Jewish Nutrition

The Jewish site for Kosher Food and Healthy Eating

The Carbohydrate Controversy

Many people have what I call 'carbohydrate confusion'.  This is not surprising since first carbs are in and fat is out and then carbs are out and protein is in.  And everyone is talking about good carbs and bad carbs, but what does this really mean?

We need carbohydrates in our diet.  They supply essential food for our brain and energy to our body, but we sometimes forget that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates too.  Good and bad carbs are really misnomers, we need to focus on quality and preparation.  I have also found that there are huge differences between peoples reactions to different carbohydrates and the amount they need in their diet.

Grain we eat, such as rice, wheat, oats etc., should be wholegrain (wholemeal).  The part that is thrown away in white flour and white rice (the germ and the bran) is the part that contains all the minerals, fiber and essential oils.  So while your body spends nutrients on processing these foods, the foods are not giving you back any nutrients.  This is why some nutritionists call white flour, sugar, white rice etc. negative calories and these can, over time, deplete your body of essential nutrients if you don't replace them with other more nourishing foods. 

The 'whites' also create highs and lows in blood sugar levels.  These are essential to avoid, both for long-term overall health and to avoid fatigue and mood swings in the short term.  Women tend to need less carbohydrates than men, needing more protein and vegetables per kg of body weight.  People who have any sort of blood sugar problems or those that crave carbohydrates should focus on getting most of their carbs from vegetables and some wholegrains. These are best eaten in their whole form as opposed to as bread etc.  When carbohydrates are combined with fat or protein, blood sugar fluctuations are less.  Pay attention to how you feel after eating carbohydrates to determine what's best for you.  Do you feel a drop in energy about 1.5 or 2 hours after you have eaten carbs?  This is probably due to low blood sugar levels and is much less likely to happen if you stick to wholegrains.

One carbohydrate to avoid is sugar.  We all know what sugar can do to our teeth but few of us really consider what it does to the rest of our body.  As I said above the main problems are with blood sugar, the worst being diabetes and depletion of nutrients from the body.  Avoid chemical substitutes to sugar.  Eat fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth and use honey or molasses in baking which both contain other nutrients.  Stevia, a sweet herb is a good no calorie substitute but can't really be used in baking.  You can order stevia online from Kalyx.  Occational use of sugar, honey or molasses will not do you much harm but try to keep it to an absolute minimum.

When you use wholegrains it is important to remember that like fruits and vegetables most have been spayed with insecticide, so it pays to buy organic.  This can be done relatively cheaply so if you only buy one or two things organic, make one of them wholegrains.  Wholegrains also need special preparation (soaking, sprouting or sourdough rising) which is very simple to do.  This is so that you can absorb the maximum amout of minerals from the grain.  Read more about this important topic in our Food Preparation article.

Thankfully there are so many varieties of wholegrains to choose from and to try which add a wonderful variety to any diet. 

To read more on this topic and find recipes, I recommend the book 'Nourishing Traditions' by Sally Fallon.