In this article you will learn:
How to make healthy choices for carb sources
What various options are and what to look for
The top things to avoid when it comes to carbohydrate decisions
Lazy Author Alert:
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This is going to be Part 3 of a 4 Part series. I will link the next article at the end. If you need help implementing these principles, don't be afraid to reach out. Below are my guiding rules for making healthy, lifelong choices with carbohydrates:
Minimize simple carbohydrates from processed sources like candy, junk food, ice cream, pastries and soda. Always read the nutrition label and understand how much added sugar something has. Regardless if it’s brown sugar or white sugar, it will still make an impact on your body. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams a day for men and 25 grams a day for women. Personally, I avoid anything that’s “fun” food unless I’m at someone’s special occasion and then I’ll have a taste. What’s also true is that your general nutrition status (your gut microbiome, deficiencies, stress level etc.) will determine if you crave sweets in the first place. Do a good job there and you’ll never crave the bad stuff anyway.
Be careful with juices. Even if the label reads “100% Juice” it might as well say “100% sugar” for our intents here. Juice is right up there with soda unless its something like celery or kale juice. These are extra sugar bombs that can easily add to the burden for your poor blood when you’ve already bombed it with your meal. Unless it has pulp which carries most of the nutrition and fiber, juice by itself is not something to consume on a regular basis.
Stick to a majority of complex carbohydrates from vegetables with some starches like rice, potato varieties and so on. If you are trying to minimize glycemic impact, consider getting a blood glucose monitor and testing various foods to see what you are OK with. Sweet potatoes, for example, are generally much higher in glycemic impact than brown rice even though they both can be a source of resistant starch. In general though, avoid refined foods like white flour, white pasta and white bread as these have been totally stripped of nutrition and are basically just sugar. Opt instead for the whole grain version with lots of fiber like sprouted grain bread and always make sure that your vegetables and rice are organic whenever possible.
Try also not to rely on wheat as your main source of carbohydrate because of the zonulin and pesticide issues discussed previously, as well as it will distract you from eating a varied diet rich in vegetables. There are other gluten free options like quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet and teff. Oats are marketed as gluten free, but their version of the gluten protein, avenin, can cause intestinal inflammation in some Celiac’s patients so I wouldn’t overdo it on these either. Again, stick to a majority of vegetables with a little grain and starch and you’ll be good.
Try to always eat protein and fat with your meals. This will help you stay satiated and avoid crashing, as well as minimize the impact on your blood sugar from the carbs. Eating plenty of protein and fat with your meals will also prevent you from the downward spiral of snacking on more carbs which can have negative longterm impacts on your blood sugar and oral health.
While there are many explanations for sugar cravings, generally there are a few main ones:
— Your brain needs more energy so you’ve been stressed out, sleep deprived
or working intensely
— Your are deficient in some nutrients
— Your blood sugar is not being manage appropriately for whatever reason
— You have a gut microbiome problem (SIBO, Candida, etc.)
Eating an abundance of healthy fats, nutritious vegetables, quality protein and healthy complex carbs usually eliminates most sugar cravings. If you do have cravings, know that reaching for a sugar bomb only worsens the problem because your blood sugar spikes which prompts a crash later. Find a healthier alternative for the short-term or use healthy sweeteners like monk fruit and stevia while you realign your diet and health.
When considering how many grams of carbohydrates to eat, remember this simple statistic that I learned way back in high school and which stayed with me forever because it’s super depressing: the average person will burn about 100 calories in a 6 minute mile. This is the equivalent of 25 grams of sugar. Remember that sugar is live energy and, as long as you are using that energy up, it’s useful. We all have a resting metabolic rate that will vary depending on weekly activity and muscle mass, but there are wild variances in coming up with this number so I largely ignore it in my own decision-making. Rather, I consider something a little more practical: if I want to drink a can of soda with 50 grams of sugar in it, do I want to take a 2 mile run at an intense pace as the price?
Arriving at your “carb number” or percentage of carbohydrates per day out of your diet is something that I will encourage you to do after you have done the following:
— Come to terms with your protein intake using the previous chapters
— Come to terms with your fat intake in the next chapters
— Eliminated the sources of refined sugar from your current diet.
Getting rid of the junky sources of carbs will help reduce how many grams you actually eat per day because you will only be eating what you actually need. Nobody needs a giant cup of milk and sugar, so considering these kinds of foods as part of your total is erroneous. Of course, always give yourself permission to slide a little per our 80/20 rule, but how many carbs you actually “need” is a different story. Keep in mind also that eating enough protein and fat will deflate your total as well since you will be more satiated, snack less often, have less cravings and still have plenty of energy.
Incorporate the practice of health testing to determine how you respond to various foods and choices. Some tests to consider specifically as a way to monitor your blood sugar and the principles we’ve been discussing are:
— Hemoglobin A1C. This gives you an idea of blood sugar management over
the last 2-3 months
— Insulin Resistance Score. Some labs or doctors can order this for you as a
calculation of how reactive your body is to sugar. A great tool use as part of
your yearly physicals to monitor any changes, or if you have altered your
diet in some way and want to see the impact.
— Fructose sensitivity testing. If you suspect you may have an intolerance to
fructose, you can get tested for it either through your doctor or by ordering
a kit online at a reputable source. This will give you some valuable data
when deciding how much of it you should include in your diet (which
shouldn’t be too much anyway) and what choices to make regarding fruit
and other foods containing fructose.
— Blood glucose monitoring. If you are a super nerd (welcome to the club) and
want to see how your body responds to various foods, this is a great tool to
give you real time insight. What’s exciting is that various technologies are
now emerging where finger pricking will be a thing of the past, allowing monitoring of blood sugar to be done through lasers at a high accuracy,
empowering you to really understand what food does to your body right
after you eat it.
— Genetic Testing. This is done through many avenues. Most companies today
can import your 23andMe results into their algorithms or they can map
your genome for you. I was one of the first for 23andMe when it opened up
and so I transfered my results to Self Decode, a company that generates
blog articles and specialized reports on a variety of genetic issues.
Specifically the reports on nutrient metabolism are significant to know how
your body responds to carbs and fats, but I find that when you are aligned
you eat according to what the body wants anyway. In my case, my body can
tolerate fat and I generally crave and eat more fat in my diet and less carbs
with a moderate amount of protein.
While fruit is technically from Nature, remember that it is still candy for the most part. Bananas, strawberries, apples, grapes and pears are all examples of high sugar foods that are relatively low in nutrients compared to leafy green vegetables. In this sense don’t use fruit to count as a “fruit and vegetable serving” because they are just not comparable. Separate these categories in your mind and let fruits be their own thing or part of your daily sugar allowance (no more than 36 grams for men, 25 grams for women). Fruits contain fructose, which is a sugar you want to minimize because it creates extra strain on the liver and may contribute to several health problems when consumed in excess chronically, such as in the well-known case of high fructose corn syrup. If you have to have fruit, opt for low-sugar fruit like honey dew melons or peaches. In general, I try to limit my fruit intake to no more than 2 servings per day.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and opt instead for monkfruit and pure stevia. Beware of sugar alcohols like erythritol and xylitol as they can cause diarrhea, cramping and bloating from fermentation. Choose sweets that are nutritious like high quality dark chocolate (without any fancy stuff) over sugar-rich milk chocolate. Organic black strap molasses is a great source of many minerals compared to a cheaper option made from high fructose corn syrup. If you can afford it, Manuka honey is great as a sweet treat, but organic honey also does the job and you will eat less of it while also gaining some nutrition. If you have a craving for something sweet and fatty like ice cream, find a suitable replacement that has less sugar and is still satisfying while also working on aligning your nutrition and eating plenty of good fats so that you heal the cravings.
For a comprehensive guide on why sugar is terrible for you, and how to detox from it, check this article out.