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Delicious Replacements For Bad Carbs Meals
Remember the food pyramid? If you grew up in the United States during the 1980s or 90s, there’s a good chance you saw a diagram depicting the essential food groups shaped in a pyramidal format. The different “blocks” were supposed to represent how much of each food group you should be eating.
Sweets made up the smallest piece at the top, meaning you should eat them only sparingly. Below that were fruits and animal proteins, and below them were vegetables and dairy products. At the very bottom however—the foundation of the pyramid—were grains. Pastas, breads, rice, cereals, you name it.
If it was a carbohydrate, it was included here. The placing of the carbohydrate group at the bottom was significant, because it sent the message that carbs were the most fundamental and important part of the human diet. This had serious consequences.
The food pyramid also didn’t distinguish between complex and simple carbs, which led many people to think that gorging on things like white bread was healthy. Today, we know better. Taking into too many simple carbohydrates has been conclusively linked to all manner of health problems. In this article, we’ll explain why it’s so important to understand the difference between simple and complex carbs, and list some delicious replacements for simple carb ingredients so you can eat healthier and still enjoy your food.
Simple Carbs Versus Complex Carbs: Why It Matters
Let’s explain what we mean by these two definitions and why it’s so important to good nutrition. Most people might not be aware of it, but carbohydrates are actually a type of naturally occurring sugar that comes in two forms, which are differentiated by their molecular structure.
Simple carbs, also known as simple sugars, are made of short-chain carbon molecules. Simple carbs are naturally found in many types of fruits, as well as white breads and pasta, white rice, and table sugar. Because of their short-chain structure, simple carbs are broken down very quickly and raise your blood sugar levels quite rapidly. If you’ve ever experienced a sugar high after drinking a lot of soda, then you know what it feels like to experience a blood sugar spike. This is, of course, followed by a “carbo crash,” making you feel tired, lethargic and mentally foggy a few hours afterward.
The modern Western diet has way too many simple carbs, and studies have linked this to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer and more.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, don’t affect your body the same way. These carbs, also referred to as starches, have a long-chain carbon molecule structure, and take longer for your body to process. As a result, you don’t experience a rapid spike in blood sugar levels after eating them like you would with simple carbs. Complex carbs are much healthier for you, and lead to a more balanced, sustained level of energy. Foods rich in complex carbs include sweet potatoes, turnips, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, legumes like beans and lentils, and certain vegetables like cauliflower and squash.
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Complex Carb Replacement Meals
- Spaghetti squash is a fantastic alternative to the traditional variety, and it won’t put you in a pasta coma afterwards. Slice squash lengthwise and place in a baking pan with about an inch of water in it. Bake in the oven for approximately one hour before removing. Scratch the baked squash with a fork and you will produce spaghetti-like stands that can be used in lieu of the real thing. A one-cup serving has 200 fewer calories than regular pasta, and offers some B vitamins and potassium as well. Spaghetti squash is also quite flavorful, and makes an excellent side dish for other meals too!
- Leaf wraps are an alternative to traditional wraps made with white flour tortillas. Instead, try using a leaf of lettuce or kale to wrap around your chicken, veggies and other ingredients. Instead of simple carbs, you’ll get greens filled with antioxidants and nutrients like vitamins A and C. You can also make burritos using leafy greens as well, though you may need a few layers to maintain structural integrity.
- Portobello mushrooms also a versatile tool for culinary engineers who wish to reduce their intake of simple carbs. Instead of using traditional white flour pizza dough, take a large Portobello mushroom, hollow out the inside and bake on an oil-covered dish for about five minutes. You want it to be just a little bit dry and firm, like pizza crust. Remove it from the oven and fill it up with tomato sauce, cheese and whatever other ingredients you like. It’s a personal Portobello mushroom pizza! (Of course, if you’re less adventurous you can opt for whole wheat dough, but try the mushrooms at least once—we think you’ll love it.)
These are just three examples, but the point is that there are actually many ways to get creative and replace simple carbs with healthier complex carbs and other alternatives. You don’t have to follow outdated nutrition orthodoxies anymore. You CAN eat healthier without sacrificing taste.