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Mar 9, 2008 03:47 PM

Your thoughts on the balanced diet?

Give us your thoughts on carbs vs protein

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  1. Here are my thoughts. You need both, as well as a variety of fruits and veggies for optimal health, and a little healthy fat. Its awfully easy to overindulge in simple carbs in our culture. I strive to eat complex carbs, rather than simple, whenever possible. (I admit I find this hard to do.)

    1. As a Type II diabetic, I went low carb about a year ago. Blood sugar came down, cholesterol numbers improved, etc. For about 3 months, I completely avoided pasta, potatoes, breads, cereals, rice, etc., as well as all the snack foods we know are not good for us - cookies, cakes, muffins, doughnuts, chips, popcorn and so on.

      Now that my numbers are better, I've let a little bit of potato, noodles, and rice slip back in, but I still try to keep those foods minimized. My wife is a terrific and prolific baker, and I might have a cookie or slice of cake once a month, but again I usually say "No". (Believe it or not, it does get easier!)

      As Sue suggests, complex carbs and fresh vegetables are always better choices. I've found from my own experience that it's important to mix all three groups (protein, carb, fat) in each meal to keep my sugars low. For example, if I'm having an apple, I'll have a bit of cheddar cheese with it. (Actually, one of my favourite snacks these days.)

      Of course, I'm not a nutritionist; this is just my experience. YMMV.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KevinB

        I have heard a lot of diabetics have had the same experience as you. There is no question that we overeat in North America, and one of the biggest culprits are carbohydrates. I am seriously considering cutting back my carb consumption, although I don't think I will be able to cut them out completely. I don't think complete avoidance is a good idea anyway, i like the moderation concept. But we certainly do overeat carbs.

        1. re: KevinB

          Blunting the blood sugar effect of fruit or similar with a protein-fat source is both delicious and a wise idea.

          an apple with some cheese or nut butter I like that at bedtime.

          ofcourse I also like the pineapple-ham combo. preferably on pizza but then that defeats the purpose of the lower carb thing dont it.

          think i know what my junk food meal is goinna be this weekend hehe.

        2. You definitely need both- the carbs to keep up energy levels and its satiety value. The protein will help the meal stay with you a little longer in terms of feeling full. I think the trick is to consume carbohydrates that have nutritional value to them. This means whole grain, high fiber carbs, as well as eating them in a way that does not undermine their nutritional value, as is quite common in American foods (i.e. no whole grain pasta smothered in alfredo or whole grain bread spackled with an inch thick layer of butter)

          1. Roughly the fewer starchy carbs in the diet the better. To an extent. Im referring to grains (including whole grain breads and pastas), tubers like potatoes, bananas etc.

            Blood cholesterol tends to improve as do blood glucose levels and glucose control, biomarkers of inflammation tend to decrease etc.

            Most of the starchy carbs are not very nutrient rich and wed be better off replacing them with other carbs that are, like veggies and some fruits. Even a whole wheat slice of bread is mostly empty calories. (doesnt mean i dont enjoy it, nothing better than some wholegrain toast with a slick of butter)

            But I dont believe in draconian measures to get them out of the diet and I dont believe in entirely excluding a whole class of foods. I eat steelcut grains, mostly oats, about twice a week and I eat beans from time to time. Same with yams. I dont usually bother with breads, pastas, or white potatoes unless its a special occasion.

            Sadly the western diet is heavily reliant on refined and starchy carbohydrates. Bad news. The distinction betwn simple and complex carbs is mostly a false one. If you choose to include starchy carbs in your diet, lean on the whole ones or on sweet potatoes and such.

            7 Replies
            1. re: delicion

              interesting. i'd never heard this stance before that complex carbohydrates are so bad. do you have any articles or anything about this?

              (not attacking, just wanting to know more!)

              1. re: qwertyu

                Lemme say first that Im hesitant to demonize one whole category of foods in anyones mind. Also a disclaimer I am not a doctor or biochemist.
                I did some googling trying to find a good basic summary of all the relevant reasons why current research suggests this is so important but I think Im better off summarizing here at first.

                Ingestion of any form of carbohydrate whether it comes packaged in broccoli or in a slice of bread, raises the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. The body responds by releasing insulin. Insulin tells body tissues to take up the glucose and burn it for energy or file it away for later use, as fat.

                The problem with a lot of starchy carbs is twofold. One is that many of them raise blood sugar levels quickly and substantially. (Even if the slice of bread is whole grain, were still talking flour here, which the body digests and assimilates pretty rapidly albeit slower than with white Wonder bread.) The body must use more insulin. Large fluctuations in blood sugar levels and continual high needs for insulin seem to contribute to insulin resistance, in which the body's cells do not respond appropriately to insulin, thus blood sugar and insulin levels stay higher longer. There are indications that this does long-term damage to all of the body's tissues. A certain level of insulin resistance is considered prediabetes.

                Two. As I said before most starchy carbs are relatively nutrient poor. They and sugars are major sources of empty or nearly empty calories in the diet. Nutritionally you get much much more bang for your buck eating the broccoli or the orange as your carb source. You just dont need to have whole wheat bread and pasta every day. (That being said the reason I still eat steelcut oats, some beans and legumes, quinoa several times a week is that these are the more nutrient-dense, high-fiber, slow blood sugar release starchy carbs, and there may be some nutrient we dont know about yet that does exist in some starchy carbs. Plus heck I enjoy them.)

                (technically sweet potatoes and winter squashes like butternut also count as starchy carbs. they are but also loaded with nutritional value. unlike a piece of whole wheat bread.)

                One measure of on average how quick and high a food raises blood sugar is its glycemic index (GI). High GI foods are white potatoes, white rice, bread, candy, soda, juice etc. Low GI foods are eg. meats eggs broccoli lettuces etc. and there are others in between. Eg. whole grain bread has a higher GI than a tomato but a lower GI than white bread. (the Wikipedia article on the glycemic index is not bad)

                When you examine peoples diets what you find is an association between the average GI of their diet and
                - their ability to respond to blood glucose
                - levels of insulin resistance
                - blood levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol)
                - blood levels of triglycerides, another not-so-good thing
                - and of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biomarker for inflammation
                - atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
                - etc

                It is known that diets containing lower than average amounts of carbohydrate are associated with lower blood levels of inflammatories and other baddies. They perform noticeably better than most lowfat diets do in this respect.

                This page is mostly about the glycemic index but it has a decent summary of everything else I said. The GI is not perfect as a be-all-end-all scale for food, i mean butter has a low GI but im not suggesting you go eat a stick of it.


                The reason i said the distinction between simple and complex carbs is mostly a false one is because it turns out that many complex carbs can spike your blood sugar just as bad as simple ones. I mean white rice is a complex carb, so is white bread and white potatoes. The GI on these foods is ruinously high. Some white breads are worse than table sugar. You eat a lot of these youre likely gonna end up with a dangerous deposit of fat in the abdomen. Belly fat is bad news. Pro-inflammatory, oxidative damage to blood vessels, everything. Dam shame because who doesnt love french fries and crusty bread rolls right but what can you do.

                This doesnt mean oh go on atkins eat steak blue cheese and iceberg lettuce and restrict carbs to under 50 g a day. (although some people tell me they eat way more veggies on atkins than they ever did on their normal western diet) But what it tells me is that most of my meals should not center on moderate or high GI carbs.

                Think I rambled on too long sorry about that.

                1. re: delicion

                  Not exactly sure what your definition of "starchy" is, but I think your breakdown of simple vs. complex carbs is hiding some relevant information (FWIW, I'm not biochemist either, though I am a scientist). While white rice may be classified as a complex carbohydrate, it is also a REFINED grain, which is where its sugar absorption characteristics come from. Unrefined grains (e.g. wheat berries) contain fiber, both soluble and insoluble, which provides numerous health benefits. Indeed, incorporating these can aid in the battle against insulin resistance (Liese AD, Roach AK, Sparks KC, Marquart L, D'Agostino RB, Jr., Mayer-Davis EJ. Whole-grain intake and insulin sensitivity: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003; 78:965-71.)

                  Another overlooked factor is the type of lifestyle. I believe that people in general tend look at things in a reductionist manner, discounting the interplay between various factors, not just the food we put in our mouths. A sedentary lifestyle is as much a culprit as anything. I'm a long-distance runner, which means that eating white rice is probably a lot less bad for me than someone whose exercise consists of vacuuming once a week. Indeed, eating some of the simple carbs before a long run actually helps me! So, I don't think you can simply look at food without considering other factors. Life is multivariate, folks! Personal anecdote: I did low carb for about three weeks last year (trying to drop a few pounds). It was a disaster for me--I'd come back from a SHORT run feeling like I was about to die. My diet consisted of lean proteins, nuts, vegetable (not potatoes or carrots). Physically, I felt like a wreck (and I had the dreaded low-carb bad breath to boot!)

                  Frankly, I'm happiest and feel best with a balanced diet, largely whole foods, but enjoying the occasional ice cream sundae and pancakes with syrup.

                  You do present some good, solid information and I'm not knocking you. I just want to make sure that people aren't confused into suddenly running away from good whole grains and that they understand that we cannot reduce everything to the GI indes.

                  1. re: nofunlatte

                    My gneral understanding is that almost every single study that has been done on the benefits of whole grains has contrasted them with non-whole, ultrarefined grain products like white rice and white bread.

                    Im not arguing that there are real benefits to be had by switching to whole grains and away from "white" starches. I have been pushing my father for yrs now to just trade his cornflakes for oatmeal in the morning a couple times a week, or switch to whole wheat bread instead of Wonder.

                    What I tend to beleive right now, though, is that there is little to be gained (or maybe no gain, or a negative gain) by including a lot of starchy carbs in the diet AS OPPOSED TO getting those calories from vegetables, lean proteins, healthful fats and some fruits.

                    There is the critical difference. Whole grain vs white grain, or whole grain vs. veggie fruit protein? For the most part I think the latter wins out.

                    (or not getting those calories at caloric restriction with optimal nutrition CRON if you are aware of the benefits of that kind of thing. People who do CRON dont generally consume many starchy carbs because they are too nutritionally bereft for the number of calories they give.)

                    Indeed its true that if your hobby is longdistance running or any other kind of long endurance or performance-based athletic activity, you will likely need some calories from starchy or refined carbs.

                    It is NOT generally true that you will need them for short runs of a few miles if your body has adapted to life without them (I admit this takes longer than a few weeks and can take several months, which is hell to a runner, but in my opinion eventually worth it. not everyone will agree).

                    But note that Im NOT advocating an extremely low carb early-phase-Atkins-style regime where carb intake drops below 20-50 g per day! The ketogenic diet is somewhat artificial and perverse, in the sense that theres no reason to believe that were evolutionarily adapted to it. And yes, you may end up with keto breath and meat farts and all that.

                    What I suggest as optimal is, if you need a cultural reference, closer to the popular diets "Abs diet," "South Beach," "sonoma diet" "Zone" etc. These are NOT low carb diets, as they advocate consumption of fruits, moderate amounts of starchy squashes like pumpkin, beans, legumes, some small amount of whole grains IF you want them (but not as the base of meals, and not at every meal). Some wine.

                    I would never suggest that anyone give up ice cream and pancakes entirely if eating those things every now and then makes you happy, they certainly make me happy. But I dont think pancakes for breakfast.. even whole grain flour, lowfat ones.. even without butter and syrup.. is a healthful idea. If I eat them once in a while, its because I enjoy them (and you better believe I want butter and syrup), not because I think my body derives any value from them.

                    You are absolutely right that not everything can be reduced to the glycemic index. Reductionism/nutritionalism in diet is dangerous, and leads to completely asinine things like the oatbran-in-everything craze of the 1980s, the "very-low-fat" craze of the early 1990s, or the "all-carbs-are-bad" craze of the early 2000s.

                    However I think the GI is a useful, simple tool for people who want to increase the average nutritional value of what they eat, and decrease their likelihood for metabolic syndromes. I think it helps us to move the contents of our everyday eating closer to what we are evolutionarily adapted to. We are just not designed to get the majority of our calories from breads and pastas and white potatoes and refined sugar, and the fact is that our waistlines, blood lipid levels, inflammatory levels, lung-heart-liver-pancreas function, etc. reflect that.

                    Basically the goal which I am sure no one will disagree with is to lengthen the healthy and active phases of our lives, while keeping our quality of life high (with room for chowhounding if thats what makes us happy, and room for longdistance running if thats what makes you happy).

              2. re: delicion

                I have to disagree with this. Complex carbohydrates can have more protein, fiber, and are not processed as quickly into sugar as are simple carbs. Also, I would be sure to do any diet that cuts out carbs completely for an extended period of time, as it can be hard on your liver.

                1. re: fayehess

                  fayehess, I think we are mis-understanding one another. Simple vs complex carbs is not the same as white vs. whole grain.

                  The distinction between simple and complex carbs is like the one between sugar and white bread. In fact white bread is a complex carb. So are white rice and white potatoes and etc.

                  The problem is that unlike what we used to think. we now know that even though it is a complex carb, white bread does not process into blood sugar much more slowly in the body than sugar does. In fact most white bread is murderous on the blood sugar, sadly. (sourdough is an exception and is not quite as bad in that respect)

                  By contrast. *whole* grains do generally contain more protein and fiber and minerals and vitamins, and you are right that whole grains are broken down more slowly by the body (but not as slowly as eg. an orange). But the question is, if you want protein fiber vitamins and minerals, then why are you eating whole wheat bread to get them? Eat an orange and some salmon instead. Magic. Carbs, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Much more of the high nutrition you want, and much less of the empty calories.

                  I would NEVER suggest that anyone cut out carbs completely. What I suggest is that they get their carbs from vegetables, fruit, nuts, and some small-to-moderate amount of beans/legumes/squashes/etc instead.

                  With room for whole grains now and then if you want them. We do not need grains at every meal or every day, though.

                  1. re: delicion

                    thanks for the explanation! All this time I thought that complex carbs were minimally refined, whole grain, or say a potato in its original form. I am going to have research the arguement that a bread from stone ground whole wheat flour is "empty calories".

              3. The more thought I put into balancing my diet, the less I enjoy food. Thus, I have come up with a few guidelines that work for me and I think would work for some people who: (a) do not have a medical condition that mandates a special diet (b) are not striving to lose a susbstantial amount of weight. For me, balance means:
                1. Eat at least 3-5 servings of fruit/veggies a day. Satisfy this requirement before anything else.
                2. Minimize your consumption of commercially made treats or snacks
                3. Nothing fried more than once every couple of weeks
                4. Drink lots of water
                5. Only cook/bake things that are your weakness when you will be taking them somewhere or having people over
                6. In general, breakfast and lunch are pretty healthy based on lean protein and fruits/veggies- dinner is more loosely structured
                7. Don't say no when someone else offers you homeade goodies, but try to stick to one serving.
                8. Don't stress out if you have a couple of days when you live off things wrapped in a tortilla or on a bun. Just get back on track.

                I have never been on the "carbs are bad" bandwagon. I would rather exercise rigorously and make moderate choices (whole grains 70% of the time, but white bread when the meal would be better with it...whole wheat tortilla? Ick)