Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap over the last decade. The Atkins Diet has convinced many people that the way to be thin and healthy is to avoid all carbohydrates in favor of foods higher in fat content. Even the more moderate Zone and South Beach diets recommend foods that are supposedly higher in protein content, but in reality are still just as high in cholesterol and saturated fats.
Barry Sears, author of The Zone has advised readers to add a little cheese when eating fruit so as to supposedly “balance” the ratio of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. This type of bad advice has given fruits and starches a negative reputation amongst people trying to reduce their carbohydrate intake, while cheese (full of cholesterol and saturated fat, and seriously lacking in nutrients) has gained a reputation as a healthy option to add to one’s diet. Because fruits and starches are carbohydrates, they get lumped in with other types of sugars, and we’ve been fed an enormous lie.
We’ve been told to eat plenty of meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs, but to avoid things like potatoes, pasta, and rice. And we’ve lapped it up. Perhaps with new best sellers such as Skinny Bitch and The China Study, we will recognize that we’ve been following erroneous advice, and can instead begin to follow a truly healthy diet.
Protein from animal sources is unhealthy for you. Fat that is from any animal is unhealthy in any amount, but that’s a topic for another newsletter (next month’s, in fact!). Regardless of fat, animal protein creates its’ own problems. Decades of research (as described Professor T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study) tells us that even moderate consumption of animal protein causes cancer. Too much protein releases toxins called ketones into your body, poison which your kidneys must deal with. Additionally, the digestion of protein creates an acidic environment, and the body responds by pulling calcium bicarbonate from bones to offset that acidity the bicarbonate helps to reduce the acidity, but the calcium is lost by the wayside in this attempt by the body to rectify the problem.
So it is not that we don’t get enough calcium in our diet, but rather we lose it from the high acidity. Taking more calcium as a supplement does not resolve the main cause – acidity. The only foods that are alkaline in our diet are fruits and vegetables in their raw form. Calcium loss is a factor in osteoporosis. Drinking more milk and eating more cheese won’t help either – it will make things worse as the body now has to deal with all of that protein, and the cycle of leaching calcium from the bones begins again. Another byproduct of protein digestion is amonia, which the liver has to detox, putting the body at risk for liver damage as well.
So now your kidneys are in trouble, your liver is in trouble, your calcium stores are depleted and practically every cell in your body is in danger of abnormal growth, i.e. cancer. Next, dehydration (from trying to eliminate all of the ketones, and from eating foods that are much lower in water than the plants you should be eating) and lack of dietary fiber cause serious constipation, which brings with it a whole host of problems.
The answer isn’t to stop eating protein, however. The answer is to get your protein from vegetables, nuts, and grains, all of which contain healthy amounts of adequate protein for growth, as well as carbohydrates that the body can convert to energy. But people are terrified of grains and starches of any kind. Of course there are starches and sugars that are bad for you: a doughnut will make you fat, but it’s the refined sugar, refined white flour, and deep-fry grease in a doughnut that are unhealthy.
However complex carbohydrates are entirely different and should make up the bulk of your diet. Forget everything you’ve read about potatoes and rice being bad for you. Potatoes of any kind, including yams, are some of the best food that you can eat. And brown rice is an excellent choice as well. Even bread and pasta are better choices than animal products, and plenty of breads and pastas are made with whole grains and rice these days, and can be both nutritious and delicious.
The world’s longest-lived and healthiest people are those with carbohydrate-based diets. Chinese and Japanese foods rely heavily on sweet potato, rice, and buckwheat. And the remainder of these diets are almost entirely fruits and vegetables. Diseases of affluence – diabetes, heart disease, obesity – are increasing in these cultures as animal products, fast-food, and soda pop become more and more popular. But in rural China and Japan where people still grow their own food, obesity is almost unheard of and people remain healthy and active well beyond what we would consider “old age.”
Westerners have a love-hate relationship with sugar. On the one hand, there are the carbo-phobics, described above, who are afraid of all sugars and carbs. On the other hand, there are the carbo-holics: people who are literally addicted to the refined sugars in junk food, which is equally unhealthy.
Our bodies are wired to like sugar. Sweet foods are far less likely to be poisonous than bitter ones, so our prehistoric ancestors were able to find the berries and fruits that were healthy for them largely based on taste. And back in the day, it was hard to find enough calories to keep the body functioning (no drive-through burgers or late night ice-cream runs), so the extra calories found in sweet foods was a boon, When you found something sweet, it was good to eat it while you had the chance. But while those days are long gone, our taste-buds haven’t changed, and sweet foods still appeal to us. So we are designed to like them, to always want more, especially children, who have higher metabolisms. (In fact, it’s fine for kids to eat mostly fruit, and not get too upset about a lower vegetable intake until they are a bit older. I always try to introduce new vegetables to my girls, and they do eat either a small salad or steamed veggies daily, but most of their calories still come from fruits, starches, and whole grains.
Low-carbohydrate proponents would have you believe that all carbs are bad, and that eating any will turn you into an addict, but that’s not the whole truth. We will always want carbs because our brains need them to function properly, and our bodies need the energy they provide, so in a way we are all addicted to carbs. Sort of like the way we’re addicted to water. As long as you stick to the right types of carbs, you can’t go wrong. As a general dietary rule, avoid things that are highly processed and eat whole foods. Period. But you never have to skip the baked potatoes at dinner again. Just skip the butter, sour cream, and bacon bits that you used to put on them. Instead, try some salsa, healthy pesto (recipe to follow), or a little sprinkle of sea salt and pepper. And you can even have seconds.