Carbohydrates/ Starches

Well, I don't know about you, but when I think comfort foods...I think carbohydrates.  Mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, chocolate cake, cheese cake, home baked bread, donuts, spaghetti, raviolis ... I could go on and on.   

What do all of these food have in common?  They are all high in carbohydrates or starches.  Now, I would never suggest that we go on a diet that eliminates carbohydrates...no, no, no.   So, why are our comfort foods commonly carbohydrates?  And, why do these foods "comfort" us.

Well it's all in the brain...seriously. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the body.  The brain uses about 60% of the glucose you take in.  This glucose is the brain's "energy food".  It  helps in our body's attempt to create the serotonin I was talking about before.  The amino acids are more readily absorbed in the brain after we've eaten a high carbohydrate meal, and thus the serotonin levels in the brain are increased.

Now if you're like me...I want my carbs and I want them now, so in goes the donuts, cake etc.   I'm mistaken in my process here.  Research shows that eating complex carbohydrates like whole grains, whole grain rice, non-wheat noodle products, baked potatoes, baked sweet potatoes and fortified cereals are much better for you.   These type of starches are called complex carbohydrates.  They take longer to break down therefore the body feels "fuller" longer, they usually have quite a bit less sugar, and nutritionally they have more vitamins and minerals.  Choose complex carbohydrates that have been made with whole grain or wheatless ingredients.  You should also limit your serving to 6-8 a day for women and 10-11 a day for men. (OK, I know that's not fair...but it's life...lol)

Sugar/Sweeteners

OK...how many of you are saying, "Sugar IS a carbohydrate!"   You're right it is.  Nevertheless,  because of our "addiction" to it, it deserves a section all by itself.

Since sugar is a simple carbohydrate it is readily absorbed by the body.  Absorption begins as soon as you pop it in your mouth.  It is one of the few foods that does not have to travel into the small intestine for digestion and absorption. 

Sugar also gives us a "quick" energy boost.  Remember what I said about the production of serotonin and our cravings of carbohydrates?  

The problem with sugar is WE EAT WAY TOO MUCH!!!  Americans eat over 140 pounds of sugar and related sweeteners each year!   Unused sugar is turned into a fat that is stored in our muscle tissues for later use.  Problem is...we have more stored each day.

High sugar foods do give us a "quick energy boost".  That quick energy boost will also "crash" your blood sugar rapidly.  This is also known as hypoglycemia.  Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia are often mistaken for other things.  They include: a sense of impending doom, drowsiness, weakness, confusion, hunger, irritability, dizziness, headache,  tremors, sweating, rapid heart beat, and a cold, clammy feeling to the skin.

We tend to do exactly the wrong thing when we are feeling this way....we eat another high sugar energy booster.  It would be far better to drink some skim milk or eat a half a sandwich.  We won't have the rapid increases and decreases then, as the sandwich is a complex carbohydrate, it takes longer for our bodies to break them down and consequently our blood sugars remain at a even level.

As far as the artificial sweeteners go...the "pink" stuff can make you crave carbohydrates even more.   The "blue" stuff has been known to affect EEG waves and have negative affects on people suffering from mood disorders.  I have not heard anything about the "yellow" stuff, however it is made from real sugar, how they got the calories out...I don't know.  Check your favorite out on the web in a search engine such as yahoo or google.

Stevia is a product made from the "sweet herb" plant.  It can not be sold as a sweetener in the US, but as a dietary supplement.  The leaves once harvested and dried are extremely sweet, about 300 times sweeter than conventional sugar.  It can also be purchased in health food stores.  Check out this link for more information on Stevia.
http://www.stevia.net/ 

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