best natural foods

Complex carbohydrates

Whole grains and the complex carbohydrates that they provide are hte most important human foods.

Carbohydrates provide fuel for the body's energy needs. Complex carbohydrates or "starchy foods" are preferred because they generally take longer to digest and have a slower, gentler effect on the blood sugar level.

Simple carbohydrates or "sugars", on the other hand, generally get digested quickly. While they provide a quick energy boost, they generally cause a sudden rise in the blood sugar level and this can lead to health issues.

I emphasize the word "generally" because the actual situation is not so straight forward. Some starchy foods, like potatoes and refined white bread, also cause the blood sugar level to rise quickly even though they are complex carbohydrates.

At the same time, fructose or fruit sugar is not quickly digested and does not lead to a sudden rise in the blood sugar level even though it is a simple carbohydrate. Click here to learn more about the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates.

Anyway, the idea is to eat those carbohydrates that do not the blood sugar to rise too quickly. These include whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, barley, millet, oats and others. They should make up the main part of your daily food intake.

'Fear' of carbohydrates

The importance of whole grains needs to be emphasized because in recent years, many people have developed a "fear" of grains and other high-carbohydrate foods. They try to eat as little carbohydrates as possible, including complex carbohydrates that are generally good for health.

This "fear" is partly an over-reaction to the teachings of certain "health experts" who advise that certain people - particularly those who are obese, overweight or suffering from blood sugar problems like diabetes - should eat less carbohydrates.

The fear is further fanned by the recent popularity of various high-protein / low-carbohydrate diets, including the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet, which seem to be effective in helping weight loss – although a number of studies suggest that the results tend to be temporary.

Glycemic Index

Another reason why many people start to reduce their intake of carbohydrates is the relatively new theory about glycemic index – which measures the effect of carbohydrates on the blood sugar level. Foods with a high glycemic index (70 or more) cause blood sugar levels to rise quickly. Foods with a low glycemic index (55 or less) cause a more gradual rise in the blood sugar level.

To some extent, the glycemic index theory supports the consumption of complex carbohydrates like whole grains, since they are generally have a lower glycemic index compared to refined grains.

But... according to official glycemic index charts, most grains - whether whole or refined - have a glycemic index of in the range of medium to high. And so, a lot of health experts recommend cutting down on grains, including whole grains.

Click here to learn more about the glycemic index and the related conceot of glycemic load.

Real life experiences

While the glycemic index theory has its merits, it does not correspond to real life experiences.

Personally, I was at my thinnest - in fact, I was way too skinny at that time - when I was following a macrobiotic diet that comparises large amounts of whole grains and other complex carbohydrates such as starchy root vegetables.

he actual, real life experience of people who follow a macrobiotic diet, however, does not support the glycemic index theory. Macrobiotic people are typically slim. And healthy. They do not suffer from heart / cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and other health problems associated with high glycemic index foods. Some actually recovered from these problems.

At the 1993 Macrobiotic Summer Conference which I attended, there was only one man who out of several hundred participants who was rather big. His waistline was well over 40 inches, and he weighed well over 200 lbs (over 100 kg). But, he told me he used to be very much bigger! The macrobiotic diet high in complex carbohydrates actually helped him to lose weight, contrary to claims that such foods cause obesity.

Click here to better understand the macrobiotic view of whole grains.

In rural, traditional societies, people are poor and they eat mainly complex carbohydrates like grains and root vegetables. Nowadays, because of modern influences, they eat mostly refined grains like white rice instead of healthier whole grains.

grains – both whole grains and refined grains – again people are generally healthy and free from degenerative diseases. (But this is not the case with the poor in cities, who eat plenty of white sugar, white bread and other refined flour products). In fact, some poor people in countries like China, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and elsewhere can afford to eat only rice with, perhaps, soy sauce or some other seasoning, or a bit of pickles. Their diet consists of nearly 100 percent grains, nearly 100 percent complex carbohydrates! And they are generally slim and healthy.

How much they eat

Maybe they are slim because they do hard physical work? Yes, they do. But have you ever seen how much these people eat?

I have. In Singapore, there are some eating places, such as Indian vegetarian resraurants, where people pay a fixed sum of money and get to eat as much as they want. Many times, I have seen Indian laborers eat there and the amount they eat is incredible - up to four "mountainfuls" of rice.

The rice is served on a banana leaf and it literally forms a small "mountain". Each "mountain" of rice is about two to 2.5 times as much as what I would eat. And I have seen many of these people eat three or four "mountains" of rice. They eat six to 10 times as much rice as me. Even if that is their only meal for the day, it's a lot of complex carbohydrates!

And these people are not "greedy" because even though they can ask for more servings of vegetables, they don't. All they want is rice and more rice with perhaps a bit of lentil curry or resam, a light spicy clear soup.

Likewise, when I was young, my family had a domestic helper who was an old lady from China. The rice she typically ate in one meal would fill a large soup bowl, the sort of bowl we use to serve soup for the entire family.

These people eat huge amounts of complex carbohydrates and do not seem to suffer any health problems. At the same time, those who avoid complex carbohydrates and adopt a high protein low carbohydrate diet need to think carefully. They could be sowing the seeds of some serious health problems in the future. Clcik here to read about the dangers of excessive high protein foods.

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What are complex carbohydrates
Glycemic index
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Whole grains