Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ridding Your Life Of Those Bad Carbs

If you are reading this, chances are you are curious about what all the hubbub is about 'good carbs' versus 'bad carbs.' You may be thinking of starting a low carb diet and want to know where the dividing line is. You may even be wondering what specific foods contain bad carbs and why do you have to get them out of your pantry, refrigerator, and life? First a short lesson in Bad Carb 101 and then we'll get to the specifics.

The Basic Bad Carb Breakdown

Let me give you a quick review of what bad carb foods look like: bagels, muffins, bread, crackers, and pasta all made with white flour. Of course, anything containing white sugar is on the list: cookies, cake, candy, pies, and some cereals. Then we have the starches: rice and potatoes. Think 'white flour' and 'white sugar' and add 'starchy foods' and you have a general knowledge of bad carbs. That's the simple explanation. But there's more.

When we eat a lot of refined foods that have high carbs and low fiber, we are eating sugar. Yes, carbs are sugar. Sugar metabolizes quickly causing a spike in the bloodstream and allows us to quickly get a boost, and just as quickly get hungry again. Why? After the sugars enter the bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin. The insulin helps us to convert that sugar spike into instant energy and we feel a jolt or 'sugar high.' Then, after our body has released enough insulin to counteract the 'sugar high,' we feel the CRASH.

What happens next? More sugar is craved to offset the CRASH, which could result in the shakes, fatigue, headaches, hunger, and cravings. What cures these problems? More sugar. The cycle has begun. This sugar roller coaster not only causes these physical reactions, but wreaks havoc on our internal organs and circulatory system. You can only stop the cycle by eliminating the sugar in the first place. But how did all this sugar (aka bad carbs) craving get started?

Many of us were raised with these foods because our families were stretching the dollar. The foods we refer to as 'bad carbs' tend to be cheaper. We learned to love these foods and now we crave them - macaroni and cheese anybody? Stacks of white bread and dinner rolls were common on most family tables. It's a great food to stretch the meal a little further. But, times are changing. We are returning to a time when we grew vegetables, ate mixed grain breads, and had fresh eggs for breakfast. Eating these types of foods is exactly what a low carb, high fiber diet is all about.

Yes, you will need to give up the bad carbs, which are all the refined, processed foods that you currently find so convenient. But, you will then fill the pantry and refrigerator with the good carbs that are higher in fiber. Once you make the decision and learn how to plan your meals and snacks, you'll find you don't even miss those bad carbs. Here's where I can almost hear you say...

But How Will I Live Without My Carbs!

I know. It's not easy to cut ties with those bad carbs. Nor is it easy (at first) to see an alternative. When you go to the drive-thru to get a burger, there isn’t often a healthy alternative. Just see how many organic farm-raised lean beef burgers with a multi-grain bun you can find at a fast food place. What do we get instead? A suspicious processed product called a hamburger on white flour, sugar added, processed and refined bun. These are the carbs we can't live without? No wonder the obesity rates and correlating health problems in America have reached a dangerous level.

How will you live without your carbs? The answer is; “You don't have to.” The fact is, you will be eating carbs, but not the carbs that are responsible for the weight gain and health problems you've been concerned about. Let's get down to the nitty gritty and check out your new direction.

Turning a Healthier Direction

Making the decision to eat a low carb diet means you have to remove some (or most?) of the food you've been used to eating, and replace it with healthier alternatives; namely good carbs. Start by getting rid of the white processed breads and pasta made with white flour. Replace these with multi-grain and whole wheat breads as well as whole wheat pastas. Replace any white rice with long grain brown rice and wild rice. Look for breads, pastas, rice, and bagels that are darker and denser because they are better for you than their 'enriched white flour' or other refined counterparts.

There are some new specially made low carb breads that are on the market that are high in fiber which results in a lower 'net carb' per serving. You'll even find low carb pita breads, multi-grain hamburger and hot dog buns, hoagie rolls, tortillas, crackers, and pasta. Your new best friend in your low carb diet will be the nutrition label. Get to know it very, very well.

Strive to get at least 5 to 6 servings a day of vegetables and 3 to 4 servings of fruit or berries in your low carb diet. This recommendation will vary with whatever diet you are following, so use it as a rule. Of course, these servings should all fall within the 'good carb' category. Adding at least 10 servings of dietary fiber each day will help you keep your carb count where you want it, and will keep you feeling full and satisfied.

Generally speaking, the darker, richer colored veggies, fruits, and berries are higher in fiber content which lowers the net carb count. Steer your choices toward vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, mustard, broccoli, beet greens, tomatoes, cucumber, arugula, snap beans, celery, radishes, and asparagus. For fruits and berries choose citrus and dark berries, but stay away from the tropical fruits like banana and mango as they are quite starchy with very little fiber content.

Do the research on fruits and vegetables and you'll learn you do have choices. For instance, apples are high in carbs, relatively low in fiber, and very high in sugar. Compared to jicama, also sweet and crunchy, which has a relatively low amount of carbs, is loaded with fiber, and very low in sugar. Also (and here's why I read my nutrition data), jicama has 4 times the amount of vitamin C and iron as an apple. Not a bad alternative!

Let’s not forget about nuts. Almost all nuts, with the exception of cashews, will fit into your low carb diet. Be sure to read the label if you are buying a mix, as many mixes include cashews. Try to buy raw nuts. You can always roast them yourself to bring out more of that nutty flavor. Then, there are dried beans, lentils, and peas. These foods do have a fair amount of good carbs which, at first glance, may not seem to fit in your daily carb limit. But, don't forget the magic fiber! Subtract the fiber from the carbs and you have a net carb count that is very respectable. Eating some form of these food items (think hummus) may add about 10 grams of fiber per day and keep you safely in the low carb zone.

Living without those bad carbs in your life starts with a decision. Have you decided to rid yourself of the unhealthy eating practices you have become accustomed to? If so, I can tell you that you will feel better, and look better, than you ever have before!

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