Tag Archives: what are carbs

This may be your best way to lose weight

You want to lose weight, but your insulin might not be working well. You’re not alone. Almost a third of our country is in the same boat.

Impaired insulin function is genetic. It’s the precursor to diabetes that may go undetected for years. It gradually damages the insulin-producing pancreas to the point it stops making enough insulin and blood sugars rise eventually to the diabetes range. In the early phase of impaired insulin function, the pancreas makes extra insulin. This extra insulin causes our body store more fat.

If you have a family history of diabetes, then there is a good chance your insulin levels are high. Diabetes is often not diagnosed. You may not think you have a family history of diabetes, however if you have a family history of stroke or heart attack, there was probably undiagnosed diabetes lurking in the background as well. Diabetes is a vascular disease, so strokes and heart attacks are complications of diabetes.

The best way to lose weight if you have high insulin levels

The best way to lose weight for people with high insulin levels, in addition to regular exercise, should focus on limiting carbs, getting adequate protein and fiber, and topping it off with good fat to keep you full between meals.

When it comes to eating this way, the best metaphor comes from a friend. If you’ve ever sat by a campfire and observed how different types of wood burn, you will understand.

If you don’t add any wood to a fire, the flames will fade away. Add soft wood like pine to the fire and “snap, crackle, pop” sparks will fly, the flames will roar and the wood will disappear in no time. Add hardwood like oak and you’ll get a nice even burn that will last much longer than soft wood.

Skipping meals is like not adding any wood to the fire. Your energy level will slowly fade away.

Eating a meal consisting of a heavy dose of simple carbs with little protein or fiber is like the soft wood fire. You may get a surge of energy but it will quickly flame out leaving you tired and ready for a nap. Examples of meals like this might be a few bowls of Corn Flakes or heavy portions of Chinese food with white rice or a bag of chips or pretzels with a soda.

But make your meals mostly “hardwood” and you will have more energy and stay fuller longer between meals. You will also keep your insulin levels lower which will aid in weight loss.

Getting your meal planning to burn like hardwood

Don’t worry, eating this way won’t taste like hardwood. You can still enjoy your favorite foods, just do so in moderation and plan for it in how you combine your foods.

My recommendations are based on information from the American Diabetes Association, the 2015 dietary guidelines, the 2015 Protein Summit  and the Institute of Medicine.

The ADA recommends people with diabetes limit their carbs to 45-60 g of carbs per meal and carbs from snacks limited to 15 gm. Some of the people I worked with preferred eating even fewer carbs in order to avoid going on medicine to manage their blood sugars.

The 2015 Nutrition Guidelines recommend getting at least 130 g of carbs daily. Eating fewer carbs than this will zap your energy if you are trying to do any strenuous work or workout – carbs are the gasoline for your body, you just want to learn how to make them the premium carbs.

The Institute of Medicine recommends 10-35% of total daily calories come from protein. For a 2000 calorie diet that’s about 50 – 175 g.

The 2015 Protein Summit recommended a higher level of dietary protein, particularly in older adults, for improved muscle health and satiety and to aid in weight management. Furthermore, they suggest:

“Emerging science supports a protein intake for adults of 25–30 g/meal”

When you put all this information together your daily total of carbs, fiber, protein and fat should look like this:

daily carbs, protein and fat

Impaired insulin function?  This is your meal goal

You want each meal to burn like hardwood. That means you want to get the right amount of carbs, fiber, protein and fat each time you eat. Most people fail on getting adequate protein and fiber at most of their meals. Each of these components is essential not only for health, but for satiety. The goal is to slow down digestion so you stay fuller longer and reduce the demand for insulin.

Each of your meals should contain just a serving or two of carbs, no more than 60 g per meal. Your carb choices should be high in fiber to slow down the rise in blood sugar, decreasing the need for insulin.

Your protein goal at each meal should be at least 25 g per meal. An ounce of meat, fish and even an egg is about 6-7 g.

Since dietary fat takes longer to digest and helps with satiety, you should also try to get about 10 g per meal with the focus being on heart healthy unsaturated fat.

The ideal goal for each meal should look something like this:  

  • 50 g of carbs
  • 8-10 g of fiber
  • 25 g of protein
  • 10 g of heart healthy fat.

That’s the hardwood that will help you lose weight. Now, let’s look at the big picture at what kinds of foods will meet the “hardwood” criteria.

“Hardwood” foods

Some foods are combination foods. Quality carbs are also high in fiber. Whole grains, citrus fruit, and beans are all examples of quality carbs. Fatty fish is both an excellent source of protein and healthy fat. Other protein, like white chicken and fat-free Greek yogurt have little to no fat, so you will need to get your fat from other sources. And there are some foods that contain a small amount of protein, carbs, fiber and healthy fat. They are like “hardwood” bark mulch😊

This is how I breakdown food categories(it’s not a complete list – just some of my favorites). I compose my plate according to how much protein, fat and carbs a food offers. If one food is a combination of carbs or protein or fat, I would combine it accordingly. Most veggies, other than the starchy ones are free territory. Eating as much as you can will help blood pressure, brain function and health in general.

healthy food list

Breakfast

People with high insulin levels should stay away from cereal in my opinion. Cereal does not contain enough protein considering the carbs in a serving. Adding milk only increases the carbs – there are 12 g of carbs in a cup of milk. You are much better off eating your leftover dinner than eating a bowl of cereal. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Smoothie made with 3/4 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt, 2 tbsp chia or flax seed, 2 cups baby kale, ¾ cup frozen berries and enough water to blend.
  2. ¾ cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt with ½ cup fresh chopped fruit, and 2 tbsp chopped walnuts or almonds.
  3. ¾ cup low-fat Greek yogurt sprinkled with ¼ cup Uncle Sam’s Cereal, 2 tbsp chia seeds and ¼ cup fresh blueberries.
  4. 2 eggs or egg white combination omelet with spinach and 1 slice of swiss cheese served with one piece of toast.
  5. ¾ cup bean salad with ¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese.
  6. ¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese with ½ cup chopped fruit and 2 tbsp chia seeds.

Lunch/Dinner Ideas

  1. Salad topped with chicken, beans and balsamic dressing and a piece of fruit.
  2. Turkey and arugula sandwich on whole grain bread with mayo and mustard along with celery and carrots and hummus.
  3. 6 oz Greek yogurt, apple and sliced cucumbers.
  4. Tuna and whole grain pasta salad mixed with chopped carrots, celery, cabbage, mayo, salt and pepper
  5. 1 cup lentil or some other bean soup with 2 celery and peanut butter.

Or make your plate look like this:

healthy plate

Emphasize vegetables and limit the carbs most of the time and you will lose weight. If you miss something sweet, then skip the carbs at dinner and have the dessert instead – ideally eating it right after your dinner so you can slow down the blood sugar rise with the fiber and protein from your dinner.

This is the hardwood that will help you lose weight by preserving your muscle mass and keep your metabolism at a steady even burn – even while you’re roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

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.