Monthly Archives: November 2017

Are your carb choices slowly killing you?

Jelly donuts, pancakes with syrup, Devil Dogs, French fries, potato chips, and candy bars – especially Zero bars. Not exactly healthy carbs. As Julie Andrews sings, “These were a few of my favorite things.” I never had a weight or “sugar” problem in my younger years but then getting older happened. Something that none of us can escape.

Now I look at food much differently. I still love my carbs, even the unhealthy ones, but I keep them at bay. I look at each carb splurge as a “bruise” to my body. My favorite sweet potato ginger donut from Holy Donut is only going to spike my blood sugar. I know that once that big bag of potato chips comes into the house, I can’t stop at a serving size. I learned that my former pancake recipe made with white flour and covered with syrup was like a kick to my pancreas telling it to work double time.

Learning to break old habits took time and many bumps along the way. I eventually developed a three-pronged approach.

  1. Add more of the healthy carbs to my diet
  2. Boost my non-starchy veggie intake by experimenting with roasting, sautéing and adding extra to soups, stews, salads, and sauces.
  3. Eat fewer unhealthy carbs.

It’s not rocket science, but it did launch me on a sustainable trajectory that brought my A1c down, helped me lose weight, and gave me more energy.

With over 50% of the nation being insulin resistant, making better carb choices is essential to keeping insulin levels to a healthier level. High insulin levels are linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

What are carbs?

Carbs are found in grains, starches and sugar.

  1. Grains – Since flour is made from grains, anything that contains flour is a carbohydrate – things like cereal, crackers, and pasta. Most food manufacturers like to use the cheaper white flour, the starchy endosperm stripped from the wheat berry, and then resuscitate it with fortifying vitamins and leavening agents to make it into something the typical American “pampered palate” will tolerate.
  1. Starchy – Some carbs are naturally starchy like winter squashes, peas and beans. These foods are also high in fiber so they don’t cause a sudden blood sugar rise like the processed carbs do. A half cup of cooked beans can have as much as 7 gms of fiber. That fiber slows down digestion, and slows down the workload on the insulin producing pancreas.
  1. Sugar – all types of sugar are carbohydrates whether it’s brown, agave, syrup or honey. A teaspoon of any of these sugars has 4 gms of carbohydrates.
  2. Foods naturally with sugar – Foods like fruit and milk contain sugar naturally. A cup of milk, regardless of fat content contains 12 gms of carbs, coming from the sugar lactose.  Make it chocolate milk and the carbs go up to 24 gms. Fruit contains fructose. Fruits vary in their amount of fructose and ripening can enhance the sugar content. Ripened bananas are much higher in glycemic index than green bananas. Watermelon and strawberries are much lower carbohydrates than tropical fruits like pineapple, mangoes and bananas.

Desserts are a double whammy

Cakes, cookies and pies are made with flour (which comes from grains) and sugar – both carbs. One Oreo contains 27 gms of carbs. And that’s not double-stuffed!

Don’t get fooled by “sugar-free” desserts. Unfortunately, most brands make up for the lack of sugar by adding extra fat, like palm oil or partially hydrogenated trans-fat to maintain texture that the sugar normally provides.

You’re much better off just having one higher fiber cookie, like an oatmeal cookie. Or better yet making a cookie using a small amount of real sweetener and a non-grain flour like flax, coconut or almond meal. Here is a good peanut butter coconut cookie recipe.

How many carbs should you eat daily?

Even with the emphasis on “no added sugars” on the new food label, the carbohydrate recommendation is still about 285 grams of carbs daily for a 2000 calorie diet. Eating sweets like candy, cake, cookies, ice cream and soda adds up quickly.

I hate to think of the number of people who eat a donut and chocolate milk or juice for breakfast. An apple fritter from Krispy Kreme has 42 gms of carbs and their Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate has 57 carbs, 48 of it coming from sugar. That’s 100 gms of mostly insulin spiking carbs along with 19 gms of saturated fat to keep the spike going for hours. I can just hear that pancreas sputtering, whirling and choking. I love my donuts, but I love my pancreas more.

Healthy carbs – the low-glycemic ones

I don’t believe in eliminating carbs from one’s diet, but the ones you choose should not put your pancreas into overdrive. Grains, beans, starchy veggies and fruit are full of fiber that feed the immune-strengthening bacteria in your gut and maintain satiety between meals. These healthy, low-glycemic carbs like beans, barley, quinoa and winter squashes don’t cause the insulin spike that high-glycemic carbs like white bread, donuts, most crackers, “instant foods”, rice cakes, bagels and most cereals do. Here is a good list put together by Oregon State University.

Glycemic Index

That eliminates a good portion of the grocery store.

What works for me

I use oat or wheat flour when I bake. I don’t eat any cereal other than Uncle Sams Cereal or steel-cut oatmeal the rare time I eat cereal. I keep my favorite “trigger” foods like potato chips to single portion sizes. Instead of rice, I eat barley or bulgar. In fact, their nuttier, crunchier flavor and texture stands up better to my sautés and soups. And the only crackers I buy are Triscuits Thin Crisps which are made from only whole grain wheat, canola and salt, and Wasa crackers also made with whole grains, a fat and salt. And desserts or sweets are a once or twice a week splurge.

Elevate fruit; it’s nature’s treat

Lately, my new dessert, thanks to my husband, is sliced apples. No kidding. My husband has fond memories of his grandmother cutting up apples for him when he was a child. We’ve started this habit ourselves and it hits the sweet spot perfectly. Around 8 o’clock, when we both need a little something-something, he’ll go out to the kitchen and get a cold new variety of apple called Juicci, and slice it up into about 20 slices. They are a juicy, crunchy, hit-the-sweet spot kind of treat that satisfy the urge.

I know that the few minutes of pleasure I got from eating my favorite foods were not going to make up for the longer-term damage to my body caused by eating them on a regular basis. It’s been a journey of self-exploration and recipe experimentation. This is my version of Julie Andrew’s song, My Favorite Things:

Julie Andrews

If you enjoy my tips, please share with your friends and family. You can get healthy on your own with good information and a desire to live a healthier life. Please make a donation to the Saint Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen. They are in great need of your financial support while they provide over 10,000 meals a year to Portland, Maine’s neediest population.

Can you eat a very low carb diet forever?

No more sugar, no more grains, no more processed foods and no more potatoes; yes, to full fat and food products with no processing, just real ingredients. Does this low carb diet sound good to you?

I recently was asked about my thoughts of dramatically reducing carbs and following the above recommendations. This way of eating is essentially the message delivered by Dr. Sarah Hallberg, DO, an obesity specialist with her own patient research to back it up.

No grains or potatoes means no more pasta or rice, or baked potatoes with that steak. It means anything made with flour from grains or sugar is out. Good bye to crackers and cheese, pie and ice cream, all cereal and bread, including pizza. And that means no more Holy Donut…. Hmmmm.

Reducing carbs, reduces insulin levels.

The theory behind this way of eating is very logical: the goal being to reduce insulin levels. Almost half of this country has a condition called insulin resistance where the body makes extra insulin due to compensate for decreased insulin sensitivity. This is partly due to genetics and partly due to eating a high carb diet consisting of too many processed foods.

Insulin is a fat storage hormone so the more insulin on board, the more weight people gain. High insulin levels also raise inflammatory proteins that raise the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

So, reducing carbs, reduces the need for that extra insulin. Less insulin means weight loss and decreased inflammation. Sounds perfect on paper, but how about execution? I’d say daunting.

Why do we eat too many carbs, sugar, potatoes and grains?

If you look at each insulin spike caused by eating too many carbs as the enemy, then this shifts the solution to understanding the motivation for eating too many carbs. It’s emotions that drive our behavior. If you want to make behavior change, you should understand the “why”.

Why are so many of us eating too many white, processed carbs?

  • Is it from a lack of understanding of the consequences of food choices?
  • Is it from cravings from too little sleep, too much stress, loneliness or boredom?
  • Is from not knowing how to cook?
  • Is it from unwillingness to change eating patterns due to entitlement, denial, or plain stubbornness?
  • Is it from bringing tempting foods in the house that make it hard to say “no”?
  • Is it from watching too much TV with all the food commercials that trigger binge eating?

The solution lies in addressing both the emotional component of eating as well as the structural component of how to eat. Moreover, the stronger the reason someone has for not wanting to reduce carbs, the smaller the changes in eating patterns must be. It’s like asking someone to suddenly reverse direction going 60 mph. First, they must brake slowly, then down shift and then turn the steering wheel before they can go 60 mph the other direction. Cutting out grains, sugar and potatoes for most people is like being asked to reverse direction mid race. Mindset needs to be shifted first, then change needs to happen gradually before someone can resume usual speed.

If someone is an emotional eater, then it starts with addressing the emotions first and then the plate second.

Damage control

I don’t believe in drastic dietary changes. I believe in making gradual changes that fit the person where they are in life. If someone grew up eating boxed, canned, and fast food, it’s pretty unlikely they’re going to have success in the long run cutting out sugar, grains or potatoes. That’s all I’m saying.

There is another way. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s called damage control.

What if someone reduced their insulin spikes by eating well some of the meals, and eased up a bit on one meal each day. That would be a 50-66% improvement. Not perfect, but much better.

What if someone ate a lower carb breakfast consisting of plain Greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts, or an omelet with lots of sautéed veggies and one piece of whole grain toast, and a lower carb lunch consisting of a couple of hard-boiled eggs with a piece of fruit, a salad with chicken, or some cottage cheese with fruit and then had a burger, chips and dessert for dinner. That would be much better than a donut or muffin for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and eating the same dinner.

Making two out of three meals lower carb is much better than eating poorly at all 3. Even making just one of your meals lower carb is still a 33% improvement.

Or what if someone followed a low carb diet 5 days out of the week, and the other two days they ate “their way”? This is similar to the intermittent fasting diet.

A good place to begin

People with insulin resistance tend to have the highest insulin resistance in the morning. Skipping cereal and making breakfast low carb with focus on healthy fats and lean protein is a perfect place to start. My experience shows that people who eat this way at breakfast tend to stay full until lunch and be less likely to binge the rest of the day.

Psychologically, when people start off the day on the right foot, they have more confidence to make healthier choices the rest of the day.

Success builds success

From my experience, I also find that when people have success for a few weeks, they have the confidence and desire to take further steps as long as these three things are also in place:

  1. They must like what they are doing.
  2. They must not feel deprived.
  3. They must feel it is sustainable.

I’ve worked with so many people who think making drastic changes will get them into the size 10 pants forever. Some achieve their goal but end up regaining it once a vacation, holiday or stressful event happens.

Making gradual changes allows enough time to strategize, explore and understand what’s behind unhealthy eating. It’s not that people can’t reverse direction in life, it’s that the mindset has to be reversed first.

Cutting out grains, potatoes and sugar makes complete sense for the body, but the head has to be on the same page.

Barbara will work work with you for 3 months free if you make a donation to the St Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen