The never-ending search to exclude a nutrient for health
A sign of the times
Low fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, and high-protein all had their day, and avid followers are still around. We've been teetering and tottering with macronutrients for decades and still for the most part, reach the same frustrated conclusion from studies and health professionals - everything in moderation. Whilst this is a nice succinct way to sum up a healthy eating guide. It leaves us a little lost as to "what to do now?". We like guides, a check list, and a sense of accomplishment. A pat on the back, a looser fitting skinny jean and a personal best in the gym. Who doesn't enjoy being complimented for eating healthy, sticking to a 'diet' and getting results (albeit usually short-lived)?
In our attempt to find the one aspect of food that is 'failing' us, making us fatter and more miserably unwell, we gave up a little on the macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs). We've looked at the Glycaemic Index (GI), good and bad fats, and complex vs simple carbohydrates, further uncovering how complex and intricate food and it's relationship with our body really is.
But what the hell is low GI?
How do we easily find out what foods are low GI? This stuff isn't common knowledge, and it's complicated. Who has time for that? Personally, I aim for a diet that's low GI and I appreciate all the hard work researchers do on the subject. But we need an easy to follow guide to make eating low GI a daily habit (maybe I should create one for us!). There's the Low GI symbol you see on food packets, but that doesn't help those of us that want to have a diet predominately filled with wholefoods, without labels. If you have some spare time you can check individual foods here. A great tool, but time consuming.
'Good' and 'bad' fats. A topic recently dividing health professionals and the public. I'll keep it simple on this one. The bottom line here is: fill your plate with foods, not oils. Choose the right oils for the right temperatures and have a variety of fats.
Now fat is out of the way, what about protein and carbohydrate sources? This is where personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts usually chime in - "low carb, high protein, meat, meat, meat, forget about wheat!!" At least that's how media portrays it.
Eating paleo is a meat fest though, no?
No, it doesn't have to be and it shouldn't be - cause that wouldn't be balanced now would it. It does exclude a hefty number of food groups, but this diet can still provide the nutrients your body needs if done correctly. Plus, no-one wants the side effects of a meat only diet - bad breath, bloating, constipation, gas that you'd warn your worst enemy to leave the room for. Not pretty. Protein should be moderate to high, lean sources for the most part, and unprocessed. See my post on additives here.
This leaves us with carbs. Often left off the plate for quick weight loss, with good reason - carbs break down to glucose and some gets stored in our muscles. It also brings along its friend water. Hence the rapid weight loss when your body burns your stores when its food supply gets cut off. That 'weight' is mainly water, and your body is ready and waiting to add it all back once your done with your fad diet. And be honest, you don't really want to avoid every carb on the planet for the rest of your life right? There's way too many nutrients and benefits from eating the nourishing sorts!
Ah sugar. We've managed to whittle our attack on food all the way down to these tiny molecules. Currently known as "poison" and "the devil", there are many misconceptions running around and as a result, misinterpretations. When I think of sugar, I picture a pile of little white granules packed full of energy, and nothing much else. It's sweet, but not the kinda sweetness you need in your life. White 'table' sugar is sucrose. Sucrose breaks down to glucose and fructose in the body. This is the one Dietitians and health professionals want people to omit as much as possible. It's just empty energy, and too much contributes to cavities, rapidly raises your blood sugar and contributes to inflammation in the body - think chronic disease, weight gain, dull skin, and acne.
The refining process
There's many refined sugars out there - high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), corn syrup, golden syrup, icing sugar, table sugar, etc. Refining an ingredient typically means stripping it of most of its beneficial parts and altering it in a way that it may function differently in a food. For example fats that are hydrogenated. These fats undergo a chemical change in their molecular structure making the fat stay firmer at room temperature. In the process, it can also create some trans fats - these ones are pretty heavily regulated to minimally exist in the Australian food supply due to its nasty ability to increase our risk of heart disease. In the case of sugar, the whiter it is, the more nutrients have been removed. Brown sugar contains varying amounts of molasses, the darker it is, the more molasses.
Molasses is naturally found in sugar cane, but is the 'by-product' of the refining process to make table sugar. The molasses extracted from the third boiling of the sugar syrup is called blackstrap molasses. This is one you want. It contains iron, calcium, manganese, copper, potassium, magnesium, B6 and selenium. Plus it's low GI - yay! If molasses doesn't tickle your tastebuds, there's also an abundance of natural sugars still retaining nutrients including - honey, 100% maple syrup, fruit and my personal baking favourite, coconut sugar.
The F word
Fruit. Gasp! I mentioned the forbidden 'F' word. For those of you cutting out fruit for the simple idea that fructose is evil, perhaps you should think again. Yes, studies of extremely high doses of fructose in rats have shown a negative effect on the liver, and potential for inducing similar diseases in humans: heart disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver and diabetes. But there are gaps in the research that are currently preventing most Dietitians to change their stance on the topic. Some of the studies showed the same negative effect on the liver with a high fat diet alone, and hardly any top-quality controlled research trials on humans exist (to no-ones fault; this topic has only begun making headlines in the last couple of years!). Most of the research that is available comes from observational comparisons of high vs low intakes of sugar sweetened beverages and excessive intakes of HFCS - a sweetener used widely in America. Australia doesn't have many products with HFCS.
A potential solution?
We are however eating too many processed foods with high sugar contents; sugary drinks and not enough whole foods. Herein lies my issue with banning fruit. Not even half of Australian women and men are eating the daily recommendation of 2 serves of fruit! We're eating all the other sugary processed foods instead! Banning fruit and honey because they are high in fructose is not the answer to your health woes (unless you have hereditary fructose intolerance!). May I suggest we keep the fruit, the occasional spoonful of honey, and cut out the unnecessary soft drinks, sugary packaged goods, and keep an eye out for HFCS on our labels? After all, fruits are packed full of vitamins and minerals that help keep us beautiful and our body functioning well. Have your two a day, and skip the rest.