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Nutrition 101 - The Carbohydrate

by Amy Geile

So far we’ve looked at how energy factors into weight and how counting calories may not be the most effective path on the journey to sustained weight loss. Now we are going to talk about what makes up the foods that we eat and how they are the main players in losing weight.

All of the food that we eat can be categorized into three main categories known as macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats (lipids in science speak), and proteins. Today we are going to talk about carbohydrates.

When I mention carbohydrates or carbs, most people instantly think of breads and grains. And it’s true that breads, cereals, grains, rice, quinoa, corn, wheat and flour are all carbohydrates, but so are fruits, vegetables, sugar, sweets, pastries, beans, lentils, milk and yogurt. Clearly, when you look at all of the foods that contain carbohydrates, it’s easy to see that carbs are a necessary part of a healthy diet.

But are all carbs the same? How do you know which carbs you should keep and which your waistline would be better without? Just like when we addressed that all calories are not created equal, the same can be said about carbs, and one of the most dangerous carbs is sugar. We are eating astronomical amounts of sugar on a daily basis. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this statistic:

In 1822 the average American consumed about 9 grams of sugar daily. This means that it would take someone 5 days before they would consume the same amount of sugar found in a 12 ounce can of Coke.

In 2012 the average American consumed over 151 grams of sugar daily. That’s over 16 times what we were eating in 1822! And this doesn’t take into consideration the amount of artificial sweeteners that we are consuming.

Okay, so sugar is bad, but fruit has sugar, are you telling me that fruit is bad for me too? Most people would agree that the body will respond differently to 10 grams of carbohydrates from the sugar in candy than it would 10 grams of sugar in an apple, despite the fact that both have sugar. The main difference is how easily the body is able to access that sugar. In fruit, the body has to work harder to get to the sugar than it does in a can of soda, or even a candy bar, where the sugar is able to pass from the digestive system into the blood stream almost unimpeded.  In other wards when we consume food that is in its most natural state, that is foods that are not processed or pre-packaged foods, we supply our body with high quality nutrients that are going to have the biggest impact on our health and well-being. These foods are known as whole foods.

Whole foods don’t have nutrition labels, packaging or bar codes. The downside of whole foods is that they require some preparation or work in order to get them from their original state into something that resembles a meal. For many of us, this sounds great in theory, but seems daunting to put into practice. We have become a society based on convenience and it is much easier to purchase a ready-made meal, whether from a restaurant or the grocery store, and the food industry is counting on this.

Is it really faster and cheaper to buy processed and pre-packaged meals than it is to make one from scratch? At least when you prepare your own meals you know what is in your food, and you can control the amount of added salt, fat and sugar. You can also control the types and amounts of carbohydrates that are in your meals. Choosing whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables can have a dramatic effect on your health. How you portion those foods can also impact your health and your waistline.

Okay, so maybe it is just as fast and easy to cook nutritious meals at home from scratch as it is to buy something pre-packaged or from a restaurant. And maybe you are doing just that, but every once in a while you look up and see that you have fallen back into your old habits of quick, convenient and processed. What happened?

For starters, you aren’t just battling your addiction to sugar. You also have to contend with all of the food placement, marketing and advertising that bombards us every moment of every day. There are processed, sugary foods everywhere. Hardware stores, office stores, pet stores, everywhere you look there are snacks in slick shiny wrappers almost calling your name. So how do you break the habit? First, recognize that changing the way you relate to food is a marathon, not a sprint, so be prepared to have an occasional slip or two. The biggest impact that you can have, however, is understanding how habits are developed and how to disrupt that behavior in a way that creates positive changes.

Next week we will be delving even deeper into nutrition.

Have a question? Want some answers to burning questions? Leave us a comment!


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