Carbohydrates are composed of a variety of different elements; fibers, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. But when they are digested and metabolized, they are reduced to a glucose molecule, which is a single molecule of sugar. It's this glucose form of energy that our bodies need to fuel all the cells in the brain and body. It's most often referred to as blood sugar. The term blood sugar creates a misconception that if we need sugar in our blood, then sugar is okay to eat. The body was designed to get our "sugar" from the complex carbohydrates found in whole foods. Carbohydrates are sweet in nature. The youngest plants are sweeter than more mature plants, which have more starch and dense fiber strands, making them more challenging to digest and metabolize. I always encourage people to get their sweet taste from whole foods, rather than from refined, processed foods. Whole foods provide the body with the nutrients that are needed to sustain life.
There are a lot of problems with refined carbohydrates. Almost all nutrients are lost when grains are refined, when vegetables are processed and when the sugars are extracted from fruits and things like beets. One example of this is, grains.
There are some very dangerous heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, that are naturally concentrated in the endosperm of grains. That's the inner layer of the grain just inside the bran. The neutralizing minerals for lead and cadmium are calcium and zinc, which are found in the outer layers of the grain, called the bran. It's the outer layer of the grain, the bran, that's removed when grains are refined. So, the calcium and zinc are no longer there to bind and help the body neutralized the lead and cadmium. Lead and cadmium are extremely toxic and damaging to the cells of the human body. Also, calcium is needed to maintain bone density and blood pH. Zinc is needed to make hydrochloric acid, so deficiency of calcium and zinc lead to other health problems besides diabetes caused by refined carbs.
Simple carbohydrates, like refined, processed flour and sugar, are metabolized very quickly, so there is too much blood sugar circulating throughout the system. That excess sugar destabilizes many functions of the body. There are a number of health problems that have been associated with high blood sugar like heart disease. Obesity and diabetes are at the top of the list. Malnutrition is also prevalent in the United States.
Refined carbohydrates are food for harmful bacteria, parasites, yeast and cancer cells. Simple sugars feed dysbiosis, which is another term for an overpopulation of harmful bacteria in the intestines.
When we have too much blood sugar in circulation at any given time, it's damaging to brain cells, the nervous system, cartilage, and they deplete other nutrients.
With each succeeding generation, we are seeing an increase in refined food being consumed and less whole food consumption, and also more conditions as a result of malnutrition; cavities, gum disease, a long list of digestive disorders and psychological problems. Children have ADD / ADHD. There are higher infection rates; ear and sinus infections, and immune weakness. One teaspoon of sugar depresses the immune system for 5 hours, so when you think about the 12 teaspoons of sugar that are in a soda, that's a serious concern when you consider how many sodas are consumed by the average American on a daily basis. This depresses the immune system tremendously. Eating a complex carbohydrate, whole food diet is vital to reverse these conditions.
Complex carbs from whole foods provide a steady release of blood sugar, which are directed to the cells of the body. Within complex carbohydrates are a variety of substances. One of them is Lignin, which is an element that strengthens collagen. It strengthens the gastrointestinal membranes and binds glucose in the intestines, to slow down the rate in which it's released into the blood stream. This is important to maintain a slow, steady release of energy that is sustained over a period of several hours after we eat food.
Vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients are required for the body to clear excess sugar and the refined elements out of the system. Since refined foods are deficient of these things, we have inadequate metabolism. In addition, there is a host of stressful elements in the blood steam, creating free radicals, and oxidative stress. There are acid forming elements that contribute to health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and malnutrition.
The pancreas and the liver both monitor the blood stream at all times, making sure we have an adequate and steady supply of glucose. When you eat foods that are refined, which are high in sugar, it spikes the blood sugar and the pancreas releases insulin to lower the glucose. This action protects the brain and body from damage. The excess glucose is sent into the muscle cells, which are used as fuel if we are physically active at that time. However, if you are sedentary at that time, the excess glucose is converted into a triglyceride, and glycogen in the muscle cells, which are the storage forms of glucose, and is stored in fat cells. The pancreas will also send excess blood sugar to the liver, which then has the ability to convert glucose into glycogen and store a limited amount there for when the body has a glucose shortage, which happens very quickly with this pattern of eating.
Eating refined foods causes a high spike in blood sugar, which then causes the pancreas to release insulin to lower blood sugar, and excess is sent to the liver for storage and to fat cells in the form of triglycerides = the blood stream then has too little glucose circulating and blood sugar plummets. When we eat a diet of whole foods that include complex carbohydrates (whole grains), which have some naturally occurring protein and fat in them, this slows down the release and conversion of carbs into glucose over a prolonged and steady period of time, or several hours. This sustains the glucose needed by the body to energize cells on a continual basis, and it spares insulin release from the pancreas. When the liver recognizes a shortage of glucose in the blood steam, the adrenal glands send a signal to the liver via the hormone adrenaline, to suggest that the liver release some of the stored glycogen. The liver converts the glycogen to glucose and gets it back into blood circulation. This happens during prolonged exercise, so physical activity is necessary to rebuild healthy blood sugar levels. When we exercise beyond what is available in the blood stream and what the liver has in storage, the body then releases what is stored in the big muscles of the body; legs and butt. They must be active for prolonged, sustained period of time - 30 minutes or more, before this process begins. If you exercise when you are hungry, it will temper appetite, because glucose is providing your cells with fuel until you can eat. We tend not to do that.
When someone has been eating a diet of refined carbohydrates, once the blood sugar has spiked and crashed, they simply revert to a hand full of some more refined carbohydrates to once again spike the blood sugar. They become dependent on a very fast fix. It initially satisfies their hunger, but the needed fiber, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals are absent, which leaves the body malnourished. This promotes a binge type of eating that sends the person back repeatedly for more refined foods, in an attempt to try to satisfy the cravings that their cells (brain, organs, muscles, glands) have been begging for real nutrition. This pattern is repeated every day and it causes a roller coaster ride which sets people up for an addiction to sugar and it predisposes people to long term chronic health problems; obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart problems and cancer. It is very important to understand this cycle, the metabolism of sugars, how they affect the body. This is why I suggest to people that they get their carbohydrates from whole food sources; whole grains, not products made from whole grains.
Carbohydrates are the main fuel for every cell in the body, and primarily for the brain. The brain is the major consumer of the blood sugar that is produced by the foods we eat. Glucose crosses the blood-brain barrier easily and bathes brain cells.
When blood sugar is low, people tend to have symptoms that are related to the brain; confusion, fatigue, mood changes, and inability to perform tasks that they normally would. People who are eating a low carbohydrate diet have a deficiency of this essential macronutrient, so they will have these same mental symptoms. Carbohydrate deficiency symptoms are most easily noticed when someone doesn't eat whole foods. Sugar is acidifying. High blood sugar bathes the brain and causes people to be irritable, experience heart palpitations, a tendency toward more headaches, increased thirst and urination, which are common symptoms for people with diabetes. High blood sugar is very dangerous and can lead to life threatening conditions. Eating sugar before bed makes it very difficult for the brain to go to sleep.
The brain needs a steady supply of glucose, and when it doesn't get what it needs, the central nervous system sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release the hormones adrenalin and cortisol, which then signal the liver to release stored glycogen. All of this puts unnecessary strain on the pancreas, adrenal glands and liver.
I encourage you to read labels. The US food labeling law only requires manufacturers to list sugars that are in the form of sucrose on the label. Any food can be called "sugar free" if it doesn't have sucrose in it. Often times it has high fructose corn syrup in it, which is a cheap substitute for the more healthy sugars from beets or cane. High fructose corn syrup is the predominant sweetener in sodas, all processed foods and baked goods, and it's not on the label, because it's not sucrose. This makes it very difficult to accurately count your carbs or sugars, because this hidden source of sugar is not on the label.
The insoluble fiber contained in the bran of grains, fruit skins and flesh, and in root vegetables is a bulking agent in the stool and keeps the intestinal tract toned. The soluble fiber in these same whole foods is associated with lower levels of cholesterol and are essential to help regulate the absorption of sugars into the blood stream, which reduces a persons chances of diabetes or assists in reversing it. Soluble fiber is food for the good flora in the large intestine. We don't digest the soluble fiber, the beneficial bacteria does, and it creates short chain fatty acids, which are responsible for maintaining intestinal wall integrity and create an environment that prevents the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the colon.
It is best to consume complex carbohydrates consistently (3 meals) throughout the day, from quality whole food sources. If someone has stable blood sugar, they will have balanced physical and mental energy throughout the day. When someone has disrupted sugar regulation or has weak digestion, I recommend 7-9 smaller meals spaced every 2 hours over the course of the day, rather than 3 large meals. This will help keep their blood sugar stable. This doesn't need to be a life long practice, but it will initiate the healing process and help stabilize the body, so it can transition to a more sustained and stable blood sugar level, more even moods and energy throughout the day. This results in better sleep, rest and healing as a benefit.
Behavior problems are related to the consumption of excess sugar in the diet and chemical exposure, but also behavior problems result when there are too few calories and they are spaced too far apart. This is typical of people who are dieting. They skip or eat a poor quality breakfast, and these people will not have the same blood sugar stability or mental performance as someone who eats a robust breakfast and mid-morning snack from whole food sources, which provide a slow, steady release of glucose the body needs.
When I look at a clients diet, I first notice the types of carbohydrates that they are eating. I will suggest that they reduce and then eliminate the refined carbohydrate foods, while increasing the carbohydrates from whole plant sources. Refined foods don't require much digestion, which makes a persons digestion weak over time. When someone is transitioning too quickly from refined foods to complex carbohydrate foods, they may not have the capacity to digest them. Soaking, sprouting or cooking makes carbohydrates much more digestible. If, for example, someone is eating a breakfast of regular boxed cereal, I will recommend that they switch to an organic version of that cereal, which is less refined and has far less chemical residues. When they have become accustomed to that, then they can replace that cereal with cooked whole grains a few days a week until they have phased that breakfast out for most days. It is good to have organic boxed cereal as a back-up for those busy mornings when preparation time is limited, but not as a regular practice. If you are accustomed to grabbing a donut reach for a piece of whole fresh fruit instead. If you like a blueberry bagel, try making a double batch of blueberry pancakes and pop them in the toaster oven to reheat. Put butter and pure maple syrup on them, and delight in the taste and satisfaction that you are taking care of your body optimally.
The person who transitions gradually will have a much more positive reaction to the change, with less gas and bloating. Consuming complex carbohydrates from whole food sources also relieves constipation, typically associated with eating refined, processed foods. This also helps the body rid itself of toxins and excess hormones, cholesterol and it increases peristalsis, which keeps food moving through the intestines at a steady pace. People who consume refined, processed foods have difficulty with elimination and may be dependent on some type of bulking agent like a fiber laxative. They may also be dependent on caffeine, which stimulates bile, which then stimulates peristalsis. So, they need that first cup of coffee in the morning to have a bowel movement.
People who don't have enough carbohydrates from whole food sources, will also have difficulty metabolizing fats and proteins. Fats and proteins require the cofactors (phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals) that complex carbohydrates have. In nature, plants use photosynthesis in order to utilize fats and proteins, so we need the same things.
How much carbohydrate should a person eat? There are no RDA's for carbohydrates. However, based on a persons age, height, activity level, current weight and a number of factors of their biochemical individuality, including their genetics, blood type and ancestry, I am able to help my clients determine this. First I look for any signs of deficiency. Then from that place, we can experiment with different foods and listen to what body wisdom has to say. The body instinctively knows what it needs, and those needs can and will change daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and over the course of a life time.
Email Johnna Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your free introductory consultation. I look forward to serving you. JVW
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