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