Good Carbs; Bad Carbs

 “You are what you eat.”

“A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”

“I never met a carb I didn’t like.”

“Everything in moderation.”

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Eating is one of the greatest pleasures of life.  The taste buds provide us with a sensory experience that is unparalleled.  Each of us has had certain food cravings, a desire so strong that it can only be sated by indulging in the object of the craving.  We have all been there.  We are all human.  Many of these cravings are carbohydrates (carbs), and of those, sweets are one of the most common indulgences.

Sweets.  White sugar.  Desserts.  Candy.  Soda.  Pastries.  Ice cream.

Do any of these stir up a craving as you read the word?  Are you hankering for a little something sugary to satisfy that sweet tooth?  Most of us have one, and it can be hard to control.

We base many of our food choices on one simple factor:  How it tastes.  Our taste buds rule many of our decisions when it comes time to choose what to eat.  Ironically, the food spends mere moments on the taste buds, passing over them swiftly on their way to their destination:  the stomach.  From there, many of them are stored as fat somewhere in the body, often on a long-term basis.  Often, it accumulates slowly over a long period of time, leading to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and a host of other maladies.

Some argue one simple reason for all these health problems:  bad carbs.

 

The great pendulum swing in the carbohydrate scene seems to have made a full arc.  Not long ago, the current weight-loss hype was that fat was bad, and carbs were good.  Now, we are hearing more from health-information sources that perhaps, fat might just be good for our bodies, and carbohydrates are bad.  Perhaps, if we wait it out awhile longer, the pendulum will swing back the other way, and we will once again proclaim that carbs are good; fat is bad.   There is no way to tell.  There are always proponents and opponents for each side.

So how do we know the truth?  The proof, my friend, is in the pudding.  Not literally, but in the results you get.  Clearly, for people like diabetics, carbohydrates are not to be taken lightly.  In extreme cases, they can be the difference between life and death.  Most of the population—90%– is not diabetic, so the difference is not as crucial.  However, they can make a difference in other ways.

Carbohydrates are considered essential for fuel for our bodies and brains, especially when participating in extreme physical activity.  Thus, the term “carb-loading” has come into the vocabulary of athletes.  Aside from athletes, everybody’s body needs carbs to regulate moods and keep our intestines moving the food on through.

Not all carbs are created equal, though.  A quick check of most labels will separate the number of carbs separated into different types, typically fiber and sugar.  Fiber is considered the good guy.  We are cautioned against eating white bread, white sugar and white rice because the fiber is stripped away.  When it comes to carbs, the advice “Don’t eat anything white” is hard to argue with.   This stands only for carbs.  Proteins such as cottage cheese, milk and other cheeses are high in protein and low in carbs, and very good for a low-carb diet.   The fiber that comes with whole grains is the shell of the grain, having been preserved in the processing of the grain.  Our bodies need that fiber to keep our intestines going strong.   This fiber also keeps our cholesterol lower, lowers heart attack risk and helps you feel full.

Not all carbs are bad.  There are foods that are high in “good” carbs, and offer many health benefits.  Among these good carbs are:

  • Beans:  garbanzo, black, butter, pinto to name a few.  Beans also provide much-needed protein.
  • Squash:  butternut, spaghetti squash, acorn
  • Oatmeal: high in fiber known to improve heart health
  • Popcorn:  a whole grain that is best air-popped
  • Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) a whole-grain protein.  It can be prepared with a variety of ingredients added for flavor.
  • Sweet potatoes:  colorful foods such as the sweet potato contain carotenoids, known to prevent cancer.  Also a good source of vitamin C, protein and potassium.  Best with the skin on to increase fiber.
  • Bananas:  rivaling sports drinks, bananas are “nature’s sports bar” Packed with natural sugars, it provides athletes with natural sugars for energy, and everyone benefits from the fiber and vitamin B6 it is packed with.   Vitamin B6 is crucial for more than 100 different functions in the body.
  • Berries:  You can’t go wrong—raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries, which are all known to fight against cognitive decline.

 

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THEN AND NOW…

Supersize.  We have all heard that word.  In the not-too-distant past, this word hadn’t been invented yet.  It was unheard of.  There was no such thing as “supersize.”  A serving of soda was about 6-8 ounces.  A hamburger was one hamburger on one bun.  An order of french fries was likely the size one would receive in a kid’s fast food meal.

Now, our sodas are over 20 ounces.  Our hamburgers are several patties—which isn’t the biggest problem, it is the multiple buns, which are typically white bread.  Adding to that are the sauces, and even ketchup that add carbs.  “Biggie” fries are at least 3 times the size of what an order of fries used to be.  This is all considered to be necessary to fill us up.

The average consumer doesn’t stand much of a chance, at least not like they used to.  We are all bombarded with television commercials advertising food.  Billboards advertise restaurants.  Recently, for the first time in recorded history, consumer spending in restaurants and take-out food exceeded the spending in American grocery stores.   When a person eats out, the portions are pre-determined, and typically are larger than what would be consumed at home.  All this boils down to more food, more calories, and more bad carbs.  Eating only half of your restaurant entrée and taking the rest home cuts your bad carb intake in half, cuts the calorie intake in half, and promotes a healthy awareness of just how much—or how little—we really need to eat in order to be satisfied.

Lurking in many of our foods are hidden carbs.  Ketchup and barbecue sauces contain more sugar than most people realize, creating more bad carb intake.  Salad dressings are notorious for this as well.  While the creamier dressings are noted to be high in fat, there are many that are sweetened without the consumer’s awareness, creating more bad carbs.

While beans are recommended as a good carb, baked beans typically are bathed in a sauce rich in sugar and—you guessed it—extra carbs.

Sodas, colas, “pop”; no matter what name they go by, they are among the most highly sweetened products that many of us consume habitually.  Adding sweeteners to one’s morning coffee creates the same bad carb indulgence.

Candy?  No need to explain any further—refined sugar is the worst.

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Awareness is key.  Many people don’t realize that, even though wheat, rice and other grains are natural and healthy, it is the white version that is not healthy.  Processing these grains to turn them white strips them of all fiber that occurs naturally in the shells, which is what carries the food through the gut, creating a smooth passage through the body.  Without this fiber, the bad carbs in these forbidden white foods tend to stay in the body in unhealthy and unattractive forms.

“I grew up on a wheat farm.  I watched the grain being harvested every year.  I knew where grains came from, where they went from harvest, and what became of them.  I knew when I ate bread, that it started in a wheat field.  I felt good about eating this fruit of the earth.  I didn’t know that white bread wasn’t good for me.  I had to learn that white pasta and white rice were not healthy for me either.  All the good stuff that was a part of the grain when I watched it being harvested was stripped away, leaving the unhealthy part.  I didn’t know.”

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Digestion is one of the most difficult processes the human body must carry out.  It takes more energy than many forms of athletics, and, if not performed efficiently, can leave us exhausted and overweight.  Good carbs provide high levels of fiber to help this process along.

If, as the quote at the beginning of this article states, bad carbs can be consumed in moderation, then perhaps they can be a part of a healthy lifestyle.

What is moderation?  Try consuming a little less in bad carbs than what you are consuming now, and then a little less than that next week, and the week after.  See what happens.  See if you feel better, perhaps lose a few pounds.  Then, you can decide for yourself if the bad carbs are worth it.

May the pendulum swing in your favor of your good health.