In Part One, I began a discussion on “catch-alls” in nutrition – general statements that provide sound advice for just about everyone.
In my view, the number of such statements is extremely limited, as individual needs can vary so widely. One comment on nutrition that I feel can be confidently applied to all is which food categories are the most health damaging. The top two offenders are vegetable oils and processed carbohydrates. Last week we looked at vegetable oils; now let’s look at processed carbohydrates.
Like vegetable oils, processed carbohydrates are everywhere – from junk food to “health” food. They are most easily recognizable as flours and refined sugars, but can come in other forms such as syrups or starches. Processed carbohydrates create so much trouble for us because they hijack a deep, biological urge – the seeking of fast and storable energy. Historically, this urge was a boon for survival. The unrestrained devouring of only seasonally available fruit created an advantage – a bit of extra fat needed to survive a scarce winter. Today’s carbohydrates are quite different. Not only are they available all year, their processing makes them hyperpalatable – or super tasty, which allows for unrestrained consumption.
That alone mostly sums up what the general population is told about processed carbs: they taste really good, but if you eat too much, you will gain extra weight. Unfortunately, the impact of these foods is deeper and much more insidious than a couple of extra pounds. Here are just some of the health issues that can arise from consumption and overconsumption of processed carbohydrates.
B vitamin and mineral deficiency
Whole grains, when properly prepared, can be a good source of B vitamins, minerals and other vitamins. After processing, most of those nutrients are lost. This is extremely problematic because all of those nutrients are needed to metabolize the carbohydrates found in the processed food – turning them from food to useful energy. If metabolism is the job that must be done, the nutrients are the tools that are needed to complete it. When the food eaten does not contain the required vitamins and minerals, they must come from elsewhere. Options are minimal; these nutrients must be “borrowed” from other foods that have been eaten or from the body’s own stores. Overall, then, eating foods made of processed carbohydrates leads to nutrient deficiencies – fewer nutrients are coming in than are needed to perform basic functions.
A variety of microorganisms – such as bacteria, yeasts and fungus – commonly live within us, and usually on symbiotic terms. Many factors can shift the balance of symbiosis, however. Chronic use of birth control pills, antibiotics and corticosteroids can disrupt the communities of microorganisms and allow for the proliferation of the less desirable members. One yeast, candida albicans, is particularly prone to overgrowth in the right conditions. This yeast, when exposed to reduced competition, can morph into its fungal stage, where it can become embedded in the intestinal tract as well as the reproductive tracts of both sexes.
An overgrowth of this “yeasty beasty” can cause fatigue, insomnia, muscle aches or numbness, both constipation and diarrhea, and foggy mental function, among other symptoms.
Candida is particularly nourished by consumption of refined sugars. One of the major steps in overcoming yeast overgrowth is to eliminate the intake of processed carbohydrates and refined sugars.
Most people are familiar with the concept of blood sugar – eating carbohydrates makes blood sugar go up. What goes unnoticed is the widespread negative impacts this action can cause in the body. States of high blood sugar levels are a novelty in human biology. We have more pathways for raising low blood sugar than for lowering high blood sugar. States of chronically elevated blood sugars – which result from the habitual consumption of processed carbohydrates – are extremely stressful on the body. That state is a 911-emergency which triggers the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones. Since most Americans are eating a processed meal three times per day, much of the nation is experiencing long-term adrenal dysfunction from the adrenal overdrive.
Formation of AGE’s
Sugar is notoriously sticky – not only to the touch, but on a microscopic level. This stickiness is responsible for the formation of advanced glycation end products – or AGEs. AGEs cause proteins to stick together in a relatively tough matrix, rendering the surface of blood cells and blood vessels hard and inflexible and speeding up the aging process. AGEs can also gum up receptor sites on other cells which contributes to insulin resistance – a diabetic precursor.
Processed carbs taste good on your tongue, but they also feel good to your brain. Consumption of these foods – particularly refined sugar and alcohol – affects the neurotransmitter receptors of the brain. When these receptors are artificially filled due to sugars, the brain reduces the production of actual neurotransmitters – leaving you irritable or moody and craving more sugar and/or alcohol to pick up your mood. It is a real downward spiral effect and explains why sugar is so addictive.
If you are on a quest to avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates, you are doing so much more for your health than just fitting a smaller pants size. It is not even your mood and energy levels that will benefit, but your productivity, relationships and zest for life. Processed carbohydrates are a killer in so many ways.
wFake foods – almost anything shelf stable and found in a box or bag – are usually loaded with processed carbs and toxic vegetable oils, even those labeled “healthy” or “natural”. Committing to the avoidance of these products will pay back in dividends for both you and your loved ones for life.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice.
Weatherby, D. (2004). Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Bear Mountain Publishing, Jacksonville.
Haas, E. M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkeley.
Editor’s Note: Sara Kennedy is a certified nutritional therapy consultant. She is the owner of Renegade Wellness found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/paleoalaska. Connect with her online at www.thriveak.com.