Recently, a friend posted his status update on Facebook as “starting my zero carb diet today, hope it works!”. This got me thinking; first off, aren’t we all over the zero carb thing yet?. Second, how is it that people have difficulty making wise food choices? I’m astonished at how little most people know about food considering how closely connected it is to our health and well being.
In the next three posts I plan on giving a very basic primer on three basic nutrients necessary for health to help get you started making better food choices and hopefully avoid fad diets, or diets at all for that matter. There is a lot of good information out there. Lots of great books (What to Eat – Marion Nestle, Good calories, Bad Calories – Gary Taubes, etc..) and great websites (Livestrong.com, the Mayo clinic website and Dr. Andrew Weil’s website and many other great blogs). The problem is that you have to actively be searching for the accurate and helpful information. Most of the information offered and most easily accessed is information from the food companies themselves, who do NOT have your best interest in mind. Even what you see on T.V. is sponsored by some large food company paying whichever T.V. personality nutritionist to say what they are saying.
The first nutrient I’ll discuss are carbohydrates. The function of carbohydrates is to supply energy for your body. They are broken down in your body to form glycogen, which is the fuel your body uses to create energy for your muscles to move and your organs to function. Carbohydrates can be classified into complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates are sugars (fructose, glucose, lactose, etc) and refined flour and grains (white bread, cookies, most cereals, pastries, etc). These types of carbohydrates are absorbed by your body very quickly, giving you that sugar high then sending you crashing down, craving more food to provide more energy for your body. This process puts an enormous strain on your pancreas in producing insulin so that your body can process this influx of glucose. This process, over time, can cause type II diabetes. It is also a cause of weight gain. When not readily used or consumed in excess, carbohydrates are stored as fat. Another problem in this way of eating is that you are causing a feast or famine regimen in your body, flooding it with easy energy then dropping down over and over again wreaking havoc on your metabolism. By doing this your body becomes less efficient metabolizing calories and you wind up as gradually gaining weight. Over the past 50 or more years, several studies have been done showing, quite clearly, the increase in societies consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugar have paralleled the increase in cancer, diabetes, and weight gain. A very good reason to cut down on simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates do the same in that they provide energy for your body but not all carbohydrates are created equal. Complex carbohydrates break down in your system much, much slower, providing a constant supply of energy for your body. Adequate carbohydrates consumption is necessary to maintain energy, strength and for sustaining lean body mass (LBM is what gives your body definition and shape, not bulk). It is also an important part of your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Constantly providing your body with an energy source will help control appetite, avoid fatigue, and help to build lean muscle thereby increasing metabolism.
So really, the problem is not carbohydrates but the type of carbohydrates. This is a very important distinction. Right now, the average person consumes about 70% of their diet in carbohydrates, most, if not all, in the form of refined flours and sugar. The perfect recipe for obesity and diabetes. The recommended ratio for maintaining health is between 50% – 60% carb, 30% fat, and 10%-20% protein. When choosing your carbohydrates steer clear of processed foods, white flours and sweeteners. DON’T avoid fruits and vegetable because they are carbohydrates or sugars! They are “good carbs” and the naturally occurring sugars in fruit are not as concentrated as added sugar in processed food. A word to the wise: be careful when looking for whole grain products. Many manufacturers are aware of the fact that consumers lack reliable information about nutrition or at best have a confusing array of information gleaned from the news and magazines, and will pray on this by advertising something as being made from “whole grains” to boost sales but the product will contain huge amounts of sugar. This is the case with most breakfast cereals. Buyer beware. Some information to be armed with: one teaspoon of sugar is about 4.2 grams, it is recommended we should not be consuming more that 10 teaspoon of added sugar a day (the naturally occurring sugar in fruit is A-OK!!). That’s 42 grams. Consider that many cereals, granola bars and other snacks have more than 25 grams per serving. Most sodas have somewhere around 40 grams and sports drinks have approximately 30 grams for 16oz. That’s a whole lot of sugar and a whole lot of extra pounds! When choosing carbohydrates, choose whole grain breads, grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Keep check of all those added sugars.
Here is a quick reference to help you understand what your caloric intake of each nutrient might be:
Lets say your calorie requirement is 1,800 calories per day and you want to eat 50% carbs, 30% fat, and 20% protein.
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram Fat = 9 calories per gram Protein = 4 calories per gram
50% of 1,800 = 900 calories 900/4 = 225 grams
30% of 1,800 = 540 calories 540/9 = 60 grams
20% of 1,800 = 360 calories 360/4 = 90 grams
Recommended reading: Good Calories, Bad Calories – Gary Taubes
(not an easy read – you have to really be interested in the subject to get through it but so worth it!)