It’s frightening how many people we meet are afraid to eat bread, pasta, or potatoes because they think those foods will make them fat. To me, this belief proves that many people are confused about how their bodies use the foods they eat. Don't avoid complex carbohydrate foods. Instead, start concentrating on them as a way to get back to an ideal weight and maintain it for a lifetime. It can be easy. Most of the people I have on my program tell me, "I'm losing weight, and I don't even feel as if I'm dieting". They are really saying that they are not bothered by the unpleasant side effects associated with most diets: hunger, headaches, and irritability. Because many of the unpleasant aspects of diets are gone, you have a much better chance of succeeding than with diets.
There are five important ways that complex carbohydrate foods help your body naturally attain and maintain your ideal weight:
1. Complex carbohydrates have less than half as many calories as the same amount of fat. One gram of complex carbohydrate has four calories; one gram of fat has nine calories.
2. Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that our bodies do not absorb 10 to 20 percent of the calories in many complex carbohydrate foods. This fact is especially true for starchy foods, such as pasta, bread, legumes, and rice. Ironically, these are the very foods that many overweight people avoid. Our digestive enzymes cannot finish the job of breaking down these starchy complex carbohydrate foods in the small intestine. Partially digested food passes into the large intestine where no further absorption can take place. In a sense, these are free calories! Next time you look at a calorie counter, you can subtract 10 to 20 percent of the calories listed for starchy complex carbohydrate foods.
3. Complex carbohydrate foods require a lot of energy to digest. These energy calories are given off as heat from your body instead of being stored as fat. This process is called thermogenesis, which literally means "heat-producing".
When your diet is high in complex carbohydrate foods, you burn more calories as heat after a meal. If you eat more complex carbohydrates than your liver can store, 23 percent of the extra calories are given off as heat from your body and the rest is converted into fat. In contrast, when you eat fat, it is digested, absorbed, assimilated, transported, and stored as fat with an efficiency rate of 93 percent. (These percentages are derived from a 1987 article by W.P.T. James, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.) Over eating carbohydrate foods, even refined sugars, is much less damaging to you than eating fat.
4. Starchy complex carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and bananas make you feel full after meal. They actually shut off the hunger message from your brain. Nutritionists call this feeling satiety. Eliminating this feeling of hunger is an integral part of weight loss. Diets that require people to go around feeling hungry all the time are certain to fail. Fatty foods also produce that feeling of satiety, but they are much higher in calories, as well as being more damaging to your health in other ways. When you eat fat, you get fat. We'll be looking at fats in an upcoming section.
5. Complex carbohydrate foods provide the chemical links necessary to burn off body fat. In fact, if your carbohydrate intake is too low, you cannot completely breakdown your body fat. This inability makes it difficult for you to shed extra pounds. It also means that you build up toxic wastes (ketone bodies) in your system, causing headaches, dehydration, and overwhelming hunger pangs.
It's ironic that so many people stop eating bread, pasta, rice, beans, and potatoes in their attempts to lose weight. They should take the opposite approach. No wonder 95 percent of all dieters regain the weight they lose; they're working against their bodies' metabolisms and setting the stage for long-term failure. It's not the bread and pasta you eat that makes you fat; it's the high-fat butter and sauces you put on them that do the damage. How many overweight vegetarians have you met? By themselves, starchy complex carbohydrates are tailor-made diet foods. My advice is to include these foods, but try not to have more than one of bread, pasta, rice or potatoes at any given meal. This will prevent "carbohydrate overloading", while enabling you to enjoy carbohydrates that are filling and pleasing to most people.
The Bottom Line
The amount complex carbohydrates your body can handle really comes down to your activity level. If you are quite sedentary, then you will convert many of these carb calories into fat and have high blood sugar and high trigylceride levels (and even drive up your cholesterol to some degree). However, I am assuming that you engaged in an active lifestyle (including at least 30-45 mins of endurance-aerobic exercise 4-6 times per week, and possibly other acitivites like resistance training, tennis or other recreational activity), in which case your body can use complex carbs to replenish the muscle and liver carbohydrate fuel tank, which helps you find the energy to keep exercising and remain active from day to day. The true test for the right amount of carbohydrate intake is to make sure that your fasting blood glucose and fasting trigylceride levels are below 5.0 mmol/L (90 mg/dL) and 1.5 mmol/L (132 mg/dL), respectively. If your values are higher than this, then your total carbohydrate intake is too high. If you find yourself in this situation, eliminate the refined carbohydrates first and see if that brings your blood values down. If not, then cut back your portion sizes of complex carbohydrate foods until you get your blood values into the ideal range. The ideal range values I presented here are the blood values to shoot for from the standpoint of optimal longevity and reducing risk of diabetes and its life-shortening complications, as well as heart disease and stroke, cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
Copyright 1998 Dr. James Meschino D.C., M.S., N.D.
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