Simple versus complex carbs

The common mistake most people make is to lump all carbohydrates into the “it makes me fat” category — when, in fact, carbohydrates have dramatically different effects in your body. Although all carbohydrates are made up from sugars of different types, the two main categories are called simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are composed of one or two molecules of sugar. They’re immediately sweet to the taste. The burning of simple sugar in your body is similar in intensity to the burning of newspaper in a fireplace: quick and rapidly spreading heat. Then it burns out, and you have plentiful ash.

Complex carbohydrates are a composed of long strands of simple sugars. A single starch molecule can contain anywhere from 250 to 1,500 individual sugar molecules. Complex sugars initially taste bland. As a complex sugar is well chewed, the saliva begins to break down the long chains, and the taste becomes noticeably sweet. Complex sugars have a slower burning efficiency in your body, comparable to putting logs on a fire; they burn slowly, consistently, and evenly. They are an enduring heat.

The simplest sugar, glucose, elevates blood sugar quickly, while the elevation curve of complex sugars is more gradual. Whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, barley, and so on) ground into flour are now called grain products (bread, pasta, muffins, cookies, and the like). As a particle of grain — despite being from a whole grain source — flour is more quickly absorbed, easily elevating blood sugar. This is the opposite effect from whole unbroken grains, which give a slight raise to the blood sugar. More extreme blood sugar highs and lows can create mood swings, fatigue, and strong cravings for sweets and salted food; therefore, you have less control over your health when your blood sugar is jumping all over the place.

Someone eating a large percentage of sugar frequently craves more fat in her diet, such as nuts, nut butters, butter, salad dressing, and cheese, because it feels more stabilizing in her body and slows the rise of blood sugar.

However, if that person were to eat more complex sugars, her craving for sugar and fat frequently becomes minimized, making dietary change less of an effort.

The below table clarifies complex and simple carbohydrate classifications. Each sugar category has its refined and unrefined products. On the whole, it’s best to eat the bulk of your carbohydrates from the unrefined complex carbohydrates category, with smaller amounts of refined complex carbohydrates. For pleasure foods or sweet cravings, make healthier choices from the unrefined simple carbohydrates category. Unrefined complex carbohydrates have the most stabilizing effect on blood sugar. In being slowly broken down, they provide maximum endurance energy.

Simple and Complex Carbs

Simple Carbs (Like Burning Newspaper)Complex Carbs (Like Burning Logs)
Refined (Quick Rise)Unrefined (Gradual Rise)Unrefined (Stabilizing)Refined (Gradual Rise)
White flourFruits Brown riceBreads
White sugarAgave nectarWhole oatsPasta
Brown sugarHoneyMilletsCrackers
Beet sugarMaple syrupQuinoaRice cakes
Corn syrupMolassesBuckwheat
SucanatMaple syrupRye
Date sugarBarley maltBeans/legumes
Maple sugarRice syrupTeff
Turbindo sugarWhole wheat
DextroseVegetables
FructoseSea vegetables
Evaporated cane

Benefits of whole grains

You’ve seen the cereal boxes and heard the advertisements about certain foods that have “whole grain goodness” or are made with “natural whole grains;” you’ve probably heard the television commercials barking about some new fiber supplement “made from whole grains,” and no doubt, you’ve seen a dozen glossy magazine covers touting “No More Carbs! Lose Weight Now!”

Is there any truth to this? Partially. Macronutrients are essential nutrients needed in large amounts (hence, “macro”) for growth, metabolism, and other biochemical functions. The basic three are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t break down. As a result, it passes through your digestive tract, attracting toxins and stimulating waste removal.

Diets with insufficient fiber set the potential for the development of chronic constipation, and hemorrhoids and the risk of colon cancer. Conversely, diets with whole food fiber have been known to reverse heart disease and diabetes, lower cholesterol, and help obesity.

Among the many health benefits to eating whole grains, six can be considered essential.

Whole grains help sustain blood sugar. You get a gradual rise that doesn’t create hormonal havoc with insulin or pancreatic secretions. This creates more endurance, energy, and mental calm.

Whole grains reduce fat and sugar cravings. Eating a food that helps stabilize blood sugar and provides energy helps reduce sweet cravings as well as cravings for fatty or oily foods.

Whole grains help reduce internal toxins. Dietary fiber can bind estrogens within the digestive tract. It also helps by adding beneficial gut bacteria to the intestines, which help with nutritional absorption.

Whole grains promote bowel regularity. Indigestible whole grain fiber swells in the intestine, stimulating the movement of intestinal contents and ensuring a more adhesive and thorough bowel discharge with regularity.

Whole grains contain vitamins B and E. Many of the B complex vitamins are held within the bran of whole grain; niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin E, riboflavin, and thiamine (B1). Essential for good immunity and protection from diseases such as pellagra and beriberi, whole grains increase cardiac strength, can help reverse type 2 diabetes, improve DNA health, enrich the quality of body tissues, help combat depression, support red blood cell development, and introduce thousands of phytochemicals to help you stay healthy and fight disease.

Whole grains reduce cholesterol. A number of studies have cited whole grains as being responsible for protecting the heart. Phytoestrogen compounds and antioxidants in whole grains are thought to be the factors behind lowering cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

Debunking the “grain is bad for you” myths

For thousands of years, agricultural societies cultivated grains from common grasses that grew abundantly. So we’ve had hundreds of generations to get our digestion primed for grains. Yet, two arguments frequently come up among the anti-grain people. Generally, these people have horns, breathe smoke through their noses, and hate the thought of chewing anything you have to cook, but there is some meat on their contentious bones, so I briefly look at their claims in the following sections.

Claim 1: There’s “harmful” phytic acid in grains

Grains, grain products, and even soy foods contain “harmful” phytic acid in the bran of the grain, which can bond with key minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and zinc and prevent their absorption in the intestinal tract.

Yes, this is true for some. Phytates are phosphorus compounds found in cereal grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and various soy foods, and they block the uptake of important minerals, specifically zinc. In truth, despite all the yelling and finger pointing by anti-grain and anti-soy concerns, this would only be a problem if people exclusively consumed large amounts of phytates, such as soybeans or wheat bran. However, the phytic acid levels that exist in macrobiotic plant-based whole foods are really not high enough in phytates to cause such extreme problems.

Soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the grain before cooking or baking can neutralize this acid and allow nutrients to be released for absorption. The soaking process not only neutralizes acids but also breaks down the starches and difficult-to-digest gluten. You can soak the grain in an acid medium, such as lemon juice or water with a little bit of vinegar. Adding a healthy pinch of sea salt to the grain cooking water also reduces acidity, thus adding to the digestion factor.

Of all the grains, brown rice, millet, and buckwheat are more easily digested because they naturally contain fewer amounts of phytates than other grains.

However, the old adage that every front has a back applies here: The flip side of the phytate issue is that there are some overlooked benefits to trace amounts of phytates. Some studies have shown that phytates actually prevent the formation of free radicals, maintaining a safe level of mineralization in the body. Phytates also play an important role in cellular growth and can isolate and remove excess minerals from the body.

Physician and nutrition author Stephen Holt suggests that phytates shield people from dangerously high levels of iron. Additionally, some studies attribute phytates to halting the growth of cancerous tumors, because phytates can bind with minerals that feed tumors.

Claim 2: The gluten in grain is bad for you too

Grains contain gluten, which for some people is difficult to digest and can put a crippling burden on the entire digestive system, instigating reactors with allergies, celiac disease, chronic indigestion, and yeast overgrowth.

Familiar grains that contain gluten are wheat, rye, and barley. The jury is still out on oats, but for most, they don’t seem to be a problem.

Some of the best grains that don’t pose a problem to celiacs or those predisposed to gluten intolerance are brown rice, brown/white basmati rice, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, and teff.

Meet and greet some vegetables!

The three vegetables that account for nearly half of the total amount of vegetables typically consumed in the United States are

Potatoes, typically consumed as chips and fries

Iceberg lettuce (one of the least nutritious varieties of lettuce), typically added to sandwiches or used in house salads

Canned tomatoes, presumably from a national obsession with pizza and pasta

One study found that 42 percent of Americans ate daily portions of cookies, cakes, pies, or pastries, but less than 10 percent ate dark leafy green vegetables every day. Throw in some bread and approximately 30 teaspoons per day of refined sugar, and this constitutes the daily carbohydrate volume for millions of Americans.

Vegetables are a vital part of any diet and offer a world of beneficial phytochemicals (phyto is Greek for “plant”), which are biologically active compounds that keep the body strong and resilient. Many phytochemicals have properties that protect our cells from free radical damage as well as anticancer protection.

There are literally hundreds of pytochemicals, and nutritional research has only touched the surface of vegetable healing potential. One of the most researched phytochemical groups is phenolic compounds. This group includes flavonoids, monophenols, and polyphenols. They are associated with protection from and treatment of heart disease, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, and others.

Vegetables can be categorized three ways:

Green leafy vegetables: Hands down, these veggies win the “most nutritious” award. Greens like kale, collards, and broccoli are a rich source of nutrients, far beyond what is available in meat — and at dramatically lower costs. Rich in chlorophyll, which nourishes red blood cells, green leafy vegetables are also a superior source of alkaline minerals, which help neutralize acid-laden diets. A complement to any animal protein, leafy greens are a calcium solution for those who prefer not to depend on meat or animal products.

Root vegetables: Dense and compact, root vegetables are essentially plant roots that are eaten as vegetables and are great sources of vitamins and minerals. Root vegetables are known to produce warmth and nourishment during colder and more challenging seasons.

Many traditional cultural medicines believed roots helped repair reproductive systems and the bronchi leading into the lungs. Common medicinal roots include ginger, ginseng, turmeric, and arrowroot.

Some varieties of root vegetables, such as carrots, onions, parsnips, and white radishes, have a delicate sweetness that can be brought out with varying cooking times and are helpful for sweet cravings. Burdock, popular throughout Japan, is now available in many large natural food markets. It is known for a slightly bitter taste, but has great healing capacity and is popular with sweet vegetable combinations (carrots and onions) as well as in hearty vegetable stews.

Ground vegetables: Vegetables that grow low to the ground are the liaison between roots and greens. They tend to be nourishing to the organs found in the middle of the body (liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, stomach, and so on). Veggies in the squash and pumpkin family are examples, as well as cabbages and cauliflower. Ground vegetables also offer unique sweet tastes.

Cabbage has amazing versatility. It can be shredded and made into sauerkraut or a variety of fermented dishes; its leaves can be steamed and used as pouches for different vegetable stuffing and are popular with other sweet vegetable combinations, such as carrots and onions.

Fruits: The pleasure of sweet — at the right times

For many, macrobiotics was thought to be a diet that didn’t permit eating fruit. In the early days, fruit was eaten only on special occasions. People believed that, despite being natural and wholesome, fruits contained simple sugar, and although they didn’t instantly elevate blood sugar in the same way that refined sugar did, they still had a net acid effect. Their sugars also had an exaggerated response on people eating whole foods. In excess, fruit sugar could produce fatigue, inflammation, and weaken mineral stores. Eating too much fruit, particularly fruit juices, can elevate triglyceride levels — a type of fat in the blood that can increase your risk for heart disease.

Today, fruit is suggested as a source of natural sugar, but this depends on your health. If you suffer from loose bowel, fatigue, anemia, cancer, sugar cravings, poor memory, unsatisfying sleep, or have any kind of infectious condition, it may be wise to reduce or eliminate fruit temporarily and see how quickly your body responds to a whole food diet of grains, vegetables, beans, and some sea vegetables. Complete your meal with a bit of hot tea, often a satisfying way to conclude your meal.

Fruit is also best when eaten alone and not on top of a meal. One of the things that I tell natural food restaurant owners who consult with me is that if they encourage their patrons to try their desserts, they should do so considering what the patron had for dinner. If a patron has a meal of grains, beans, vegetables, and soup, and then sloshes down a fruit dessert on top of it, the likelihood of getting indigestion or gas is highly probable. Then, as they’re leaving the restaurant and wishing to discreetly relieve themselves, they’re usually thinking, “Man, I won’t be coming back here for a while.” Fruit often ferments the rest of the meal’s contents because it digests quickly, while other more complex sugars are still being broken down.

Here are a few additional concerns about fruit to keep in mind:

For some, the additional amount of sugar in tropical fruits may warrant reduced amounts.

Fruit juices are concentrations of sugar minus the fruit fiber; so with a glass of juice, you’re getting many fruits. An ordinary glass of orange juice can come from four oranges! That’s too much sugar and too much acid.

Fruits can be eaten a number of ways: fresh, cooked, or dried. However, a couple of handfuls of deceptively innocent dried fruits may fill a basket if they were fresh.

Sea vegetables: Kelp yourself grow healthy

Sea vegetables, marine algae also known as seaweed, are the super-foods of the ocean. Nutrient dense and rich in minerals and trace minerals, extracts of sea vegetables are found in nearly every type of prepared food — puddings and salad dressings to ice cream, breads, and even cheeses. The most popular way of using sea vegetables was as a thickener or recipe stabilizer. However, for hundreds of years, costal and inland cultures have harvested and eaten a variety of sea vegetables as a regular part of their diets.

Containing nearly ten times the amount of choice minerals over land vegetables and with high amounts of iron, iodine, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, sea vegetables are an essential in a whole foods macrobiotic eating plan — especially if you have a sweet tooth or decided to eliminate or reduce animal protein.

However, these nutrient-packed vegetables can help restore your health by supplying elaborate vitamin and mineral matrixes. Some of the comparison figures are astounding:

Kelp has at least 125 times more iodine and 7 times the magnesium as garden vegetables do.

Dulse, a seaweed common to the North American East Coast, is more than 25 times richer in potassium than bananas and contains more than 175 times the potency of beets when compared to iron values.

Nori, that dark green seaweed wrapper sold in rectangular sheets and wrapped around what we know as sushi, has Vitamin A content equal to carrots and double the protein of certain meats.

The black stringy seaweed called hiziki contains more than 14 times the calcium as whole milk and is far easier for your body to absorb.

Sea vegetables are a handy way to acquire folate, which has been shown to reduce colon cancer risk and also helps break down homocysteine, a chemical that has recently gained attention from cardiovascular researchers who associate high levels of this chemical with stroke and heart disease.

Studies have documented that sea vegetables have isolated components that lower blood pressure, prevent arteriosclerosis, and fight tumor growth. They are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to help in reversing high blood pressure and skin conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema.

Because they’re packed with certain nutrients, eating too many sea vegetables, for some individuals, can result in an excess of iodine, risking the possibility of a hyperactive thyroid. A small amount of different seaweeds three to five times weekly can be a healthy addition for almost any diet.

Sea vegetables can be soaked briefly in water, chopped, and added to many dishes to enhance vegetable dishes, stews, salad, soups, or even noodle recipes. Do they taste fishy? Some do and some are an acquired taste, but when you begin to eat them frequently, you’ll find them tasty and satisfying.

Frequently Used Sea Vegetables

Sea VegetablesHow to Use
AgarVegetarian alternative to gelatin for desserts
ArameMild sea veggie used as a side dish
DulseUsed in soups, side dishes, and salads
HizikiStrong tasting sea veggie used as a side dish
KelpSea veggie powder frequently used as a condiment
KombuUsed most frequently as a stock ingredient
NoriUsed to wrap sushi, as a condiment, or in soups

Are artificial sweeteners okay?

Artificial sweeteners are highly toxic products have no place in a whole foods natural diet. Documented studies provide volumes of evidence of the harmfulness of these substances, and that alone should discourage the use of these non-foods, which were created strictly for profit and without any concern for human health.

The best barometer for testing these products should be your own taste sensitivity. Do you really think they taste okay? If so, you may have forgotten what real food tastes like. Try eating a whole foods diet for three weeks to restore the taste of real sweetness to your taste buds and then try some artificial sweetener. You’ll instantly see for yourself.

Sour news on fructose

The average American often begins her day with a glass of orange juice, followed by some cereal sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Lunch and dinner might include a soda with canned soup or pasta sauce sweetened with HFCS. Dessert might be some ice cream or cookies also likely to be sweetened with HFCS, bringing the possible consumption of this unnatural sugar to more than 80 grams per day.

HFCS is extremely soluble and mixes well in many foods. Because it’s inexpensive to produce, sweet, and easy to store, it’s used in a wide gamut of foods, including bread, food sauces, bacon, beer, and even “health products” like protein bars and “natural” sodas.

Pure fructose doesn’t come from fruit. It’s an extract from corn and is far from “good for you.” HFCS contains no enzymes, vitamins, or minerals and robs the body of micronutrient storages. Research indicates that fructose interferes with the heart’s use of important minerals such as magnesium, copper, and chromium. Among other consequences, HFCS has been implicated in elevated blood cholesterol levels linked to the formation of blood clots. It can also inflame the intestinal lining of those with even mild IBS symptoms. Additionally, fructose has been found to inhibit the action of white blood cells so they lose their capacity to defend the body from harmful foreign invaders.

Originally, fructose was recommended to diabetics because it’s absorbed only 40 percent as quickly as glucose, causing a modest rise in blood sugar. However, research on other hormonal factors has demonstrated that fructose actually promotes disease more readily than glucose. Although glucose is metabolized in every cell in the body, all fructose must be metabolized exclusively by the liver. The livers of animals fed large amounts of fructose revealed fatty deposits and cirrhosis, similar to problems that developed in the livers of alcoholics. Because the liver metabolizes it, fructose doesn’t cause the pancreas to release insulin as it does normally. Fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar, which is one reason Americans consuming HFCS gain weight.

Make HFCS a must-avoid ingredient in your choice of sensible nourishment.

A word about the nightshade family of vegetables

The Solanaceae family of plants, which includes nightshade vegetables, has been highly cultivated for food over the last 150 years. This group includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, cherries, peppers (sweet peppers and chili peppers, but not black pepper), paprika, tobacco, and petunias. Some plants of this family have distinctive medicinal value, while some are poisonous. The good news is that the risk of becoming seriously ill from eating potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, or peppers is relatively small. However, for susceptible individuals, the symptoms these vegetables can produce make it worthwhile to avoid these foods as an initial experiment for your healing.

Nightshade vegetables contain solanine, which is a chemical that makes too many nightshade foods unsuitable for many people, especially those already prone to joint pain or inflammation. Solanine is also a calcium inhibitor and consuming it may promote mineral imbalance, adding to joint pain and swelling. It can also cause diarrhea, headache, vomiting, and heart failure in sensitive people, based on the severity of their exposure.

An American horticulturist, Norman F. Childers, developed the theory during the 1940s that nightshades may aggravate arthritic symptoms. Childers found that eliminating foods of the nightshade family cured his own arthritis and researched his theories into his 90s. He believed that eating nightshade foods results in a buildup of chemicals (glycoalkaloids) as well as steroids that could cause inflammation, muscle spasms, pain, stiffness, and bone weakening.

Many arthritis patients complain about pain and inflammation in their joints after consuming nightshade vegetables. The best way to check your sensitivity toward nightshade vegetables is to avoid them for an entire month while refraining from all sugar and eating macrobiotically. This time away from sugar and nightshades will regulate your health and sensitivity. After this month of eating simply, introduce nightshades back into your diet and note any pain or joint sensitivity. This process can help you determine which particular nightshade worsens your condition.

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