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When good carbs go bad

January 24, 2008 - Kathie Evanoff
Years ago, when I was still 20-something, and was watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, he was interviewing a starlet, whose name I don't remember. She was a thin, whispy young woman promoting her first film. During the interview, she revealed that she never ate white food. No white bread, white potatoes, white flour, etc. – nothing that was “white.”

That starlet's odd way of eating stuck in my mind, particularly over the years when understanding the effects of “white food” became apparent.

After looking back over my meals the past week, I can see I pretty much stayed on the low end of the glycemic index. The only refined carbohydrates I took in were the teaspoons of sugar in my morning tea, the potato-bud breading on the mozzerella chicken and the mashed white potatoes for dinner on another day. All of my breads were whole grain and very little could have been called white food.

In 1981, a couple of food scientists from Toronto developed the glycemic index; a list of foods from one to 100 that were determined by how fast or how slowly they raise a person’s blood sugar. Foods on the low end of the index are absorbed gradually while foods on the high end of scale raise our blood sugar quickly.

Sugar, refined flour, white potatoes and other processed grains, including white rice, are simple carbohydrates and are at the high end of the glycemic index. When we eat these foods, they are quickly turned into the sugar that our body uses quickly. So quickly, in fact, that once they are gone, our liver has to work overtime to level our blood sugar again. Throughout this process, we get a quick burst of energy, only to just as quickly have our energy level drop. And this causes us to get hungry again. There is a lot more scientific explanation to this, but in layman’s terms; these foods don’t stay with us very long.

Complex carbs, those at the low end of the glycemic index - foods like sweet potatoes, 100 percent whole wheat bread and grains, raw or lightly cooked vegetables and the sugars accompanying the fiber in fresh fruit are not as readily ingested into our bloodstream.

I notice that when I eat more food from the lower end of the glycemic scale, I am not as hungry between meals. Nor do I crave sweet or salty snacks between meals or later in the evening after dinner.

I didn’t purposely leave out those foods this week. The My Pyramid program tells me that half of my daily grain choices should be whole grains, but it doesn’t say they all have to be that way. My choices were made simply based on what I thought was more nutritious and by what I had on hand in my kitchen. Not having hunger cravings came along as a perk.

This morning’s breakfast was a bust. I was tired of cereal and didn’t feel like cooking, so I decided to have one of the whole grain waffles in my freezer. I also didn’t want more sugar by using syrup on my waffle, so I thought about peanut butter and raspberries as my topping. The problem is, I don’t have any fresh raspberries (I prefer to buy them in season). I put a small dish of frozen berries in the microwave for a minute or two to thaw and toasted the waffle until it was crispy. I lightly spread peanut butter on the waffle, but when I poured the berries on top, the juice soaked into the center of the waffle making it soggy. I hate soggy, so I ended up just eating the outside crispy edges.

By mid morning, I was still hungy, not having had much breakfast. I stopped at the McDonald’s drive-through after one of my morning work errands and picked up a fruit and yogurt parfait. I came close to adding the granola on top because it was only 30 calories, but what stopped me was when I read the ingredient list and noticed the third ingredient was “high maltose corn syrup.” I don’t know what this is. I don’t know if it is even remotely related to high fructose corn syrup, which is on my list of things to avoid whenever possible. I would have been better off adding a tablespoon of raw almonds to the parfait instead, but didn’t have any, so I tossed the granola and ate the parfait plain. It held me over well until lunch.

I walked out the door once again without packing a lunch mainly because the cupboards are bare and won't have time to shop until Saturday. Instead, I went to Subway and ordered turkey on honey oat bread with vegetables. I ordered the sandwich with no cheese or dressing, but asked for a packet of low-fat mayonnaise. They up-sold me a meal that included a bag of multi-grain Sun Chips and a diet Coke. I read the ingredient list on the chips before I bought them, and saw there was no partially hydrogenated oils listed. I munched on them throughout the afternoon.

It was a very hectic evening and by the time I was finally settled, I didn't feel like cooking. Instead I put together a repeat of last night's dinner from leftovers, including the salad. I also had a cup of milk.


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Breakfast: ½ ounce grains (the peanut butter and fruit I had were too minute to even count)