Beginner Plan: Carbohydrates
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Dr. Mercola's Nutrition Plan
Carbohydrates provide fuel for your body in the form of glucose or sugar. There are two types of carbohydrates -- simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are sugars, such as the ones found in candy, fruits and baked goods. Complex carbohydrates are starches found in beans, nuts, vegetables and whole grains.
Two-thirds of Americans are either obese or overweight. We have an epidemic on our hands! This is the result of eating far too many processed foods and believing the low-fat diet myth. If this is new information for you, it will be very important to read one of the most important articles on this site, Reduce Grains and Sugar to Lose Weight and Improve Health, which discusses the reasons you need to radically reduce the amount of grains in your diet.
What most people don't know is that you don't actually need carbohydrates -- they are not essential for survival and the RDA for carbs is actually zero. If you ate no carbohydrates, like many traditional Eskimos do, you would survive as long as you had enough high-quality protein, fat, water and minerals. This is not true for any other nutrient. However, we do not at all recommend avoiding all carbohydrates as an ideal diet includes healthy carbs, just much less than the average adult consumes.
While both grains and vegetables are carbohydrates, most grains should be avoided and most vegetables are acceptable. Your body prefers the carbohydrates in vegetables rather than grains because it slows the conversion to simple sugars like glucose, and decreases your insulin level. Grain carbohydrates, on the other hand, will increase your insulin levels and interfere with your ability to burn fat.
Lesson 1: Find out your insulin level.
Hopefully you will have already completed this test as it was recommended in the introduction.
Lesson 2: Scale back, or completely eliminate, all grains, beans and legumes in this phase, and restrict your sugar/fructose intake; the higher your insulin levels, the more ambitious your carb-elimination should be.
As mentioned previously in step one of this beginner plan, you should already have eliminated all gluten grains, and limited your fructose intake to 25 grams or less per day.
If that did not provide the improvement you are seeking and you still suffer from signs of insulin overload such as:
- Excess weight
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
...then you will also want to consider eliminating the following additional grains:
||Potatoes (this is actually a vegetable, but it digests more like a grain)
||Corn (this is considered a vegetable, but is technically a grain)
Highly processed grain-based products are not recommended, regardless of insulin level. These include:
Avoiding grains frequently causes weight loss. One of the main reasons for this weight loss effect is due to the stabilizing of leptin -- a hormone that sends signals to your body to reduce hunger, increase fat burning and reduce fat storage. When your cells are communicating properly they can "hear" this message.
If you eat a diet that is high in fructose and grains, however, the fructose gets metabolized to fat (and is stored in your fat cells), which in turn releases surges in leptin. Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it (just as your body can become resistant to insulin).
And when you become leptin-resistant, your body can no longer hear the messages telling it to stop eating and burn fat -- so it remains hungry and stores more fat. Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat, sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.
When you reduce your intake of grains, your body will become progressively better able to hear the leptin signals again, telling it to burn more fat and reduce your fat stores. If you don't want to lose weight you can increase grains in your diet, but I strongly recommend that you contact a knowledgeable health care professional that understands insulin and fat biochemistry to help fine-tune your individual program.
If you want to eat beans, soak them for 48-72 hours, rinsing every 12 hours prior to cooking them. You can then cook them for 8-12 hours in a crock-pot. These steps ensure that the protein will be more easily digested. Additionally, selecting beans for your blood type may make some sense.
Lesson 3: Eat the best vegetables.
Remember this important principle: vegetables are generally good, but not all vegetables are created equal. For example, increasing your vegetable intake with salads is a good start, but I would advise avoiding iceberg lettuce. Why? Because it has minimal nutritional value. Red and green leaf lettuce, along with romaine lettuce and spinach, are much more nutritious options.
Additionally, finding organic vegetables is important. Your absolute best bet is to try to locate organic vegetables that have been grown locally, rather than having been shipped from across the country or overseas. However, if you can't obtain organics, any vegetable is better than no vegetable! Just take extra care with non-organic vegetables by washing them thoroughly and removing peels and cores when possible to minimize your exposure to pesticides.
My Recommended Vegetables List provides a guide to the most nutritious vegetables, and those to limit due to their high carbohydrate content. Remember: the greener the vegetable, the more nutritious it will be.
Finally, at least 1/3 of your diet should be raw foods, and vegetables are an obvious choice to help achieve this. While vegetable juicing is an important step later in this nutrition plan, I encourage you to try it now, as it is an easy and enjoyable way to consume all the vegetables your body requires. To learn more about the ins-and-outs of juicing, check out my three-part interview with Cherie Calbom, aka “The Juice Lady”:
- Part 1
- Part 2
- Part 3
Lesson 4: Reduce your intake of sweeteners.
It's best to avoid sweeteners whenever possible, but for the beginning level the following sweeteners are acceptable:
- Rice syrup
- Beet sugar
- Maple syrup
Avoid using high fructose corn syrup. If you are healthy you can use a few teaspoons of succanat, or better yet, dextrose (pure glucose) intermittently. Natural Stevia is also a safe, natural alternative. It is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and has virtually no calories. Some don't like its taste, but other than that it is nearly the ideal sweetener.
It is helpful to avoid artificial chemicals like MSG.