Nu­tri­tion: To Carb? Or Not to Carb?

Mountain Bike for Her - - Contents - Words by Melinda Lund, MS, RD

Car­bo­hy­drates. Just look­ing at that word brings im­me­di­ate foods to mind – bread, pasta and ce­real. Those are the most com­mon, but wait, there’s more – how about fruit, milk, yo­gurt, any­thing with sugar, any­thing with flour (nut flours not in­cluded)…breath in­serted here… corn, peas and let’s not for­get pota­toes…. pause for ef­fect…and fi­nally, win­ter squash (acorn and but­ter­nut).

So what’s the big deal here. Aren’t carbs good for us? Don’t they pro­vide us with needed en­ergy? The short an­swer is yes. The “easy science” is that car­bo­hy­drates (in their var­i­ous forms) break down into sugar es­sen­tially, which pro­vides our

bod­ies with nec­es­sary fuel for daily ac­tiv­i­ties and for the ex­tra phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity we en­gage in (hit­ting the trails any­one). How­ever, one of the is­sues is when we eat more car­bo­hy­drates than we need and on a con­stant ba­sis. If we eat more carbs than we need, we have more sugar in the sys­tem than we need, which es­sen­tially will be stored partly as glyco­gen for use later, but many times ex­tra sugar is stored as fat.

First let’s look at some dif­fer­ent types of sugar (which has many names). Types of sugar Sugar goes by dif­fer­ent names ac­cord­ing to its com­po­si­tion. There’s a rec­og­nized scale that mea­sures the sweet­ness of the var­i­ous types of sug­ars. Here are a few known sug­ars that you might see on a food la­bel:

Glu­cose (corn syrup) - rec­og­nized as the en­ergy mol­e­cule of life. (Rates 74 on the sweet­ness scale.)

Fruc­tose nat­u­rally oc­curs in fruit and veg­eta­bles. (In its purest form, its sweet­ness rates 173 on the sweet­ness scale)

Ta­ble sugar, also known as su­crose, is made from sugar cane or beet sugar (the kind that’s in many pro­cessed foods). Su­crose is com­posed of 50 per­cent fruc­tose and 50 per­cent glu­cose. (Rates 100 on the sweet­ness scale).

High fruc­tose corn syrup (HFCS) - syn­thet­i­cally cre­ated by Ja­panese sci­en­tists from corn. Man­u­fac­tur­ers add vary­ing lev­els of this ar­ti­fi­cially-made fruc­tose to glu­cose, depend­ing on how sweet they want their food prod­ucts to be. You’ll find this sugar in just about ev­ery­thing it seems – e.g. soda, ketchup, bar­beque sauce, etc.

Don’t for­get to look for other sug­ars though too – like agave, con­cen­trated fruit and honey ,just to name a few.

If we go back to the be­gin­ning of our carb talk, we want to touch on the amount of sugar we’re con­sum­ing…be­cause that’s one of the big­ger prob­lems that has con­trib­uted to many health is­sues.

Robert Lustig, MD, pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal pe­di­atrics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Fran­cisco, ex­plains the dan­gers of sugar in

gen­eral, and specif­i­cally in soda by stat­ing:

“…sugar is toxic. It’s not just empty calo­ries. Sugar kills, and does so slowly.

That’s be­cause sugar does three things that other calo­ries don’t. First, sugar is me­tab­o­lized within the liver to fat, dam­ag­ing the liver (33% of all adults to­day suf­fer from non-al­co­holic fatty liver dis­ease), caus­ing ‘in­sulin re­sis­tance,’ driv­ing up blood in­sulin lev­els and con­tribut­ing to di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion, obe­sity, heart dis­ease and stroke.

Sec­ond, sugar speeds up the aging process. The same ‘brown­ing re­ac­tion’ that oc­curs when you slather your ribs with bar­be­cue sauce oc­curs in all your cells when ex­posed to sugar. This leads to pro­tein in­flex­i­bil­ity and cel­lu­lar dam­age, re­duc­ing life­span.

And lastly, sugar pro­motes ex­ces­sive caloric con­sump­tion. By dead­en­ing the brain’s ‘re­ward sys­tem,’ sugar has the same ef­fects as other drugs of de­pen­dence to pro­mote ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion. Sugar pro­motes a vi­cious cy­cle of con­sump­tion and dis­ease. This is why chil­dren now have the same chronic meta­bolic dis­eases as 60-year-olds. Their bod­ies are old be­fore their time. Plus, liq­uid calo­ries do not in­duce sati­ety. Give a kid a soda, and he eats more, not less.”

So now what? There’s a lot more bio­chem­istry that goes into this process than this ar­ti­cle will touch on, but the main point is that while car­bo­hy­drates are nu­tri­tion­ally ben­e­fi­cial and — let’s be hon­est — tasty, we need to pay at­ten­tion to what kinds of car­bo­hy­drates we eat and how much.

In the first ar­ti­cle (pub­lished in Is­sue 3), I briefly touched on Sim­ple vs. Com­plex carbs and we need to still keep that in mind. While we all like to (and should) dip into those sweet treats and desserts from time to time, most of the time we should be choos­ing the best carb for the buck. Whole/in­tact grains like quinoa, wild rice, whole grain breads and ce­re­als (like oat­meal), fruits (two per day, max), whole milk and other whole milk prod­ucts, real/plain Greek yo­gurt and sweet pota­toes/win­ter squash are your best bets. It’s the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time we eat as health­ful as we can – bal­anc­ing the nu­tri­ents (pro­tein, non-

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