Fruits Are Not the Devil, and Other Carb Concerns
Although I espouse a fairly “low-carb” lifestyle for optimal health and a lean physique, this certainly means different things to different people. For some it means a strict Atkins-style diet of virtually no carbs, save for green vegetables. For others it means the inclusion of fruits, starchy vegetables such as yams, and legumes. For others it means any and all carbs – grains, rice, beans, pasta – that are complex or “whole grain” rather than refined and processed (pastries, crackers, breads, white pasta).
My “low-carb” philosophy is essentially grounded in my belief in fresh, whole, natural foods. In other words, a lot of plants. Organic, grass-fed or wild animal products (eggs, beef, salmon) are also included in my “natural” categorization. I’m not at all opposed to carbs that are from vegetables; the American diet is sorely lacking in adequate vegetable intake and it’s lunacy to avoid vegetables in the hopes of losing weight, as many low-carb dieters do. Since I believe fiber is king when it comes to health, I’m all for eating 6 servings of veggies daily – at a minimum. I recommend fresh or frozen vegetables and a small amount of starchy vegetables and legumes for your daily diet.
But, I personally don’t encourage the consumption of grains, even whole grains. I think an occasional slice of sprouted-grain bread is fine, particularly if you’re an avid exerciser (and I hope you are). Additionally, I think the lectin fears about grains are rather overblown (another one of those marginal nutrition areas like wine, coffee, and dark chocolate). But a combination of vegetables and lean proteins offer more antioxidants, vitamins, protein, fat and even fiber (surprise!) than do grains.
This type of diet is easier for most humans to digest, as wheat gluten in particular is not friendly to the G.I. tract. Grains stimulate improper liver, thyroid, and pancreas responses in many people, and grains can also foster reduced immunity, fungal infections, skin problems, anxiety, depression and weight gain. Vegetables and lean proteins are more readily handled by your liver and pancreas, among other organs. Coupled with some much-needed beneficial fats such as organic butter, olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fish oil supplements, a vegetable-and-protein based diet is the most respectful to the human design. Consuming crackers, pasta and breads – even those manufactured with whole grains – is simply not ideal for the human body.
That said, other carbohydrates beside vegetables are, in fact, quite healthy – even some starchy ones such as yams, brown rice, and legumes. My concern is that many people rely on mostly refined and/or whole grains for their fiber intake and tend to “add in” some vegetables, when it ought to be the other way around. When it comes to vegetable sources of carbohydrates, we Americans favor starchy barely-vegetables like potatoes and corn. (Corn, by the way, is actually a grain, and a very low-protein, high-sugar grain at that.) Vegetables are a far superior source of carbohydrate because they do not impact blood sugar to the extent that grains do, they have important antioxidants and phytonutrients, they have far fewer calories, they are easier to digest, and they often have more fiber.
Clearly, we need to be eating more vegetables. But it’s perfectly reasonable to eat some starchy vegetables and legumes on a daily basis, provided you are at a healthy weight you feel comfortable with, provided you exercise enough to burn your calories effectively, and provided you are not fighting diabetes or trying to reduce elevated blood sugar or triglycerides. If stress, inflammation, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes or elevated blood sugar are medical conditions you are striving to overcome, you would do well to consider both eliminating grains and limiting starchy vegetables and legumes. And absolutely avoid the refined grains!
So, yes, there are plenty of “good” carbs. I don’t think eating bacon and steak is the path to fabulous health; no extreme diet is. (Although, it’s interesting to think about why we define certain things as extreme. What is extreme?)
I have my own version of the food pyramid. I call it my carb pyramid.
- At the base are vegetables – 6-11 servings daily.
- In the middle are things like legumes, brown rice, quinoa, wild rice, tempeh, soybeans, and oatmeal. Also in this category are the “whole grains” like sprouted bread, whole-wheat pasta, corn, and whole-grain crackers. These are best on a very infrequent basis or, if you have any of the previously mentioned health issues, not at all.
- And at the top are the no-no’s: pastries, cookies, cake, sweet sauces, breading, candy, sweetened beverages, white bread, white pasta, juice, chips.
A Word on Fruits
A reader recently emailed me about the issue of dried fruits. Are dried figs, dates, raisins, cranberries, apricots and the like a wise idea for those interested in health and weight loss?
Sure. The key is to realize that dried fruits are extremely caloric, and very high in natural sugars. Fruit is healthy, but fresh fruit provides more water content and fewer calories than dried fruit. Like fats, dried fruits are very nutritionally dense, so you don’t want to eat more than a handful now and then. I think a few servings a week of dried fruits is not a big deal at all – fruit is a natural, fiber-rich, vitamin-loaded food source. But because it is high in sugar – especially those dried fruits – you want to be careful to favor vegetables over fruits. Fruits taste better than vegetables to many people because fruits are so sweet. Who doesn’t love fruit? I do. But it’s important to make sure that, on balance, more of your plant carbohydrates are coming from vegetables. I think one or two fruit servings daily is plenty. Dried fruit is often the equivalent of four or five servings of fruit, so I’d recommend enjoying them just once or twice a week.
The other important thing to remember is that diet is not the only factor in weight management and good health. If you work out several times a week, not only will you live longer, boost immunity, reduce stress, and strengthen your bones and muscles, you’ll speed up your metabolism. If you don’t work out, you probably would need to live on steak and bacon and limited greens to lose weight. If you exercise, you can usually afford some starchy carbohydrates and certainly some fruit. Don’t overlook the vital necessity of exercise.
Note: if you’re one of the lucky devils to have a speedy metabolism that keeps you on the too-thin side of lean, enjoy fruits and starchy vegetables and legumes for those extra calories, but increase your fat intake a bit. This will help keep your blood sugar and triglycerides in balance.
What do you think?
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A Monday Moment
You’re about to pitch the boldest idea of your life to the board of directors.
You’re going to ask your boss for a raise. A big one.
You’re giving a speech at the upcoming fundraiser. It has to be memorable and inspiring.
You know all eyes will be on you as you toast the bride and groom.
We all face situations where nerves can seize us and make presenting a terrifying prospect. Whether it’s in the workplace, at the courthouse, or even on celebratory occasions, having to present yourself and your thoughts is stressful to even the most outgoing and charming folks.
You can try all kinds of techniques and tips for banishing your nerves and boosting your confidence, but perhaps the best way to overcome the nervousness of “putting yourself out there” is in shifting one’s perspective. This is easier and more effective. There is but a single, key step to take to banish your nerves forever.
Embrace your nervousness.
That’s it. Rather than feel bad or embarrassed or even panicky about your nervous state, welcome it! Embrace it! Fear is a good thing. Don’t fight it. As Soren Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” Nervous? Good. It’s a sign that you’re living your life with boldness and authenticity. If you’re feeling nervous, that’s a sign you’ve got a pulse.
The important thing is to channel this nervousness into positive energy. That’s where success comes – it’s not in “beating” nerves. Attempting to fight or ignore or beat your nervousness is an exercise in futility. What’s more effective is welcoming your nervous flutters and in fact feeling grateful for them. Stage fright is wonderful. If you’re nervous, that’s a sign that you have energy and enthusiasm for your daunting task. In fact, you should be more worried if you aren’t nervous.
The best presenters and performers in the world get nervous. Nervousness isn’t a bad thing. It’s a prerequisite to a life of adventure and satisfaction. Embrace your nervousness in every endeavor. It means your whole body is tuned in to what you’re about to do. That’s living in the moment – the healthiest thing of all.
Go get ‘em!
Merely Meaning It
You don’t have to be a Star Wars nerd to remember Yoda’s words: “There is no try. There is only do.” Despite the green and the wrinkles, that little guy was on to something.
The difference between trying and doing – between wishing and being – is possibly the most significant factor in living the life that will fulfill you versus merely existing. We all know those people who “try” to improve; we also know the people who simply get things done. From the outside, getting things done (and doing them well) can look like luck, or connections, or timing. Certainly these things can be part of the equation. Positive thinking and action gets you pretty far, but others’ actions are their own, and can either help or hinder you (and there’s usually not a whole lot you can do about that, despite what purveyors of The Secret might have you believe).
But I think there’s something different going on here. Problems and disappointments just don’t add up under the current try vs. do system. Yoda was on to something, but not everything.
I believe that very few people are truly malicious, and yet: we are constantly let down and disappointed by others, whether that’s individuals, groups, organizations, institutions. How is this possible? And the fact that we are by nature “self-interested”, while true, still doesn’t explain why people hurt each other, let each other down, or, you know…try to get better.
Let me ask you:
- How many of you have ever been hurt by someone whom you know seemed to mean it when they said they wanted to be better…but nothing changed?
- How many of you have been baffled by someone’s words and actions being completely incongruous – baffled because you know they meant what they said? (If that’s not cognitive dissonance…)
- How many of you have really agonized over whether or not someone meant what he or she said? Because meaning it would make all the difference?
Think of all the movies and shows – especially dramas and romantic comedies – that feature heart-to-hearts discussing this very issue: “Did he mean it when he said…” “But if she meant it, then…”
Guess what? Not only is trying not the same as doing, but meaning is not the same as doing, either.
Does a person mean what he says? Big deal.
Meaning does not equal being. Only doing equals being. I believe if people realized this – that a person can still fundamentally mean what he says and never live up to it – we’d be a lot better off. We give “meaning what you say” a lot of weight in this society. A lot. As long as you meant it: meaning those words implies sincerity, honesty, genuineness. “I just have to know that she meant it.”
The real reason we give “meaning it” so much weight is because we have met those rare people who actually do what they say. What they “mean” is who they “are”. Unfortunately, a lot of people who aren’t so possessed of this depth of character have gotten the notion that simply saying something with earnest belief is therefore good enough. They go through life really, truly believing that they are responsible – because hey, they mean what they say. We meet people and interact with folks every day who clearly think that meaning what they say has given them entrance into the “doing and being” club. They themselves don’t see it. And most of the time, they really aren’t malicious – they really do mean what they say (which makes it painful for the rest of us, who believe it when someone “means it”).
But their endless cycles of drama and tension and dissatisfaction are the direct result of the fact that they merely mean what they say. Meaning isn’t being.
Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:
Want to know which veggies are cleanest and which are shellacked in pesticides? Read on…
Helpful Food Shopping Guide
Learn about the cleanest produce, the “dirty dozen”, and scoop up other healthy shopping tips. This easy guide is free and it downloads in a snap!
Waisted in the Wasteland has a must-read post about what Big Agra may be doing with all that bad pet food. We’re all for recycling, but this is going too far! Who wants to eat plastic?
Question of the day: do any of you make your own pet food?
Calling All Health Hacks!
Have you checked out Lifehack? (Not Lifehacker, a hot blog which helps you “geek to live”. Lifehack features healthy news and personal development ideas in addition to techie tips.) This is a terrific article on some of the healthiest foods for energy and longevity. Mark pointed out that he doesn’t think drinking 8 glasses of water daily needs to be a hard-and-fast rule of health. What do you think about that? Be sure to visit this great blog and add your own healthy food suggestions to their list. When you add your knowledge to bloggers’ articles, everyone learns a little bit more, so don’t be shy!
Obsessed with Big Moo?
“Excess is oppressive.” – Aristotle
Usually on a Sunday night, I like to relax with a movie or a lightweight nonfiction read, but the Nicomachean Ethics stared out at me from the bookshelf last night. (Guaranteed way to a great night’s sleep: just start reading your old philosophy textbooks from college.)
The book fell open to a section on shame, excess and pleasure. I have long admired Aristotle’s views on shame, something many people secretly struggle with like so many weighted bags on the soul. Essentially (and philosophy experts please correct me – I’m a biology man) Aristotle argued that a virtuous, good person should never really feel shame. This gets to the big guy’s distinction between feelings and character. Aristotle felt that feelings were useful for children, who are ignorant and inexperienced, but adults are rational and ought to have sufficiently developed characters (doesn’t mean we repress our feelings; just that they are not always useful for growth). Shame is only a feeling, not a character trait. Your character is such that you would hopefully never do anything deserving of the feeling of shame, because you are steadfastly true to yourself. Shame comes from excess, which is really just dishonesty with yourself. This opens up a big can of philosophical worms, of course!
Then came the quote: “Excess is oppressive.” And it’s really true. I think many times, it is excess that burdens the soul with shame. This means things like exaggerating a story, boasting in hopes of attention, or being too self-deprecating and humble (for this too is a form of excess). In essence, these excesses are dishonest representations of your true self – and that is why they can become oppressive and collect like heavy sandbags of shame on the heart. But, as Aristotle said, we are adults, with no useful need for a feeling like shame. We ought to be sufficiently developed to guide our actions so they are in line with our characters.
Excess is a common way of life in Western culture. We are encouraged, through media, advertising and comparisons with others, to consume. Sometimes I think we’ve become a culture in pursuit of nothing more than “stuff”. When it comes to emotional, physical and mental health, I think part of what is so painful about being unwell in these areas is the underlying shame. That’s terribly unhealthy for a rational, virtuous adult, as I think most people are capable of being and work to be. I am not implying that any case of unwell is always one’s fault – there are all sorts of genetic and external factors that can affect your health, and may be out of your initial control. However, when it comes to issues like fitness, sleep, stress, weight and disease prevention, I think it’s important to avoid the trap of excess. Restaurants tempt us to overeat. There is always something more to do instead of exercise. Consumption breeds debt, which breeds stress and trouble sleeping peacefully. And so on.
Excess is painfully oppressive because it is so insidiously subtle. Excess is encouraged everywhere you look – in talk, in actions, in food, in material goods, in stimulation and entertainment. It not only harms our physical health; it harms the soul of the virtuous adult who seeks emotional health, wellness and balance. Excess tamps us down and oppresses. Simplicity and truthfulness with ourselves, on the other hand, set us free. I think good physical health and wellness cannot help but to follow.
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