I had intended to write about the glycemic index, however, I’ve come to understand that it's not the best tool for determining which carbs are better to eat over others. In my opinion, the best way to determine which carbs are healthiest to eat is to understand the difference between whole foods and processed foods.
The Glycemic Index is a scale that lists foods according to their insulin response relative to the insulin response of sugar. Pure table sugar is listed as 100, and all other foods with carbohydrates have been assigned a number equal to or below 100. For example, white bread is listed as 100, meaning that when you eat white bread you get the same spike in blood sugar and subsequently the same insulin response as if you were to eat white sugar. This could explain why some people think white bread is considered sugar. White bread is not sugar, it may have had some added to it, but it is primary wheat, which is a starch (refer back to the last post on carbs.) But sugar and bread do elicit the same blood glucose response, so that may be where some confusion is coming from. For more information on insulin and sugar, please read my blog past titled What Happens to Our Bodies when we Eat Sugar.
The glycemic index was primarily created and is used as a tool for patients with pre-diabetes or those who have diabetes. However, there hasn’t been many successful human trials in support of eating low glycemic index foods for weight loss, insulin or glucose control or anything else. There is so much confusion when it comes to eating carbs. Should you eat low carb, or moderate carb? And what does that look like? What are the “good” carbs and what are the “bad” carbs. I think I have found a way to explain how to eat your carbs that finally makes sense, and is easy and straightforward.
Eat Whole Foods
I have been saying this for a while, but I have come across this new concept of cellular and acellular food, which helps to drive the point home. Cellular foods are foods that still have their cells intact. We either get our food from plants or from animals, both of which are composed of cells. For the purpose of this blog post, I will only really be talking about plant cells, as the animal cells that we consume are mostly protein and fat and this is a post about carbs. Cellular foods containing carbs are foods with one ingredient, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains that haven’t been refined. When you think about a plant cell, it has carbs stored in the wall along the outside of the cell. The centre of the cell has large vacuoles containing mostly water. When the cells are broken apart and refined, the vacuole is eliminated, which decreases the water content and a lot more carbs are able to fit into say, 100 g. The carbs become much more condensed in a refined food. Cellular food is no more than 25% carbs, whereas, refined foods or acellular foods, can be as much as 75% carbs. Refined carbs have up to 3 times as many carbs as cellular or whole foods, because when you refined a food, it becomes much more carbohydrate dense.
As you can see, it is a lot more difficult to eat even close to the same carbohydrate amount while eating cellular foods compared to refined, acellular foods. I think this helps people understand how starchy vegetables are still okay to eat; they have far fewer carbohydrates per 100 g as refined pasta and bread, for example. French fries from a fast food restaurant are a different story though. Maybe I’m just out of the loop, but I recently learned that fast food fries are made by grinding up potatoes and adding many fillers, additives and sugar, then they are put into a fry mold and deep fried. I had no idea they were reconstituted! In this case, fast food fries are not a cellular food and have a much higher carb content than a baked potato, potato wedges or mashed potatoes. Basically, if you cook your potato or other starchy veg at home, then it is totally a part of a healthy diet as they are full of vitamins and minerals. Which brings me to another point. Cooking cellular food doesn’t change the carb content and it will remain less than 25% carbohydrate.
Cellular foods are more filling as they typically have more water and fibre. You are far less likely to overeat cellular foods. That is another reason why you should try eating more whole foods and less refined and processed foods. If you are an athlete or have a job where you are very active and on your feet all day, then you can afford to eat more refined foods. However, if you are a desk jockey, if you commute, or are generally inactive for the majority of the day, then it is way easier to maintain a healthy body weight, metabolism and cholesterol level (Part 4) if you focus on eating mainly whole foods, and limit your refined and processed foods to only a few times per week. This is doable for some and for others it may be a matter of cutting back slowly over time to a few servings per week. For some, cutting out refined and processed foods leaves a gaping hole in their diet and it can be difficult and overwhelming for them to fill it. But it just takes time, some thought, action and slow changes. If this is you, then contact me! I can help break the steps down to smaller more achievable goals and help with ideas for healthier foods to fill those holes.
Refined flour and sugar are the main acellular foods that you should be aware of. Unfortunately, they are in many, many packaged foods and are often very tasty and addicting. Here are a few that you should limit to only a few times per week: Bread, tortillas, buns, doughnuts, cookies, muffins, pastries, granola and protein bars with refined flour, cereals with refined flour, breaded meats, crackers, pasta, bagels, brownies and anything else made with refined flour or other grains.
Why? Again, because it is much easier to maintain a healthy body weight and metabolism by limiting these foods if you are relatively inactive. If you want to eat more of these foods, then try doing activities regularly that get your heart rate up, such as interval and strength training. If you work at a desk, try getting up and climbing a few sets of stairs every hour. But even if you are active, it’s still better to fill your diet will whole foods, full of vitamins, mineral and phytochemicals that are going to help your body run optimally.
Side note: This is a post about carbs, but since I’m on the topic of cellular foods, I just want to mention that the same goes for meat. Cellular meat, so chicken breasts, a fillet of fish, steak, pork chops, any type of meat that hasn’t been ground up is better than eating meat that has been ground up. We tend to eat less of it; it contains more water and requires more chewing, which slows our consumption. I don’t think eating ground meat is that bad really, mostly depends on what else you are eating and what else has been added to it, but when you compare a cellular meat to a ground up meat, the cellular form is superior for the reasons mentioned above. When you are buying meat that has been ground up, it is really important to look at the ingredients. Ground beef (one ingredient -essentially okay to eat) is better than a hot dog, or a reconstituted chicken breast, for example. The later have had additional ingredients added, which you can do without. It always boggles my mind when people buy chicken “breasts” that has been ground up and reconstituted into a chicken breast. Why not just buy a chicken breast? Chicken breasts are one of the easiest things to cook, so I don’t feel it is an issue of saving time. You can also cook several at once, slice them up and throw them in the fridge or freezer for convenience.