The Carbohydrate Conundrum
Cutting down on carbohydrates these days? Many people are. But Bastyr physicians caution that this is a dietary trend — one that could very well pass. For instance, in the 1980s, the trend was to cut fats from the diet, until scientist realized that "good fats" are a crucial part of the diet. Now people are eating more healthy fats and feeling better.
"You should be suspicious of any trend," says John Hibbs, ND, at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. "What's being denounced as 'bad' is probably not as bad as it's being made out to be right now."
Not that Hibbs encourages people to eat lots of carbohydrates. He suggests that people discover for themselves what amount of carbohydrates they can handle. "I'm a huge believer in people eating what makes them feel healthy," he says.
Different types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates play an important role in health, as they provide instant fuel to the brain and muscles and improve intellectual performance. In terms of health, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Certain carbohydrate-containing foods can increase blood sugar too rapidly, which stimulates insulin production that in turn signals the body to store the sugar as fat. Those with poor glucose tolerance-who easily get blood sugar drops or spikes-are particularly vulnerable to long-term negative effects of consuming too many simple carbohydrates.
Conversely, foods that contain fiber (often referred to as complex carbohydrates, which include whole grains, vegetables and fruit) create a slower release of glucose into the bloodstream. "Fiber is nature's time-release system," says Hibbs. "Eating carbohydrate-containing foods in their original form will usually not create as great a surge in blood sugar or insulin."
Glycemic index (GI) values
The problem is that Americans tend to "live on" carbohydrates, and to not be mindful of the type they are eating. "The type of carbohydrate and fat are as important as the amount," according to the best-selling book, The New Glucose Revolution: The Authoritative Guide to the Glycemic Index. The authors state that the typical American portions of carbohydrate and protein are oversized. But the book's main message is that the healthiest diet is one that includes foods with low glycemic index (GI) values. Hibbs agrees. The glycemic index is a numerical way of describing how dramatically the carbohydrates in individual foods affect blood glucose levels (the higher the number, the greater the impact on blood sugars). You can find a reliable guide to the glycemic index at www.mendosa.com.
The GI of foods is constantly being assessed. "We don't completely understand the glycemic index of foods," says Hibbs. Many complex carbohydrates or "starches" (such as potatoes) were initially thought to have less impact than simple sugars. But scientists later realized that starchy foods have high GI values-often higher than simple sugars.
The glycemic index also shows that pasta, which most people consider a "bad" carbohydrate, actually has a better GI than brown rice when cooked al dente. Yet, Hibbs notes that most Americans overcook their pasta, raising its GI.
Some simple steps
If you don't have a good, updated copy of the glycemic index, then a general guide to eating low on the GI is to eat plenty of vegetables and high-fiber fruits, nuts and seeds, lean meats and dairy products (if tolerated), legumes and some whole grains. Avoid simple sugars and processed foods, and if you eat higher-GI-foods, combine them with a low-GI food (often a protein source such as meats, nuts, tofu or cheese). Get plenty of exercise and sleep, manage your stress (exercise is known to help the body process blood sugars, while stress exacerbates blood sugar problems), and follow your own instincts to figure out the right amount of carbohydrates for you.
Writer: Sydney Maupin, Staff Writer
Contributor: John Hibbs, ND
Source: The New Glucose Revolution: The Authoritative Guide to the Glycemic Index
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