Tag Archive: macronutrients

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.


Why Eating A Variety of Foods Can Help You Appreciate Your Neighbor

We All Need Each Other

“Why doesn’t he think like me?”; “How can she not see that she’s wrong?”; “How can they be happy living like that?” I’m sure you or someone you know may have had thoughts like these at one time or another. I’m sure it’s only natural. After all, we must all believe in our own actions if we are to be content within our own skin, but if our actions are the “right” actions, shouldn’t everyone think and act similarly, or, at the very least, understand your point of view? 


Closer to home, in our own communities, sentiments such as “they’ve totally misrepresented what Judaism is all about” or “we can’t associate with them because they’re [not frum enough/too stringent]” are, unfortunately, not unheard of. In my opinion, this mindset is an inbred disease that affects most Jewish communities around the world, to a lesser or greater degree. I also believe that this mentality, if left unchecked, will ultimately destroy us, tearing our religion apart from the inside out.


But enough of that. Let’s get back to talking about one of my favorite topics – food – and the title of this article. How on earth can your neighbor have anything to do with the food you eat? Perhaps more than you think…


I’m sure you’ve heard the terms bandied around – “carbs”, “fats”, “protein” – and the multitude of arguments and discussions regarding which ones you should consume more of and which ones you should try and reduce. But what exactly are they, and is “going low carb” or eating “reduced fat” foods really as healthy for you as the media and food companies might have you believe?


Some background. There are six classes of nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water.


CARBOHYDRATES (aka “carbs”) comprise molecules containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, i.e., “sugars”. Specifically, there are three types of carbohydrates: simple sugars (such as fruits), starches (such as potatoes and bread), and celluloses or fibrous (such as lettuce – yes, vegetables are carbs). Carbs are the preferred fuel for the body.


PROTEINS are complex compounds that are made of different amino acids, which uniquely contain nitrogen, and are the building blocks of our body.


FATS, comprising molecules called triglycerides, are solid at room temperature (fats that are liquid at room temperature are called oils), and provide insulation from extreme temperatures, as well as carry nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins around the body (see below).


Carbs, proteins and fats are known as “macronutrients” because they comprise the classes of chemical compounds humans consume in the largest quantities and which provide bulk energy.  There are also “micronutrients” including VITAMINS (substances that help essential body reactions take place, and include water-soluble and fat-soluble varieties) and MINERALS (inorganic substances that are involved in water balance, nerve impulse stimulation, acid-base balance, and energy reactions).


Finally, WATER carries nutrients to cells and carries waste products away from cells. It also serves as a body lubricant and, through sweat (or “perspiration” if you’re more genteel), helps maintain body temperature.


Of course, these six nutrients do far more than the above brief outline, and each will be discussed more thoroughly in future articles, but the important concept to internalize here is that we all need each of these nutrients to survive; no one nutrient is more important than the other. Indeed, too much or too little of any single nutrient increases the risk of health and/or performance complications.


In short, any extreme is a bad extreme, and one should never totally eliminate any nutrient from your diet. The best strategy for maintaining a healthy nutrient balance is to eat a wide variety of foods, regularly consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and avoid a monotonous intake of the same few foods day after day; this will ensure optimal nutrient exposure, and avoid potential nutrient toxicities that may result from an excess consumption of vitamins and/or minerals. Although a little of something may be good for you, it does not necessarily mean that more is better. No single food has all the nutrients a person needs to stay healthy, so consuming a plethora of foods covers all departments.


I think you can see where I’m going with this. Hashem could have just as easily created a single food that would supply us with all the nutrients we need, rather than have us scavenge around looking for many different types of food. Of course, while we were a fledgling nation in the desert, He did exactly that, in the form of manna. Alas, we all must leave the nest at some point in our development, as did the Bnei Yisrael. We all must come to realize that life is not about the singular answer, but about appreciating the amazing variety that Hashem has graciously provided us. This is true of both the foods we eat, and the people we meet. Every person, by mere virtue of their presence in this world, fulfils Hashem’s desire in some way, whether that reason is known to you or not. Perhaps, instead of denigrating these “others”, we should make a more concerted effort to try and understand them, and, conceivably, come to realize their importance in the world too.


Just as we should try and eat a variety of foods in moderation, eat with respect and consideration, and always eat with appreciation; so too should we treat our fellow human beings, prizing each of our differences instead of quelling them.


Food is so much more than something that merely sustains us, and society is so much more than something that merely retains us. Be a “light unto the nations” – illuminate them as well as ourselves.