Tag Archive: glycemic index

How To Survive The Pesach Carb-Overload

Ideas To Weather The Carbohydrate Storm

 

For those of us trying to reduce the amount of carbohydrates (“carbs”) we’re consuming with the intention of losing some weight, without doubt, Pesach is one of the most difficult eight days of the year. Take the sedarim, for instance, epitomized by the simple equation “matzo + wine + large meal + late at night = perfect storm for weight gain”.

 

When it comes to maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen, Pesach and Succot are always a tough time, with at least five days of big meals squeezed into an 8-day period. Pesach is particularly challenging, though, with the added bonus of just about every course in every meal likely filled with matzo, matzo meal, and/or potatoes; total carb overload.

 

The festival celebrating our redemption and freedom is such a special time with so many opportunities to draw closer to Hashem. Is there a way to perform the mitzvot with both a joyful heart and a guilt-free conscious?

 

Of course there is. Here are seven ideas to weather the carbohydrate storm that is Pesach:

 

1)    Substitute matzo and matzo meal made with processed white flour with their whole wheat equivalents. As I discussed in my previous post, whole grain products don’t spike your insulin levels as much as processed grains do, and are less likely to be converted to fat; they’ll also keep you sated longer. You can even get handmade whole wheat shmura matzo which, believe it or not, tastes pretty good.

2)    Substitute heavy side dishes with lighter salads. Make sure there’s at least one green salad on the table at every meal. Feel free to load it up with tasty accoutrements such as chopped almonds or walnuts, craisins, citrus fruit slices, strawberries, mango, avocado, or different colored peppers. If you fill up on salad, you’re less likely to exceed your daily caloric requirement over the course of the day.

3)    Substitute heavy starchy foods such as potatoes and matzo with lower Glycemic Index foods. Try grilled vegetables such as peppers, onions, winter squashes and zucchini. If the weather permits, use the barbeque to grill the vegetables; the taste is divine.

4)    Substitute cake and cookies with fruit for dessert. While it’s true that Pesach cake has come a long way in recent years, it hasn’t come so far as to be calorie-free. In as many meals as possible, try to minimize the starchy desserts.

5)    Choose protein over carbs. If points 1 through 4 are still not doing it for you, and you’re still hungry, better to choose protein over carbs; protein contains the same number of calories per gram as carbohydrates, but you’re less likely to go overboard with meat and chicken than you might be with starchy side dishes, and desserts loaded with fat and sugar.

6)    Make your Shulchan Orech less “orech. The Pesach seder calls for a meal late at night. Typically, this meal is pretty large (even though every year we always tell ourselves “it’ll be a small affair this year”) and by the time it rolls around – after spending what is sometimes hours reciting from the haggadah – everyone is always ravenous and ends up eating more than they probably should. That being said, I suggest pacing yourself during the meal. Eat slowly and purposefully. Minimize your portions sizes too, and remember that just as the Jews left Mitzrayim, so should you be able to leave the yom tov table… without having to push the chair too far back or loosen your belt.

7)    Get the blood pumping. Avoiding leaven over the eight-day period doesn’t mean avoiding exercise too. Try and get as much exercise as possible over the chag. A 20-30 minute walk after heavy yom tov meals does wonders for digestion, and can burn off at least some of those carbs. During chol hamoed, exercises that include calisthenics, cardio and resistance training, and stretching are all recommended.

 

I think we can all agree that Pesach is “challenging”. It’s challenging for parents who clean, for kids who like their cereal, and for health nuts who like their routine. I was once told that Hashem gave us Pesach as a gift to the people who love to complain. Yes, we can focus on these challenges; but, instead, we must view them as opportunities. Opportunities to get closer to our families, closer to Hashem, and closer to the reason we were freed in the first place.

 

 

Are ‘Carbs’ Bad For You?

The Truth Behind The Hype

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you must have heard about the “evil” that is carbohydrates (aka “carbs”). Made popular by, among others, Dr. Robert Atkins in the 1960’s, and the “South Beach Diet” in the early 2000’s, the basic premise of this “nutritional truth” is that the consumption of carbs promotes weight gain, and that, if one wants to lose weight, all one needs to do is eliminate carbs from one’s diet. But does a no/low-carb diet really work, and is it healthy for you?

 

As we discussed in the last issue, carbohydrates are molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, otherwise known as “sugars”, and comprise three types including simple sugars (such as fruits), starches or complex (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as broccoli – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body; i.e., they’re the premium gasoline to power your engine. What that means is that, by consuming carbs, one spares the breakdown of the other two macronutrients, i.e., protein and fat. So, the logic goes, if one eliminates carbs from one’s diet, the body has no choice but to burn protein and fat for fuel and voila… one will lose weight. Magic!

 

Or is it?

 

Generally speaking, reducing the amount of carbohydrates you consume would indeed likely result in you losing weight, but that’s probably more due to the fact that you’d be eating fewer calories too; and losing weight doesn’t always mean losing fat either. Increasing your protein consumption to compensate for the reduction in carbs is therefore recommended, and will probably better assure that your weight loss is more from a reduction of fat than from muscle. But is it healthy? 

 

If eating fewer carbs means that your body will extract its energy from your fat reserves, surely eating NO carbs at all would be even better, right? Wrong. This is another one of those times when that all-American maxim “if a little is good, a lot must be better” doesn’t apply.

 

It’s been said that “fats burn in a carbohydrate flame”; that is, to burn fats efficiently and completely, some carbohydrates are needed – this is called fat oxidation. Additionally, although much of your body can use different macronutrients for fuel (i.e., carbs, protein, or fat), your brain can only use carbs for energy, so it’s very typical for those on a low-carb diet to experience a decrease in general cognitive ability. Other fun side effects include reduced athletic performance and overall weakness; irritability; nausea; dizziness; constipation; gas; and bad breath. Not to mention the fact that your liver is exposed to extra stress as it’s forced to assist with manufacturing glucose from fats and proteins (instead of easier-to-use carbs); and potentially toxic amounts of ammonia are produced as proteins (instead of carbs) are converted into glucose. Finally, it should be noted that some of the lost weight will be “water weight”, and will likely come right back on as soon as you start eating a more balanced diet again.

 

All of this, of course, brings me back to my previous article. That is, it’s a really bad idea to totally eliminate a nutrient from your diet. While one can certainly experiment with reducing the amount of carbs from your diet for a short period, in general, a healthy diet requires the consumption of all six nutrients – proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and water – in adequate and healthy amounts.

 

No. Rather than setting all your hopes on the latest and greatest “super diet” touted by the all-knowing media, a better plan of attack to reduce fat (and to keep it off) is to maintain both a healthy balanced diet and an effective exercise regimen that is suited for your body. There is no other way. There is no magic bullet, no easy fix, and no short cuts. In this microwave generation – where instant gratification with minimal effort is the typical expectation – we sometimes need to be reminded that, for anything worth having, there is no substitution for hard work, dedication, and patience. 

 

Finally, while it’s true that not all carbs are created equal and that some are healthier for you than others (as will be discussed in my next article), for now, suffice it to say that carbs are generally not the big bad wolf the media would sometimes have you believe. We all need carbs to survive; it’s how Hashem designed us.

Why Not All Carbs Are Created Equal

Choose Your Carbs Wisely

 

In my previous two articles I discussed the six nutrients that we all need to consume as part of a healthy balanced diet – i.e., proteins, fats, carbohydrates (“carbs”), vitamins, minerals, and water – with the last article focusing specifically on carbs, and how, contrary to popular belief, they are not the “source of all evil” when it comes to weight gain.

 

However, while it’s true that carbs are the preferred fuel for our body, and that we should all eat them as part of our healthy diet, not all carbs are created equal. Now stick with me through the science bits, it’ll be worth it…

 

As previously discussed, there are three types of carbs: simple sugars (such as fruits), and polysaccharides which include starches or complex carbs (such as potatoes and bread) and celluloses or fibrous carbs (such as broccoli). At the end of the day, though, all our energy sources (no matter what they are) are broken down or converted into small sugar (glucose) molecules which are absorbed into the bloodstream (a.k.a., blood sugar), and, with the help of a hormone called insulin, are shuttled into the cells of the body where they can be used for energy. However, if you eat a lot of sugar when your body doesn’t need it, your insulin and blood sugar levels will spike and, instead of the sugar being used effectively in the body, it’ll be stored for later use, i.e., converted to fat.

 

Whoa! Does that mean you shouldn’t have anything that contains sugar ever again? For us sweet-toothed individuals, that pretty much covers anything that tastes good, right? What to do? 

 

There is good news. Of the three types of carbs, only simple sugars will spike your insulin levels because they provide the body with a surge of small sugar molecules that easily enter your bloodstream; and there are certainly times when you need that surge, such as before, during or immediately following a workout. Complex and fibrous carbs, however, contain long/complex sugar molecules that take a while to be broken down in the body and only enter your bloodstream slowly over time. This is one of the reasons why even a small amount of bread or potatoes will satiate your hunger and keep you going for hours afterwards better than a plate of candy would.

 

Complex and fibrous carbs (and even fruit to a degree) also provide fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that candy typically doesn’t. Fiber is important because it helps you feel full and keeps your digestive system working properly (it can also help to slow the body’s absorption of sugar when eaten together with the sugar-containing food).

 

There is a handy measure of how quickly sugars from foods are absorbed into the bloodstream, and it’s called the Glycemic Index (GI). Be warned though – the index only tells you how quickly individual foods are absorbed; if a high GI food (i.e., a food with quickly-absorbed sugars) is eaten together with a low GI food (i.e., a food with slowly-absorbed sugars), the low GI food will slow down the absorption of the sugars in the high GI food.

 

In summary, then, unless you require a surge of blood sugar, such as before or after you exercise, your best bet is to minimize the amount of simple sugars you eat (such as candy and fruit) and obtain your energy primarily from slow-digesting carbs. Choose whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole grain oats instead of processed cereal; generally speaking, the more processed a food is, the less healthy it is for you (ironically enough, processed white bread is viewed by the Talmud as “food for the affluent”, while whole wheat bread was only consumed by the poorer masses).

 

You can even incorporate whole grain flour into cakes, cookies and challah. My wife makes amazing whole wheat challahs using 50% white whole wheat flour, as well as whole wheat cakes, cookies and muffins (believe me – food tastes better when it’s healthier for you). For other healthy recipes and to contribute your own, please visit www.FrumandFit.com.

 

Make no mistake – small healthier choices add up over time. Each bracha means so much more, and each bite feels more like a mitzva when it’s healthier for you. Eat intelligently. Eat meaningfully. Eat well.