Carbohydrates are good sources of energy, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a host of other important food components like bioflavonoids, isoflavones, and polyphenols that are essential for optimal health. Some carbohydrates, however, have a high GI and thus can have a negative effect on your health. For these reasons, choosing the right carbohydrates is essential to healthy eating.
Foods that are high in refined carbohydrates or sugars should be avoided. These include sweetened soda, candies, cookies, cake, white bread and bagels, french fries, potato chips, sugary breakfast cereals, and white rice. These kinds of foods cause a sharp rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. Over time this can lead to insulin resistance, excess fat storage, low energy levels, and increased risk of chronic disease.
On the other hand, nature provides many sources of good carbohydrates. Strive to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, vegetable soups, beans and lentils, as well as unrefined grains such as whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta.
Many fashionable diet theories today advise people to avoid carbohydrates, naming them as a culprit in America’s obesity crisis. This advice is a huge and faulty generalization.
Whole grains have been a central element of the human diet since the dawn of civilization, when we stopped hunting and gathering and settled into agrarian communities. Until very recently, people living in these communities on all continents had lean, strong bodies.
In the Americas, corn was the staple grain, while rice predominated in India and Asia. In Africa, people had sorghum and millet. People in the Middle East enjoyed pita bread and couscous. In Europe, it was corn, millet, wheat, rice, pasta, and dark breads. Even beer, produced by grain fermentation, was considered healthy. In Scotland it was oats. In Russia, they had buckwheat or kasha. For generations, very few people eating grain-based diets were overweight.
Whole grains are some of the best sources of nutritional support, containing high levels of dietary fiber and B vitamins. Because the body absorbs them slowly, grains provide long-lasting energy.
Whole grains can help Americans with one of their basic health problems, an inability to maintain a steady level of blood sugar. Whole grains release sugar into the bloodstream slowly, in contrast to the sudden rush and energy crash caused by refined sugar foods and sodas.
Sally Fallon, who was inspired by the work of Dr. Weston Price, and the author of Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, recommends following the dietary traditions of our ancestors. She says that people traditionally soaked or fermented their grains, often for a few days before cooking. Soaking grains, or fermenting them by soaking in hot water with vinegar, neutralizes the phytic acid in the outer layer of the bran. Phytic acid combines with certain minerals in the body, such as calcium, magnesium, copper and iron and can block absorption in the intestines, which may lead to digestive disorders, mineral deficiencies, and bone loss. Eight hours of soaking in warm water will neutralize the phytic acid and greatly improve the nutritional benefits of grains.
Just a few words on gluten, the topic of which could form the basis of a whole newsletter. The most common grain in our culture is wheat, to which many people are allergic. Wheat products are heavily subsidized and promoted by the government in the food pyramid and the food industry incorporates it into almost all breakfast cereals, cookies, cakes and crackers. Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, is difficult for many people to digest. If you are sensitive or allergic to gluten, you can experience bloating, constipation or gas after eating wheat and other glutenous grains. Other related problems are allergies, celiac disease, brain fog, chronic indigestion and candida. Sometimes the symptoms occur immediately after eating, but they can also take time to manifest. If you think you have sensitivity or allergies try removing all wheat and gluten products from your diet for four to six weeks and see how your feel. During that time, stick with gluten-free grains, such as amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff.
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