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The Problem With Today’s Carbohydrates

In my recent article, The Enemy In Plain Sight, I talked about how the government had decided that saturated fat was to be avoided, leading to the food pyramid with fat at the top and grains and cereals as the base, with 6 servings of grains and cereals a day, plus more servings of beans, legumes, and nuts (called complex carbohydrates) recommended. The Food Industry responded by processing foods to take out as much of the fat as possible, thereby making them taste lousy, and then added refined processed sugars to make them taste good again. Then they put “Heart Healthy” tags on them and placed them in the grocery stores. And as more foods get added, carbohydrates have become more and more refined, which means that, in addition to missing the natural fats, they also don’t have their original nutrients in them. These had to be added. In particular, folate (folic acid) became absent (or at least deficient) in our grains and cereals, to the point that folate deficiency in a pregnant woman could lead to spina bifida and other even worse neural tube defects. And since those neural tube defects develop early, before the mom even knows she’s pregnant, folate has been added to all our grains and cereals. This is not something controversial; it’s necessary to prevent birth defects.

Folate is not the only nutrient added to our breads, grains, and cereals. A lot of other nutrients have to be added back in to meet our daily nutritional requirements. I picked out folate because I used to do a lot of obstetrics and I know lots about it. Be that as it may, so many nutrients have been processed and refined out of our carbohydrates that women of child-bearing age, especially if they are trying to get pregnant, need to be taking a prenatal vitamin in advance to make sure they have enough nutrients to make for a safe baby. Waiting until the pee stick turns blue is NOT sufficient.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am not a health food nut. Even before I knew about the risks of carbohydrates, you would not have found me eating granola in hot water for breakfast. But it’s getting difficult even for the health nuts to find healthy carbohydrates. Unless you’re like my brother and his wife and eat everything out of their own garden and make pumpkin pie with a flaxseed crust, you are still getting gamed by the Food Industry.

For example, one of the big grocery stores here in Eastern Jackson County (just outside of Kansas City, Missouri) is HyVee, and the big suburban HyVees have health food sections. Wander into them and… with the exception of coconut oil and nuts, everything is carbs. All kinds of carbs, different ways of making things crunchy (which is one of the selling points for “whole-grain” foods; they gotta be crunchy). In fact, you can’t even trust the label “Whole-grain” anymore. The folks who make bread and cereal are allowed to call it whole-grain even when they’ve taken a large portion of the grain out of it. And if you look at the labels, you will find all sorts of additives. I’ve heard one doctor say: “Look at the list of contents and if you can’t pronounce some of them, put it back.

To make sure we are on the same page, let’s be clear about what I mean when I say “refined. We’ll use wheat as an example. It has been a staple of nutrition since humanity first started growing food. But today’s wheat isn’t the same as what it was, say, 70 years ago. In the 1950’s, while people were worrying about the future population of the world not having enough to eat, they were experimenting with different types of wheat that had higher yield and came up with the dwarf wheat variety. We’ve been using that variety ever since, except for the fact that agriculturists have been experimenting with different breeds of dwarf wheat so that today’s dwarf wheat is not the same as it was 50 years ago.

Now the old way of processing wheat was to find a flat space on a windy day and throw the wheat up in the air. The berry would fall to the ground and the wind would blow the chaff away. Then they would grind the berry between stones, first by hand with smaller stones, and then between stone millstones powered by animals or people, then as we moved into the industrial age, powered by water, and then by steam.

The modern flour mill is completely different. It removes the bran, the middlings (the part of the wheat that isn’t flour), the germ and oils (you didn’t know that wheat had oils and natural fats? Neither did I.) They can even remove most of the berry and still call it whole grain. What’s left is the flour, which is powder. Like cocaine, flour can be rapidly absorbed. And flour is pure starch: just chains and chains of glucose which start breaking down into sugars before they even get to your stomach. And since they took out the natural fat and oils, when making bread and donuts, they replace them with refined vegetable oils which are less healthy than the lard we used to use. More on vegetable oils in another blog.

This easily digested and rapidly broken-down chain of sugars (that’s what glucose is), is even more rapidly and easily absorbed into the bloodstream in the small intestine. So your blood sugar spikes upward, rapidly followed by an insulin spike. We would probably get less negative effects if we just snorted it like cocaine. And that’s what I mean by a refined carbohydrate. 

To learn more about insulin and its effect on weight gain, come to one of my public talks in the month of August.

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