It is essential to eat protein, which can be found in a number of different foods including beef, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds and legumes (things like black seeds and lentils). Our bodies are constantly manufacturing protein to repair, build and maintain our muscles, organs and immune system. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which can then be connected in a variety of different ways to create a different protein for a different job. Twenty-two of the approximately 500 known amino acids are vital for our health, of which our bodies can create thirteen. The remaining nine essential amino acids must all be obtained from eating protein-rich foods and are the very reason we need protein in our diets.
Fibre, like protein, is another essential part of the human diet, with the power to prevent heart disease, weight gain, diabetes and some forms of cancer. It is also an intrinsic element in improving digestive health. Most people don’t get enough fibre, which is a confounding reason for ill health due to a poor diet. Fibre, however, can be found in most foods that come from plants and is broken down into two categories, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre, as the description suggests, dissolves in the fluids of your digestive system. Although it is not a fat, it has the capacity to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood, much like HDL. Foods that contain soluble fibre, include oats, barley, rye, fruit such as bananas and apples, root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, and golden linseeds.
Insoluble fibre (you guessed it) doesn’t dissolve in your bodily fluids. It keeps your bowels healthy and helps prevent digestive problems. It passes through your gut without being broken down, helping other foods move through your digestive system smoothly. Good sources of insoluble fibre include nuts, seeds, cereals, bran and wholemeal bread.
This is where my research and personal case studies come to flight. A few years after my ‘cut out all fat’ stage, I became an avid All Carbs Make You Fat supporter. I never consciously committed myself to the Atkins diet but I most certainly independently made sense of what it was trying to convey and more or less stopped eating carbs. I mean, it is the perfect diet for men, loads of meat and not so many vegetables. Splendid. I did lose weight but, as I mentioned in an earlier blog, fad diets are impossible to maintain, especially if you want to be healthy. I did, however, notice a link between weight gain and certain types of carbs, and consequently developed parts of the diet into an eating plan that can be worked into a lifestyle including all the good things that I have mentioned throughout these blogs on nutrition.
As the Atkins diet implies, mixing fats with carbs will promote a bit of weight gain. But why? I researched this topic a little further in preparation for work on these blogs and started to find a connection between this and everything else I had been investigating. As carbs are broken down and enter into the bloodstream, they increase the amount of sugar, because they are, after all, sugar molecules. Carbs can be broken down into three categories, depending on the amount of sugar molecules they contain. Monosaccharide and disaccharide are simple carbs, containing one or two molecules accordingly, consisting of glucose, galactose (milk), fructose (fruit), sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk) and maltose (beer!). Meanwhile polysaccharides are complex carbs, consisting of starchy foods such as pasta or potatoes, or fibre, which helps with digestion.
When a carbohydrate is simple it is easily absorbed into the bloodstream because of its simple molecule structure. Complex carbs take longer to break down into sugar and are not so quickly absorbed.
As carbs are broken down into sugar and enter the bloodstream as glucose, they are then transported to the liver, organs and muscles. Any excess glucose that is not used by the body for energy will be stored as fat. If you happen to be consuming a carb that causes your blood sugar level to rise rapidly, your body will not have enough resources to apportion it appropriately and will therefore store it as fat. These are known as bad carbs. Good carbs, on the other hand, are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream and have little effect on the blood sugar levels. Combining a bad carb with an excessive amount of fat will cause you to gain weight.
So what are good and bad carbs?
Almost every vegetable is a good carb, except for potatoes because the starch in them raises their glycemic rating to a level above and beyond the desired amount to distribute the sugars evenly. As soon as you fry them up as chips, you are effectively asking your body to store both sugar and oil, as fat. Like with skimmed milk, I’m not trying to vilify the humble potato, it is, after all, one of the world’s most prominent vegetables and an excellent source of fibre in forms such as the baked potato. Instead of banishing them from your diet, control the amount you eat and with what you eat them, because that is what will affect your blood sugar levels (so don’t eat loads of crisps and chips).
Every fruit is considered a good carbohydrate, until you tamper with them by adding extra sugar, or turn them into a juice.
Grains are good carbs, like quinoa and brown rice or any wholegrain product. As soon as a product is played around with and ‘refined’, it makes it into a bad carb, because a lot of its nutritious values have been extracted. These include, white rice, white bread, breakfast cereal, couscous, white pasta, baked goods like donuts, cakes and muffins, and corn.
All nuts are amazing. They may be high in fat but its a good fat that will help to strengthen and develop your body. As soon as you sweeten the nuts, though, you will straightaway plough them into bad carb territory. Unless you get natural, unsweetened and unsalted peanut butter, you will be doing a disservice to the nut world.
All dairy products are good carbs, from butter and cheese to cream and milk. Ice cream, however, and any product that has been sweetened, like yoghurt, is bad, so maybe only have it as a treat. Skimmed milk is not only revolting, it is also a bad carb because it is missing vital vitamins like A and E. Unless you’re a long distance runner who doesn’t like water, ditch it.
Believe it or not, mayonnaise is a good carb, as is mustard, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pickle, relish and oils. Add sugar to them, though, and they become bad, like tomato ketchup (I ignore this one because I love it so much), honey mustard, bbq dressing and any low-fat salad dressing.
Just like with meat, as soon as you process something to either lengthen its shelf life or to play around with the flavours, you’ll normally find that it will turn a good carb into a bad carb. Take oranges, for example. As soon as you extract the juice from a bunch of oranges, play around with the compounds and then bottle it for consumption, you’re effectively consuming maybe five or six oranges in one glass, which isn’t a natural amount to be eating. This, coupled with the obscene amount of fructose oranges contain and the fact that the fibre has been effectively removed (even in juice ‘with bits’), your body will have no other option than to store the converted sugars into fat, because it will have received an overload of it, leaving you with three options: exercise it off, consume less the next day, or do nothing and increase your belly. Eating one orange for a snack is not a problem, drinking lots of orange juice is. As a teenager I remember thinking that I was so healthy by drinking loads of orange juice, no wonder I was a tubby kid.
As you can see, it is only when you introduce sugar to a product that it turns it into a bad one. Carbs are not bad. Add sugar to them, or mess around with their construction, and they are. Simple. It’s a shame Dr. Atkins didn’t know this.
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