The Carb Dilemma

June 7, 2017

I took my inspiration for this blog from my pal, Kris Carr. Both of us were surprised that people were still sooooooooo confused about whether or not to eat carbs. We thought that thinking was so yesterday. But since it’s not, I’m taking a page from her playbook and giving you the best info I can on carbohydrates and why we should be eating them…depending on the carb, of course.


So thanks, Kris for making me think about this topic again (and do my homework so I can give the best info I can).


I am always surprised by people, often in the best possible ways. But sometimes, I am left a bit sad that people can be scared off a valuable food by diet fads and trends (some with a kernel of truth to them). But that’s okay. I see it as part of my mission to help people make the best choices for their health to offer them my advice and hard-won experience.


So here goes…let’s talk carbs. Not gluten…carbs.


In asking people about carbs, I heard the strangest things, like complex carbs cause mental fog, weight gain, type 2 diabetes and joint pain. What?


As I researched the root of these myths (yup, you read right), I realized that many people lump gorgeous, nourishing whole grains together with processed carbs like white flour and white sugar, two of the culprits that steal our health.


Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that comprise nutrition (along with a multitude of micronutrients). On one end of the scale, we see whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley and a host of others along with veggies and fruit. All of these yummy, nourishing foods are rich sources of carbohydrates.


Why do we need carbs? For your brain, silly…among other things. While most people will tout the benefits of vegetables and fruit, we can sometimes lose sight of the benefits of whole grains. They seem to get tossed together with processed carbs like a confusion salad.


 Whole grains are often called the seeds of life because contained in each grain is all that nature needs ti produce a complete plant in all its living glory. On top of that, the rich concentration of fiber aids in digestion; helps sustain us longer between meals and helps prevent digestive disorders. But the real beauty of complex carbs like those found in whole grains is the gorgeously slow release of glucose to fuel our sugar-starved brains and keep our energy on a sort of simmer until we eat again.


The news about whole grains only gets better. Studies show that a mere three servings each and every day (just wait til you see how easy it is get what you need), reduces your risk of dying from lifestyle diseases (heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity and some cancers). A bowl of quinoa can help you live longer…and better.


Most of us think carbs make us fat. Processed carbs, maybe, like white flour and sugar, but whole grains? Not so much. Those of us who eat whole grains on a regular basis have a much easier time keeping our weight where we’d like it to be. See, the fiber fills you up with less volume and stays with you so you’re less inclined to graze in between meals.


And it just gets better with whole grains. Eating them on a regular basis can help you as work to shed unwanted pounds as they boost metabolism. Wait…what? It’s true. People who eat whole grains burn an extra 100 calories a day because of a revved metaboliosm…and eased digestion (including better bowel movements and efficient elimination of toxins). The fiber in whole grains also acts as prebiotics, nourishing probiotics or good bacteria which could explain why eating whole grains helps aid in relieving the symptoms of diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues that plague us. (Just watch TV for an evening and you can see how poorly our little digestive tracts are working.)


Here’s where whole grains get really interesting. We have this image in our minds that carbohydrates contribute to the inset of Type 2 diabetes, but when it comes to whole grains, nothing could be further from the truth.


In fact, the root cause of Type 2 diabetes is not carbs at all! According to Dr. Neal Barnard, President and Founder of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (and my dear pal), saturated fat is the real culprit when it comes to diabetes. He explained that saturated fat clogs the cell membranes inhibiting and sometimes preventing the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream, resulting in, over time, diabetes. Sure, sugar and refined carbs aggravate this condition, but carbs, especially those like you get in whole grains will never be the cause.


On top of that, whole grains contain magnesium, which is important in helping the body use glucose efficiently and make insulin.


Studies show that eating whole grains can reduce our risk of Type 2 diabetes by as much as 31%.


Finally, there’s breast cancer. I have to say this information rocked my world. We run, bike and walk as we hope and pray for a cure and it might be right in front of us…on our plates. Large studies have found that women of all ages who ate whole grains every day (3-4 servings) reduced their risk by as much as 41%. It seems that the phytoestrogenic lignans found in all cereal fiber mimic estrogen, causing your body to produce less of it and still remain hormonally balanced.


A bit less estrogen goes a long to preventing breast cancer and its recurrence.


Maybe a bowl of brown rice before that walk?


The lovely people on our Dietary Guidelines Committee (with whom I have worked), advise us to consume 6-10 servings a day of carbohydrates daily with 3-5 servings being from whole grains. It’s easier than it sounds. A serving is a ½ cup cooked grain, a slice of whole grain bread or 1 ounce of whole grain cereal.


After decades of eating as I do, getting enough whole grains in my diet is a snap. Let me show you how easy it is…in all our busy days. A cup of cooked grain porridge at breakfast (like quinoa or oatmeal), a sandwich at lunch (2 slices of whole grain bread with your favorite filling…) and ½ cup brown rice at dinner with lots of veggies and beans and you’re all in. Whole wheat pasta for a meal counts as does polenta, bulgur and other cracked grains. So a serving of tabbouleh for lunch with hummus and pita has you halfway to your goal of 6 servings in one meal!


It’s easy…and yummy to eat your way to wellness when you eat whole grains. I hope this clears up the confusion a bit and eases your anxiety so you can live happily and healthfully day to day.


(By the way, if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, skip any whole grains that contain gluten. Head to my site and you can find all kinds of articles and yummy recipes all with the focus on going gluten-free should you need to or want to try it.)