Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Balance and Moderation the Key to a Healthy Diet, Part 5 - Carbohydrates

Grain products: rich sources of complex and si...Image via Wikipedia

As I mentioned in my previous post, maintaining a steady blood sugar level is a very important component of your diet. While you’ve just seen that your body breaks down all digestible carbohydrates into blood sugar, some are converted into blood sugar faster than others. Thus, some carbohydrates cause a spike in your blood sugar level causing you to feel hungry faster and to crave more sugary foods. Other carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar more slowly, leveling out your blood sugar and resulting in less hunger and food cravings.

For this reason, the Glycemic Index (GI) was developed to classify how quickly
your body converts carbohydrates into blood sugar as opposed to pure glucose. Glucose has a GI of 100, and all other carbohydrate-based foods are ranked against it. Foods with a score of 70 or more are considered to as have a high GI, while those with a score of 55 or less are considered low.

Eating lots of food with a high GI causes spikes in your blood sugar level, which can lead to many health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Eating low GI foods causes your blood sugar level to stay steady thus keeping your energy level balanced and causing you to feel fuller longer between meals. The following are some additional benefits of eating low GI carbohydrates.

  • Helps you to lose and manage weight your weight.
  • Increases your body's sensitivity to insulin.
  • Decreases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduces your risk of heart disease.
  • Improves your blood cholesterol levels
  • Reduces hunger and keeps you fuller longer.
  • Helps you to refuel your carbohydrate stores after exercise.
You can get the GI rating of hundreds of carbohydrate-based foods from the Glycemic Index Foundation, sponsored by the University of Sydney in Australia. It maintains a searchable database of more than 1600 entries at http://www.glycemicindex.com.

The GI is interesting because some of the foods that you think would have a high rating actually do not. For instance, fructose, or fruit sugar has a minimal effect on blood sugar, while white bread and French-fried potatoes are converted to blood sugar nearly as fast as pure glucose. In other words, you can’t classify foods as having a high or low GI based on the sweetness of taste. Many factors affect a foods GI such as:

  • Processing: Grains that have been milled and refined have a higher GI
  • Type of starch: Starches come in many different configurations. Some are easier to break into sugar molecules than others. For example, starch in potatoes is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream relatively quickly.
  • Fiber content: The sugars in fiber are linked in a way that is hard for your body to break down. Thus, the more fiber a food has, the less digestible carbohydrate, and consequently, the less sugar it can deliver into your blood stream.
Fat and acid content: The more fat or acid a food contains, the slower its carbohydrates are converted to sugar and absorbed into your bloodstream.
Physical form: Finely ground grain is more rapidly digested, and so has a higher GI than more coarsely ground grain.

The basic technique for eating the low GI way is simply a "this-for-that" approach:., swapping high GI carbohydrates for low GI carbohydrates. You don't need to count numbers or do any mental arithmetic to make sure you are eating a healthy, low GI diet. Follow these easy to implement suggestions.
  • Use breakfast cereals based on oats, barley and bran
  • Use breads with whole-grains, stone-ground flour, or sour dough
  • Reduce the amount of potatoes you eat
  • Enjoy all types of fruit and vegetables
  • Use brown rice
  • Enjoy whole-wheat pasta and noodles
  • Eat plenty of salad vegetables with a vinaigrette dressing
As you see, it’s important to include the right kind of carbohydrates as part of your daily intake. I generally get about 50 percent of my daily calorie intake from low to medium glycemic index carbohydrates. I find that this amount gives me plenty of energy for all my daily activities. You’ll find that eating low to medium GI carbohydrates levels out your energy and keeps you from those high and low points throughout the day.

So now you ask, how many grams of carbohydrates can I eat daily? Let me show you in the following example. Let’s assume you eat 1800 calories each day, and 50 percent of those calories comes from carbohydrates. So that’s 900 calories of carbohydrates you consume each day. There are four calories in each gram of carbohydrates. Now, divide 900 by 4 and that equates to 225 grams of carbohydrates each day. Next use the USDA’s National Nutritional Database that I mentioned above to calculate your serving sizes, and it’s easy to start balancing the amount of carbohydrates in your diet.

I hope that you now have a basic understanding of carbohydrates in your diet. In my next post I'll begin my discussion on fat and why it important in diet.

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