The Carbohydrate Fix

In our last discussion we talked about the crazy need we have for carbohydrate consumption during seasons of stress.   It’s our bodies natural response to the sympathetic function we are living in.   The amount of energy needed to support the heightened alertness results in a greater need for calories.   The quick fix for calorie intake is food.   I’ll say it again, eating is not a bad thing, but it is what we are choosing to eat that becomes the issue.  The food choices we make directly impacts our health.  

We live in a day and age where convenient food items are a requirement because the amount of time and energy into preparing meals from scratch has been sidelined by a plethora of other responsibilities.   Not to mention the skill of learning how to cook has been disappearing for years.   

Grocery stores have more retail space for pre-made and packaged food items than for fresh ingredient.  Unfortunately, these food items are laden with refined carbohydrates, additives, preservatives and sugar.  As we consider what we are choosing to eat, we need to understand the effects of carbohydrates in the form of sugar has upon our body.

Are carbohydrates a big deal?

Yes!   Carbohydrates are necessary for our survival.  Let me share a few simple facts.  Carbohydrates are composed of sugar, starch and cellulose plus hydrogen and oxygen.  Our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose before entering the blood stream so it can feed our cells, serving a communication device within our body.  This glucose is used exclusively by our Central Nervous System as fuel.  Our brain function depends on carbohydrates a quick energy source.   Carbohydrates also help to regulate fats and proteins.   Lastly, carbohydrates also support our immune function and affects the formation and prevention of tumors. 

You’ll find they are classified as simple or complex.  Simple carbohydrates contain just one or two sugars called monosaccharides.  Fructose, found in fruits, is an example.  Carbs with two sugars are known as disaccharides.  Examples would be sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (from dairy).  Simple carbs are found in candy, soda, syrups, refined and processed foods.  Unfortunately, these foods do not have vitamins, minerals or fiber, therefore spiking our blood sugar levels and providing “empty calories”.   

Complex carbohydrates that have three or more sugars called polysaccharides and can be found in starchy foods like potatoes, corn, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, whole-grain breads and cereals.   While these foods do contain sugar, more importantly they have the vitamins, minerals and fiber which allows our body to process them more slowly with less of an effect on our blood sugar levels for more sustained energy. 

What you eat matters

The food choices we make directly impacts our health.   Carbohydrates are important for brain function as it provides a quick energy source while also influencing our mood and memory.   We have chemical messengers in our brain (known as neurotransmitters) that help to regulate many bodily functions.   They are dopamine and serotonin.  They assist with sleep, memory, metabolism and emotional well-being.   When we have an overconsumption of foods that are full of refined carbohydrates and sugar, the serotonin levels become depleted and dopamine is over-activated leading to out of control cravings.  What food will the body turn to satisfy these cravings?   Simple carbohydrates.  Quick and convenient energy.  Foods like candy, soda, chips, cookies, crackers, donuts and white bread. 

This video offers a fantastic visual of how sugar affects our brains.

You can make an empowered choice with whole food options for complex carbohydrates.  

Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, green beans, peas, mixed salad greens, tomatoes, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, cucumbers, spinach, colored peppers, Brussel sprouts, red and green cabbage.   

Fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, bananas, grapes, lemons, oranges, pineapple, mango, grapefruit, blackberries, raspberries, pears, peaches, apples, kiwi. 

Grains, in the form of whole grains, is key.  Whole wheat, barley, farro, rolled oats, steel-cut oats.  There are a variety of gluten free options too: brown rice, white rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet. 

Raw or cooked…which is best?

I often get asked if it’s better to eat these suggested carbohydrates raw or cooked, and does that play into the nutritional value.   Raw foods allow the nutrients to be unaltered and the enzymes remain intact.  It does allow for less prep time for eating.  However, it’s important to clean the food before consuming to ensure that harmful bacteria is washed away.  

Cooking food changes the texture, flavor and destroys some nutrients and enzymes.   Does this mean that cooking food is bad?  No!  Cooking food does allow the nutrients to be more easily available for our body to use.   Our body also creates enzymes to help digest our food, so even if some of the enzymes are lost during cooking we are not without digestive enzymes.  Cooking food will require additional prep time before eating, which may be a deterrent.  

How we cook our food, including carbohydrates, is important.  Boiling results in the greatest nutrient loss, especially of water-soluble vitamin like Vitamin C and Vitamin B.    Steaming, roasting and stir-frying (in minimal amounts of oil) allow better retention of nutrients.    The key is to keep the cooking to a minimum.  The longer a food is exposed to heat, the greater affect it has on the nutrient content.  

Ultimately, we need a balance of raw and lightly cooked foods in our daily eating routines. 

To wrap this all up, it is important to remember is when we consume whole food carbohydrates, we have the vitamins, minerals and fiber which allows our body to process it slower and with more sustained energy.    When these carbohydrate options are combined with good quality fats and proteins, we are providing a powerhouse of nutrition that provides an excellent fuel source.  

If you would like more on this topic and what other ways you can make wise and healthy food choices, let’s talk.  I offer a free 15-minute consultation to discover how I can best support you.   I can be reached at