There’s been a lot of suspicion about carbohydrates – that they make us fat, they turn to sugar in the blood, cause ‘grain brain’ and ‘wheat belly’. On the other side of the story, entire civilizations have thrived on carbohydrates for centuries – think of the ancient Mayans and their corn, and even recently, entire countries like Japan or China with their rice and vegetables. What’s the deal?
What are carbohydrates? They are:
- The body’s main source of energy
- The preferred source of energy for the brain
- A major element in all grains, fruits, vegetables
- Present in legumes, nuts and seeds.
If we were to avoid carbohydrates entirely, we would have to eat just meat and nothing else – high cholesterol, low fibre, hello disease…
Carbs are bad if …
There’s a reason why carbs got a bad name. If you refine a carbohydrate, take away the bran and the germ so that it is soft and white and stores for a long time, it will indeed quickly turn into sugar in the bloodstream. The body needs sugar, but in a constant, steady stream, not all at once. So, the sugar hit will be followed by a feeling of listlessness as the body reacts, hastily packing the excess sugar away for storage, leaving the blood empty of glucose. Yes, this does result in weight gain and brain fog. It’s the refined carbohydrate that’s dangerous, not the whole carbohydrate.
It’s the fibre…
Grain in its whole, unrefined state, contains a lot of fibre. Fibre is the key to regulating that sugar hit. The fibre slows down the digestion and absorption of sugar – resulting in a slow-release, sustained feed of energy between meals. No weight gain. No brain fog.
- keeps the digestive system regular,
- binds cholesterol to remove it
- causes a feeling of fullness, reducing the desire to eat more.
Low carb or slow carb?
Fibre gives carbs the quality of being a great source of energy – slow carb is what we want, not low carb. Increasing the fibre in our diet is one of the fastest and easiest ways of ensuring weight loss, avoiding cancers like colon cancer (which is so high in NZ), and reducing other major disease indicators, such as diabetes and heart disease.
How easy is it? –
- instead of white rice, use brown rice.
- instead of white pasta, use wholegrain pasta.
- instead of white flour, use wholegrain flour.
- instead of white crackers, choose wholegrain crackers.
- Instead of white bread, instead of enriched bread, instead of multigrain bread, or even wholemeal bread, go for the wholegrain bread. This is a confusing topic, as breads are often marketed as ‘multi-grain’ or ‘high fibre’. This usually means that the white, refined flour has had some grains added into it, or had some plant fibre added. They are totally incomparable to the whole grain which still has all its fibre and nutrients – no sifting, bleaching, or removing of anything. Another option is sprouted grain bread – again, this is made from the whole grain, nothing removed. More on that in another post!
So high carb or low carb? The answer is dependent on whether it’s a fast carb or a slow carb.
If it’s a fast carb – like a sugary drink, we want to avoid it, as it’s just a sugar hit. It will drop you as fast as it picks you up.
If it’s a slow carb – like wholegrain pasta or bread – eat up! High carb then provides sustained-release energy which our body needs.