Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Simple vs. Complex Carbohydrates

Here is a general overview of carbohydrates and which foods to choose as part of your healthy diet. There are two main categories of carbohydrates:

Simple and Complex.
Some people call them bad carbs and good carbs... I personally prefer to not call any food bad. There are no bad foods (or evil foods) - food is just food. We need to focus less on the moral standing of food and focus more on making the right choices that are healthiest for our bodies. So we'll stick with simple carbs and complex carbs for now.

A quick definition:

Simple Carbs -- digested quickly. Many simple carbohydrates contain refined sugars and few essential vitamins and minerals. Some examples include: sweet treats (cake, cookies), high-sugar fruits (pineapple, bananas), "White Stuff" (white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sugar) and most things that come in a box or are highly processed.

Complex Carbs -- digestion takes longer. Most complex carbohydrates are packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Examples are vegetables, low-sugar fruits (berries), whole grain starches, legumes, dairy - the more natural and whole the food, the more likely it is to be complex.

So after WLS we want to avoid the simple carb category except in instances of extreme moderation. Just because you have WLS doesn't mean you're never allowed to have another Christmas cookie - but you can't make simple carbs a part of your everyday eating plan. Instead we should focus on complex carbs that are more wholesome and packed with fiber and nutrients.

Our body NEEDS carbs for proper function. Our brain alone needs about 40g carbs a day for clear thinking and rapid nerve response - and other vital organs in our body prefer to get their energy from glucose (which is the energy that carbs turn into when they are digested). Studies have shown that anything less than 100g carbs per day is considered low-carb and can put your body into ketosis (which is not desireable).

So once you're several months out from surgery and able to eat a larger variety of foods, you should be getting no less than 100g carbs per day just to keep your body happy and functioning properly. Depending on your exercise level and overall calorie intake, this number may be higher.

I shoot for about 35-40% of my calories to come from carbs and at 1400 calories a day, that translates to 140g per day. (there are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrates) -- additionally I shoot for 40% from protein and 20-25% from fat and try to get 25-30g fiber per day.

Also remember that within the nutrition label there are several things listed under the carb category. Fiber, Sugar and Sugar Alcohol. Fiber is essential and the higher the number the better. Sugar we want to limit of course and I shoot for less than 10g per meal/snack. Sugar Alcohol, in theory, is not absorbed by the body so you don't need to worry about those... but many people have problems with sugar alcohol and it can cause gas, bloating and diarreha, so be careful with this one.

The only way to really know what the true carbohydrates in a food include is to look at the ingredient list. Over time as you learn more and more about what different foods/ingredients are and their nutrient make up, you'll be able to recognize which things are carbs, proteins or fats. And when you spot a carb in the ingredient list, you'll eventually be able to automatically categorize it in your mind as simple or complex. It takes practice and there's a learning curve to it - but it's a valuable skill to have and worth the effort to learn.

Right after my surgery when I was so obesssed with food, I'd go on field trips to the grocery store. Leaving my purse/wallet in the car I'd just go in and walk the aisles and read labels of different types of foods to understand them better. I'd do a bit of research at home on a certain nutrient, then I'd go around the store looking at labels to see how that nutrient was used in various foods. One day I did a sodium field trip, one day a carb trip, one day a whole grain trip... that's the way to learn this stuff. Just soak in as much as you can.

Nutrition is a learning process. Learn a little bit each day and before long you'll be comfortable with picking the right foods for your overall good health.

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