Healthy Carbs Are Fine, Remove The Unhealthy!
I will never tell you "remove all carbs from your diet" because many foods, even whole foods, contain carbohydrates. All foods have some combination of the three macronutrients, Fat, Carbs, Protein, just in varying amounts. Yes some may have only 1 or 2, like fat, while most have some proportion of all 3. So while I want you to dramatically reduce carbs in your diet, I am most talking about refined carbs, like those from refined whole grains.
In our “diet” we are looking to control insulin levels. Refined grains stimulate insulin. They are the biggest threat to weight-loss. Notice however I said refined grains, not carbs.
Refined grains are things like white flour and most of today’s other highly processed grains from mills using modern technology. Remove your consumption of these refined grains and you will lose more weight and improve your health. Because of the way today’s flours are processed, they lose all their nutritional value AND their properties that help balance out their carbs like fiber. Your body absorbs them and they very quickly turn right into sugar, which then releases insulin. Please remove anything with flour from your diet. Even whole wheat and other whole grain flours disguised as healthy, they may be healthy if they were truly left whole, but again, because of today’s modern processing they are not. Traditional stone-mill grinding is still available in health food stores and some larger supermarkets and are better but not perfect.
There are carb containing foods that are healthy for you and can be eaten. Basically they are non-starchy veggies and fruits. Dr. Jason Fong in the book "The Obesity Code" says the following are the best. “Eggplant, kale, spinach, carrots, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, asparagus, bell peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, avocados, lettuce, beets, cucumbers, watercress, cabbage, among others, are all extremely healthy carbohydrate-containing foods.”
So essentially all of your carb intake should come from non-starchy veggies. If you want to eat starchy vegetables sometimes, that is fine. Things like potatoes can be good but here is a secret, let them get cold in the fridge overnight before reheating (or eating cold). That enables some of the starch to become resistant starch which doesn’t affect your insulin levels as much or as quickly. In the future I will write an article on hacks like this to allow you to eat some of these "danger" foods in a more healthy way. Another example of this is oatmeal, the supposed "heart healthy breakfast". Well it's not true, but long cooking oatmeal like steel cut or whole oats are OK (still not great) because the protection of fiber is there. Instant oatmeal however is a health hazard because the processing to make it quick-cooking removes the protections and nutrition.
In the meantime, until you are well underway to becoming healthy, stick with real, WHOLE foods.
I’m sure you’ve heard your parents or grandparents say to you “Eat more fiber!” Well, that’s good advice.
Dietary fiber is a part of many plant foods that isn’t digested by our body. Essentially it passes through relatively unscathed but has many health benefits. Let’s look at what the Mayo Clinic has to say about fiber:
“Fiber is commonly classified as soluble, which dissolves in water, or insoluble, which doesn't dissolve.
- Soluble fiber. This type of fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material. It can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Soluble fiber is found in oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley and psyllium just to name a few.
- Insoluble fiber. This type of fiber promotes the movement of material through your digestive system and increases stool bulk, so it can be of benefit to those who struggle with constipation or irregular stools. Whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans and vegetables, such as cauliflower, green beans and potatoes, are good sources of insoluble fiber.
Most plant-based foods, such as oatmeal and beans, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. However, the amount of each type varies in different plant foods. To receive the greatest health benefit, eat a wide variety of high-fiber foods.
Here are some benefits of fiber:
- Normalizes bowel movements by softening stool so it’s easier to pass but also bulking stool by absorbing water when they’re a little loose.
- Helps maintain bowel health by lowering your risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
- Lowers LDL cholesterol levels, though it may be removing both the large LDL particles (protecting) as well as the small unhealthy ones.
- Helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar and may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Helps in achieving healthy weight because it causes more satiety than other carbs with no or low fiber.
Gluten is a protein, actually a mixture of proteins which create the elasticity in wheat based carb foods like breads and pastas. More and more people are becoming allergic to gluten, (the autoimmune disease called celiac disease) and even more are sensitive to gluten (non-celiac gluten sensitivity). Gluten, found in cereal grains like wheat, barley, and rye, is an inflammatory substance that has been linked to gut issues like leaky gut. Avoid gluten as a general rule. Gluten can be enjoyed as a treat once in a while in small amount with veggies as the main portion of your meal. Put protections in place as we will discuss in a later article. In the meantime, avoid when possible, and take prebiotics and probiotic supplements to help reset your gut.
What exactly are whole grains?
According to choosemyplate.gov; “Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.”
The above is just a general overview. Let me add this.
“Whole-Wheat” is better. But most whole wheat flours are still highly refined. In addition, many things labeled “whole wheat” have other added refined flours as well. Also, beware of the “enriched” flours. This makes you think it is healthy because they put back the lost vitamins. BUT they do not put back the lost fiber which is the protection against the carbs.
Add to this the fact that the grains of today, are not the grains our ancestors ate. They are different varieties. Years ago there was a wheat called Einkorn wheat. This version was much healthier for our bodies. Today however farmers use dwarf and semi-dwarf wheat. These varieties are not healthy and they are usually sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup, a chemical herbicide) just before cutting to increase its yield in future plantings. BTW, glyphosate is banned in Europe!
The EPA says there is evidence to suggest glyphosate exposure increases risk of cancer, kidney disease, lymphoma, reproductive difficulties, and damage to our gut bacteria. Later in the program we learn that corn is almost always GMO in the U.S. So cornmeal has other issues as well. For me, cornmeal and corn products raise my insulin levels. I stay away from them. You need to experiment carefully before adding corn and corn products (chips, cornmeal, etc…) into your diet.
Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, Insulin Index
In 1981, Dr. David Jenkins (University of Toronto) created the glycemic index (GI) which is a rating scale of 1 to 100 ranking how much eating 50mg of a particular food will raise your blood glucose levels. This was a great start but it didn’t take into consideration a serving size of the food. Let’s take a look at watermelon. Watermelon has a GI of 72, that’s high. But, you wouldn’t eat 50mg of watermelon in a single sitting. Watermelon is mostly water with little carbs when it comes to a serving. Because of this, the glycemic load (GL) was created. The GL ranks food based on a typical serving size rather than the same amount for every food. Turns out, based on that, the GL of watermelon is 7, which is low.
Raising your blood glucose is bad, we also know that raising your insulin levels is bad. While glucose raises our insulin levels, so will other foods that don’t raise your glucose levels. Meat for example is not even on the GI or GL because it doesn’t appreciably raise blood glucose levels. It does however raise insulin levels. So now we have the lesser known insulin index which attempts to rate foods based on how much insulin they release. The GI and GL are great tools, but it isn’t the complete picture. Use the insulin index instead, but the GL will do in a pinch. If you are diabetic you should use the GL in conjunction with the insulin index.
Summing Up Carbs
If you are diabetic or want to lose weight, eat less than 50 grams (30 if you can) of carbohydrates a day. All of which should come from real whole non-starchy foods like veggies and fruits. If you eat real whole foods and eliminate processed foods from your diet, you should not worry about eating some carbs. If you truly only get carbs from non-starchy veggies and a little fruit, you probably don't even have to worry about counting the carbs in your diet.
One final note, unlike fats and proteins, there is nothing “essential” about carbs to sustain life. So don't worry about reducing them in your diet.