Doctor’s Tip: Shopping for slow carbs
All nutrition experts agree that processed — and particularly ultra-processed — carbs should be avoided for goof health. David Kessler, M.D., recently published a book called “Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs.” Not all books written by doctors are evidenced-based, but Dr. Kessler’s not trying to sell anything, and his credentials are impeccable: He was trained as a pediatrician, was dean of the Yale and the University of California, San Francisco, medical schools. He also served as FDA commissioner under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
For optimal health, we should be eating slow carbs such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods require chewing, are digested in the part of the intestines that trigger a feeling of fullness, enter the blood stream slowly, and are not associated with harmful spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
Fast (aka ultra-processed) carbs such as doughnuts; cakes; cookies; pizza crust; chips and other snack foods; white bread; boxed cereals; and sugary drinks are “pre-digested.” They require little to no chewing, and soon after passing rapidly through the stomach they enter the blood stream, before satiety is triggered. Fast carbs cause harmful blood sugar and insulin spikes. Furthermore, food companies usually add harmful and addictive salt, sugar and fat (in the form of added oil) to fast carbs.
While making billions in profits, food companies spend millions marketing fast carbs that make Americans sick and kill us — due to chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and cancer. Fast food outlets sell primarily fast carbs, and the aisles of American grocery stores are filled with them. As we export our lifestyle and food, fast carbs made by American companies are sickening and killing people throughout the world as well.
Obviously, for optimal health, you should avoid fast food outlets. Following are some tips for avoiding fast carbs in the grocery store:
- Look at the food label, and ignore the column on the right that has percentages — which just confuse people. See what the serving size is. Look at the ingredient list and see if there is added oil (coconut and palm oil are particularly harmful). Look at the salt content, keeping in mind that salt intake should be less than 1500 mg a day. Look for added sugar (4 gm is a teaspoon).
- Look at total grams of carbohydrates and below that grams of fiber. Multiply the fiber number by 5, and if the result is the same or greater than the number for total carbs, that product has lots of whole grains and fiber.
- Avoid sugary drinks, which include soda, fruit juice, smoothies and sports drinks (drink water or tea).
- Avoid bagels; pizza; buns; chips and other snack foods; white bread; white rice; white pasta; and white flour tortillas.
- The word veggie is sometimes added to the name of processed foods such as white pasta, misleading the buyer into thinking the product is healthy, when it is really an ultra-processed food with a miniscule amount of vegetable.
- Substituting buckwheat for white rice when making risotto changes a fast carb food into a slow carb food. Better yet, try cauliflower risotto — made out of intact cauliflower, found in the frozen food section of most grocery stores.
- Cereal bars and granola are marketed as healthy, but most contain processed grains with added sugar, salt and often oil. (Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style muesli is healthy).
- Rice cakes are fast carbs. Udon noodles are slow carbs, and soba noodles — made from buckwheat — are even slower carbs.
- Unprocessed oats, rye, quinoa, buckwheat and bulgur are among the healthy slow carbs.
Froot Loops boxed breakfast cereal marketed to kids is an example of the problem. The name froot (like fruit) sounds healthy to the unsuspecting shopper. The list of ingredients is long (which itself is a red flag), and includes added oil and three different potentially harmful artificial food dyes. The serving size is 1 cup (most kids will eat more than that due to the product’s addictive qualities). One serving contains 135 mg of sodium and 3 teaspoons of sugar, 26 grams of total carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber. A healthier breakfast for your child would be old fashioned rolled oats (not the instant variety), with cinnamon, berries, nuts and unsweetened almond or organic soy milk.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally though lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations—call 379-5718.
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