Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index
by Lisa Metzgar, PhD
Last month I talked about how the right fats can be beneficial in your diet and health. This month I want to focus on the “evil” carbohydrate. Carbohydrates have been given even a worse rap than fat. How can something as beautiful as a ruby red juicy apple be bad for you? Once again, it isn’t that carbohydrates are bad for us; it is the types of carbohydrates that you consume that make a difference. Not all carbohydrates are created equal. The ones that man has created and altered are the ones to stay away from. Anything white and powdery was not created in nature. This includes white sugar, white flour, instant oatmeal, instant potatoes instant anything!
We live in a society where convenience is king. Most families have two working parents or single parents who are tired when they get home from their long days at work. Gone are the days where mom’s got to stay home with their children and cook nutritious, wholesome meals. Even the stay at home moms are running like crazy from soccer game to baseball to girl scouts. We have created an on the go society grabbing whatever is convenient to feed our families. Fast food and microwavable food are foods that can barely be recognized as such. We have started ingesting these foods and our bodies are showing us quickly what havoc they can wreak especially in our teens who are showing these signs earlier and earlier with diabetes and heart disease.
The main component in carbohydrate digestion is insulin. When we eat carbohydrates our pancreas is triggered to release insulin to lower the amount of sugar in our blood and deliver it to our cells. Simple or processed carbohydrates need a lot more insulin than complex carbohydrates due to a faster input of sugar into our blood. If you eat too many simple and processed carbs, your body will eventually become resistant to the insulin and you can ultimately become diabetic. Too much sugar in the blood also leads to weight gain. This also leads to insulin resistance due to the increased fat covering the insulin receptors on our cells. If the insulin receptors are hindered then the blood glucose can’t get into the cells which lead to higher blood sugar levels. You can see how a vicious cycle begins.
Don’t bypass eating carbohydrates. That will work in the short term to reset you insulin levels but is not healthy in the long run. Carbs are actually beneficial. There is actually a good healthy reason why we crave the sweet stuff. Back in the age where there were no processed sugars, the sweet stuff we humans craved were things like berries, apples, pears, and citrus. These were the foods that are jam packed with vital nutrients that keep us healthy, strengthen our immune systems, maintain cell functions, and regulate our digestion and elimination. If you listen to your cravings and feed them with the healthy natural stuff, your body will function optimally. Your body was meant to eat carbs. If you have ever been on the Atkins diet which consists of high protein and very low carbs, you probably noticed you had no energy. Your thinking was a little foggy and your digestion was sluggish. That is because you eliminated the one thing that is most beneficial complex carbohydrates which give you energy and feed your brain. You probably saw a weight loss but that was probably because you did reset your insulin and you eliminated a whole category of food, therefore probably eating less!
The key to eating the carbohydrates that keep your blood sugars more stable is the glycemic index. The glycemic index is the rate at which a particular carbohydrate will raise your blood sugars. Pure glucose has a glycemic index of 100. You want to stick to carbs that have a glycemic index of 50 or less to prevent spikes in blood sugars. There are many lists on the internet that tell you the glycemic index of carbohydrates. Print one up and keep it with your shopping list. It will include foods like whole grains, vegetables, and many fruits.
You can also lower the glycemic index of carbohydrates by eating them with fats (good fats like olive oil, avocado, flax, and grape seed oils of course!) and protein. This helps to slow down the absorption of the sugar into the blood therefore maintaining a more consistent blood sugar level.
Maintaining a consistent blood sugar level will also help eliminate those late afternoon cravings. Eating simple sugars will spike your blood sugars quickly triggering a mass release of insulin. Insulin makes quick work of getting the sugars down but since you released so much insulin so quickly the blood sugars with plunge resulting in low blood sugars hypoglycemia. This leads to the sugar cravings to bring the sugar back up quickly which leads to the vicious cycle resulting in weight gain and diabetes.
Try natures sweet treats in place of those candy bars. Choose complex whole grains over white bread. See how quickly you feel better and lose weight!
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LisaMetzgar, PhD,she received her BA in Biology from UCSD, is a certified Holistic Health Practitioner, and received her Ph.D. in Holistic Nutrition.
Lisa has taught body mind retreats in San Diego, Seattle, and Australia and currently has a practice in Reno, NV where she does nutrition counseling.Lisa's passion is to educate families about a healthy lifestyle.
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