May 29, 2007

The Truth About Carbs
For months, my husband has been encouraging me to write about "carbs" (specifically grains) in our diets, and here it is. Many people have a muddled perception of what carbohydrates are, how much to eat, and how carbs affect the proper functioning of the body. The ins and outs of carbohydrates are very perplexing, and I'd like to explain some simple truths that will clarify the confusion. I'll tell you a little history of our evolution, how grains affect the body, and what are the best carbs to eat, and how much is appropriate. If you're trying to lose fat/weight, flatten your stomach, want to have more energy, or simply are interested in knowing the truth about carbs – read on.

Until about 10,000 years ago, animal meat (mostly deer) was our main source of food. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds were eaten seasonally to supplement the meat diet. Deer are herbivores, and the meat we ate from the deer was a condensed form of plants/vegetables. As hunter-gatherers, we chased down our food, worked from sun-up to sun-down in the fields, and ate food that was available for the season. Our food was organic, chemical-free, pesticide-free and not processed. The truth is that the human body wasn't designed to function well on grains, and grains were not part of our diets.

Today, a majority of the population no longer hunts, gathers or grows the food they eat. We live more sedentary lives, and so are the animals we eat! However, there are a few primitive cultures today that still perform the hunter-gatherer duties, eat primitive diets, are in excellent health, and free of chronic disease. These primitive cultures dry, salt, soak or ferment the foods they eat. If grains are part of their diets, they soak or ferment the grains before making them into porridge, breads and cakes. In Africa, the natives soak coarsely ground corn overnight, and also ferment corn or millet for several days. Our ancestors didn't have quick-rise breads, granolas, refined flours or polished rice, as we do today.

With the domestication of animals, modern farming, and the industrial age, grains were "pumped" into our diets and the diets of the animals we ate. As the Earth's population grew, so did the production of grain. The philosophy was that if we produced enough grain, we could feed the world! There's plenty of grain in the world, and most of the grain produced is nutritionally-deficient, yet the modernized world is starving, obese and malnutritioned (especially Americans). As the production of highly refined grains increased, so did every variety of bread, pasta, cookie, cake, cereal and many other products made their way into our diets. Even over the course of 10,000 years, our digestion systems haven't changed for us to be able to eat what I call "fancy grains", and the sugar that is added to them.

Our modernized society is obsessed with these "fancy grains" in any form. Why is it that the bakery department is larger than the vegetable department in most grocery stores? People love the looks, taste and the variety of pasta and bread available. Most people know that these products aren't good for them, but continue to eat them anyway. This obsession or addiction with grain products is really a matter of survival (as you grab for that bagel) because your body is really lacking in nutrition. The people that crave sweets and carbohydrates, simply aren't eating enough protein and good fat, and are waiting too long between meals. The truth is that we reach for these "fancy grains" when we are emotionally, mentally or physically depleted.

Some carbohydrates are necessary in our diets, but they need to be the right kind and in the right amount. Carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables and grains. I'll touch on fruits and vegetables later, but you're probably wondering, what grains are good for me? There are two general categories of grains – those that contain gluten and the non-gluten types. Grains high in gluten are very difficult to digest (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut, oats, semolina and any of their derivatives). The truth is that white flour is wheat flour that has been bleached, refined and devoid of nutrition. Buckwheat, rice and millet do not contain gluten, and are more easily digested. Buckwheat is not technically a grain but the seed of an herb, a relative of rhubarb.

All grains (some more than others) contain phytic acid that interferes with our ability to digest grains. Soaking allows the enzymes, lactobacilli and other organisms breakdown and neutralize the phytic acid. Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. A diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies, bone loss, digestion problems, obesity and many other food related illnesses. The truth is that the best grains to eat are whole grains that include the bran, are sprouted, soaked or fermented before using.

Many Americans (1 in 133), have celiac disease, also know as gluten intolerance. That's about three million gluten intolerant people that suffer from damage to the villi (shortening and flattening) in their intestines when they eat specific food-grain antigens (toxic amino acid sequences) that are found in glutenous grains. Recent studies have shown that oats may not be as toxic to some people as thought, but I'm not convinced this is true. Eventually, the damage caused by gluten products breaks down the digestion system, causes inflamation, and the body is no longer able to digest not only grains, but all foods.

Right now, I encourage you to take a look at the grains you're eating and the amounts. If you often feel bloated, indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, have chronic diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, joint pain, unexplained anemia, or any of the many other symptoms – get tested for gluten intolerance. There are medical tests done to confirm that you have celiac disease, but if you'd like to do a simple test on your own, exclude grains except rice, buckwheat and millet for two weeks, and see how you feel. If there is considerable improvement in the way you feel, you're probably gluten intolerant. The truth is that the only effective treatment for celiac disease is to eliminate gluten products from your diet.

How much whole grains (sprouted, soaked, fermented) are okay to eat? Depending on the individual's metabolic profile, genetics, lifestyle, activity levels, health, and special needs, the amounts vary for every person. Begin by eating balanced meals that include a serving of protein, some good fat, and a serving of carbohydrate. A typical lunch for an average person (not a serious athlete) consists of 4 to 6 oz. protein, 1 TBL good fat and a carb. Start with one serving of complex carbs (green leafy vegetables) to built your diet, and go from there. Add spices and herbs to your foods to stimulate taste buds and aid in digestion. To avoid cravings, keep your blood sugar levels in balance, and help mobilize fat, the average person needs about 3 oz. more of protein every 3 hours.

Again, carbohydrates are grains, fruits and vegetables. One serving equals 20 grams. That equates to: 1/2 C cooked grain, 1 C berries, 1/2 piece of fruit (pear, apple, peach), 2 C salad greens, 2 C dark leafy green vegetables, 1/2 English muffin, 3 oz. cooked sweet potato, 4 oz. cooked white potato, 1 C winter squash, 2 oz. cooked beans, lentils, or peas. If you are gluten tolerant, limit your intake of grains, and be sure that you eat only whole grains that are sprouted, soaked or fermented. The truth is that your diet has a definite impact on how you look and feel. By choosing the right ratios of proteins, good non-starchy and non-gluten grains, lots of vegetables, some fruit and some good fat, you'll be on your way to a more energized life!

How does your life compare with the hunter-gatherers of the past? If you're trying to lose fat/weight or reshape your body, start by eating a balanced breakfast (not a bagel and coffee) to rev-up your metabolism, and prevent the sugary, starchy, caffeine cravings dominating your diet. Stop your obsession with those "fancy grains", and eliminate refined grains and sugars from your diet. Drink plenty of water and engage in daily physical activity. It's up to you to take the next step in changing your life and your health. Please refer to the resources below for more information about traditional diets, nutrition, celiac disease and grains.

As a life coach, I coach clients about building stability in their lives, and during our coaching time often focus on diet, nutrition and lifestyle as the foundation for feeling and being healthy. If you'd like a partner in the process of rediscovering your healthy Self, I'm offering a complimentary 45-minute phone-based sample session for you to experience coaching first-hand. If you're interested in receiving your free session, please call me at 303.437.3806. Or fill out this Contact form and press SEND.

To a new you,
Belen Carmichael, NLC
Life Coach

How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy by Paul W. Chek
Stop Your Cravings by Jennifer Workman, M.S., R.D. The Balanced Approach
Nourishing Traditions Cookbook by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, Ph.D.
The Weston A. Price Foundation
Traditional Diets
Organic Consumers Association
Carb Cards, LLC
The Celiac Disease Foundation
National Digestive Diseases Information Cleaninghouse (NDDIC)
Gluten-Free Companies and Products
Oats Research Information

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