1993 by authors Rachel Heller MD, and Richard Heller MD. The success of the book has led to a number of follow up books, many of which have been on bestseller lists.
The premise behind the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet (CAD) is that most overweight people are addicted to carbohydrates. The HellersвЂ™ claim that most people fail to metabolize carbohydrates correctly, causing an imbalance of insulin levels. The elevated insulin levels cause a craving for food throughout the day.
Addiction to Carbohydrates?
Over the last few decades, refined sugars have played an increasing role in our diets. Authorities have esposed a low fat diet В which has inadvertently lead to people eating far more carbohydrate than is necessary (given our generally sedentary lifestyles). It should be no surprise that many people have become accustomed to highly sweetened foods. Whether this qualifies as an addiction is up for debate.
Carbohydrate Addict’s Eating Plan.
At its foundation is a reduction of carbohydrate intake. The rules are strict, with the diet providing a long list of foods, that are on the “allowed” list. Anything not in this list must be avoided.
Each day is split into 2 main meals – 2 meals are made up of a protein source (fish, poultry, lean red meat) and fibrous vegetables. The 3rd meal is called the “reward” meal В this can be anything you want, but you should aim for a balance of 1/3 carbohydrate, 1/3 protein, and 1/3 fibrous (non-starchy vegetables). This reward meal must be consumed inside 1 hour.
The diet begins with a restricted 2 week phase, but then goes into a variety of eating plans – depending on whether you are maintaining or losing more weight.
Sensible or Not?
The book does start with a set of questions to determine whether you are a “Carbohydrate Addict“. The questions will deteremine whether the diet is appropriate for you.
Research over the last 5 years has shown considerable health benefits arising from moderating carbohydrate intake. However many find such diets difficult to sustain over the long term – much of our social eating patterns are based around carbohydrate foods.
Many people have found success with this plan (as with many low carbohydrate approaches). Proteins and fats often lead to a greater feeling of fullness – leading the dieter to consume less energy as compared with a high carbohydrate diet.
Generally, we do eat too much processed carbohydrate (white flours, bakery foods, white rice and pasta, etc). This must surely be a contributor to obesity problems – but does not mean that all carbs are the enemy.
How It Works?
The Hellers claim that by restricting carbohydrates drastically during most of the day, the body releases far less insulin than if you had been eating a high-carb diet at each meal. They say that the entire chain of metabolic events is altered: Less insulin is released, less fat is stored, and more fat is burned up. Because the body is releasing less insulin, the brain regulates the appetite better with a release of serotonin, a biochemical that gives that nice, complete feeling of satiety.
The time limit on the Reward Meal, when you are eating and drinking carbs to your heart’s content, controls the insulin release, which the Hellers say occurs about one-and-a-quarter to one-and-a-half hours after you begin eating. If you are still polishing off that apple pie, your body will compensate for the initial low release of insulin with a big blast of it. But if you’ve stopped eating within an hour, “this second phase appears to be kept low,” they write.
High insulin in the blood leads to a decrease in the number and activity of receptor sites in the muscles and fatty tissue that absorb insulin and glucose. This is called insulin resistance. Only one carbohydrate-rich meal a day, the Hellers say, lowers insulin production and leads to an increase in receptor sites, which then gobble up the insulin and glucose more quickly, removing it from the blood. This in turn allows the “carbohydrate addict” to feel less intensely hungry throughout the day, have fewer cravings, and lose more weight.
What the Experts Say.
This diet is hardly a favorite of nutritionists or specialists with a medical background. It is well known that many individuals have abnormally high insulin levels and insulin resistance, but this is a part of the medical condition known as the metabolic syndrome, which has a variety of causes — notably obesity itself. “Carbohydrate addiction” has never been shown to be among them.
“The whole premise that we are carbohydrate addicts makes about as much sense as telling people they are oxygen or water addicts,” says John McDougall, MD, one of the participants in the debate on fad diets last spring in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is the head of the McDougall Program, a center for the rehabilitation of dietary diseases at St. Helena Hospital in the Napa Valley of California, and a lecturer in nutrition. “We are designed to be seekers of carbohydrates,” he says. “The tip of the tongue has one kind of calorie-seeking taste bud, and that is for carbohydrates.”
McDougall explains that the Hellers’ science is unsupported and as proof points to a 1997 article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which demonstrates that many animal protein foods produce more insulin than carbohydrates — the reverse of their claims. Their diet, he says, “is a way of tricking people into restricting food intake,” and for that reason it probably works in the short term.
Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, is likewise unconvinced by the Hellers’ premise: “This diet addresses a problem that is not even remotely the problem for most overweight people,” he comments. “It would be much more effective to repair the body’s ability to handle carbohydrates rather than demonizing them, and this is done by cutting fat out of the diet, boosting fiber, and choosing those carbohydrates such as whole grains and vegetables that release glucose slowly — and, finally, by adding exercise to your routine.”
Barnard believes it would be easier to break poor eating habits than tease yourself with the one Reward Meal a day. “The problem is not the carbohydrate in the potato, it is the butter on the potato.” He concedes that some people would find the diet helpful, but he insists that it is a “Band-Aid approach” to generally poor eating habits in this country. “In Asian countries people have consumed huge amounts of carbohydrates — rice, vegetables, noodles — and they are the slimmest people on the planet.” Until of course, he adds, “They swap that healthy rice for KFC, Burger King, and other Western, meaty, cheesy choices.”