Carbohydrates are only as complicated as you let them be

Carbohydrates are only as complicated as you let them be

The carbohydrate. An unsuspecting, cyclic molecule consisting of six carbons. Each of these carbohydrates have a water molecule attached to them, thus the name, carbohydrates.

Unfortunately, carbs are heavily demonized by many. But why so?

It’s true that carbohydrates are found in sweet, sugary desserts but they are also found in whole grain pasta, sweet potatoes, legumes and your favourite fruits.  To understand the confusion around carbohydrates, let’s break them down into simple and complex.

Complex carbohydrates are actually kinda simple

A food being high in carbohydrates is not always equatable to being high in sugar. Carbohydrates is the umbrella terms for all the different hydrated carbons .

Complex carbohydrates include whole grains like oats, wheat and rye and fruits & vegetables like bananas, broccoli, apples and carrots.

When we digest a complex carbohydrate, it will take longer to release the individual molecules of sugars. Fibres are a type of carbohydrate that is non-digestible, and is found in high amounts in complex carbohydrates.

These fibres (or carbohydrates) can serve as food for our gut micro-biome, increasing the amount of residing good bacteria. They can also decrease blood sugar and blood cholesterol, which is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.

Simple carbohydrates are actually kinda complex

In contrast, simple carbohydrates like candies, pop, chips, white bread, crackers and cookies don’t contain any fiber. While these foods are good for the soul, they don’t come with the health benefits of complex carbohydrates. The carbohydrates are almost immediately broken down into molecules of sugar by the enzymes in our saliva, and enter our blood stream.

But - “simple” carbohydrates are not always equatable with “bad”. Why? Because nutrition isn’t black and white.

Simple carbohydrates are not a waste of calories, as they provide 4 calories per gram meaning they provide your body with energy. Energy, believe it or not, can actually be useful.

For example, simple carbohydrates in the form of white bread, rice and pasta are crucial for athletes to fuel their muscles prior to exercise. Complex carbs won’t do the job as they take too long to digest and can sometimes cause gas and bloating before exercise.

For those living with type I or II diabetes, simple carbohydrates are life saving. If blood sugar goes too low, a serving of simple carbohydrates absorbs fast (within 15 minutes) into the blood stream to normalize blood sugar levels.

So - what does this mean for you?

Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables have more health benefits than not. Try to aim to have at least 30-40 grams of fiber per day from these foods.

Simple carbohydrates, like sweets and white rice, breads and pastas also have their place. They can spark joy, increase energy or save a life. Don’t demonize them, but don’t over-consume them if you don’t have to.

 


What we know about gut health

What we know and don't know about "gut health"

Our gut microbiome and the science is complicated, but here are some steps you can take based on what we know

Digestive health, or “gut” health is a major nutrition buzzword as of late. Beyond just those living with irritable bowel diseases, such as crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, everyone is getting into gut health to reap the perceived rewards of a healthy and balanced gut.

While it is undeniable that a healthy functioning organ as important as the digestive system is crucial to human health, is “gut health” and it’s available supplements worth the hype?

Let’s dive into what we know and what we don’t know, so you can know what you are getting into before hearing about the next gut health craze.

Short-version: This is what we know about gut health 💥

  • Our gut can be influenced by the food we eat by increase bacterial diversity. More good bacteria can reduce inflammation and less bad bacteria might keep weight stable.
  • Prebiotic fibers are special types of fibers that are used as food by the good bacteria in our gut. While they might reduce inflammation, there is not much evidence for improving any digestive symptoms. 

 

  • Simple lifestyle strategies like regular exercise and stress management are equally important for digestive health. Exercise like walking or jogging literally moves our intestines to help us go regularly, and stress management can improve digestive symptoms.

Long-version: This is what we know about gut health 💥

  1. Our gut microbiome can be influenced by food

Our gut microbiome responds rapidly to changes in diet. For example, consuming a plant-based diet can increase the amount of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, beneficial bacteria that may reduce inflammation and increase diversity of microbes in our gut. 

Increased bacterial diversity is important, as good bacteria may out-compete bad bacteria in the gut. For example, scientists suspect that bacteria belonging to the firmicutes phylum could extract up to 150 calories of energy from the digestion process, which could lead to weight-gain. 

  1. Some types of fibers can help encourage the growth of good gut bacteria 

Fibers are types of carbohydrates that give structure to plants. Fibers cannot be digested by humans, and instead of being absorbed into the bloodstream will travel down into your large intestines.

In the large intestine, certain types of prebiotic fibers like inulin, lactulose and beta-glucan will serve as food for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Through fermentation, the healthy bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids which may reduce inflammation but research finds that it does not improve digestive symptoms

  1. Regular exercise and stress management is important for overall health, and gut health 

Exercise like walking and jogging moves your intestines, and can help reduce constipation and help you go regularly.

For long-term health, exercise is also important. For example, a recent prospective study of over 40,000 individuals found that aerobic exercise reduces the risk of cancer in the digestive system. While this is not a cause-and-effect relationship, it could be another reason to get moving each day.

Stress can also impact the digestive system. Whether through physical or mental stress, your body activates it’s sympathetic nervous system or “fight-or-flight” mode.

Digestion is slowed down as your body conserves energy to fight off the stressor. In our current lifestyle that breeds chronic stress, the state of “fight-or-flight” can always be turned on, resulting in digestive symptoms as less digestive juices are secreted and muscular contractions are reduced.

Written by : Kristen Sunstrum, RD


Our relationship with food

Food is such an essential part of our lives – it fuels us, it can bring us joy, it can bring us sadness, it can bring us excitement, and it can bring us frustration. What seems like such a simple aspect of human life, is actually something that many have a complicated relationship with, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are 4 ways to start making peace and forming a better relationship with food.  

 

LISTEN TO YOUR HUNGER CUES 

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. It’s something that seems intuitive, for example looking at babies and toddlers, who will cry when they’re hungry and just stop eating when they’re full. However this “intuitive sense” gets overridden as we live life and are influenced by other factors, eventually losing this ability. Food can often be consumed because it’s a meal time, as a coping mechanism, or simply boredom. By taking a moment and really listening to your body, you’ll be able to have a better understanding of it’s needs, and learn how and when to better fuel it. 

 

LOOK AT FOOD WITH A NEUTRAL PAIR OF LENS

Society has made us believe that foods should be put into categories – “good” foods and “bad” foods. But who’s to say what these definitions of good and bad are? If something is sugary but brings us joy, is that automatically deemed a bad food? My answer to this question is always NO. Different foods serve us different purposes. A strawberry-jam filled donut may not have the same nutritional content as a quinoa tofu power bowl, though both equally delicious, can have very different purposes. That power bowl can be fulfilling our nutritional needs, and a donut can be filling that heart hunger, that craving – and that is okay. One is not better than the other, one is not worst than the other, they are neutral, and the moment we accept that is the moment we release the control food has over us. 

 

EAT YOUR CRAVINGS 

Clients are often in awe when I tell them this – “but won’t I eat too much?” “are you sure?” “I don’t understand”. But yes, you heard me right; if you’re craving a triple chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream, allow yourself to eat it! Diet culture and society has engrained that in order to succeed and achieve our goals, you must restrict yourself and deny the urge to give into cravings. However, this does the exact opposite of what you want – rather putting yourself in a vicious circle of restricting, then overeating or binging on that craving and feeling guilty, and then restricting again. Rather, if you just allowed yourself to eat that brownie and ice cream and allowed yourself to enjoy it, you would feel better and continue on with your day. You’d be surprised that when you listen to your body and eat what you crave, that it finds a way to balance out all your needs. 

CONNECT WITH YOUR FOOD 

Given our current fast-paced lifestyles, eating is often a secondary thought as we’re in the middle of a Zoom meeting, catching up on our Instagram feed, or in the middle of a Netflix episode. Eating with these other distractions prevents us from really connecting with our food and truly enjoying all that it has to offer. When was the last time that you ate without any distractions – no phone, no TV, no laptop, no book? I challenge you to try one meal with just you and your food, crazy, I know, but it’s worthwhile I promise. I want you to notice the textures, the taste, the appearance, the aromas, and really taste every bite. If we really love food that much, why not give ourselves the time and space to enjoy it? 

WHAT TO TAKEAWAY 

Many of us have complex relationships with food, and we each have a different, unique and personalized experience with it. Ultimately, we want to make peace with food and have it as a relationship that can contribute positively to your health and well-being. Getting it to this state can be journey, but you don’t have to do it alone – there are many qualified registered dietitians out there that can help guide you through these hurdles. It may be daunting, but even this self-reflection is one step closer to a better relationship with food.