As you learned in the “why fat matters” blog post, our bodies need healthy sources of dietary fat for a variety of crucial physiological functions. The same applies to our need for whole, minimally processed source of carbohydrates.
Where do we find these healthful carbs? We find them in whole foods such as leafy greens, starchy plants (e.g. carrots, sweet potatoes), beans, whole grains and whole fruits.
Where do we find high glycemic processed carbs? In chips, cereal, bread, pasta, pastries, fruit juice, soda, wine, beer, and crackers.
Excess consumption of high glycemic carbohydrates is linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, appearance of cavities, increased inflammation, and decreased immune function.
On the other hand, epidemiological studies show chronic disease to be inversely correlated with the consumption of whole, natural plant foods and fiber. Most plant foods are primarily composed of carbohydrates, with 90-95% of their caloric content coming from carbohydrates.
WHY CARBOHYDRATES ARE ESSENTIAL TO OUR HEALTH
*From a physiological perspective
- They are used as an energy source for many types of cells, especially in the brain
- The are used as energy storage in the form of glycogen in the liver and the muscles
- Plant carbohydrates provide phytonutrients (e.g. antioxidants)
- Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that is key for bowel movement regulation, cholesterol balancing, gut microbiome health, blood sugar levels, and satiety
*From a dietary perspective
- Carbohydrates rich in fiber aid in a feeling of satiety
- Fiber can slow down the absorption of sugar and thus minimize blood glucose changes
TYPES OF CARBOHYDRATES
*Monosaccharides and disaccharides (simple carbohydrates) taste sweet, give quick energy, and lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes. They are linked to an increase in cavities, to weight gain, to diabetes, inflammation, and lowered immune function. Examples include the monosaccharides glucose, galactose and fructose as well as the disaccharides maltose, lactose, and sucrose.
Fructose is the sweetest. It is found in fruit juice, sweet drinks, honey, maple syrup, agave, and refined grains. Consuming small amounts of fructose on the diet has been shown to attenuate glycemic rise in blood after a glucose load. This is a beneficial sweetener choice for most people (people without blood sugar dysregulation issues such as diabetes). However, consuming large amounts of fructose leads to an increase in serum triglycerides in some non-insulin-dependent diabetics.
High fructose corn syrup is the main sweetener in processed foods and the primary sweetener in the soft drink industry. It is a combination of fructose and glucose. It is shown to create a significant increase in blood glucose and insulin levels as compared to the same amount of fructose, in non-insulin-dependent diabetics.
*Oligosaccharides (e.g. raffinose and stachyose) escape digestion in the upper digestive system and travel to the large intestine where they are used as fuel for the symbiotic bacteria that inhabit our digestive system. These bacteria eat resistant starch and soluble fiber in our diet and as a byproduct of their metabolism they make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Our colon cells feast on those short chain fatty acids! How amazing is that!
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are the most studied symbiotic bacteria and the common species found in probiotic supplements.
Bifidobacteria have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels, to inhibit the growth of potential pathogens, to restores normal intestinal communities during a round of antibiotics, and to produce B vitamins.
Foods like chicory, onions, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes are particularly rich in prebiotic molecules. Prebiotic molecules are used as food by our gut bacteria (along with fiber).
*Starch polysaccharides (complex carbohydrate) can affect blood sugars levels differently. For example, freshly cooked starchy foods are quickly digested and have a swift effect on blood sugar levels. On the other hand, resistant starch found in partially milled grains and seeds, bananas, and cooled potatoes aren’t digested in the upper digestive tract and instead become food for bacteria in the lower intestinal tract.
*Non-starch polysaccharides (complex carbohydrate) such as fiber are slow fuel because they take longer to digest.
*Soluble fiber bulks up in our gut slowing down digestion and giving a sense of fullness. It also regulates cholesterol levels. You can get soluble fiber by eating apples, pears, oatmeal, beans, lentils, nuts, flaxseeds, and psyllium.
*Insoluble fiber helps regulate bowel movements. You can get insoluble fiber by eating whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
The average intake of fiber in the US is below 10g/day while naturopathic doctors recommend an intake of 35-50g fiber/day and some African countries have an average intake of 75-100 g/day! As their diet is centered around whole plant foods.
Low fiber intake is associated with constipation, gastrointestinal disorders, diverticulosis, and colon cancer. Remember animal products do not contain fiber! The current rule of thumb is to aim for 30 different types of plant foods each week for optimal health of our friendly gut microbes!
HOW TO BE MINDFUL ABOUT INCREASING FIBER IN THE DIET
Start slow and gradually increase your fiber intake over days and weeks. I can’t overemphasize this enough. Sudden increase in fiber intake can cause unwanted bloating and pain. Moreover, if increased fiber intake is not matched with an increase in fluid intake, this can lead to stool impaction and bowel obstruction.
You can also use some techniques to minimize bloating:
- Soak beans overnight. Then drain and rinse before cooking
- Stir fry cruciferous veggies (e.g. brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower) instead of boiling or steaming
These are some simple ways you can easily add more fiber into your diet:
*Choose whole fruits instead of juice
*Add a side of non-starchy vegetables to each meal
*Have a side salad with lunch or dinner
*Eat whole grains like oats, quinoa, and brown rice
*Drink a green smoothie once a day
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
Getting set up for the Fall and going back to school
It is back to school time and it sure looks a bit different this year. With children being at home it is even more important to get a bit organized and to stock on nourishing foods to help them stay energized and focused during the school day. Make some time to talk to your child about the important of nutritious foods and snacks for their focus and brain power! Then, together, make a list with 3 snack options that are whole foods based and high in protein, fat, and fiber.
Put the list on the fridge so you always remember to add these foods to your grocery list!
Here is an example of a nutrient dense snack combination:
- Sliced cantaloupe and cucumbers
- A handful of pistachios (or a different nut/seed or nut/seed butter appropriate for your child’s age)
- Whole grain crackers with hummus and avocado on top
Some words for busy parents trying to feed healthy meals to their families and meal plan like pros!
*Start small. It is all about the slow and steady changes. You can start by planning 3 dinners per week and stocking your pantry for other “in the moment” easy meals.
*Add some prep time to your week. For example, do a 30-minute produce prep after grocery shopping. Clean, chop, and store your produce so you are more likely to use it during the week.
*Make it a family routine to share a green smoothie during breakfast and a salad at dinner time.
*Have an emergency plan for “those days” – what easy, non-prep meals can you make at home? For example, PB&J sandwiches with a side of veggies and fruit. Or rice and beans with a side of sautéed veggies. Or a frittata. Or veggie quesadillas with fruit!
Briley, Julie, and Courtney Jackson. Food as Medicine Everyday: Reclaim Your Health with Whole Foods. Portland, OR: NCNM Press, 2016.
Haas, Elson M., and Buck Levin. Staying Healthy with Nutrition: the Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2006.
Liska, DeAnn, and Jeffrey Bland. Clinical Nutrition: a Functional Approach. Gig Harbor, WA: Institute for Functional Medicine, 2004.
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