Sunday, July 1, 2012

All carbs are not bad

   OK, all carbs are not bad. Many people equate carbs with breads and pastas. Although, it is true that breads and pastas contain a boatload of carbs, but there are many other foods that contain carbohydrates and they are nutritious and are totally allowed on the Paleo Diet. I realized it recently when a friend, almost horrified, mentioned that a Lara Bar contains about 26 grams of carbs and he was staying away from it. I realized that he did not know the difference between good carbs and bad carbs. So let's get this get out of the way first; carbs from the grains, legumes, and simple sugars are bad on the Paleo Diet. The carbs from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds are fully acceptable on the Paleo Diet. Foods are essentially nutrients. Hence, the word nutritious, foods provide nourishment for the body. The human body can not survive on just sunlight and synthesize the nutrients for its survival. The nutrients have to be ingested and they are obtained from various foods. The body converts the nutrients into energy and the life goes on. This is the reason, Paleo lifestyle's main focus is the foods that we consume.

   Essentially, there are 6 classes of nutrients. Only 3 out of 6 nutrients are energy yielding nutrients: fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The energy yielding nutrients are also known as macro-nutrients, because they are made up of complex chains of molecules. The other 3 nutrients: water, vitamins, and minerals do not yield any energy but they are essential for life. Any nutrient that contain carbon is called organic and the nutrient that does not contain carbon is called inorganic. The term "organic food" popularized by outfits like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are purely marketing and mean something altogether. Their definition of organic is foods grown and treated without pesticides and antibiotics. According to our definition all foods are organic. I am probably sounding like a text book by now, so I might as well go all the way with this fancy table below...:-)

Carbohydrates: Anything that you eat other than fats and proteins is a carb. Carbohydrates are complex sugars and eventually are broken down by your body as sugar. So if you ate a spoonful of sugar, you just consumed carbohydrates. Since sugar is already broken down, it requires little effort on the body's part to break it down and absorb into the blood stream. If you ate a piece of carrot, that is also a carbohydrate and body will eventually break it down into a sugar before it enters the blood stream. So no matter what you eat other than fats and proteins, it enters your body as a sugar. Carbohydrates from processed and refined flours and sugars tend to enter blood stream very quickly and cause the blood sugar levels to spike.

Proteins: In addition to carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, proteins also contain nitrogen. Some proteins contain sulfur as well. The four elements compose amino-acids and amino-acids form chains to build proteins. These amino-acid chains are called peptides. All proteins are broken down by the body as individual amino-acids and are absorbed into the body through small intestine. Once absorbed in to the blood stream the amino-acids are distributed all over the body to repair and rebuild cells. That is why amino-acids are the building blocks of the body. Proteins obtained from the animals is the best source for the body and your daily diet should consist animal proteins. Proteins obtained from legumes, and grains are below par, and should be avoided in the Paleo Diet.  

Fats or Lipids: All fats are broken down into triglycerides and are used by the body as fuel and to build cell membranes. The fats are also responsible for making hormones which are essential for creating a balanced signaling mechanism throughout the body. The hormones control everything in your body from hunger signals to mood swings. In the absence of carbs the fats are used by the body as the primary source of fuel. This is the reason folks on Paleo Diet do not get fat, because the carbs from breads and sugars are not present in their diets. In the presence of excessive carbs the blood sugar goes up, which causes the insulin to spike. The insulin released in the body causes fats to be stored away as hormone insulin works hard to lower the blood sugar levels. The ingested fat never gets used and we get fat. This is fine and dandy if our lifestyles were more active, but really, I get in my car to go around the block to pick up milk. In the absence of carbs this process is reversed, the diet consisting from fats, proteins, and cabs from vegetables do not cause a spike in the blood sugar, and the body uses fats as the fuel for the cells. When you sleep at night, you are essentially entering a fasting state. The next meal will be at least twelve hours away. That is why the morning meal is called "breakfast", breaking a fast. In this fasted state the body very efficiently switches to burning fat and preserves the stored glycogen for the functioning of brain and the red blood cells. It is a good thing because we need to use that stored glucose for dreaming and making sure the blood continues to run through our body while we sleep. If your dinner consisted of a big pasta meal, with meat balls, spaghetti, and topped off with a cheesecake. This dinner is loaded with carbs from spaghetti and cheesecake, fats, and proteins from the meatballs. If you go to sleep say couple of hours after you eat, then the body uses the sugars from the carbs to fuel itself all night and burns very little fat. You wake up feeling hungry in the morning and consume orange juice, fruits, and toast and this sugar spike cycle starts all over again. Very little fat is burned, and over time depending on your level of activity you will accumulate some extra baggage. On the Paleo Diet the dinner may consist of some veggies, a piece of meat and some fat. Since this meal does not cause a spike in blood sugar levels, the body switches to burning fats and uses the scarce glucose efficiently to supply fuel for brain cells and red blood cells. This is the most natural way for body to function. 

   The moral of the story is that do not be afraid of carbs. Carbs are not bad and should be consumed. If you lead an active lifestyle, then by all means consume starchy carbs like potatoes and  sweet potatoes. Add potatoes with you eggs, steaks, or ground beef. The combination is very nutritious and satisfying. Just remember all carbs end up becoming sugar before they are absorbed in your body.          

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