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Common Questions About Carbohydrates, Part II

Posted Dec 05 2008 4:08pm

I am excited to share with you some of the best information that I have found on food and health by Christopher Warden, author of The Fitness Philosopher blog as well as a New York City Fitness Professional. Whatever Christopher says about health, fitness and weight loss I listen. He has helped me immensely with getting my body on track. Enjoy!


Common Questions About Carbohydrates, Part II

Finding information about "what to eat" and "how to be healthy," is easy; knowing what info is trustworthy and quality is another matter altogether. The topic of carbohydrates illustrates a perfect example of this. So much is written about them, but millions remain confused, if not misinformed.

And that's the reason for publishing this Q & A.

Part I of Carbohydrate Q & A( Carbs part I ) focused predominantly on defining carbohydrate and its components -- sugar, starch and fiber. Here, we'll focus on a few of the questions more commonly asked about carbohydrates, including which types to eat. . . and why. Please note that "carbohydrate" as described in this article refers to all digestible starches/sugars, whether the food source is considered "healthy" ( sweet potato, piece of fruit, brown rice, etc.) or "unhealthy" (soda, cookies, candy, etc.).

Are Carbohydrates Bad?

Of course carbohydrates aren't inherently evil. At the very least, they provide you with a burst of energy when you really need it; at best they're an energy source packed full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.

The thing is:

· We're overeating carbs that are (essentially) trash - highly processed, high starch, high sugar varieties - while undereating those that our body prefers -- low sugar and nutrient-rich carbs like berries, leafy greens, and fibrous vegetables and fruits.

· We're eating more sugar now than ever before (from an estimated 4 lbs/yr at the turn of the 20 th century, to 150 lbs/yr today).

And all of this has society at large experiencing astronomical levels of obesity and chronic disease. That's what's "bad."

Are there exceptions to the kinds of carbohydrates I can eat? How about to when I can eat them?

In terms of achieving fat loss and reducing risk of developing chronic disease, there's little doubt that the best carbs for you are those with low starch/sugar content. Now, if the thought of living predominantly on leafy greens, berries and fibrous veggies makes you want to scream, here are a few things to consider before deciding to go heavy on starch or sugar:

Your genetics. If you have a family history linked to ailments like obesity, heart disease or diabetes, you're likely better off leaning toward low starch/low sugar carb choices.

Your current activity level. John Berardi, respected nutritionist and strength coach talks about the idea of "earning your starch." Essentially, if you're going to eat starchier carbs, do it early in the day or in conjunction with strength training/other rigorous activity. These are the times when your body is most metabolically active and/or when muscle is demanding fuel, helping to ensure that the starch you do eat is put to good use by the body.

Your current state of health/ The amount of fat you're trying to lose. If you're living with illness such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension or cancer, you really ought to consider keeping sugar and starch ingestion to a minimum - if you eat it at all. Same goes if you've got significant body fat to lose.

The point here is that for the sake of your health and performance, you really have to make a diligent attempt at consistently eating reduced amounts of sugar and starch. Why? Because insulin - the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels - has been shown to play a role in obesity as well as many of the chronic diseases that afflict us today . Controlling sugar intake = regulating insulin = less body fat/reduced risk for chronic illness.


Are all carbs created equal?

No. Aside from differences in nutrient content (vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, etc.), the most obvious difference between foods is the amount of digestible starches and sugars you get.

How do you figure out the sugar content the food?

Look at the food's nutrition information, paying attention to the "Total Carbohydrate" value (measured in grams). Subtract the grams of fiber from the grams of total carbohydrate, and the remaining number is the amount of starch/sugar you're getting per serving. It goes without saying that, if you're trying to keep your sugar intake low, you'll have to either choose foods with naturally low sugar content OR reduce the portion size. If you're hungry, of course, I'd suggest choosing the foods "low on the sugar scale" so you can eat to your stomach's content.

Can you give specific examples of "good, low-in-sugar carbohydrates" to eat?

As alluded to above, the best carbs to eat in terms of regulating blood sugar are those providing high nutrient value, sustenance and minimal starch or sugar content. Examples include: salad greens, asparagus, artichokes, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, carrots, broccoli, garlic, green beans, mushrooms, onions, peppers, tomatoes, radishes, turnips, spinach and squash. Fruits include: cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, peaches and oranges.

Does Low Carb = No Carb?

Rather than take up space here, I'll refer you to the blog post where I answered this particular question. . . . HERE (link is: http://christopherwarden.typepad.com/healthandfitness/2008/07/the-biggest-mis.ht )

I knew that your body could use protein for energy. However, I was led to believe carbohydrates are the better source. What's the deal here?

While it's true that carbohydrates are commonly considered the nutrient that "provides energy" to the body, I'd contend that protein is the better source (for us) for these reasons:

• Protein consumption is essential for our survival. Carbohydrate consumption is not. Is it logical to reason that if you "can't live without it," it's "better?"

• Protein is more nutrient dense, so you get "more bang for your nutrient buck." Put another way, because protein has so much nutritional value, you can eat less to get more of what the body requires, whether it be energy or a particular amino acid. (Example: To ingest 65 grams of protein, you could eat 8 ounces of elk meat OR you could eat 13 heads of lettuce or 56 bananas or 261 apples or 33 slices of bread. (from The Protein Power Lifeplan, p.9))

• Protein consumption doesn't contribute to insulin release like carbohydrate does. So, with protein you get the benefit of energy and nutrition while also regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. (which promotes reduced body, which decreases risk of disease . . . )

How do I keep sugar/starch consumption to a minimum?

A few suggestions:

• Consume fresh, whole foods (especially of the leafy green, fibrous veggie, berry varieties) as often as possible. If you can't eat it fresh, frozen's usually the next best option.

• Minimize consumption of processed foods.

•Stay away from low fat foods. To replace fat content, sugar is often added to the food source. So, ironically, a "low fat" food has more potential to fatten you than the "regular" version. . . all because of the sugar added.

Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list of the questions faced by fitness professionals, but hopefully it gives you some good direction. If you need clarification or have any further questions, please feel free to write me at www.christopherwarden.com (attach this link to the underlined URL:http://www.christopherwarden.com/contact.html ). Alternatively, the following resources can give you great nutritional guidance (or satisfy your curiosity):

The Metabolic Typing Diet, by William Wolcott

The Protein Power Lifeplan, by Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades

Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes

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