Over the last decade, the tide has changed from low-fat to low-carb diets. Unfortunately, neither is correct. Research confirms the best diet to drop those extra pounds is a diet that consists more of what I like to call “slow” carbs.
Slow carbs are carbohydrates that rate low to moderate on the glycemic index. People who follow a low to moderate glycemic diet do better at taking the weight off and keeping it off for one simple reason: They keep their blood sugar stable, which keeps them in their ‘fat-burning’ zone throughout the day.
The glycemic index rates foods according to how fast they cause your blood sugar to rise. Foods that cause a rapid rise of your blood sugar are rated high to very high. Whereas foods that cause a slow, gradual rise are classified as low to moderate on the glycemic chart.
The reason we look at how fast foods cause your blood sugar to rise is because sugars (carbohydrates) trigger your body to release a hormone called insulin. We are most familiar with insulin working to pull the sugars from your bloodstream into the cells for energy. Unfortunately, insulin also works as a storage hormone. When you trigger a huge amount of insulin in response to a high carbohydrate or high glycemic meal, it triggers your body to store all those extra carbs as fat.
Common high glycemic foods to stay away from are anything made with refined white flour or refined sugar. Many of the processed, frozen, and packaged foods are made with refined flours and sugar. Things like bagels, muffins, breads, pastas, cereal, pancakes, crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, tortilla chips, and cookies are classified as high glycemic foods. These foods need to be avoided because they trigger a large surge of insulin and cause your body to store all those extra calories as fat.
Low glycemic foods are almost all your fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts, seeds, beef, chicken, fish, eggs, and most of your whole grains. As you can see, we are talking about all the natural foods the good Lord gave us dominion over.
The problem is that more people are eating more processed, fast food and not enough of the foods the Good Lord gave us. It’s like an epidemic. People are eating so much refined, processed, fast foods that they are triggering an overabundance of insulin that is causing problems such as obesity, cravings, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, ADD, and depression. All these problems have become so prevalent and associated with elevated insulin that they have been grouped together and called Metabolic Syndrome.
Read the Ingredient List
The worst offenders and ingredients we should stay away from are foods and drinks that use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener. This includes all your soft drinks, fruit drinks, candies, health bars, and shakes. Manufacturers will disguise high glycemic sweeteners with names like maltodextrin, dextrose, maltose, and sucrose. Please don’t make the mistake of trading in one evil for another and choosing foods made with artificial sweeteners to make it low fat or low glycemic. That’s like trading in a broken leg for a broken arm. Neither is good!
Balance is the Key
The key to successful weight loss comes by staying in your fat-burning zone throughout the day. High glycemic foods or high carb meals take you out of your fat-burning zone because your blood sugar is constantly racing up and down and triggering the wrong hormones. Insulin is not a good or bad hormone. It does what it is designed to do. When you produce a lot of it, your body will store those extra carbs as fat as well as inhibit the production of glucagon, a hormone that works to break down fats.
These two hormones, insulin and glucagon, work on opposite ends of a teeter-tooter; when one is up, the other is down and visa versa. Glucagon is a dieter’s friend because of its ability to break down fats. Protein triggers the production of glucagon, while carbohydrates trigger the production of insulin. When people follow a low-fat diet, they tend to eat more carbs. People who eat low or no carbs usually eat more protein and trigger lots of glucagon, but the body and brain need carbohydrates for energy and to function properly.
Low carb dieters tend to be easily agitated because their brains aren’t getting enough fuel. Normal brain function depends on carbohydrates. When your blood sugar drops because of the wrong foods, missed meals, or eating low carbs, it hampers normal brain function. This is why so many people are struggling with cravings, irritability, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and focus. Their brain is being depleted of its primary fuel, which causes problems.
A meal or snack that keeps your blood sugar stable should have a good combination of protein, fats, and carbohydrates. All three of those nutrients are important for the proper function of the body. When we eat too little or too much of any of them, we create imbalances that throw our hormones and blood sugar out of whack, which messes up our metabolism. When we eat more of the foods the Good Lord gave us to eat, in their natural state, we can keep that balance. It is when we eat more of the foods that have been processed by man that all kinds of problems are created.
Finding good, quality food that is convenient is a difficult task, which is why many people have turned to health bars instead of junk food. Be careful of many of the health bars on the market. Many are glorified candy bars with some added protein. Many are made with artificial sweeteners, trans fatty acids, peanuts, and MSG. Those are all no-no’s and should be avoided.
Dr. Len Lopez is a nutrition and fitness expert and creator of The Work Horse Trainer. He speaks extensively on diet, exercise, and how stress can affect your overall health and wellness.