Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

17 May

Are There Any Good Carbs?

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.

meal

This is Svanes’ Flickr Photo

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.

cukesalad

This is Laurel Fan’s Flickr Photo

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.

Best of MDA

Everything I’ve Ever Said About Carbs

What do you think?

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16 May

A Case of the Clicks

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

The daily clickativity is in!

Skin Deep Gets a Polish

Skin Deep – perhaps the most user-friendly, accurate personal care database on the web – has been revamped and updated. Be sure to check out this excellent resource for information on the safety and ingredients of virtually every cosmetic and personal care product available.

Is Coffee Healthy?

The ongoing java debate gets a fresh take with this helpful, thorough review from Integrative Medicine. It’s the best summary of the pros and cons of coffee consumption that we’ve found yet. Our take: coffee is another one of those “marginal nutrition” issues, like red wine or chocolate. There is likely some benefit, but taken to excess, probably some harm, too. Either way, “marginal nutrition” fads are not going to cure major health issues; nor, sadly, will they prevent bad television. (Or will we have to eat our words?)

coffee 1

This is Gayatri’s Flickr Photo

Trans Fat Ban

Thus far, several major U.S. cities have taken steps to ban trans fat in restaurants. Now, a whole county says no to Frankenfats.

chickenmcheartattack

This is Deovolenti’s Flickr Photo. Aptly described as: “Chicken McHeartAttack”!

Web it out:

Guess who needs more estrogen?

Obvious Studies R Us: Congratulations, Decision Analyst, your firm has won a Sherlock Award!

MOTO

Top 25 Posts Here at Mark’s Daily Apple

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16 May

Top Secret Nutritional Info Released, Award Given

This week’s award goes to Chili’s for something unusual they have included on their menu. We aren’t about to suggest you go out and order their baby back ribs with a side of cheesecake. What we are excited about is that they actually list nutritional information for some of their entrees right on the menu. In the “Guiltless Grill” section they list calories, total carbs, total fat, saturated fat, and fiber for each item. Now if we could only persuade them to make the nutritional facts for the rest of their menu items as accessible. “Fat chance,” you say? Well, we won’t hold our breath, but we would love to see this kind of openness become a trend at all major restaurants. As long as the purveyors of food make it difficult to access nutritional info for their menu items, we can only assume they have something to hide. I don’t know about you, but I’m not too keen on eating food from an establishment that has something to hide.

What do you think?

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16 May

Low-Cal, High-Fiber Pasta: It Exists! And It Is Edible!

Very, very edible.

The folks at Fiber Gourmet recently plied me with a selection of their one-of-a-kind “light” pastas. Hey, I’m not one to turn away free food, so I gave their spinach, tomato and standard pasta noodles a taste try.

fiber

The Fiber Gourmet folks say “since fiber has 0 calories, as the fiber goes up the calories go down” – hence the “light” labeling.

As you all know, I’m cautious about the types of carbohydrates I consume. I rely on vegetables for the majority of my carbohydrate intake. I do eat some starchy carbohydrates such as brown rice, legumes, yams, quinoa and sprouted grain bread. But typically I don’t eat more than one starchy serving per day. Pasta, in particular, is hardly one of my favorites because it is refined wheat, making it high in empty carbohydrates that have a rapid, deleterious impact upon blood sugar. This is stressful to the body for a number of reasons, and the scientific evidence is compelling: excessive intake of refined carbohydrates is linked to our skyrocketing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

And while I understand that “low-carb” pastas like Shirataki can be helpful for jump-starting weight loss, I don’t personally recommend carb substitutes. (Although I am all for the jump start – start somewhere!) My preference against substitutes is not only because I favor whole, unprocessed, fresh foods for both weight loss and health maintenance. I also refuse to eat anything that tastes like cardboard, which seems to be a prevailing problem with light, low-carb and other assorted diet food products. Food will always taste better than a food product. If you can sustain a food product weight loss plan for more than a few months, you’re made of some tough stuff! But seriously, in my opinion, substitutes don’t successfully address the underlying problem with eating unhealthy foods: rather than shifting your cravings to healthier foods, they merely serve as a temporary fix to sate existing unhealthy preferences.

All right, Mark, we get it. What about this pasta? Fiber Gourmet pasta is made just like regular pasta, but contains 40% fewer calories (roughly 130 per 2-ounce serving). Of course, I don’t know anyone who can stop after just 2 ounces of pasta – and that’s the problem with carbs. Refined carbohydrates – sugars – are incredibly addictive.

The total carbohydrates of this product are not low by any stretch – about 43 grams (18 from fiber and 25 from starch). I recommend ruthlessly aiming for fewer than 20 grams of refined carbohydrates in a given day. In fact, I think we’d all be better off if we avoided refined carbohydrates entirely.

Now to the taste factor:

The Fiber Gourmet pastas tasted good – exactly like “real” pasta. Texture was not gritty, gummy or weak. The exception was the spinach pasta, which didn’t hold up well with the olive oil and sea salt I doused it with. The flavor was pleasant enough, but an actual spinach salad would have had better peppery bite and a much more satisfying, chewy texture. And, of course, fewer refined carbohydrates. The tomato and regular pastas were just as chewy and substantial as regular pasta.

Bottom line: I’m really not a pasta guy. I just don’t “do” refined carbohydrates. I genuinely prefer vegetables and more natural, flavorful sources of starchy calories such as yams and brown rice, both for taste preference and health reasons. If you are trying to lose weight and gotta have the pasta, you might want to give those slippery Shirataki noodles a try to get started (good luck!). If you are maintaining your weight successfully and really love pasta, then I think Fiber Gourmet is a smart replacement for standard pasta. In fact, I really wouldn’t consider it as a substitute food product, because it’s virtually identical in taste and texture to regular pasta. It’s really more like an improved food product.

Still, my health philosophy remains fundamentally the same: there’s food, and then there are food products. We can substitute and switch and modify to our hearts’ content, but ultimately, I believe that optimal health comes from fresh, whole, natural foods.

Now I’m off to enjoy my daily salad. What are your thoughts?

– Do you think that improving existing popular foods will be effective for addressing our country’s health and weight concerns, or do you think we need to take a more radical approach by shifting our food habits altogether?

– What are your views on carbohydrates?

I’d love to get your point of view and hear what works to keep you lean and healthy.

More Product & Site Reviews from the Bees

Best of MDA

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15 May

Sweetened Straws & Treadmill Desks (You Can Stop Holding Your Breath Now)

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

The latest in health news, plus some very odd new products.

Life Causes Breast Cancer

Great. Just being alive and kicking puts you at risk for breast cancer death (particularly if you are a woman in your forties). We are including this news because there is a silver lining to the polluted cloud we ingest and refer to as air. Here are tips to minimize the potential physical damage from air (and building) contaminants:

– Live as far as possible from freeways and major roads (even 100 feet is great).

– Live in either a really old building or a fairly new one.

– Don’t smoke.

– Eat at least 6 servings of vegetables daily, especially greens and colorful veggies.

– Exercise 3 times a week.

– Plant some trees in your yard if possible; and keep some plants in your pad.

– Consider an antioxidant supplement.

– If possible, shorten your commute so you aren’t sitting in car exhaust cocktails every day.

Introducing the Treadmill Desk

Finally, life is complete! The newest exercise machine features a built-in computer desk. That’s right: multi-tasking is no longer sufficient; it’s all about omnipo-tasking. (We’re holding out for the Blackberry that you can graft to your head with a glittery adhesive strip. Preferably strawberry-scented and available in your choice of five juicy colors.)

Do Not Tell the Fuming Fuji About This One!

Another amazing product to undermine the health of the little seedlings: now milk comes with “sipahh straws” that are artificially pre-sweetened thanks to a lovely candy coating. Have any of you heard about this? They’re being used in McDonald’s Happy Meals. This way, kids will drink their milk!

Web it out:

Grocery store discovers double-shelled egg

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