By Tammera J. Karr, MSHN, CNC, CNH,CNW 2009©
|Just what is a carbohydrate (carbs)? Are breads, pastas and rice carbs or are they starches? What are good carbs and what are bad? Questions like these are common and part of the reason there is so much confusion about something so central to a healthy diet and cultural foods.
Carbohydrates are organic compounds of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen in which (with few exceptions), the ratio of Hydrogen to Oxygen is 2:1. The body uses Carbohydrates as a source of Energy and heat (after conversion to Glucose via Glycogen which subsequently reverts back to Glucose). Dietary Carbohydrates are initially converted to and stored as Glycogen within the body until their subsequent conversion to either Glucose or Adipose Tissue (fat). Carbohydrates account for 1% of the human body’s weight. The optimal human diet comprises 60% Carbohydrates: 45% Polysaccharides – 15% Simple Sugars
The optimal total daily intake of Carbohydrates is 75 – 150 grams per day (the present average consumption of Carbohydrates by persons living in Western nations is 250 – 400 grams per day). The FDA in the USA recommends a maximum daily intake of 300 –375 grams of dietary Carbohydrates. Could this possibly account for our ever increasing waists and mood disorders? Remember more carbs also equal more calories, many of which come from refined #2 field corn products like high fructose corn sweetener.
Ok, you still don’t know what a carb is right… It all boils down to – if it isn’t a fat or a flesh food – it is a carb. So yes potatoes are carbs, so are breads, cherries, berries, pastas, beans, grains, cereals, sugar….. But the difference in the quality of the carbs, their health benefits in reducing inflammation, fatty liver disease, cancers, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and brain chemistry imbalances are vastly different.
America, unlike other countries has no food culture, and with that means no identity with food. It is something we must eat to live. We look to government agencies, health professionals, diet books, T.V. and commercial food venders to tell us what to eat. The result is fast food, processed foods and no connection with food for many. Our sense of smell, taste and sight are now programmed to industrial foods, not the culinary combinations of tasty vegetables’, fruits and meats prepared for us by our mothers or grandparents. We ate carbs like berries, peaches, greens, and sweet peas in the spring. Summer brought us, tomatoes, melons, carrots, bitter greens, beans, sweet corn and onions. Fall provided us with more substantial carbs that also are starches like grains, squash, potatoes. The saying “everything has its season” is especially true of food.
The Good & Bad Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates come in all colors, sizes and shapes. The rich buttery orange of a winter squash shows off the healthy carotenoids activated by cooking. The sweet tang of Bing cherries, refreshing zest of savory herbs – do not bring blood sugars up and the flavonoids present reduce inflammation. The fresher and closer to home your fruit and vegetables are the higher their nutrition quality. If you are overweight or diabetic your health will only get better if you select those vegetables low on the glycemic scale like cherries, berries, mixed greens, beans, fennel, onions, garlic and asparagus. The carbs that have the highest effect on blood sugars are those that we think of as starches, corn, potatoes, squash, rice and wheat. Also fruits like melon, pineapple and mangos will spike blood sugars, increasing inflammation. These foods are best as condiments, not the staple of a diet and should be eaten in limited quantities by those trying to lose weight or control heart disease and diabetes. It all has to do with the hormone insulin. As insulin levels rise to meet the increase in blood sugar from the foods you have eaten, the more inflammation affects your body increasing your risks for heart disease, type-2-diabetes and inflammatory illnesses.
The more processed a carb is the faster it will have adverse effects on your body. Three Premium saltine crackers will elevate a diabetic’s blood sugars faster than table sugar will. This is because the flour in the crackers has been refined to almost pure glucose that can be absorbed quickly through the mucus membranes in the mouth and throat. Breads made of white or whole wheat flours will also convert rapidly, bouncing blood sugars up and down like a yoyo. With the processing of foods comes added sugars and starches that the body does not know what to do with, like high fructose corn sweetener (HFCS).
The liver manufactures a hormone called lepton, this hormone signals the brain that you are eating, and you are getting full – HFCS, blocks this hormone and the brain dose not get the signal you have eaten or consumed calories. Research has shown that a woman 40 years or older consuming one drink daily made with HFCS increases her diabetes risk factors by 50%. HFCS is one of the most insidious chemicals placed in our food since 1980, interestingly enough obesity and diabetes rates have sky rocketed from children to adults with the change from sugar to HFCS in the last 29 years.
With the increase in healthy carbs there is also an increase in soluble and insoluble fibers. Fiber is our house keeping team, not only does it keep our bowels moving and clean reducing the risk factors for colon cancer, it also removes toxins, lowers blood sugars, blood pressure and cholesterol.
I encourage you to visit our local farmers market, food stands and grow your own fruits, fresh herbs and vegetables, not only will your food taste better, it will also be better for you and support local industry. While your there grab a dozen eggs and find out who is growing grass-fed animals to round out your culinary adventure. And visit those foods from your cultural heritage, if you’re Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Native or Latin American, and Scandinavian….. You will be surprised at how many traditional foods taste great and satisfy body and soul.
Suggested Reading: What to Eat by Marion Nestle An aisle-by-aisle guide to savvy food choices and good eating