KEY POINTS:

1. Just like fats, there are good and bad carbohydrates. In general, healthy carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre and slow digesting (low glycemic), while unhealthy carbohydrates are simple and high glycemic. 

2. When we eat a lot of simple carbohydrates (refined and processed foods like breakfast cereals, white bread, sugars, and syrups), this can lead to a depression of the immune system, kidney damage, atherosclerosis, oxidative stress, and cancer. 

3. Also, overconsumption of these simple sugars causes our bellies to empty out sooner, leaving us perpetually hungry. 

4. Healthy carbohydrates include quinoa, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Key #6: Eat Healthy Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates (commonly referred to as “carbs”) have gotten a very bad rap lately as well. Let’s try to clear up the confusion. You might have noticed that with each food or diet trend one type of food is demonized. First it was fats. We went on a low fat kick. That didn’t work and eventually we learned that there are good fats and bad fats. That’s what I just showed you in the previous section. More recently there has been a trend toward low-carb diets and once again by vilifying one nutrient and loading up on the other types there have been some successes and failures. What we’ve discovered is that just like fats, there are good and bad carbohydrates. In general complex carbohydrates that are high in fibre and are slow digesting (low-glycemic index carbohydrates) can be quite healthful, while foods that are high in simple carbohydrates that are high glycemic can be problematic.

Healthy carbohydrates include quinoa, whole grains, vegetables (such as sweet potato), fruits (especially berries), beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Simple carbohydrates are often found in refined and processed foods like breakfast cereals, white bread, sugars and syrups.

The rapid rise in sugar and fructose consumption in the 1980’s mirrored a steep increase in obesity in the UK, Canada and the US. Trying to keep the obesity epidemic under control is incredibly challenging given that sugars are addictive and involve the same dopamine receptors in the brain that cause us to experience pleasure. These are the same centres that are activated by cocaine, nicotine and alcohol! Think about that the next time you have a sugar craving!

More recent data suggest that the types of foods that we eat – especially foods that have a high glycemic index (e.g. white bread, white rice, cereals, juice and pop) – can cause changes in our internal gut micro-flora (bacteria) that can increase inflammation in our bodies. High-simple sugar diets can also impact our immune systems. Some of the problems that happen in the body when we eat too much sugar include a depression of the immune system (the same system that fights off cancer), kidney damage, atherosclerosis, oxidative stress and cancer.

When we get hungry or stressed, our bodies crave food that will provide us with the quickest supply of fuel: simple sugar and starches. It is no accident that we rarely hear people say they “could really go for a chicken breast right now.” It’s the starchy food (bagels, crackers, cookies, chocolate, muffins, etc.) that make us drool when hungry. Over-consumption of starches and simple sugars turn to fat in our bodies, in order to be used as fuel at a later date. Our bellies empty sooner with starchy food, letting the craving cycle perpetuate. Setting up our morning with starchy sweets leads to a cascade of bad behaviour for the rest of the day. Worse yet, these eating habits set the stage for exhaustion at the worst times. You may recall this point when trying to hide that yawn in the afternoon meeting or class.

There are 3 things that slow down the digestion of sugar: fat, fibre and protein. This means, if we want to have balanced blood sugar, we need to slow down our digestion by making sure each meal has all of these elements.

Today's POWER-UP: Add healthy carbohydrate sources to your nutrition plan

Choose oatmeal with almond butter rather than cereal for breakfast.

Choose plain full fat yogurt with berries instead of the sweetened low fat variety.

Choose spaghetti squash with tuna pesto sauce instead of white pasta with tomato sauce.

Some other great sources of carbohydrates that are packed full of other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients include (via onegreenplanet.com):

 - Bananas are rich in potassium, vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, vitamin C, and fiber.

- Broccoli contains roughly three grams of fiber and three grams of sugar per serving for only 50 calories a cup and three grams of protein, along with large amounts of vitamin B6 and calcium.

- Apples are one of the best sources of carbs you can eat since they contain large amounts of pectin (a fiber that keeps you fuller longer), vitamin C, and potassium.

- Pears have potassium, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. 

- Leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale, romaine, arugula, turnip greens, collards, and mustard greens) have some carbohydrates, are low in calories and contain magnesium and B vitamins.

- Carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and figs are other great options for healthy carbs.

- Berries are my go-to fruit and are packed full of phytonutrients. These are great pre- and post-workout.