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Slow carbs versus low carbs

Since around the millennium there’s a lot of hype surrounding low-carb foods.  Many people manage to lose a lot of weight with a low-carb diets but at the same time many burn-out and put the weight back on because low-carb diets can be quite ‘boring’.

Contrary to common belief, carbs are not bad for you.  But I’m talking about slow-carbs and not sugary and processed carbs.  Carbohydrates are a huge family that ranges from ice-cream to spinach.  It’s all carb, but different type of carbs.

In actual fact, most plant based foods are carbs.  The slow type ones, which are low low-glycaemic and don’t lead to a spike in blood sugar or insulin. They pack fibre (which helps buffer out sugar content), nutrients and phytochemicals.

Eating a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables full with phytonutrients—carotenoids, flavonoids and polyphenols—will help improve nearly all your health problems, including dementia, diabesity and effects of aging.

In a ‘perfect world’ three quarters of our carbs should come from slow carbs (none starchy vegetables and low glycaemic fruit).  If we’re talking about volume, most of your plate should be loaded with carbs. Note that I said volume and not calories as the majority of plant based carbs are virtually calorie free.

Unfortunately, the great majority of people in our developed world do not eat enough slow carbs.  Instead, they are eating quickly absorbed carbs from sugar, high fructose corn syrup and flower.  All of which are quickly and efficiently turned into flab by our body.  Immediately after you eat a high-carb meal our insulin spikes and our blood sugar plummets. This leads to a hunger sensation.  This is one of the reasons why it leads to higher food consumption and cravings for more carbs and sugar.   Essentially, sugar calories are different from other type of calories because they screw-up your appetite mechanisms, leading you to eat more, crave more sugar and promote your ab-flab.

By now you should be asking yourself which carbs are better choice.  To simplify things and assist you in making better choices when it comes to carbs, I’ve divided them up into 4 groups – green, yellow, red and banned.

Greens should be the basis of your diet and you should eat them freely.  They are slow-burning, and low-glycaemic.  These include: asparagus, spinach, chard, kale, cabbage, broccoli, seaweed etc

Yellow carbs you should eat in moderation. Whole grains. Brown, black and red rice; quinoa; amaranth; buckwheat and teff are wonderful gluten-free grains. Black rice packs as many anthocyanins as blueberries and a low-glycaemic load. You should eat fibre-rich, phytonutrient-rich legumes. They slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream and help prevent the surplus insulin release that leads to insulin resistance. Try red, yellow or regular lentils; chickpeas; green and yellow split peas; soybeans and any other beans. Dark berries. Blueberries, cherries, blackberries and raspberries are filled with phytonutrients. The richer the colour, the more “health” you get. Eat as much as a handful a day. Organic frozen berries can be used in protein shakes.  Plums, peaches, nectarines and their variants are known as “stone fruit.” They are healthy and full of fibre and healing chemicals. You should have a couple each day.

Consumption of red carbs should be limited.  These include starchy, high-glycaemic cooked vegetables such as winter squashes, peas, potatoes, corn and root vegetables such as beets. Starchy vegetables tend to raise blood sugar level more quickly, so they should be consumed in lesser quantities (up to half cup a day) and ideally together with other foods that reduce the overall glycaemic load of the meal.

You should also limit your intake of high-sugar fruits, including melons, grapes and pineapple which contain more sugar than the fruits listed above, so they should be limited to a half-cup ‘treat’ once a week and avoided altogether if you are on a low/no sugar diet.

The last group is the ‘banned’ carbs. You should avoid processed carbs completely.  Gluten-containing whole grains are a no-no.  Stay away from wheat, barley, oats, rye, kamut, spelt and triticale. Also stay away from processed foods (including the ‘low-carb’, ‘no sugar-added’ or ‘high fibre’). Always choose real, unprocessed foods.  Generally speaking, if the labels claims the food to be a ‘health’ food, it usually isn’t. Included in the ‘banned’ carbs are dried fruits which have a high glycaemic load.

This brings me to the question: is very low-carb diet good for you?

The basic answer is ‘in many cases, yes’.  But I still think that nearly everybody should consume nutrient-dense slow carbs.  However, people who suffer from type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar and/or diabesity, may need to restrict or refrain from even starchy vegetables and fruit for a certain period of time before reintroducing them into their diets.

What you should be doing is to slowly introduce slow carbs into your diet and as your insulin sensitivity improves, increase from time to time the consumption of slow carbs such as lentils, yams, whole grains and fruit.   Once your insulin levels are balanced and any other underlying issues are resolved you may adopt a slow-carb diet which includes roughly 30g per meal or 15g per snack.

No matter what you do, keep your glycaemic load low.  So no refined sugars or carb or processed foods. If you crave grains, take it easy on them because they can increase your blood sugar.  A better alternative would be quinoa or black rice. Also keep to a minimum starchy, high-glycaemic cooked vegetables such as potatoes, root vegetables, corn etc.  You may also want to always eat carbs together with proteins, fibre or ‘good’ fat to assist in buffering the sugar load from carbs.

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