Monthly Archives: May 2018

Are Carbohydrates Good for You?

Is it me, or do those cookies look slightly evil?

“Are carbs good for you?” I get that question a lot.  If I wasn’t a dietitian, I’d be curious, too, given all the buzz about carbohydrates.  Here’s what you should consider about carbohydrates and health.

Carbohydrates Keep You Going 

Carbohydrates, found in an array of foods, are your body’s preferred energy source. Carbohydrates are digested and converted into glucose, which fuels every cell. The brain and red blood cells rely heavily on carbohydrate, and when levels of glucose drop in your bloodstream, your mental and physical energy goes south, too.

Feeling “hangry” is a real thing. 

Carbohydrates are found in foods such as milk, yogurt, fruit, vegetables, legumes (beans), bread, cereals, pasta, rice, and other grains, cookies, cakes, and other sweets.  With the exception of fiber, which is technically a carbohydrate but mostly indigestible, all types of carbs turn into glucose, and all carbs supply four calories per gram.

A recent survey found that Americans blame carbohydrates for weight gain, which is probably why low-carb diets are so attractive.  However, a consistently low carbohydrate intake forces the body to turn to protein and fat for energy, which isn’t ideal. Protein is meant to provide the raw materials to build and maintain lean tissue, including muscle, and to make enzymes, hormones, and cells to support life. When protein is redirected for energy, it cannot fully do its job.

A low-carb diet may shorten your life


Cut carbs, and you cut calories, which may be the reason for weight loss.

As your low-carb intake wears on, the body begins to burn more fat. Fat breakdown produces compounds called ketones. Blood levels of ketones are consistently elevated on a very low-carb diet.  Experts aren’t sure about the effects of such elevated ketones on health, but they do know that excessive ketones can be life-threatening in people with diabetes.

Very low-carb eating plans, such as the ketogenic diet, often lead to fat loss, but it’s unclear exactly why. While it’s true that people who cut carbohydrate intake to bare-bones levels shed pounds, it’s usually because they had been eating excessive amounts of foods with refined carbs and added sugar, such as cookies, cake, and candy. Simply cutting calories could be the reason for the weight loss.

Maple syrup and honey may be “natural,” but they are sources of added sugar.

Carbohydrates are classified as “simple,” and “complex.”

When you eat simple carbohydrates, such as maple syrup, honey, table sugar, and white bread, pasta, and rice, the body quickly digests them and converts them into glucose, producing immediate energy, which must be used right away or stored as body fat. Insulin helps the glucose to enter cells and return blood glucose levels to normal. Problem is, a steady diet of simple carbohydrates increases your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer by promoting a condition known as insulin resistance.

The starch and other complex carbohydrates found in foods such as whole grains, vegetables, and legumes (beans), take longer for the body to digest, making for a slower and steadier energy release into the bloodstream. As a result, your body makes  less insulin to metabolize glucose, which is better for your health.

Study: Eating a more plant-based diet is linked to lower Body Mass Index

Choose Quality Carbohydrates

When it comes to choosing carbs, quality counts. It’s a good idea to consider the company that carbohydrates keep rather than taking them off your menu.

Foods rich in added sugars, such as regular soft drinks, granola bars, and candy, typically offer little besides calories. That doesn’t mean you must avoid them altogether, however. Find out what your added sugar limit is here.

Choose high-carb, nutrient-rich foods to support your health.

Fruits and vegetables, and plain milk and yogurt, contain naturally-occurring simple sugars. They are not on the list of sweeter foods experts advise us to limit, however.

Foods with naturally-occurring sugar, as well as starchy foods such as grains, potatoes, and rice, are desirable because they supply vitamins, minerals, water, fiber, and phytonutrients, beneficial plant compounds that protect your cells. Fortified grains supply additional nutrients, such as iron and folic acid, which are often in short supply in women of childbearing age.

The downside of going gluten-free

Bread made with fortified grains provides vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates are Good for Your Gut

Fiber, found only in plant foods, including whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and beans, protects against diabetes, heart disease, and colon cancer. Your gut cannot digest fiber, but the bacteria that live there can.

Bacteria in the colon ferment, or feed on, the fiber in food, producing short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA protect the lining of your gut and defend it against colon cancer, help to control blood glucose, reduce inflammation, and strengthen your immune system.

Fiber helps to keep you fuller longer, which is beneficial when trying to control your weight. It also plays a role in lowering blood cholesterol levels, keeping blood glucose concentrations in a normal range, and preventing constipation.

Fruit is full of water, and can help you meet your daily fluid needs.

How Much Carbohydrate and Fiber Should You Eat?

Carbohydrate and fiber intakes are based on calorie requirements.

Experts recommend consuming 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories as carbohydrate. That amounts to:

  • 248 to 358 grams on a 2,200-calorie eating plan
  • 225 and 325 grams on a 2,000-calorie eating plan
  • 202 to 293 grams on an 1,800-calorie eating plan

Just for reference, popular low-carb diets suggest far less carbohydrate than nutrition experts.  For example, the ketogenic way of eating recommends no more than 50 grams daily, about the amount found in a three-ounce egg bagel.

Check this list for the carbohydrate content of foods. 

Suggested fiber intakes are easier to figure:

• For every 1,000 calories consumed, eat at least 14 grams of fiber from food.

• For example, on a 2,000-calorie eating plan, include a minimum of 28 grams of food fiber daily.

Beans supply a type of fiber that beneficial gut bacteria love!

How to Get the Fiber You Need

It’s easier to include adequate fiber when you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables and at least three servings a day of whole grains. For packaged foods, such as bread and cereal, check “Dietary Fiber” on the Nutrition Facts panel of food labels for fiber content.

Here are some common fiber sources, listed in grams:

Navy beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 10

Lentils, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Black beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Garbanzo beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 8

Whole wheat bread, 2 ounces: 6

White beans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 6

Pear, 1 medium: 6

Avocado, 1⁄2 cu:p 5

Soybeans, 1⁄2 cup, cooked or roasted: 5

Peas, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 4

Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon: 4

Apple, medium, with skin:  4

Raspberries, 1⁄2 cup: 4

Potato, medium, with skin, baked: 4

Sweet potato, medium, flesh only, baked: 4

Almonds, 1 ounce: 4

Broccoli, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Orange, 1 medium: 3

Banana, 1 medium: 3

Quinoa, 1⁄2 cup, cooked: 3

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: The Bottom Line

Like any calorie-containing component of food, including protein, fat, and alcohol, too much carbohydrate in your diet may end up as stored body fat because of the excess calories it provides. Likewise, eating drastically less than the recommended amount of carbohydrate is not a good idea, either, because it has several negative consequences that may affect your health in the longterm.

Including more plant, and plain dairy foods, as part of balanced eating plan is your best bet for getting enough “good” carbs. Even the so-called “bad” carbohydrates, such as added sugars, white bread, and pasta, can still be a part of a balanced eating plan, even with diabetes. (Check with your dietitian about your daily carbohydrate budget.)

Vegetables supply several nutrients, including fiber and phytonutrients – protective plant compounds.


Stay Fit and Fabulous After 50

Can we talk? I am not aging well, and by well, I mean I have a hard time accepting how getting older is affecting my body. Judging by all the ads on TV for Botox, body “sculpting,” and drugs to boost bone density, I can see that am not alone in my struggle.

I’m always on the hunt for ways to preserve my health, and that’s exactly what I found in talking with my friend Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, co-author of Food and Fitness After 50: Eat Well, Move Well, Be Well. I may not like what’s happening to me as the years pass, but I’m not going down without a fight, either. Take that, Mother Nature!

I scoured Chris’ book for tips, but I still had some questions. Here’s what Chris told me when I quizzed her about how to be fit, and fabulous, after 50.

Chris Rosenbloom and co-author Bob Murray.

Q. Maybe it’s me, but it’s tough to fight flab with age because it can seem like you’re doing a lot to control your weight with little reward. What is “weight creep,” why does it happen, and what can we do about it?

A. Weight creep is that insidious, small weight gain that doesn’t seem like a big deal. And, a pound or two at a time isn’t a big deal until 20 years later when you’re saddled with an additional 20, 30 or 40 pounds.

Nobody gains 20 pounds overnight; it’s a small, steady increase until one day it hits you that you’re much heavier than you were. I think it happens because we just don’t pay attention. We don’t monitor our weight or pay attention to how our clothes fit. We might get weighed at the doctor’s office (how many of us say, “that scale is way off?”), but rarely does a doctor say anything about weight once we step off the scale.

I also think the rise of Athleisure wear is bad news for aging women. I only wear yoga pants when I do yoga! I wear jeans when working at home, so I have some feedback from the pants that tell me how they fit. While I recommend aiming for health, and not a number on the scale, it may be helpful to weigh yourself often, and possibly daily, to get a sense of an upward trend in your body weight. Don’t worry about fluctuating a couple of pounds every day, because that’s usually just water weight.  If there is an uptick in weight overall, ask yourself what you might be doing to cause the numbers to go up. (Note: If you’ve struggled with disordered eating in the past, it may not be a good idea to weigh yourself daily.)

Should you weigh yourself every day?

Building and preserving muscle goes a long way in your later years. Start now to reap the benefits.

Q. It’s so important for people to understand the importance of muscle as it relates to strength, metabolism, and overall health. Can you describe what happens to muscle tissue as we age?

A. Between the ages of 20 and 90, it’s possible to lose more than 50% of our muscle mass due to sarcopenia (literally meaning “vanishing flesh”) that’s the result of a sedentary lifestyle. And, for women, the effect is even greater, as we have less muscle mass by nature. Add an illness or injury and the picture gets worse; you can lose 1% muscle mass each day after surgery or during an illness!

We lose not only muscle mass, but also muscle strength as we age and that can lead to a decrease in functional fitness, that is, the ability to continue to do the things that help us live independently. Climbing stairs, shopping and carrying groceries, cleaning the house, working in the garden…all of things we take for granted when we are younger can get harder if we lose a significant amount of muscle mass and strength.

The good news is that muscle is very responsive and adaptive to strength training, and we can regain mass and strength by doing progressive, resistance exercise twice a week. You don’t even have to go to the gym. Resistance exercise can be done at home with hand weights or exercise bands. Bob and I like Fitness Blender for online app-based fitness programs, and Go4Life from the National Institute for Aging for easy, free exercise programs.

An eating plan rich in plant foods is good for your heart, and the rest of you, at any age.

Q. Would you explain how menopause influences body weight, muscle mass, bones, and the heart?

A. After menopause, the gradual loss of estrogen affects a woman’s health in many ways, and none of them are positive. Body composition can change, and you may have more visceral fat (the dreaded “belly fat”), an increase in the fat content in muscle, and in your heart and liver, and an overall increase in body weight until about age 70.

Muscle mass is affected, as mentioned before, but most the changes in muscle are related to lack of physical activity that builds and maintains muscle by stressing it. Bone loss begins at about age 30, but after menopause there is a rapid decline in bone mass for the first five years. Bone losses level off after that, but bone density is not as good as before menopause. Dietitians stress the importance of a healthy eating plan, including calcium and vitamin D, during adolescence, a prime bone-building time of life, right up to menopause (and afterwards) so that you have the strongest bones possible before calcium losses occur.

The heart is also affected by reduced estrogen levels.  Before menopause, women tend to have more “good” cholesterol in their bloodstream, and are considered at a lower risk for heart disease than men. That estrogen protection starts to wane with menopause.  But, as dire as it sounds, women can now live almost half of their lives after menopause, and exercise, both aerobic and strength training, help promote a healthy body weight, bone health, heart health, and muscle health. So, instead of looking for a superfood, magic supplements, or prescription drug, start eating right and moving more today, because it is never too late!

Find exercise that you enjoy. Doing different types prevent boredom.

Q. Starting an exercise program, increasing exercise frequency, and changing the type of exercise you do can be daunting. What is your advice?

A. There is no “best” exercise. Find something you like to do, start slow, and just do it.   In my community, I’ve seen older adults go crazy for pickleball, and people who haven’t exercised in 20 years are showing up to play this fun sport. It might also be helpful to join a YMCA or a gym that caters to older adults; many people get free or reduced YMCA membership with their Medicare supplemental insurance but never take advantage of it. And, if that doesn’t work, find a friend or a fitness buddy to walk with.

Q. How important is maintaining strength and agility as we age with regards to independence and quality of life?

I can’t say it enough: Keeping our muscles strong, and staying flexible and agile can help prevent falls, fractures, and metabolic diseases (like diabetes). My goals include traveling, and being able to lift my suitcase to get it into the overhead bin on a plane! I also plan to be able to haul a 50-pound bag of dog food into my shopping cart, my car, and into the house to feed my two big dogs! Those tasks define functional fitness for me at age 66!  I am also realistic and I know things can happen to my body. When an injury or illness comes along,  chances are, you will recover faster and easier if you are fit!

Yogurt is a convenient, versatile, protein-packed food, and it also promotes a healthy digestive system and strong bones.

Q. Protein is getting a lot of attention these days.  Should older people eat more protein than the current suggested intake?

A. Researchers have identified something called “age-related anabolic resistance,” thought to be caused by less sensitive signaling pathways that lead to a slower muscle-making ability. So, older adults who are strength training need more protein than the current recommendation, and protein should be distributed throughout the day to maintain or build muscle. While protein needs vary, I think an easy way to look at it is to recommend about 30 grams of protein per meal (a smaller person might need less 20-25, and a larger person trying to build muscle might need more, 30-40 grams) every day. I would also suggest a nighttime snack with protein, such as a half-cup of cottage cheese, two one-ounce string cheeses, or a small bowl of cereal and milk to “feed” your muscles while sleeping.



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