Sugar: A Hidden Danger - Part 2
In my first post in the Sugar: A Hidden Danger series, I talked about dopamine, which is the main cause of why we crave sugar, as well as how our body breaks down and uses carbohydrates. In this second installment, I want to dive into good and not-so-good sources of carbs for us to enjoy.
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbs. Our bodies need all three to function properly, to support a healthy metabolism, and enable our brains to operate optimally (say that 5 times fast!).
Good carbohydrates can be found in nutrient dense foods like vegetables and fruit. From there, veggies can be broken down further into non-starchy and starchy categories, with starchy vegetables being higher in the carb content than non-starchy vegetables.
When it comes to choosing your good carbs, I prefer to start by filling up my plate with non-starchy carbs, then adding in starchy veggies and fruit on days when I’m more active or exercise.
Non-starchy vegetables include:
Zucchini and other summer squash
Starchy vegetables include:
I hope that you know some of the most common sources of fruit, but in case you need a refresher, these include:
Melons of all kinds
Berries of all kinds
Choosing our carb sources from these foods listed above is critical to ensure that our bodies are receiving the maximum nutrition that they can from our food choices. When we choose carbs (or foods in general!) that a rich in micronutrients, we are fueling our body to be healthy and happy.
On the other hand, when we choose carbohydrates that are not-so-good, we are depriving our bodies of the nutrition they are craving! The importance of nutrient density cannot be understated.
Whole, unrefined, nutrient-dense sources of carbs are what our bodies crave! They enable our bodies to make nutritional deposits into our body's cells and energy stores. Plus, they help stop future cravings from forming.
In addition, to metabolize carbs and turn them into energy, the body needs micronutrients. Therefore, eating carb sources that are rich in micronutrients (like vegetables and fruits) help make this process as efficient as possible.
Low nutrient density explains why a diet rich in bad carbs leaves you feeling tired and depleted of energy, and why you feel the need to eat more and more. Your body isn't getting what it truly needs when you eat nutrient-poor carbs, which explains why you continue to have cravings or a feeling of being unsatisfied.
(It's also important to note that although I'm talking about carbohydrates today, this principle of nutrient density also applies to fats and proteins.)
So, what exactly do I mean by not-so-good sources of carbs? Here's a quote that sums it up pretty succinctly:
"If it’s popped, puffed, flaked, floured, shredded, or instant, it’s been refined!”
Not-so-good sources of carbs are macronutrient rich, but they are micronutrient poor - they don't bring much to the table in terms of vitamins and minerals, which explains why they aren't as great of choices for fueling our bodies.
Cakes, muffins, etc
Gluten-containing grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc)
Sugar of all kinds (yes, even artificial sweeteners)
Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Basically, if the food you are eating has a label with more chemicals than real-food ingredients, or if it adheres to the quote above, it's probably not the best source of carbohydrate for the body. Or, if the process of getting that product from the field/tree/ground to your table is quite extensive and refined, that food is probably not the best choice to fuel your body.
Many of these foods claim to be high in micronutrients, but don't be fooled. Most of the vitamins and minerals on the extensive list on the nutrition facts label are added into the product; they aren't natural to the food itself. Our body doesn't take as well to artificial, chemical vitamins.
It all comes down to choosing real, whole food. Get your healthy carbs from primarily starchy and non-starchy vegetables with fruit as a supplemental source. Avoid foods that are refined and packaged. Eat real, whole food!
Thus far, we've covered why we crave sugar and carbs, how carbs are process by the body, and what ideal sources of carbs are for our bodies. In Part 3, I'll deeper into the effects of sugar (and excess carbohydrate from not-so-good sources), as well as how to stop sugar cravings. Stay tuned!