I haven’t always chosen my carbs carefully. I love bread. I love pasta. I love lasagna and pizza. I’ve been know to fantasize about eating a meal that only consists of bread, pasta, cheese, more bread, and some pizza. I’d top it off with a dessert- terimisue or cannoli- I am Italian after all, and well, this is the food I grew up on, and still love. While, it’s been many years since I’ve eaten this way, the smell of Italian tomato sauce still perks my interest and captures my attention. I’ve had to redefine my relationship to the much maligned carbohydrate and learn how to use it as the nutrient powerhouse it is to fuel my energy and provide valuable nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and you will too.
This week is dedicated to a macronutrient that might feel like your arch nemesis… carbohydrates.
Choose Your Carbs Wisely
Carbs are not the enemy. Say it with me: “It’s the type and amount of carb you eat that makes it good or bad.” What does that mean?
Enter the Glycemic Index (GI).
The GI of a food can be thought of as the impact it makes on the amount of sugar in our blood, circulating to all our organs, altering the level of inflammation in our system. “White stuff” – white sugar, white bread, pasta, potatoes – have a high GI. Sugar’s GI is 100 on the scale and that’s as high as the scale runs. When we consider GI, it’s also important to think not only about a food’s individual glycemic value but the glycemic load of all foods. Combining a high GI food like watermelon with some protein (nuts perhaps) will reduce the carbohydrate impact of the watermelon making it a good choice. In addition, remember that the nutritional value of the food is also very important when making choice.
Here’s a short list of high GI foods commonly eaten (the “bad” carbs) and there GI values:
Baked Russet Potato 111 French Baguette, white 95 Corn flakes 93 White Rice 89
Instant oatmeal 83 Pretzels 83 Puffed wheat cereal 80
Rice Cakes 82 Waffles, made from a mix 76
High GI foods often lead to emotional and physiological roller coasters, often associated with mood swings, skin flare-ups, and sleep disturbances.
Foods with a moderate to low GI have lots of fibre, or they are fat and protein-rich foods. Fibre, fat and protein all promote even-keel blood sugar levels via different mechanisms. Fibre expands in the digestive tract, slowing the entry of sugar from a carbohydrate source into the bloodstream.
When it comes to fruit, I always recommend that my clients ear low glycemic fruit including apple, pear and berries as my top three go to low GI fruit. There are foods on the low GI list and foods on the high GI list that are both nutritious choice and ‘sometimes foods’ that are not so nutritious. I am only commenting on the glycemic impact on digestion, in other words how quickly these carbohydrates turn into sugar in the blood stream, not necessarily if they are good food choices in any other manner. Carbohydrates are a very important source of energy for us that need to be selected carefully to optimize their nutritional impact on our health while also minimizing the impact made on digestion and blood sugar balance.
I you’re concerned about the glycemic load of your food intake, you can buffer the effects of sugar on the digestive system by eating protein with your carbohydrate intake. This will increase how quickly food is digested and turns into sugars in the body. The cooking method used also impacts the glycemic value of a food. Sweet potatoes are a great example of this. A 150 gram sweet potato boiled with the skin on for 30 minutes yields a glycemic index of only 46 , while the same potatoe that has been baked for 45 minutes has a GI value of 94.
Low to Moderate Glycemic Index Foods (GI <60)
apple, apricot, avocado, berries (all), cherries, grapefruit, kiwi, lemon, lime, nectarine, orange, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, tangerine, tomato
chick beans, kidney beans, lentils, navy beans
alfalfa, asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, cucumber, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onion, radish, spinach, yellow and green squash, string beans, water crest, sweet potatoes (boiled), yam, peppers, coconut, carrots, Swiss chard
quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, millet, brown rice
Low-Glycemic Foods – eat often
Oatmeal (slow cook), eggs, protein powder (hemp, rice), olive oil, olives, beef, cheese, salsa, black beans, kidney beans, ground turkey, chicken, turkey sausage, salmon, turkey, canned tuna, cottage cheese, almonds, macadamia nuts, avocado, tomatoes, leafy greens, onion, mushrooms, cucumber, all berries, broccoli, zucchini, apple, grapes, plum, shrimp, plain Greek yogurt (if you tolerate dairy), tahini, sword fish, tuna steak, tomato sauce, spinach, carrots, orange, pear, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, sauerkraut, chickpeas, asparagus, cantaloupe, peach, kale, collards, Swiss chard, all culinary herbs, chia seeds, hemp seeds
High Glycemic Foods (eat occasionally or avoid)
*Acorn squash Baked beans *Beats Black-eyed peas *Butternut squash
Cooked carrots Corn French Fries Lima beans *Parsnips
*Peas Pinto beans Potatoes Refried beans *Turnip
Cranberries Figs Guava Papaya Prunes
Raisins Fruit juice Vegetable Juice Corn Chips Ice cream
Potato chips Crackers Cereal Cornstarch Croissants
Croutons Doughnuts English muffins Granola Melba Toast
Muffins Noodles Instant oatmeal Pancake Popcorn
White rice Banana Dates All condiments Mango
Honey Jam/jelly Sugar Maple syrup Bagel
Bread crumbs Bread Pretzels Molasses
*these foods can be eaten more often depending on your activity level and need for carbohydrates to recover from workouts.