The other day I popped into a local café to pick up a healthy lunch box. While deciding between a chicken and veggie stack and the sweet potato and chia patties, I over heard two young, super fit girls talking about carbs. One had ordered eggs on toast and was chatting to the chef about the delicious low-carb, high-protein bread that came with the eggs.
After listening to them for a couple of minutes, you would have thought carbs were the source of all evil, with the girls definitely fixated on this idea. Checking out the brand of low-carb, high-protein bread the café used, one girl said she’d have to buy some, and was looking forward to having it for breakfast every day. She mentioned during her carb-hating rant, how much normal bread bloats her, how she feels sluggish and ‘heavy’ afterwards, and how it’s the carbs that are the culprit. She was very excited about being able to include bread back in her breakfast, and not to have to worry about those nasty carbs making her feel gross.
Finally deciding on the sweet potato and chia patties, I left the store thinking about these girls and their carb obsession. As I mentioned, they were very fit looking, obviously dedicated gym bunnies who have been told somewhere along the line that no carbs equals fat loss and health. And to a certain extent, they are right.
Excessive simple carbohydrate intake leads to fat gain when the carbs convert to sugars in the body, and are then stored as fat if they are not used straight away. But that’s when we are talking only about simple, processed carbs… In excess… With not a lot of energy expenditure…
But in moderation, in good quality, and in complex form, carbs can absolutely be your friend. Whole grains (complex carbs) contain heaps of insoluble fibre for nourishing the good bacteria in your bowl. Fibre sweeps out toxins and old matter, prevents constipation and reduces the risk of bowel problems including cancers. Fibre also helps balance blood sugar levels, slows gastric emptying and helps you feel fuller for longer! Complex carbs contain a huge variety of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins vital for energy production and happy moods.
The bread they were oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over is actually one I have investigated myself. I thought it looked too good to be true, and yes, sure enough it is. The main ingredients include wheat protein (also known as gluten), soy protein, soy meal, soy grits, soy flour, wheat meal, wheat bran, and so on. So the top 5 allergenic foods are wheat, soy, dairy, eggs and peanuts. And in that bread, you have 80-90% of it made up of wheat or soy. And not the fiberous part of wheat, the protein part- gluten.
I would hazard a naturopathic guess that the girl who feels ‘bloated’ and ‘heavy’ after normal bread, will feel just as awful on this bread. I am pointing my finger at the gluten here, and adding on that the soy will not be doing her hormones any favours in these processed forms.
This is where becoming fixated on one element of the diet becomes unhealthy. Not one thing is the enemy, it is all about quality and quantity. Carbs, when consumed in moderation and in their wholefood state (like in the sweet potato and quinoa from my patties) will benefit your health as opposed to harming it. Becoming fixated on ‘the enemy’ can leave you blind to the negatives of processed foods. For example the gluten content of the bread. The girls stared at the carb content, not the ingredients list. Had they focused on what the bread was made up of, they may have reconsidered.
I know this first hand from my own experiences. When I was 18 I got obsessed with fat. I was maturing and putting on weight, getting hips and losing my child like, straight up and down body. So of course I thought I was getting fat. These were still the days when eating fat was thought to make you fat so I made a heroic effort to remove fat from my diet. As long as the item said “fat free” or “low fat” I was sold!
I distinctly remember standing in Woolies, looking at the fat per 100g of these cereal bars. They were almost fat free! Happily I ate them as ‘healthy’ snacks, noticing somewhere in the back of my mind that they were incredibly sweet, tasting pretty much like cereal covered in sugar syrup- which they were. I slathered on 99% fat free mayo instead of butter or avocado (also noticing how sweet it was), chose Lite and Easy frozen meals, and ate plenty of low fat dairy. After a few months I started noticing how crappy my skin looked. I always had oily skin but now it looked lackluster and dry. I had lost no weight, my energy and moods had fallen and I would look in the mirror and see that I definitely wasn’t glowing with health. I looked dull and worn out.
Although I was not studying to be a naturopath and knew next to nothing about health, I instinctively stopped avoiding fat. And lo and behold, I started looking and feeling better.
Was the kind of fat I included back in my diet healthy? No, not 100% (there was chocolate and ice cream and deep fried stuff and vegetable oil), but I was a teen, and luckily I also reintroduced nuts and avocado, butter, olive oil and oily fish. Before long I was feeling and looking better, and after I studied natural medicine I truly learnt my lesson: it does no good to get fixated on one aspect of the diet, while ignoring all others.
I hope the gym girls learn the same lesson I did, simply by listening to their bodies. I think if I were to sum up health I would choose these words: quality and moderation. These two will get you healthy far quicker than obsession and fixation.