Low Carb, No Carb… What is Carb?

Stan Starsky: Hi, this is Stan Starsky from Peace, Love & Snacks, the author of the healthy snacks cookbook, Peace, Love & Snacks. Today, I am with Debra Benfield. Debra is a registered dietitian. She hold the vision of people being free of dieting and free of that overwhelming, confusion by nutritional rules and dogma. I would suggest that you go to her website to get some more information about her. See what she can offer, as well. That is BodyinMindNutrition.com. Welcome, Debra.


Debra Benfield: Thank you, Stan. Thanks for having me.


Stan: Thanks for taking the time. We talked a little bit before. Today’s topic is carbohydrates. Let’s just jump right in and start off. I hear carbohydrates all the time, I kind of know what they are, but when it comes right down to it, I’m not too sure I really know exactly what carbohydrates are.


Debra: I am so glad that we are talking about this. I find that people have very much villified or created this fear about carbs. They’ve really taken on a lot of bad juju in our culture. I’d like to talk about how a consumer can decipher the food labels and all of the claims that are made about carbs and what they actually do.


Carbs are basically where we find fuel and energy in our diet. I’m always trying to help my client understand what food supports in them. Carbohydrates support energy. That is their absolute job, provide you with energy. Hopefully, you can balance out how much energy you’re taking in versus how much energy you’re expending throughout the day. That’s the primary issue.


And then, of course, there are carbs that are a little bit more supportive of your health in that they offer other things such as fiber and vitamins and minerals and phytonutrients, which you can find on a supplement jar. It’s really important to understand the place that carbohydrates have in suporting a healthy diet.


I think what most people think about is how bad carbs are because of the wildly popular [inaudible] Lots of people have tried no carb diets. I’m going to talk a little later on about how you can balance out your intake.


So, what they actually are is it’s a combination of sugar, fiber and starches. Every carbohydrate has a basic buildling block from a sugar molecule – and that’s basically a marrying of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. It’s very simple. ut some are more complicated and have starches and fibers along with that sugar molecule. That’s why we think about complex carbohydrates, which are foods that have three or more of those sugars together.


For a long time, people really thought that complex carbohydrates were the healthiest to eat and the simple carbohydrates, which are basically the sugar found in fruit sugar (i.e. fructose) or corn sugar (i.e. dextrose) or grape sugar (i.e. glucose) or table sugar (i.e. sucrose), anything basically that end in –ose is a simple sugar. For a long time that those were the bad guys.


We found that it’s not quite as simple as that. That’s really nice for a lab or chemistry class, but it doesn’t translate very well when it comes to how our bodies digest food. You probably have heard about the glycemic index, which basically divided carbohydrates into a little bit more of a complicated and a little bit more helpful system of understanding how much carbohydrates makes energy available, as in how it affects our blood sugar.


There were classifications. They broke foods and compared them to glucose and how they actually boosted blood sugar levels. They broke foods down into high glycemic index groups versus low glycemic index foods. That became very popular for a while. It’s kind of reflective of how much a food was processed.


We then found that that was not quite as helpful as we would like it to be. There was another simple developed called the glycemic load, which actually looked at the amount of carbohydrate in the food along with how it affected the blood sugar. That’s really one of the better ways of making a decision about if a food is going to be a little bit more health-supportive than another.


That’s probably a very long answer to your question.


Stan: Let me jump in a little bit. As you mentioend carbohydrates are starches, fibers and sugars. And then, you were talking a little bti about some of the sugars. The starches are just complex sugars. It’s basically a sugar that’s several sugar group molecules stuck together.


Debra: Exactly.


Stan: And then, you started with the glycemic index. I guess the concern is if you’re eating some of the simple sugars, sometimes, they come from fruits, sometimes they’re processed and they can spike your blood sugar. Obviously, that’s  a concern. Did I get that right or…?


Debra: You did get that right. I guess if we translate all of this into foods, which is what I try to help people do, look at all the stuff that they read about when it coems to nutrition and then, break it down what it really means to their daily lives when it comes to food cohices, complex carbohydrates, again, that’s not the best way to look at it, but it’s one place to start.


Complex carbohydrates tend to be foods that are either whole grains (i.e. foods or vegetables) versus some carbohydrates, which tend to be kind of processed. Where that falls apart is when you look at the fact that some foods like fruits, for example, don’t really affect the blood sugars nearly as much and something like bread, which does actually affect your blood sugar very quickly (especially white bread, of course), it gets a little bit more complicated and it’s helpful to look at the bigger picture, which is how food does affect blood sugar whidch is the bottomline when it comes to how people about making choices with carbohydrates.


Again, you’re looking at energy, food is digested and then, metabolized so that you can get energy out to every cell and glucose is the universal energy source for every cell in your body. So, it’s providing your body with energy along with the possbile storage of energy, which fotentimes it really is, a storage of energy from when you need it. You really need to look at balance of energy. Are you using the amount of energy in the food you’re eating, which comes in the form of carbohydrates?


Stan: Let me ask you this. Let’s say you eat something and it causes your blood sugar to spike, what’s the big deal? Wouldn’t that be great? I’d get more energy? Why would I be worried about that?

Debra: Well, if your’e staying around versus getting ready to go walk your dog or do your gardening, for example, something that’s going to cause you to actually use that energy, that is really where the difference lies. If you’re just going to be doing some screen time, which is the problem in our country, we’re eating a lot more of energy than we’re actually utilizing, not that you need to be actually moving to utilize all the energy that you eat because batting your eyes and just your heart beating and your lungs taking in air does require energy from your body, but maybe not as much as you got in your lunch or your dinner.


Balancing the amount of energy that you’re providing yourself with how much energy you’re going to use as you move through the day is the most important issue.


Blood sugar is not a big deal. Having a spike in your blood sugar is not a big deal if you’re going to be moving around. If you’re sitting, you really do need to pay attention to how much energy you’re taking in. When this comes to food choices, when you’re trying to decide when you eat, your body does a really good job of letting you know when your fuel is running low by feeling your hunger sensation. If you’re following your hunger, you’re following your need for fuel. If you have just been sitting for a while and you’re still using the fuel that you had from the prior meal, your body doesn’t send you hunger sensation. You might want to eat for other reasons, but you’re probably not hungry from your stomach.


Stan: Alright, good! Good! So, when you eat these carbohydrates (and you kind of touched on this, but just to sort of summarize that), when you eat carbohydrates, what actually start happening in your body then?


Debra: What’s actually happening is the food is broken down into simpler sugars depending if it was a complex vs. a simple sugar that you had. And of course, if you’re drinking something like a softdrink, then you’re getting an awful of simple sugar. It quickly goes out into your blood stream, so that you’re more likely to have a spike in your blood sugar versus if you had a whole grain pasta with several vegetables that have a lot of fiber. And certainly, if you included some protein and fat in that meal, it would take longer for that food to be digested. Your blood sugar would have a much more gentle spike in it. I wouldn’t really call it a spike, it’d be just a gentle increase. You would have a feeling of satisfaction that would last longer and you wouldn’t have an intense increase in your blood sugar so your body doesn’t have to go, “Whoa! What do we do with all this at one time.” Hopefully, you’re going to do some moviing around use this energy up.


Stan: Good!


Debra: I guess the most important thing about that is really how much the food has been processed or how much added sugar, for example, is in the food. If you have a food that’s highly processed or has a lot of added sugar like our sodas, then you’re going to have much more difficulty. Your body is more challenged. It’s a lot more work for your body to actually take in all that sugar, all that carbohydrate at one time.


That’s the bottomline when it comes to making food choices. You want less processed, less added sugar. You want to minimize added sugar and minimize processed food choices.


Stan: And you kind of touched ont his, too. Really, the type of carbohydrates you should avoid then really are just the ones that are procesed?


Debra: Yeah, exactly!


Stan: You don’t have to worry about eating an apple that has glucose and it’s a simple sugar. Don’t worry about it too much because it doesn’t really affect, it doesn’t give you as bad of a spike than eating something like a complex carbohydrate like a processed piece of bread. Is that…?


Debra: Yeah, something that either have been added, have sugar added that has something that’s very, very sweet. If you look at the food label, the first two ingredients is going to be something that’s derived from sugar or something that ends with a –ose or is a syrup like corn syrup, for example. Those kinds of ingredients are going to translate to a food that is high in added sugar or a food that has been highly processed, such as white rice, white pastas, white bread. Those kinds of foods are going ot cause a lot more of a strain and stress on your body because it has to deal with a lot of sugar in your blood stream at one time.


You’re much better off with less processed like fruits, vegetables, whole grains.


I’m saying it’s not that having carbs is good or bad; it’s the kind of food that gives you carbohydrate. That really is much more of a decision to people. That’s where the choice really dictates the quality of your diet.


Stan: Any other misconceptions that you’d like to add about carbohydrates?


Debra: I think the fact that it’s just no carbs, that people are thinking that all carbs are bad, that’s just an oversimplication and again, it demonizes carbs and it’s not really that simple. We have lots of research that’s kind of on both sides. For, if we’re talking about weight management, if you’re more successful with managing your weight, if you go with a lot of fat versus a lot of carbs – and there’s reason to both sides of that. But I think the most important thing is finding a diet that is a way of taking care of yourself and it’s sustainable over time, a way of eating that you can stay with for the rest of your life is the ultimate goal. If you read the fineprint of a lot of the research that comes out, we will see that over time, people either do not comply with the diet that the researchers were talking or over time, they regained their weight.


We have one nice long-term study called POUNDS loss, which is an acronym for preventive obesity using novel dietary strategy and this one is over a longer period of time. What they found was there’s really no difference in any of these diets – low fat versus low carb. It’s really the way a person needs to stay with the way that they are eating that is sustainable for them versus following a diet.


If you want to go the low carb route, it’s better to just include fruits, vegetables and whole grains and thingk about not doing the no carb, but make it perhaps lower carb.


And I always tell my clients to consider the timing because you are, again, going to be providing yourself with energy – and that’s great! But when is it that you need energy? You actually need energy before you’re moving or before you have things to do during the day. You don’t need it late at night when you’re just going to go to sleep. It’s better to give yourself energy when you need energy. Think about the timing that you’re eating these.


Stan: Good, good! Maybe that was it! Maybe that was your kind of parting advise, but if, after listening to this, if there’s maybe one or two things that you like people to stress or maybe leave people with, what might that be?


Debra: I would say, for optimium health, for really looking at high quality energy for you to run on, to get whole grains, fruits and vegetables in abundance and perhaps, you could consider supporting yourself a little bit more in the early part of the day with whole grain.


Try some new things. Try something like still cut oats or quinoa or bulger or weight berries, barley, things like that that are a little different, so you can mix it up and have a little variety; to always try to choose whole grain breads when you’re choosing breads. And to do that, you really need to look at the first ingredient being the whole grain or more specifically, perhaps whole wheat (you kind of know what your issue is) to remember that potatoes, one of those [inaudible] that are higher when it comes to glycemic load on your body, you can chose them every now and then; and to try and bring in some things like beans, again, more fruits and vegetables and maybe even whole wheat pasta.


And one little trick to consider (because a lot of people say their kids won’t eat whole eat pasta or maybe their family won’t try because it tastes kind of gritty) to use maybe a smaller noodle such as angel hair pasta because it really doesn’t take nearly as gritty as something that’s a bigger noddle. That’s a tricky for [inaudible].


Stan: Oh, good! Very good!


Debra: I probably told you more than what you wanted to know, but I feel like people have kind of put carbs in a bad food category. They need to kind of think about how not all carbs are bad and looking at how carbs can be supportive of their health. It’s a smarter way to look at it.


Stan: No! That’s very good. That’s very good! Alright, Debra! That was excellent! I really appreciate that.


Debra: Thank you! Thank you for asking.


Stan: Absolutely! Absolutely! That about wrap things up. Once again, my name is Stan Starsky from Peace, Love & Snacks, author of the healthy snacks cookbook, Peace, Love & Snacks. I am just wrapping up a conversation with Debra Benfield. You’re going to want to go to www.bodyinmindnutrition.com. That wraps everything up. I’ll speak to everybody next time.


Debra: Thank you.


Stan: Snack time!

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