Posted by Bill Sandweg on 11 May 2020.
Pity the poor carbohydrate. Carbohydrates, also known as saccharides or carbs, are sugars or starches. They are a major food source and a key form of energy for most organisms. We need them to survive. Unfortunately, like people, there are good carbs and bad carbs. Also, just like hanging out with bad people can land you in jail, running with a bad crowd of carbs can cause you lots of trouble.
Most of the foods pictured above are examples of good carbohydrates. They are complex carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index. That means that they slowly release their energy into the blood stream. When you eat them, they take longer to digest and you feel full for a longer period of time. Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, have more sugars in them. They provide quick energy but are gone soon and you are once again hungry.
While we rarely think about it, we are the product of millions of years of evolution. Our digestive systems have a long history and evolved to meet far different challenges than we face today. For our distant ancestors, finding enough to eat was a daily struggle. Energy was hard to come by. Quick energy sources were valuable and our brains developed a pleasure response when we encountered them so we would recognize them as “good” and keep coming back for more. On the other hand, more complex carbohydrates took longer to give up their energy during the digestion process. Our bodies developed a long intestine to get every last drop of energy out of our food before passing it on. When food got to the bottom of the intestine, it triggered a sensation of being full, so we would know to stop eating.
Fast forward to today. Not only are many foods we eat today processed, they are ultraprocessed. Think of our favorite junk foods: Chips, candy, ice cream, cookies, pizza, surgary drinks, doughnuts and breakfast cereals. Almost as soon as they enter our bodies, they give up their energy. They make the lower part of the intestines useless. All the energy is gone long before they get to the lower intestine. We never get to feel full. We never stop wanting to eat. You know where this goes.
Dr. David Kessler, a former Director of the Food and Drug Administration, has written on the subject. Here is a link to a New York Times article on his book. For the sake of simplicity, Dr. Kessler divides carbohydrates into “fast carbs” and “slow carbs.” The fast carbs are the ones which give up their energy supply quickly. The slow carbs nourish us over a longer time frame. We were built to thrive on slow carbs. Fast carbs hijack our digestive system and lead to a number of adverse health outcomes. Unfortunately, fast carbs are what we tend to stock up on in times like these when we may be confined to our houses for long periods.
Fast carbs cause a spike in blood sugar levels and in insulin production. Over time, repeated spikes lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease, lipid disorders and Type II diabetes. Dr. Kessler does not suggest we never eat these foods, only that we should know what we are doing, be careful about it, and give preference to slow carbs, which are far healthier for us.
Many years ago, there was an advertising campaign for a brand of margarine that had the tag line, “It isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature.” That line applies here as well. We should not be fooling Mother Nature by eating too many foods that our bodies were not designed to handle. Eat sensibly, exercise and stay out of harm’s way and you will have the best chance for a long and healthy life.