A multi grain bagel slathered with sweetened fruity cream cheese and coffee for breakfast, sub sandwich with chips and soda for lunch, microwave creamy pasta for dinner; and for snacks, hopefully an apple, but probably a candy bar to deal with the 3.00pm crash…

Sound like the typical ‘healthy’ standard American diet (S.A.D)? The reality of it is just that, with refined carbohydrates making up a large portion of the daily diet, having the most impact on blood sugar as this fuel is converted immediately to glucose or ‘blood sugar’.

Carbohydrates, or ‘carbs’ as they are more commonly referred to are the staple of the American diet and a food group often associated with much misconception and confusion. On the one hand the S.A.D over consumes carbohydrates,  yet on the other extreme they are often avoided completely for weight loss, which long term can lead to a host of health issues.

Let’s take a look at ‘carbs’, the good, bad and the ugly and understand the sources androle of this food group in the body.

Roles of ‘Carbs’

The truth is we really do need carbs in our diet, just not the vast amounts generally consumed. A diet devoid of carbs can be just as detrimental to health as over consumption.

We were designed to run optimally on a balance of unrefined carbs along with good fats and proteins as our primary sources of fuel, the key is all about the balance. Carbohydrates are the ‘kindling’, they provide a quick source of energy for the muscles, where as fats and proteins are the ‘log’ food, slower assimilated, they modulate the entry of glucose into blood stream and keep us satiated for longer.

Carbs also provide fuel for the brain, which requires a constant stream of energy for optimal function, and are the primary source of fiber, so important for good elimination of waste from the body.

Too much of a sweet thing..

Sugar is everywhere, ketchup, store bought pasta sauces, bread and the obvious culprits like sodas and cookies, creating a  sugar addiction that has blunted the palate. According to the USDA the average American consumes anywhere between 170 and 200 pounds of refined sugar, that’s a staggering increase considering in 1821 the average consumption was 10 pounds per year!

The effects on health are devastating, creating an emergency need to lower blood sugar, all this refined sugar causes a cascade of serious health issues and strips the nutrients that regulate blood sugar, especially thiamine (B1).

All in the balance

To really understand the impact on health, lets take a look at the organs that work together to manage blood sugar regulation;  the pancreas, liver and adrenals.

The liver and pancreas work together to manage day to day blood sugar regulation, while the adrenals manage the emergency ‘flight or fight’ response. It is a delicate balancing act, the body’s intelligence constantly monitoring the amount of glucose in the bloodstream to maintain balance.

Carbohydrates are incoming and in response blood sugar elevates, the pancreas secretes insulin, which signals the liver to store glucose as glycogen for later use. In between meals blood sugar dips,  and in response the liver is stimulated to convert glycogen back to glucose to bring back blood sugar back to the mid range.

This is the normal functioning, however the SAD diet eating excess sugars, and then skipping meals cause a yo-yo cycle of extreme high and low blood sugar, putting stress on the body.

The organs take a hit

In an emergency situation created for example by stress or shock, normal blood sugar plummets, the liver will try to keep up and the adrenals will kick in to release hormones, and trigger the release of stored energy. The adrenal medula is signalled to release hormones which reinforce and prolong fight or flight response, all  non essential  functions such as digestion and immunity are put on hold. It takes takes 24 hours for the adrenals to recover from flight or flight situation, chances are with constant stress they do not recover and wear out.

Stress is not the only factor causing long term problems, a diet low in proteins and fats and high in refined carbs impacts blood sugar very quickly and over time overburdens these vital organs. The pancreas eventually wears out, producing insufficient quantities or quality of insulin, the liver can have difficulty converting glycogen to glucose and  the adrenals go into a state of exhaustion.

Wearing out the organs of blood sugar regulation, we also become resistant to our own hormones such as insulin, and soon you have exhausted the capacity to respond to insulin, which leads to type 2 diabetes being clinically diagnosed. The slippery slope is set, hypoglycemia leads to hyperglycemia (insulin resistance) which leads to type 2 diabetes, and all because of poor diet and lifestyle choices.

The good, bad and the ugly 

So what should we be eating? Everyone will have a bio-individual need for the optimal amount of  carbohydrates in the diet, however a good starting point is around 40% of the daily diet. That number further broken down should consist of 25% fruits and vegetables, and 15% starchy carbs, such as grains and starchy vegetables.

The Good Carbs

The good carbs exist in nature in the most pure, unrefined form possible and  that hold key nutrients; these energy providing carbohydrates deliver vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, enzymes, protein, fat, and fiber, all the bodybuilding and digestion regulating components needed in the diet for optimal wellness.  These include whole fruits and vegetables, unrefined legumes, and properly prepared whole grains, un-messed with real food.

Grains are a food largely under fire as gluten allergies and intolerances are so wide spread; very often it is the lack of proper preparation through soaking and fermenting, in order to make them more bio available to the body that exacerbates these problems. (more on this in the post on preparing grains)

The Not so Good, Bad and the Ugly

Strip away the fiber, and you have the bad carbs; these are the good guys gone bad, literally! Refined, with the key fibers and nutrients missing, these carbohydrates are man made concoctions which are hostile to life.  The impact on blood sugar is swift and digestion of ’empty’ carbs actually depletes the body’s own reserves of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.

Who are the bad guys? ‘white’ refined grains, such as white rice vs brown, unrefined rice, refined sugars and added sugars to food. These supply empty calories with few nutrients, and are the staple of the American diet, think ‘white’ hamburger bun, pizza crust, refined breakfast cereals with added sugars, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup.  A cheap sugar derived from corn, usually genetically modified, this has largely replaced sweeteners like cane sugar and honey and is in practically everything.

The take away

In moderation, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. The key is in choosing the most unrefined form possible, and enjoying them along with some healthy fats and proteins to slow down the assimilation and impact on blood sugar. Enjoy your  sourdough or sprouted grain bread, with a generous pat of beautiful, farm butter, healing with real food never tasted so good!

In Health and Wellness,

Carol