Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A discussion of carbs

Reader question: I wanted to let you know that I have started the GAPS book by Dr. Campbell-McBride and I just bought "Primal Body, Primal Mind" which was given 2 thumbs up in the last Wise Traditions. When you are done moving/have had a chance to look at them, I would love to chat with you about them. Both recommend almost no carbs- even oats, brown rice, etc because of their effect on blood sugar. I haven't finished the books yet so I don't know if they mention soaking, but I would assume that soaking the grains first mitigates their deleterious effects. Anyway, would love to know your opinion.

In terms of carbs, yes it is very true that excess carbohydrate consumption is at the root of our modern health crisis (along with mass-consumption of rancid vegetable oils and a few other things as well). And it is particularly the refined carbs and sweeteners that are doing the most damage. The USDA Food Pyramid recommends 300 grams of carbohydrates from grains a day!! This is the amount that a marathon runner would need to run the marathon -- not the amount that a sedentary person needs. So yes, everything we have been taught about cereals, bread, and pasta being the "staff of life" is completely wrong.

However, before you jump on the Atkins bandwagon, it is really incredibly important to keep in mind the findings of Weston A. Price who discovered many "primitive" cultures who ate quite a lot of carbohydrates and were extremely healthy. The Scottish people living in the outer Hebrides are a perfect example: they ate as many as 1000 calories per day from oats, yet had almost no tooth decay (remember, tooth decay is the physical manifestation of recurring imbalances in blood sugar and blood mineral levels). It is my belief - based on everything I have read and observed - that certain carbohydrates work best for certain people based on their ethnic heritage and the way their ancestors evolved specifically. For example, oatmeal works great for me, and I eat it almost every morning, but it makes Hugo want to fall asleep immediately. I have Scottish/Irish and European ancestry (oats were also big in other cooler parts of Europe) and so it is my experience and belief (based on being in tune with my body) that oats properly prepared work well for me. However, Hugo's heritage is entirely Spanish and Mexican (including Indian), and oats were never eaten by his ancestors. He is also blood type O (as are many Mexicans) which means he requires and is able to digest a lot of protein, especially meat -- but this doesn't mean that he needs to avoid carbs. Rather, he also does really well with corn and beans, both very starchy carb-rich foods. I could go on to give you other examples of this, but I'm sure you get the point. If you can look to your genetic heritage and determine roughly what your ancestors would have been eating, this may help you to at least find modern equivalents.

If you are prone to hypoglycemia and adrenal issues, as I was, you will need to completely cut out alcohol (which turns immediately to sugar in the body), white flour (also white rice and white pasta), all refined sweeteners, and all but very small servings of natural sweeteners and fruit. You will also need to be sure to have adequate animal fat and protein intake, coupled with fermented foods and/or beverages at every meal, and bone broth taken before eating meat (as you are blood type A this will help you digest the protein properly). You may also need to strictly limit carbohydrate consumption in the form of bread and flour, even whole-grain, because flour is basically very small particles of carbohydrate and therefore very easily absorbed, which can still cause something of an imbalance in blood sugar (sourdough breads and soaked-flour home-baked items are something of an exception, though they will still need to be used in moderation -- I recommend no more than 1-2 servings daily of flour items of any kind). This will all help with adrenal issues and a tendency to hypoglycemia. You may even notice a difference in your response to oats in various forms -- i.e. steel-cut oats will likely keep you going much longer than Scottish oatmeal which is in a highly crushed/milled form. This is a sign that your body is working harder to break down the more fibrous parts of the oats, thereby releasing glucose into the blood stream more slowly, which is exactly what we want.

It is also worth noting that rice is uniquely starchy in comparison to most other whole grains; it has a much higher starch-to-fiber ratio. It's wise to keep rice consumption to a minimum, even brown rice consumption, because the pancreas of the average Westerner is simply not adapted to produce enough insulin to digest rice on a regular basis. Asian and Japanese people actually have larger pancreases to handle rice! Again, we can take a cue from what's available locally. You can indeed grow oats in our Northeast climate, but not rice!

The key is to 1) find which healthy sources of carbs work for your body, and 2) use them in moderation or in the proper balance that works for you. Signs of blood sugar imbalances may include things like acne, PMS, PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndome) and breast cysts, reproductive disorders, adrenal stress, thyroid issues, insulin resistance (with its signature weight gain around the belly), hypoglycemia, fatigue after eating, tooth decay, unwanted hair growth, yeast infections, irritability, depression, and susceptibility to infection.

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