Recently my friend sent me a link to an article written by a local Guelph physician (click here for article) about her new outlook on carbohydrates (carbs for the purposes of this blog post). After reading Gary Taubes book – Good Calories, Bad Calories – she (the physician) dramatically shifted her position on diet and carbohydrates.
Firstly, what are carbs? Quite simply, they’re sugar (some short or long chains composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen). While sugar is the root of many evils, it is a necessary and unavoidable component to our daily diet.
Oddly enough, last January my diet underwent a dramatic shift to one of few carbs – one with limited intake of bread, pasta, grains, and cereals. Of course, I still indulge and enjoy every so often (more regularly than I would like at the moment) but I eat a lot more protein and veggies than ever. And boy, do I feel better.
Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about carbs. You need them. The type of carb – simple or complex – is an important aspect to understand. Simple carbs have a high glycemic index (GI). What does that mean? They release sugars quickly causing a glucose and subsequent insulin spike. This leaves you feeling groggy and exhausted as your body is working overtime to get all the glucose out of the blood and into your cells. In addition, you get hungry faster. Ever eaten a McDonalds and felt as if you couldn’t possibly consume another fry, but an hour later feel as if you could eat another meal? That’s because of the glucose spike (I realize that there are bad fats in these meals which contribute to this spike). Complex carbs have a low GI and thus, they release sugar slowly. With low GI foods the feeling of fullness lasts and you don’t have that feeling of exhaustion.
I think the important message to take away from this article, and Taube’s book is that we need to become more carb savvy. While they do encourage you to reduce your consumption of carbs (and I do too), they never once state stop eating them altogether (which would mean to stop eating veggies and fruit). I agree with Needham, the nutritionist interviewed, that carbs tend to get a bad rap because people love them and thus, eat a lot of them. Yet we definitely do not need the amount that we consume.
Pay attention to how different carbs (simple vs. complex) make you feel. If you feel like garbage after eating a certain carb or variety of carbs, they probably are garbage. So don’t eat it or try to reduce your intake (like me and McDonald’s).
I encourage you to become more carb savvy. If you don’t want to cut them out, don’t. If you do, do. But be smart about your diet choices. Ensure that they are balanced. And most importantly, make them sustainable for the long-run.