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Okay, today I’d like to talk about foods that are nutritious and beneficial to health and weight loss - and foods that are not very good choices at all. In this post I’ll be focusing on carbohydrates. Let me just add that real, natural foods are much more nutritious than processed or prepared food products. I’m sure most of us agree with that.
Before I go any further I would just like to point out a couple of important principles with respect to diet: Variety and Moderation. Too much of any food is not very wise. Similarly, eating the same things day in and day out may exclude many essential nutrients the body needs.
A study at the University of Michigan compared the eating habits of American and French subjects (8,213 people in total). They studied their overall diets based on diversity (foods from 5 major food groups), variety (total number of foods consumed daily) and moderation (according to USDA dietary guidelines).
They found that the French ate more foods that were higher in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than their American counterparts. The study also showed that the French diet complied with very few of the USDA dietary recommendations for eating healthy. In addition, the findings showed that 99% of French women’s diets had saturated fat contents in excess of 10% of total daily calories. What’s shocking is that, on average, the French are thinner and have fewer occurrences of heart disease than Americans.
Research suggested that the possible harmful effects of the high fat content in the French diet were offset by diet diversity and variety. The scientist in charge of the study added, “The low fat approach is very good but not if it comes at the expense of dietary variety.”
In addition, the above study suggested that food diversity and variety may even outweigh the benefits of the moderation principle. Food diversity must consist of healthy carbohydrates as well as lean protein and healthy fat from unsaturated oils.
Let’s look at carbohydrates for now.
Carbohydrates have gotten a bad wrap over the years. But what many don’t realize is that only certain carbohydrates are bad – NOT all carbohydrates.
Good carbs are those that contain fiber like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Bad carbs are those that have very little or no fiber.
Many health organizations recommend from 2-3 and up to 4-6 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
Simple Carbohydrates - Sugars
There are 2 different types of sugars. There are natural occurring sugars such as those in fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). And then there are refined sugars also known as simple carbohydrates such as white granular sugar.
Sugar hides under many different names: table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, beet sugar, cane sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, sugar cane syrup and table sugar’s chemical name – sucrose. There are also many products on the market sweetened with these sugars.
Sugars are “fast” carbs - when consumed, they are absorbed very quickly by the body. As a result they cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels – a process, which may trigger feelings of hunger. They also have very low nutritional value and are stored as fat, in the body, very efficiently. These should be avoided or reduced.
Other carbohydrates that are also not as high on the nutrition scale are those with high starch contents (potatoes, other refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, white pasta, etc). Although these are digested a little slower than simple carbs they are still absorbed by the body fairly quickly. For similar reasons, these should also be avoided or reduced and should be substituted with whole grain equivalents.
Carbohydrates high in fiber are “slow” carbs. Their digestive process is longer than the above carbohydrates and they actually stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing hunger pangs. Choosing high-fiber carbs in place of simple or starchy carbs will:
- Stabilize your blood glucose (sugar) levels helping to reduce periods of hunger – and favorably improve insulin resistance
- Increase the nutritional value of your diet
- Strengthen your immune system to fight against chronic diseases (see below)
Research with diabetics has shown that the fiber contained in certain carbohydrates was responsible for decreasing symptoms of diabetes such as insulin resistance.
In other studies fiber has been shown to:
- Relieve constipation and hemorrhoids
- Prevent certain chronic diseases such as certain cancers and cardiovascular disease
- Keep weight under control
Carbohydrates high in fiber are bulkier, more filling than low-fiber carbs and contain almost no calories. As a result, fiber may be a useful aid in reducing calorie consumption. Keep in mind that fiber alone is not the answer to weight loss. The only effective and safe way to lose weight is with:
- A well rounded diet that includes proper caloric intake from all food groups.
- Participation in regular physical activity.
There really is no shortcut or magic bullet for weight loss yet.
Fiber can be categorized as soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber partially dissolves in water where insoluble does not. They are both, however equally important to health.
Sources of Fiber:
Oatmeal, oat bran, nuts and seeds, legumes, apples, pears, strawberries and blueberries.
Whole grains, whole wheat breads, barley, brown rice, bulgur, whole – grain breakfast cereals, wheat bran, seeds, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, celery and tomatoes.
1. http://www.sciencedaily.com, “Healthy diets need fat, according to new study”, retrieved 22 June 2005 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980424031929.htm
2. Canadian Diabetes Association, “The Benefits of eating Fiber”, retrieved 4 July 2007 from http://www.diabetes.ca/section_about/fibre.asp