How many times have you heard the old nutritional adage “shop the store’s perimeter” to avoid the glut of prettily and slick packaged, cheap, heavily processed and carbohydrate packed foods taking up the majority of most grocery stores?
What you might not know is the strong scientific data piling up on an almost daily basis regarding the health hazards of regularly consuming these (really fake) foods. So what truly galvanized me to take bold action today was a recent scientific study that links the risk of routinely consuming high glycemic index carbs with lung cancer. The glycemic index reflects the increase in blood glucose levels during the 2 hours after eating a particular kind of food and comparing it to a referenced food, like the mother of all high glycemic foods, white bread. Now you might be familiar with the usual suspects like sugary baked goods, fluffy white bread, candy, sugary cereals and soda but more unusual items like instant oatmeal, bagels, white rice, pretzels, russet potatoes and corn flakes are also part of the high glycemic index crowd. And here’s the kicker: The study concluded that regular high glycemic index food consumption increases that risk of lung cancer more for nonsmokers (49%) than smokers (31%)!!
So, in a nutshell, refined carbs are the new cigarettes!!!!
This is yet another chronic disease, along with heart disease, Alzheimer’s, a/k/a Type III diabetes (see How to Protect Your Brain With Simple Lifestyle Choices) and Type II diabetes we can add to the list that refined carbs are pointed to as the prime instigators! Add to that the surge in obesity (which has been cited by the American Society of Clinical Oncology for causing 100,000 cancers each year), gut issues and sugar spikes/plummets affecting your brain health and thus your daily performance by ingesting these empty calories!!!
Then I thought, being the former (darkside) refined carb junkie that I was and now truly enjoying foods that are nutritious but at the same time satisfying and delicious, we all really need to spread the word that there truly is a better way! I have some reasons and follow-up ideas you can try that will help you, or maybe your friends or family, get off that refined carbohydrate “gerbil wheel” habit and onto bigger and better things! Btw, weight loss is one of the side-benefits of following this “way of life.”
1.Insulin and the brain. So first, let’s attack why this food source is so detrimental to our body. To give us a more in depth analysis of what happens to the body when high glycemic foods are consumed let’s look at our chief hormone insulin and what happens to our brain with these fast-acting carbs. Dr. David Ludwig, Professor of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and author of the new book Always Hungry and who was a recent guest on our weekly radio show “Healthy U” gives us some wise insight. Soon after we eat, the pancreas secretes the amount of insulin necessary to take the incoming load of sugar out of the bloodstream and escorts it into the mitochondria to later be converted into much needed energy. That is all well and good but the problem comes in when our fuel source is out of whack with what our body really needs for energy. Please understand that quality proteins and fats, although a fantastic source of energy for the body, has little (protein) or no (fat) ability to be metabolically transform sugar in the body, so the pancreas really gives negligible insulin response to these sources of fuel. However, high glycemic index foods kick the pancreas in gear to produce too much insulin and in turn, since the body can’t use that much sugar load for energy, insulin instead drives the fat cells to increase in size and number, basically acting as the ultimate fat cell fertilizer. BUT at the same time, insulin stingily restricts those fat cells from being a source of energy when needed (that’s why it’s tough to lose weight on a low-calorie, high glycemic carb diet, insulin keeps a lock on fat release). Instead, the body starts to run low on fuel (energy), signals the brain to produce hunger pains and since high glycemic carbs will give us the fastest “sugar” hit, making us crave for those starchy sugary foods (think ooey gooey butter cake here folks), we give into our cravings. “But this solves the “energy crisis” only temporarily, sets up the next surge-crash cycle, and over time, accelerates weight gain” (Always Hungry) and sets us up to be candidates for chronic inflammation, the beginning of all chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer and Type II diabetes.
2.Breaking the Cycle–
a. Get Your Nutrition House in Order First– You know I’ve talked about nutrition, movement, recovery and purpose being important for a healthy and fulfilling life (see The Perfect Day in the Game of Life). But right now, I’m going to separate from that thought for a moment. Yes, the entire package is absolutely important, but I must make a stance that nutrition is the “top dog” of all healthy life components. If your nutrition is bad, you will not feel like exercising, you won’t deal with stress in a healthful way and you will not be getting quality sleep. If you exercise on a regular basis you actually will need more food fuel for your body. The thought process that you can exercise away your nutrition indiscretions needs to be debunked right now! Just as an example, if you consume 20 oz of regular soda, or almost three cups of soda, at 250 calories, you would have to walk 10,000 steps or the equivalent of 5 miles to walk it off! Do you see my point? Putting the right fuel in your body really makes everything else fall into place. You want to exercise because you feel so good and you deal with stress in a healthful way because the correct fuel in your body is kicking out a healthful hormone balance and finally, your quality sleep will also reflect your good food choices.
b. Become familiar with Lower Glycemic Index and Load Foods AND be an avid reader of food labels!- Knowing both the glycemic index and load of foods is important. As mentioned above the glycemic index reflects the rise in blood sugar for a select food based on quality whereas the glycemic load reference is based on the realistic quantity of food eaten. As an example, watermelon has a high glycemic index of 72 but a low load of 4, making it a good choice! In addition, being a avid reader of food labels is paramount! You will not believe some of the foods you thought were really healthy choices have a surprising load of sugar added!
Below are first bad then good choices to stay on the healthy glycemic food path:
-No-Brainer Hyperpalatable Bad Choices– The food industry knows just the right amount of fat, sugar and salt to make us keep coming back for more, thus the term “hyperpalatable” and the Oreo is a prime example. For tips to overcome these addictions and they really are addictions, just like drugs, see Curtail Your Cravings.
– Sometimes Surprising High Glycemic Bad Choices- Unexpected high glycemic choices are instant oatmeal, rice cakes, saltine crackers, pretzels, pineapple, puffed rice, bagels, russet potatoes and white rice. Surprisingly, for instance, out of the three choices of white potato, ice cream or pure table sugar, calorie for calorie, the white potato wins the prize for raising blood glucose and insulin the most! We also have prettily packaged, visually tempting food choices, but hidden amounts of sugar take it off the “healthy” list. Let’s take the cereal Smart Start as an example. If you read the label, an extra almost 4 teaspoons of sugar are added per serving. The label also reads 8 additional sources of sugar in the content. Lean Cuisine Orange chicken has an additional 3+ teaspoons added per serving. A real shocker to me was Campbell’s Home Style Harvest Tomato with Basil Soup with a whopping 4 tsp. extra added sugar per serving. Flour, in general, even if it’s from a whole wheat source, is a pulverized grain that ends up having the effect of increasing the glycemic index of food. That’s one big reason I really save flour for special treat baking and skip the flour for sauces. You can make flavorful reduction sauces with wine, stock, herbs, shallots and butter and skip the added flour. Also, one big added sugar source are those flavorings for coffee. The “Salted Caramel” flavor syrup shown among th high GL choices, is in essence 2 tablespoons of sugar in a 2 tablespoon serving ! Something to think about the next time you order your favorite coffee drink!
–Low Glycemic Good Choices– Pasta with a high protein count is a good choice. The cooking “doneness” of pasta also has an effect on the glycemic index. Al dente pasta (just a little chew in each bite) has a lower glycemic index compared to the “cooking pasta to death” method. Also, real maple syrup, berries, high fiber fruits (apples and pears) and vegetables (asparagus, carrots and cruciferous veggies), beans, Old Fashioned and Steel Cut Oatmeal, Multigrain cereals and wild rice offer a lower glycemic choice. I added Almond Flour because it can be substituted for select flour items. I use it to bread fish before baking instead of white flour and it tastes delicious, boosting it’s low glycemic value! Asparagus is a real pre-biotic, gut-healthy winner because it also contains inulin, which is power food for your gut bacteria.
c.Embrace healthy proteins, fats and introduce yourself to new complex carbohydrates to keep life poppin! – Keep inflammation at a distance (the beginning of all chronic diseases) by consuming healthy proteins and fats, i.e. wild caught salmon (see A Healthy Acronym “CYH w/EPA/DHA”), grass-fed beef (see The Grass-fed vs. Grain-Fed Beef Debate: You are What you Eat Eats!) vegetables (see Vegetables Are A Well-Kept Secret) and yes, starchy goodness that is actually good for you!
I’m talking about Ancient Grains here folks! Amaranth, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Black Barley, Farro, Freekah, Wheatberries and Kamut are all part of the Ancient Grain happy family! Even though they truly are ancient in terms of time, we really are just starting to discover their incredible diversity in dishes and extra flavor and texture PLUS the added health bonus of being high in fiber and protein, qualifying as excellent low glycemic carbs. Step out of your culinary kitchen “box” and try these morsels of goodness. You won’t be sorry! See Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains and other consecutive blogs in Drtobler.com that map out the ancient grain path for some healthy, novel and tasty culinary goodness.
d. Open up a world of culinary inspiration. Below I have some subscriptions I receive monthly for just that reason, culinary inspiration! Pinterest and Yummly also have some great ideas! You won’t believe how exciting you can make your evening meal if you just see some culinary gem pics and recipes that you haven’t even thought of! Even if you don’t make any of the recipes, it can’t help but make you think of new recipes on your own AND tweek them to fit in your now low-glycemic index lifestyle!
e. Remember, you eat with your eyes first!– I really try to make all the at-home meals look appealing to the eyes first (below is a Chef Salad I prepared for Randy). It really does add to the enjoyment of your meal, making you feel like your homemade meals are really being served in a fine dining establishment. And it has the effect of you taking more time to enjoy the beautiful culinary artwork, thus slowing your digestion. A win-win for low glycemic eating!
Recap of Warning: Instant Oatmeal Can be Hazardous To Your Health!
1. High Glycemic Index and Load Foods consumed on a regular basis increase the risk for chronic diseases like lung cancer, heart disease, obesity (which is linked to cancer risk), Alzheimer’s and Type II diabetes.
2. Insulin production and the brain “get off the tracks” when we make a habit of consuming highly refined carbohydrates.
3. Breaking the Cycle Tips:
a. Get Your Nutrition House in Order First!
b. Become familiar with Lower Glycemic Index and Load Foods AND be an avid reader of food labels!
c. Embrace healthy proteins, fats, vegetables and introduce yourself to new complex carbohydrates, a/k/a ancient grains, to keep life poppin!
d. Open up a world of culinary inspiration!
e. Remember, you eat with your eyes first!
Below is a chicken meal I’ve made off and on for the last 25 years. The absolute winner in this dish is the sauce, made of reduced carrot juice that will absolutely knock your socks off! The sauce lends a buttery, caramel taste to the chicken thighs that absolutely melt in your mouth. In addition, I served this dish with black barley pilaf (see Discover the Goodness of Ancient Grains: Barley ) and Roasted Red Pepper Kale and Chickpeas (see SUPERFOOD RECIPES- Whole Grains and Legumes)! This entire dish qualifies as a “healthy” low glycemic meal that is definitely worth the effort!!!
Hope you enjoy this as much as Randy and I do! Honestly, this might be TMI but we both always lick the plate after this meal!
Carrot Juice Chicken
Spatula (for browning chicken)
Large spoon (for marinating chicken)
4 chicken thighs, skins removed
Salt and Pepper
2 T olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 T. finely chopped rosemary
1 T. finely chopped thyme
1 qt. carrot juice
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional, but we love the extra heat this lends)
- Season both sides of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper pepper.
- Heat the sauté pan. When the pan is heated up, add oil. When the oil shimmers, then added the seasoned chicken thighs, and heat about 20 minutes. Turn often so that the meat doesn’t stick.
- Pour all but about 1 T. of fat from the pan (there won’t be much because you’ve taken off the skin already).
- Scatter the herbs over the chicken.
- Ladle 1 cup of carrot juice at a time over the chicken and constantly marinate the juice over the chicken until it is reduced by ½. Add 1 cup of juice consecutively with the same procedure until all the juice is used.
- Constantly marinate the chicken with the juice until reduced to a luscious caramel- colored thick sauce consistency.
- Plate the thighs and ladle additional sauce on top.