Food Friday: Better Carbs 

Authorities agree that we consume too many carbohydrates and that this has contributed to the obesity epidemic. However it’s easy to eat plenty of carbs, lose weight, and have lots of energy if you just shift the way you think about them. 

When most people think about carbs (carbohydrates) they think of starches like white potatoes, grains like rice, and of course wheat products like bread, tortillas and pasta. But carbohydrates also comprise sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, etc, and all the products which feature them prominently, like conventional soda, frappes, and lattes. These sorts of carbohydrates are unhealthy because they jet sugar into your bloodstream much faster than you can utilize it and it ends up being stored as fat. The fat ends up having a variety of toxic effects down the line. Even the white flours, pastas, rices and white potatoes do this. The white flour and white rice have been denatured of their fibrous structure and because of this breakdown very quickly into sugar. 

Whole wheat flour and brown rice are commonly thought of as better carbs, and they are, but not as much as you might think. Their glycemic index (rate at which they break down into sugar) is not that much better than their white counterparts. These should be utilized by people of normal weight and body composition with high energy requirements. This would include adolescents and athletes.

It has been shown that consumption of 2-3 servings of whole grains per day reduces risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, colon cancer and obesity, compared to rates in those that don’t eat these. The precise reason for this is unclear, though it may well be because of the fiber and additional nutrients that whole grains contain compared to refined (denatured) grains.  It is a sad commentary that the presence of 2-3 servings of whole grains per day constitutes a measurably higher caliber of diet than our general population’s diet.

Certainly whole grains are not the only readily available dietary source of fiber and nutrients. What if, in an imaginary prospective research study, conventional eaters were compared to those with 2-3 servings of whole grains per day, AND against those with an equivalent amount of fiber, BUT in the form of vegetables and fruits? I suspect that the third group that took their carbs as fruits and vegetables would do even better. I feel confident in speculating like this because, as a rule, produce (vegetables and fruits) is considerably more nutrient dense than whole grains. Depending on the particulars, they have fiber, vitamins, minerals, but also other types of nutrient such as healthy fats and antioxidants. Moreover, they have even lower glycemic indices. 

So, I propose that we learn to take most of our carbs as produce. What ? No bread at dinner ? No pancakes or cereal at breakfast ? No bread for sandwiches at lunch ? People are sure they will starve. What they will do is lose some of their belly fat. They will lower their blood sugars. Pregnant women will gain less excess weight, and be less likely to have gestational diabetes. They will also spend more money and time on food. But, they could also be spending money on treatments for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and worse. 

There are other differences that should go along with this approach. Portion sizes usually need to be larger. Additionally, there should is more emphasis on healthy fats such as coconut oil for high heat and olive oil for low heat and dressings. Also, from a culinary standpoint, there should be a greater utilization of flavors such as spices, garlic, lemon, chili and so on.  Healthy sauces and dressings figure more prominently. and Finally, there is more emphasis on lean meats, poultry and cold water fish. 

I wanted to take this post and show you how this might look. I think that while you will find it completely different, you will find it rather appealing. 


Breakfast idea: 


I would pair this with a small bowl of fresh fruit. 





Stiff leaves of romaine make a crunchy manageable container for savory contents, much like a taco shell. 









These are cauliflower mashed “ potatoes”, also known as “faux”  potatoes, which can be served as a side dish at dinner, drizzled with olive oil or butter.




These are zucchini noodles which just need a hearty meat sauce.





Dinner is in some ways the easiest, since you still have your “main dish” and your salad. All you need is another cooked vegetable, like these vegetable fries, and perhaps some fresh fruit. 




There are an infinity of substitutions like this. When families are transitioning from conventional diets to more of a paleo style diet like this, they may find it politic to try to make their new healthier dishes resemble old conventional ones. Eventually, this pretense can be abandoned, as more exciting approaches to healthy cooking are discovered. Check out any number of the new Paleo cookbooks out there. For more information, see the last four Food Friday blog posts on food inspiration.