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Are Carbohydrates Ruining Your Health?

Are Carbohydrates Ruining Your Health?

The low carbohydrate craze ebbs and flows as many fad diets do, but the attention brought to limiting carbohydrate consumption hasn’t been all bad.

High to Medium Carbohydrate Foods: pasta, bread, cereals, rice, fruit, vegetables, grains, seeds, nuts, dairy
Low Carbohydrate Foods: animal products (besides dairy); designer foods purposely manufactured with less carbohydrate

Obviously, you can see that the high carb list has some nutritious foods listed and the low carb list is limited to consuming protein sources. We are now more aware of the differences between good carbs and bad carbs and the emphasis has shifted from a list of low carb foods to understanding the difference between what carbs you should be consuming and which you should avoid.

Good Carbs VS Bad Carbs

Carbohydrates are plant-based foods. Vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds are carbohydrates and all are good. If Mother Nature made it and we did little to alter it, the carbohydrate is likely good.

So, if you purchase veggies and avoid adding fattening sauces or boiling the daylight out of them, you are doing something great for your body. Most of us realize the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diets. The confusion about carbohydrates is often seen when it comes to determining whether cereals and other carbohydrate based end products are good or bad.

You need to understand what happens to carbohydrates when the are processed and refined. We grow the wheat and then take it to the mill where two of the beneficial parts of the grain are removed; the bran and the germ. The bran is the outer portion of the grain, and it contains most of the fiber as well as B vitamins, 50 to 80 percent of the grain's minerals, and phytochemicals (protective factors in the plant which then protect us when consumed). The germ is the innermost portion and contains loads of B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, healthful unsaturated fats, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Only the endosperm is left intact during milling. The endosperm is the majority of the grain and the middle layer. It contains some B vitamins, but mostly sugars and protein.

We then add back (fortify) the flour with various vitamins and minerals. You also have to consider what else is added after refinement to produce the end product. Fat and/or sugar are added as well as other flavorings. Artificial color, additives, preservatives, flavor enhancers and stabilizers are also added, most of which are chemicals with questionable health effects. What we end up with are science experiments with a lot of calories and little nutrition.

Conversely, whole grains are left with the bran and the germ left intact. This leads to a heartier texture and of course, better nutritional value. Whole grains include oats, buckwheat, barley, quinoa, spelt, wheat berries and others as well as end products such as breads that keep the grain in tact.

How Refined Carbohydrates Affect Your Health

Since the introduction of refined carbs and a move away from natural whole grains hitting the dinner table, Americans have become more obese every year. The worst part is our children are the main targets in the marketing of refined carbohydrates. We’ve seen a rise in type 2 diabetes and the preceding Syndrome X or metabolic disorder (pre-diabetes). All of this increases our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which remains the number one killer in the United States despite our medical advances.

Eating diets high in sugar and low in fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals not only causes weight gain, but it also has an effect on our ability to control hunger and cravings. Sugar begets sugar so to speak.

When you eat a diet high in refined carbs (also high in sugar), your body becomes accustomed to a higher than normal blood glucose level. Since hunger is signaled when blood glucose levels drop, your brain begins to signal hunger at higher than normal blood glucose levels. Insulin becomes resistant because it cannot continue to fight the high levels of blood glucose. This can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Sugar also has an addictive nature. Our brain is wired to view sugar as a “good thing” in the body. It is an immediate source of energy and from a survival standpoint, we used to rely on quick bursts of energy to fight danger or flee (fight or flight system).

Therefore, it’s only natural that our brain rewards us for consuming sugar by releasing dopamine, a pleasure inducing hormone. Over time, diets high in sugar can lead to cravings for more sugar. A study on rats showed when the rats were deprived of food and then fed sugar water, there was a release of dopamine (pleasure hormone) similar to the release seen in heroin use. This lead the rats to crave more and more sugar in an addictive manner.

Refined carbs are burned quickly in the body causing us to feel hungry sooner than when we consume foods that are digested and processed more slowly. We become low on energy more quickly and consequently crave more sugar leading to a vicious cycle of weight gain.

When you consume whole grains rather than refined carbohydrates, the fiber takes longer to break down and leads to a sense of fullness. Fiber in whole grains also optimizes digestion and removes toxins and excess fat, both of which contribute to weight gain. Better still is to incorporate whole grains with a lean protein source. The combination allows for more sustained energy levels.

Stopping the Cycle

Switching to whole grains and eliminating refined carbohydrates in your diet can be a bit difficult. You have the addiction factor as well as a difference in texture and flavor. We’ve become accustomed to soft, refined carbs which are often loaded in highly flavorful fat and/or sugar.

Make your switch gradual by switching out one thing at a time. Have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast for a while and work your way up to having barley as a dinner side rather than pasta. There are many creative recipes available on the internet to help you prepare these strangers to the Western menu.


Article written by Mary Franz from "Circles of Light" a personal development blog.
List of low carb foods

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