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What's So Bad about Flour and Sugar?


kamurj

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Excerpted from
Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Diet
By Peter H. Gott, M.D., Robin Donovan

Flour and sugar are both carbohydrates, so what's so bad about them? It's not that these foods are bad because they are carbohydrates, but rather because added sugars and refined flour provide "empty calories," unlike their nutrient-dense cousins-whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes-that provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals along with their carbohydrate punch.

The skinny on carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, as I've said before, are where your body gets most of the fuel it needs for everything from walking, talking, and dancing to thinking, pumping blood, and digestion. But in order to access that fuel, your body needs to break the carbohydrates down and convert them to the simple sugar known as glucose. Through digestion, your body breaks down the carbohydrates you consume-whether from whole grains, legumes, vegetables, or cake and candy bars-into glucose.

But all carbohydrates are not created equal. Simple carbohydrates such as cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, honey, and maple syrup are made up of small sugar molecules or "simple sugars." This type of carbohydrate provides ready energy because your body has to do very little work to convert simple sugars to glucose. They are digested quickly and easily, sending a rush of glucose into your blood stream shortly after the food is consumed. When your blood is flooded with glucose in this way, you experience a temporary sugar '"high" caused by the spike in your blood sugar level. A short time later, as the glucose leaves your system just as quickly as it entered it, you experience a "crash," which leaves you feeling fatigued and listless-and hungry again as your body craves more fuel.

To the contrary, "complex carbohydrates," such as whole grains (rice, wheat, oats, barley, quinoa, and corn), legumes, and vegetables are made up of much more complicated sugar molecules. Your body needs to work much harder to break these complex sugars down and convert them to glucose. Because of the extra effort required to digest these foods, digestion takes place over an extended period of time, and the glucose your body gets from these foods is released into your blood stream at a slower, steadier pace.

Just to confuse you further, the carbohydrates that come from fruits and milk products are considered simple carbohydrates. But because fruits and milk products are relatively low in sugar and provide big doses of important vitamins and minerals-fruits also provide fiber- -these foods can be enjoyed as a regular part of a healthful diet. To make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your calories, opt for whole fresh fruits instead of sugary fruit juices, and choose low-fat or nonfat milk products.

Most experts recommend that 50 to 60 percent of the calories you eat come from carbohydrates. And most of these should be the complex type, which are digested slowly.

The bottom line is that the faster your body digests your food, the sooner you will be hungry again and the more you will eat in the long run. Foods that require more work to be digested will leave you feeling full for longer, and are less likely to lead you to overeat.

In addition to thinking about "good" carbohydrates versus "bad" carbohydrates based on how quickly they are digested, consider how much nutrition they provide. Most simple carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, candies) are made up of simple sugars and not much else. In contrast, complex carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes-as well as nutrient-rich fresh fruits and low-fat and nonfat milk products-provide a host of essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, proteins, and healthful fats.

Fiber-calorie-free and good for you, too

Fiber is an important factor in determining how quickly your body digests carbohydrates. Fiber is a substance found in plant cell walls that cannot be digested by the human body, but it serves numerous important purposes nonetheless. Fiber has no calories-it is not broken down like other foods, but rather moves through your digestive system virtually intact -so it provides calorie-free filler, giving you a feeling of fullness from fewer calories when you consume foods that are high in fiber. Certain types of fiber also absorb water in the body, making you feel even more full.

Fiber has been shown to slow the digestive process, thus reducing the absorption of glucose, which, as we learned earlier, means you won't experience sharp increases and declines in your blood sugar levels. Eating high fiber foods, then, will help to regulate your blood sugar so that you don't experience those sugar crashes that leave you tired and hungry-and more likely to overeat.

As an added bonus, fiber also offers a host of other health benefits. It has been shown to help decrease blood cholesterol levels and the risk of certain types of cancer.

Fiber is found in whole grains (oats, wheat, brown rice, barley, etc.), as well as vegetables, fruits, and legumes

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