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Try a Slow-Carb Habit

Carbohydrates - found in grains, breads, pasta, and sugar, as well as vegetables, fruit, tofu, beans, and dairy - provide the body with the most efficient fuel for energy production and brain activity. They're nutritionally essential, a principle currently downplayed by the "low-carb craze".

What is important to understand is that not all carbohydrates have the same "fuel efficiency". Many carbohydrates - termed "refined" or "simple" - cause blood sugar highs and lows which can result in a period of high energy followed by a period of extremely low energy, often leaving the person craving more of the simple quick release carbs.

Examples of these "refined" carbs are regular pasta, white bread, snack foods and baked goods. The weight loss plans that advocate eating less or none of these foods are on the right track, except they tend to throw out the GOOD carbs as well. We'll call these "slow carbs", and here's why:

After you eat them, the carbohydrates in foods are broken down and released as sugar units (glucose) into your bloodstream. "Slow carbs" are foods that release glucose at a slower rate.

Typically, these foods are "whole foods"; that is, they contain the fibre and minerals that are often removed in making their refined, "quick-release" counterparts. (Such is the difference between whole wheat bread and white bread.)

Choosing "slow carbs" over refined carbs helps keep your blood sugar balanced (positively affecting your hunger level, mood and mental concentration, among other things). Fibre also promotes regularity and helps maintain healthy blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Examples of "slow carbs" are whole grain breads and crackers, potatoes with their skin, beans & legumes, brown rice, oats, and whole grain pasta.

Here are five tips for creating a "slow carb" habit:

1. Whole Foods - Eat as close to natural as possible. Vegetables, fruits, beans and lentils are whole foods that contain all of their original nutrients (fibre, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates for energy).

2. Grains & Breads - When it comes to grain products such as breads, crackers, cereals, and pasta, choose "darker", whole grain varieties. This can be done in restaurants as well as the grocery store.

3. Snacking - Fruit is an excellent snack. Consuming the whole fruit provides the slow-release carbs and will sustain your energy for longer, as opposed to fruit juice, which provides the body with a quick release of fruit sugar into the bloodstream. Another great snack to try is sliced red peppers with hummus (made from chickpeas).

4. Take the time (you're worth it!) - Seeing as some of the slow-carb options take longer to cook (e.g., brown rice versus white rice), make them ahead of time, and make extra to freeze for future meals. Brown rice is very versatile; try it in soups, casseroles, stuffed vegetables, or for breakfast (warmed) with cinnamon, raisins, chopped nuts or ground flaxseed.

5. Read labels - "Whole wheat" (or other "whole" grain) should appear before any other flour in the ingredient list. White flour can be disguised as "wheat flour", "enriched flour", "unbleached flour", or "grain flour", to name a few.

Working at substituting "slow carb" foods into your lifestyle will ensure that you have ample energy, proper nutrition, and that you maintain a healthy weight. Of course it's also essential that you find some ways to be active and that you limit high fat and high calorie snack foods as best you can.

(c) Copyright 2005, Genuine Coaching Services.

Susan Baker, B.Sc.,RHN, RNCP is a registered nutritional consultant who supports individuals on their path to optimal healing through nutrition consultations, with a special interest in digestion and food sensitivities.

Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, is the author of "The Everyday Self-Care Workbook". To receive one of her free monthly newsletters, subscribe at


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