I got this question at work the other day (we’re a fairly healthy-minded bunch):
What are complex carbs vs simple carbs?
This question seems complex, but the answer is quite simple. Simple carbs and complex carbs end up in the same place of the nutrition facts label, but they are most certainly different.
Are all carbs bad?
Clearly not all carbohydrates are bad. We need carbs to live – glucose (what carbs break down to in your body) is what your body uses for energy. That’s why when you eat a candy bar you get hyper for a little while – your body just got a big dose of easy-to-use energy because the carbs were partially processed before they got to your stomach. Simple carbs and complex carbs both turn into sugar in the body; the process just happens faster for simple carbs.
This post is going to be an explanation of what has worked for me. I’m pretty sensitive to sugar (read: too many sweet treats = too many pimples). In addition to my skin sensitivity to sugar, I also seem to have either a mental or physical reaction to eating it – once I start it’s hard to stop! If I have a McD’s cone as a snack (they’re cheap and yum) I also want one for dessert that night, for a snack the next day, and forever more. So I try to avoid sugar to avoid sugar cravings and bad acne. When it comes down to complex versus simple carbohydrates, complex is what I choose, especially complex carbs from veggies.
Which carbs are bad for us?
Most scientists agree that the faster carbs (simple, or white carbs; meaning they convert to sugar quickly) are the worst type of carbohydrate. This is mainly because they spike blood sugar, which has a number of negative long-term effects including a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. These carbs include (and thus I try* to avoid…):
Processed carbs like white bread, white flour, sugar, high fructose corn syrup (also regular corn syrup)*
Processed carbs like candy, cookies, most baked goods*
Fake sweeteners (not technically carbs because they have no calories – but they give me a stomachache, a headache, and it’s probably not good to eat frankenfood chemicals)
I love muffins!
*I still eat these things, but in moderation when I want them. Artisan bread with smooth creamy butter? On occasion, yes please!
Which carbs are good in moderation?
There is definitely a middle ground when it comes to complex versus simple carbs, and that middle ground is whole grain-y things (for me). They’re not the easiest foods to digest (see IBS), but they certainly are delicious. These guys include:
Unprocessed grains like rice (white or brown).* (I grew up hating rice but now I LOVE it. I usually have it several times a week. It’s especially good with a big of ghee, aka clarified butter.)
Oatmeal (steel cut, regular, whatever – preferably not instant).
Winter squash (these are my favorite foods, but it’s easy to get a stomachache if you eat too much of them; squash also has lots of beta-carotene – but beware the orange glow).
I love having rice with veggies, like in bi-bim-bap (pictured above – veggies, egg, beef over rice). In fact, I just like mixing foods together in general. Mix-it-up bowls are possibly the greatest invention ever.
Which carbs are good for us?
Most vegetable carbohydrates are good for our bodies. Some of my favorite carbs are…
Non-root veggies like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, peppers, yadda yadda yadda… Veggies are a diet staple.
Fruits (but not too much). Fruit makes me break out as well in large (more than 1 a day) quantities. Some lower-sugar fruits that I really like are: papaya, blueberries, berries in general, cranberry juice (without sugar) and spritzer, lime/lemon juice and spritzer, melons (cantaloupe, honeydew).
Do you eat a lot of carbs? Do you avoid any? Which are your favorites?
When it comes down to complex carbs vs simple carbs, it’s probably better to choose the complex ones. But remember to include healthy fats (including saturated fat – it’s good for the brain) and protein. Out of the simple carbs, sugar is probably the worst. At least that is what works for me!
I watched 3 really interesting videos in the last 3 days. The first was a documentary on Hulu called Fat Head. Here’s the summary:
Have you seen the news stories about the obesity epidemic? Did you see Super Size Me? Then guess what? … You’ve been fed a load of bologna.
Comedian (and former health writer) Tom Naughton replies to the blame-McDonald’s crowd by losing weight on a fat-laden fast-food diet while demonstrating that nearly everything we’ve been told about obesity and healthy eating is wrong. Along with some delicious parody of Super Size Me, Naughton serves up plenty of no-bologna facts that will stun most viewers, such as: The obesity “epidemic” has been wildly exaggerated by the CDC. People the government classifies as “overweight” have longer lifespans than people classified as “normal weight.” Having low cholesterol is unhealthy. Lowfat diets can lead to depression and type II diabetes. Saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease — but sugars, starches and processed vegetable oils do.
The last video I watched was called Sugar: The Bitter Truth. It became somewhat of an internet sensation back in 2009 but I guess I missed it. It’s a 1.5 hour lecture on why fructose is a toxin. (I’m sold.) The lecturer is a doctor by the name of Robert H. Lustig.
If you have some time (each video is over an hour) I highly recommend them. The gist of all of them is that the obesity epidemic is caused, not by fat/saturated fat/meat, but by too much sugar and too many carbohydrates. My take on them:
The first link (Fat Head) “proves” that a high-fat diet is good for you. Um, duh. Tom Naughton’s high-fat diet consists of a lot of meat; I am still kind of undecided on the meat issue. Two more of his points are that 1) grains are doing a lot of damage (he does go into detail but I don’t want to right now) and 2) processed vegetable oils (corn oil, soybean oil, etc… – and not just he partially hydrogenated trans fat ones) are also killing us. Humans are not used to eating either of those things.
Now – I like meat, and I would eat it, but I am morally opposed to the way meat is produced in our country, and I can’t bring myself to eat it anymore. If meat were truly ethically raised? I’m still unsure nowadays. I’m getting off topic, but my takeaway from this one – fat is good. Eat more of it. Eat veggies too, though. It may be possible to have a semi-healthful fast food diet, but it’s probably better to just be more primal.
Mmm… bacon and eggs and butter.
Personal side notes:
My “Bring on the Fat” post from last year (one year ago – to the day). Sadly I didn’t keep up with this as much as I’d have liked. Now that I’m a veggie I need to get my animal fat from butter, ghee, eggs (with yolk), and dairy (goat’s and sheep’s milk yogurts are my faves; regular ol’ organic whole cow’s milk for my coffee). Since I went veggie I have been eating too many carbs and not enough fats.
The Great Fat Animal Experiment. This was from a year and 3 days ago; it was an intro to my passion for animal fat. I still do love animal fat; again, I’m just going to try to get it from non-meat sources.
Way back in July 2009 (4 days before I got engaged… can’t believe I am married now!) was one of the first times I started trying to eat more fat. I didn’t really follow through, at least not to the extent that I should have. I have come a long way since then.
Big Fat Lies
The second link (Big Fat Lies) discusses the matter of why people are getting fat; is it simply that we eat too much and sit on our asses? Gary Taubes seems to think that it’s because we have too much insulin (I’m leaning towards agreeing with him, but I think the reason we have too much insulin is because we… eat too much). He basically says that we aren’t getting fat because we’re eating more; we’re eating more because we’re getting fat. He debunks Ancel Keys’ Lipid Hypothesis/Seven Countries Study which states that:
Saturated fat increases cholesterol. (If A then B.)
High cholesterol associated with heart disease. (B associated with C.)
Saturated fat must cause heart disease! (If A then C.)
What a load of bologna! Ugh, too much to say about this horrible study, will post about this later (if I don’t remind me). I tend to agree with Taubes’ conclusions, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who do simply “eat too much” for probably mental reasons. It’s not just hormones that are making us fat. We have issues that also make us eat too much which starts the vicious cycle of greedy fat cells –> eat more –> greedier fat cells –> eat even more –> also be lazy because we’re too fat.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
The last link, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, Robert H. Lustig discusses how fructose is metabolized in the body. It turns out that fructose is very similar to ethanol, which is a toxin. He also debunks the Seven Countries Study (though for different reasons than Taubes does). He’s not a low-carb advocate (unlike the other two); he thinks we just have to eat the right carbs, which does not include sugar at all. His diet prescriptions for his patients (mostly kids) are (this is around the 1:10 mark):
Only beverages should be water and milk
Eat carbs with fiber (ex: fruit is fructose but has fiber built in)
Wait 20 minutes for second portions
If you’re gonna stare at a screen (tv/video games) you have to do equal amounts of activity (playing outside)
His prescriptions are probably easier and more reasonable to follow than what Taubes thinks we should do (low-carb, lots of meat); they’re also probably more sustainable (we can’t all live on steak due to overpopulation). I’m still on the fence about carbs though. I love ‘em, but they make me feel like shit. Maybe I’m just more sensitive than some people; my husband could probably live on just carbs and get along fine. (Though he did lose 10 pounds in the last month from being vegetarian – 10 pounds he did not need to lose and he is worried about. He’s practically as skinny as I am.)
More personal notes!
I eat a lot of fruit. A ton, actually. It’s not uncommon for me to eat 6 apples in a single day. Any time that I accidentally don’t eat fruit though, my skin clears up (my skin sucks). My hormones tend to start regulating properly (my hormones suck too). My stomach doesn’t quite suck as much. But I am too stubborn and I love my apples. So I keep eating them. Why? (That is rhetorical.)
I eat a lot of grainy carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, bread), and then complain about my stomach. I think I only complain about my stomach when I’m not eating as much fat. Hm. Annoying.
I know that I do better on a high-fat, low-grain diet (NOT no-grain, though I haven’t really tried that), but I have issues and instead I usually eat low-fat, high-carb. This is just a matter of stubbornness and stupidity. Perhaps I will actually get around to breaking a habit at some point.
Oh gosh, I think this might be one of my longest posts ever. I will shut up now.
What are your thoughts? On grains? On carbs? On sugar? On fructose? On saturated fats? On animal fats? On “healthy” fats? On a low-fat diet? On a low-carb diet? On Tom Naughton/Gary Taubes/Robert Lustig?
Or, if you wanna stop with the heavy topics…
What are you doing for Valentine’s Day?
Bobby got us reservations as a restaurant we haven’t been to yet but that I hear great things about.
The current accepted answer (in the medical community) is .8 grams per kilogram of body weight. This is what I learned in my nutrition class (from a PhD in nutrition). This means that a 125 pound woman needs about 45 grams of protein a day. This is actually down from many outdated recommendations.
Want to hear something crazy? That number might be overestimating.
I saw my brother about a week ago and he is STRONG. Rob is a vegetarian and has been for probably 7 or 8 years now (he’s 20). Rob is 6’4″ and close to 200 pounds, but he wears the same size shirt as my 6’1″ 165-170 pound fiance (hope they don’t mind me telling their weights, heh – and the shirt size is a men’s medium).
What I’m trying to say is that Rob is skinny and all muscle. I asked him how he bulked up. “I’m working out and eating tons of protein,” he says to me. “How much is ‘tons’?” I respond. “Oh, you know – maybe 50 or 60 grams a day.” The fact that he could gain so much muscle on just 50-60 grams of protein a day is quite a shock to some people, but Rob is living proof.
For some people that amount of protein may seem like a pittance. Those people would be wrong (IMHO). As a disclaimer, I will admit that protein needs can vary drastically if you are sick or have a specific medical condition. I’m speaking more about the average person, not those in extenuating circumstances. And I will admit that there is variation within the average – maybe Rob and I need less protein than the “average” person… but not that much less. I do best on a high-fat, high-veggie diet.
According to this site, the body burns about .34 grams of protein a day per kilogram of body weight. To add in a margin of safety, we can bump that number up to about .45 grams per day per kilogram of body weight (this would be just 26 grams per day for that 125 pound woman). That’s barely half of what the medical community is telling you the “required” amount is. I’m not shocked at this anymore. Our country likes to prop up big business – what better way to promote the meat industry than by telling our citizens that more protein is better?
If the requirements really are that low, it is nearly impossible to be protein deficient if you’re eating enough. Fresh vegetables and whole grains are fantastic sources of protein. Have you ever met someone who had a protein deficiency? Probably not. People that are protein deficient are usually junk food junkies or people who aren’t eating enough, period. One other way to be deficient is by eating poor sources of protein that are hard to digest (dairy comes to mind).
This is a direct quote for this site, because I can’t say it better:
“By the way, breast milk, which has been the ideal food for human babies for hundreds of thousands of years, provides 6% of calories as protein – far less than cow’s milk, which has 22% of calories as protein.”
How interesting. 6% of a 2000 calorie diet is just 120 calories – or just 30 grams of protein.
If you don’t eat enough carbohydrates (or enough in general), your body will start to use its protein for energy – a process called gluconeogenesis. If you have too much protein in your diet, gluconeogenesis breaks down the protein into glucose. You pee out the extra amino acids. One benefit of getting glucose from protein is that it doesn’t cause sharp spikes in your blood sugar (which is why higher protein diets can be good for people with diabetes). However, gluconeogenesis is taxing on the liver which is why high protein diets can damage the liver.
Basically, if you’re eating enough carbs, the your body uses carbs and spares protein – and is able to use the protein for the amino acids it needs. If it breaks down the protein for energy all those extra amino acids are wasted.
The other neglected and ostracized nutrient that I think is incredibly important is… FAT! Specifically healthy fats (this can include animal fats). Healthy fats promote hormone balance, fight depression, and fill us up.
::Steps off of soapbox::
What’s your favorite carb? Fat? Protein?
How much protein do YOU feel that YOU need?
(Back later with today’s journal-y entry. Just had to get this post out there.)