Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest Blogger: The Truth About Carbs, Day 2

More from my dear friend Christopher. Please check out yesterday's post, if you haven't already, for the full story. And again, you can find Christopher at his websites, www.christopherwarden.com www.womensfitnessbeyond40.com and www.unlockyourstrength.com

Part Two – The Most Common Questions About Carbohydrates

(**NOTE – ‘Carbohydrate’ as discussed in this section refers to all digestible starches/sugars, whether the food source is considered ‘healthy’ (sweet potato, piece of fruit, brown rice, etc.) or ‘unhealthy’ (soda, cookies, candy, etc.).

Q: Are Carbohydrates Bad?

A: Of course, carbohydrates aren’t inherently evil. At the very least, they provide you with a burst of energy when you really need it; at best they’re an energy source packed full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.

The thing is:
· We’re overeating carbs that are (essentially) trash – highly processed, high starch, high sugar varieties – while under eating those that our body prefers -- low sugar and nutrient-rich carbs like berries, leafy greens, and fibrous vegetables and fruits.
· We’re eating more sugar now than ever before (from an estimated 4 lbs/yr at the turn of the 20th century, to 150 lbs/yr today).

And all of this has society at large experiencing astronomical levels of obesity and chronic disease. That’s what’s ‘bad.’

Q: Are there exceptions to the kinds of carbohydrates I can eat? How about to when I can eat them?

A: In terms of achieving fat loss and reducing risk of developing chronic disease, there's little doubt that the best carbs for you are those with low starch/sugar content. Now, if the thought of living predominantly on leafy greens, berries and fibrous veggies makes you want to scream, here are a few things to consider before deciding to go heavy on starch or sugar:

· Your genetics. If you have a family history linked to ailments like obesity, heart disease or diabetes, you're likely better off leaning toward low starch/low sugar carb choices.
· Your genetics (Part II). If you happen to have a body that functions well on starchier foods, it is up to you to listen to your body and understand ‘how much is best.’

· Your current activity level. (i.e. Have you earned your starch?) Essentially, if you're going to eat starchier carbs, do it early in the day or in conjunction with strength training/other rigorous activity. These are the times when your body is most metabolically active and/or when muscle is demanding fuel, helping to ensure that the starch you do eat is put to good use by the body.

· Your current state of health/ The amount of fat you're trying to lose. If you're living with illness such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer, you really ought to consider keeping sugar and starch ingestion to a minimum - if you eat it at all. Same goes if you've got significant body fat to lose.

The point here is that for the sake of your health and performance, you really have to make a diligent attempt at consistently eating reduced amounts of sugar and starch. Why? Because insulin - the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels - has been shown to play a role in obesity as well as many of the chronic diseases that afflict us today. Controlling sugar intake = regulating insulin = less body fat/reduced risk for chronic illness.

Q: Are all carbs created equal?

A: No. Aside from differences in nutrient content (vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.), the most obvious difference between foods is the amount of digestible starches and sugars you get.

Q: How do you figure out the sugar content the food?

A: Look at the food's nutrition information, paying attention to the ‘Total Carbohydrate’ value (measured in grams). Subtract the grams of fiber from the grams of total carbohydrate, and the remaining number is the amount of starch/sugar you're getting per serving. It goes without saying that, if you're trying to keep your sugar intake low, you'll have to either choose foods with naturally low sugar content OR reduce the portion size. If you're hungry, of course, I'd suggest choosing the foods "low on the sugar scale" so you can eat to your stomach's content.

Q: Can you give specific examples of ‘good, low-in-sugar carbohydrates’ to eat?

A: The best carbs to eat in terms of regulating blood sugar are those providing high nutrient value, sustenance and minimal starch or sugar content. Examples include: salad greens, asparagus, artichokes, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, carrots, broccoli, garlic, green beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, turnips, spinach and squash. Fruits include: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, peaches and oranges.

Q: Does Low Carb = No Carb?

A: One big misconception of low carb nutrition seems to be that low carb is synonymous with no carb -- that carbs are completely axed from the daily menu when you follow a ‘low carb’ nutrition plan.

Simply put, this isn't the case.

In fact, instead of calling the diet ‘low carb’, it should probably be referred to as ‘low starch’ and/or ‘low sugar’ to remove some of the confusion.

Low carb suggests that we regularly choose carbohydrate sources that are low in starch and sugar. While this surely reduces our daily cumulative intake of starch and sugar, it doesn't necessarily equate to reduced consumption of foods considered to be ‘sources of carbohydrate.’

How? Because, as stated above, not all carbs are created equal.

Many people think ‘carbs’ and picture foods like bread, pasta, quinoa, baked potato, wheat flour and rice . . . foods that taste good, are full of energy and loaded with starch and sugar.

But carbs also consist of foods like spinach, lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, avocado, cantaloupe, raspberries, strawberries . . .foods full of vitamins and minerals, full of fiber and low in starch and sugar.

Low carb is about quantity - quantity of starch and sugar that we eat - but it's more about quality. It's about choosing carbs that provide significant nutrient density without overloading us with sugar and provoking chronic secretion of insulin. Look to eat quality carbohydrates (in terms of starch and sugar content) and there will be plenty of quantity to indulge in.

Q: I knew that your body could use protein for energy. However, I was led to believe carbohydrates are the better source. What's the deal here?

A: While it's true that carbohydrates are commonly considered the nutrient that ‘provides energy’ to the body, I'd contend that protein is the better source (for us) for these reasons:

· Protein consumption is essential for our survival. Carbohydrate consumption is not. Is it not logical to reason that if you ‘can't live without it,’ it's ‘better’?

· Protein is more nutrient dense, so you get ‘more bang for your nutrient buck.’ Put another way, because protein has so much nutritional value, you can eat less to get more of what the body requires, whether it be energy or a particular amino acid. (Example: To ingest 65 grams of protein, you could eat 8 ounces of elk meat OR you could eat 13 heads of lettuce or 56 bananas or 261 apples or 33 slices of bread. (from The Protein Power Lifeplan, p.9))

· Protein consumption doesn't elicit an insulin release like carbohydrate does. So, with protein you get the benefit of energy and nutrition while also regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. (which promotes reduced body fat, which decreases risk of disease . . . )

Q: How do I keep sugar/starch consumption to a minimum?

A: A few suggestions:

· Consume fresh, whole foods (especially of the leafy green, fibrous veggie, berry varieties) as often as possible. If you can't eat it fresh, frozen is usually the next best option.

· Minimize consumption of processed foods.

· Stay away from low fat foods. To replace fat content, sugar is often added to the food source. So, ironically, a ‘low fat’ food has more potential to fatten you than the ‘regular’ version . . . all because of the sugar added.

Thanks for reading! This, of course, only covers one small variable in the topic of holistically healthy nutrition. For more information that can help you get your nutrition and health on track, please visit http://www.yourpersonaltrainernyc.com/.

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