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Crabbing about Carbs: Part One of a Three Part Series
“I’ve tried to lose weight but I always fail. My health just seems to get worse every year: I guess it’s just part of growing older.”
So many people rely on this kind of “aging is inevitable” type of thinking. But it’s just plain wrong. There’s a simple reason your health is suffering. And it’s not directly your fault. It’s because the government health advice we take for gospel is simply a pack of industry-serving lies.
For two decades the government has promoted the USDA Food Pyramid. The pyramid positions grains as a primary building block of modern diets. But if you follow the Food Pyramid recommendations, you will wind up fat. Worse, you’ll end up battling obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease.
Want to know why the government would lie to you? The Pyramid was “built” by the Department of Agriculture. And what is their job? To keep American farmers in business! And what keeps farmers in business? Grain products!
The pyramid promotes big business – not better health.
Building the Pyramids
The first USDA Food Pyramid was “built” in 1992 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The pyramid positioned grains as its foundation, recommending six to 11 servings of grains each day. But six to 11 servings of grains a day will put you on the fast track to obesity. This advice is one of the key problems with the pyramid.
Harvard took a crack at “building” its own food pyramid. But it’s not much better: The Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends similar base amounts but switches grains for whole grains. But whole grains don’t fix the problem either as I’ll explain later.
In 2005, the USDA “rebuilt” its pyramid. Now, it recommends between five and eight ounces of grains a day (depending on age and sex). The 2005 USDA Pyramid suggests that these grains should come from breads, pastas, rice, and breakfast cereals. Half of those should be whole grains. But the revised recommendation still doesn’t work. It sidesteps the main problem: that too many starchy carbohydrates will destroy your health.
“The USDA Food Pyramid is cobbled together based on food industry interests, but without real scientific basis,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, who serves on the Board of Advisors of Georgetown University. “The consumption of six to 11 servings of bread and cereals daily led to the pasta, carb, sugar generation and to the largest epidemic of obesity in the history of our species.”
The pyramid serves modern industry interests. It doesn’t respect our natural diet, evolved over two million years. Our natural diet is what our ancestor’s ate. This primal diet was rich in protein and fat. And carbs played a much smaller role in our daily dietary intake.
“Our genetic nutritional requirements were established over eons of evolutionary experience,” says Dr. Loren Cordain, a leading expert on paleo diets. “Humans have had little evolutionary experience with the modern high carb, cereal-based diet which is omnipresent in industrialized countries, and there is considerable evidence to suggest that these types of diets have the potential for creating health problems.”
The way we eat today is totally different. It’s carb-heavy and protein-light. The pyramid is a key factor in this. It over-promotes grains in our diet. It suggests that 50 percent of our daily caloric intake should come from carbs. It places a much lower intake on protein and fats.
In simple terms, carbs – while good for energy – will often be stored as fat. Too many carbs will lead to weight gain. That’s a simple problem we can all identify with.
The more involved problem is the type of carbs we eat and how they affect our insulin production. This can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Nutritionists at the Harvard School of Public Health have criticized the USDA Food Pyramid on this basis. Harvard University researcher Dr. Walter Willet spoke out publicly against the recommendation. He said the pyramid didn’t distinguish between refined and complex carbs and their glycemic responses.
He noted that “there was little empirical evidence to support the dominant nutritional message that diets high in complex carbohydrates promote good health.”
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Why We Need Carbs
The experts aren’t telling us to abandon carbs entirely. A balanced diet and healthy body needs them.
“Carbohydrates are good for you, as long as you eat the right kinds in the right amounts,” says Dr. Al Sears. “Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy. You couldn’t live or work without them.”
The trick is to understand how carbs work and which types of carbs work for you.
If you plow through five to eight servings of white bread, pasta, and rice each day, you’re going to be in trouble. That’s because carbs are not created equal.
There are good sources of carbs and bad. Often, processed carbs like white bread and sugary cereals represent bad carbs. But that’s not to say that all processed carbs are bad, and that all natural carbs are good. Starchy white potatoes are also bad, despite coming from a natural source.
Processed carbs are stripped of their nutrients and fiber. Worse… they are loaded with simple sugars and refined starches. The sugar and starch make carbs – processed or natural – really bad. That sugar or starch creates a devastating hormonal reaction in our bodies. That blood-sugar reaction is measured with the Glycemic Index (GI).
The Glycemic Index
“The GI measures how the carbohydrates in foods increase your blood sugar,” says Dr. Sears.
Carbs with a high GI are bad for you. Carbs with a low GI are good for you. Complex carbs with a low GI take time to break down. That’s because the glucose (sugar content) of the carb is released slowly into your system.
However, carbs with a high GI deliver an instant sugar shock to your system. This will cause your blood sugars to spike wildly.
Rising blood sugars trigger insulin release. Insulin manages blood sugar and builds body fat. Increased insulin signals your body to store calories as body fat. So, as Dr. Sears puts it, “excess insulin makes you fat.”
The more high-glycemic foods you eat, the more insulin enters into your bloodstream.
In time, your body becomes less responsive to insulin, or insulin resistant. This has a compounding effect. Your body then needs ever more insulin to balance blood sugars. Over time, this will make you fat. It can eventually lead to diabetes.
Balancing Bad Carbs
When balancing your blood sugar, it’s not just sweets you have to balance. You also have to control starches.
The key is to avoid carbs with high GI scores.
Here’s a list of five bad carbs:
Breakfast cereals (Kellogg’s Cornflakes has a GI score of 80; Kellogg’s Raisin Bran has a GI score of 61)
Bagels (GI score of 69)
Breads (Pepperidge Farm white bread with wheat flour has a GI score of 71)
White rice (GI score between 73 and 89)
White Potatoes (Baked potato with skin has a GI score of 69; mashed potato has a GI score of 83)
Replacing your grains with whole grains effects only a small improvement. Some whole grains maintain some of the nutrients and vitamins lost in bleaching. But whole grain bread actually spikes blood sugar much the same as white bread.
Compare a porridge made of whole-grain rolled oats to the breakfast cereals above. The porridge scores 55 on the Glycemic Index. Brown rice – another whole grain recommended by the USDA Food Pyramid – is certainly better than white rice. But it scores between 66 and 87 on the Glycemic Index.
Carb-Diets Deficient in Vitamins
But the effect on your blood sugar is only one problem with carbs. Carb-rich diets are also deficient in vitamins.
Studies have shown that cultures which favor a high-carb diet lose vital vitamins. Whole grain cereals lack vitamin C and beta carotene. They also have poorly absorbable vitamin B6.
“In animal models, rickets are routinely induced by feeding [the subjects] high levels of cereal grains,” says Dr. Cordain. “Dwarfism is found more often in populations consuming unleavened whole grain breads. In Europe, where immigrant Pakistanis consume high levels of unleavened whole grain breads, rickets among their children remains a problem.”
Unleavened whole grain breads contain high phytate levels which may also cause zinc deficiency.
“Epidemiological studies of populations consuming high levels of unleavened whole grain breads show vitamin D deficiency to be widespread,” says Cordain. “The mechanism by which cereal grain consumption influences vitamin D is unclear.”
Low GI Foods
You don’t have to go without the benefits you get from carbs. You just need to select foods that have a low Glycemic Index. When you have breakfast tomorrow, don’t grab a bowl of cereal or a bagel-on-the-run. Instead, stick with the breakfasts our grand parents opted for: a high protein options including lean meat and eggs.
According to GlycemicIndex.com, “Foods containing little or no carbohydrate (such as meat, fish, eggs, avocado, wine, beer, spirits, most vegetables) cannot have a GI value. No carbs = no GI.”
Low-glycemic foods include:
In part two of our three-part-series, we “power up with protein” and discover the truth about red meat… Could a strip of bacon be better than a bowl of cereal? Find out in part two.
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