If you are shopping and you don’t have a GI index handy, there are other ways to discern good carbs and bad carbs. Carbohydrate fuel should come from foods that are closest to their natural form—the way you’d find them in nature—how the Architect designed them for temple fueling system.
For example, bread (and flour) should not be white. Most grains grown in nature are tan or brownish in color. If it’s white, that typically means the grain was processed and probably bleached. Also, it should be coarse in texture. Flours that are industrially refined are ground into a very fine powder, which yes, might make for a softer bread or cake, but they are digested quickly, and therefore will raise blood sugar levels quickly. This is what gives them a higher GI ranking.
Put simply: complex carbohydrates should be the first choice, and natural, simple carbs the second choice (unless you’re getting ready to exercise and need a quicker fuel, then simple carbs like berries or orange slices might work better). Refined carbs should never be a choice at all, in my opinion. To identify which foods are which, though, you must read food labels and ingredient lists when you shop. You cannot always tell a good carb from the front of a package.
As I mentioned, the first thing you want to look for is fiber and protein. Unrefined whole grains that are complex carbohydrates will contain both of these. However, these still do not guarantee it is pure and unrefined. You also must read the ingredients list, not just the macronutrients.
Look for the word “whole” grain, which means that all parts of that grain are present. It means the bran, germ, and endosperm of the wheat kernel are “whole” and intact… and therefore, the grain is higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. If the word “whole” is not present, then the grain is probably refined in some way. Also, words such as “enriched” and “degerminated” indicate that the grain has undergone processing of some kind.
And do not just quickly skim the front label looking for the words “whole grain.” There is still much more to consider—like other ingredients and the order of these ingredients. Typically, ingredients are listed in order of amount, meaning the first ingredient is the most plentiful ingredient. Every ingredient after that is present to a lesser degree.
So, let’s say a bread label lists: “whole grain wheat flour, enriched white flour, and oat flour.” This means that there is more whole grain wheat flour present than any other flour because it’s listed first (even though it could be as little as 1% more). It also means there is more enriched white flour than there is oat flour. So, this food “could” be predominantly a complex carbohydrate because the first ingredient is a whole grain… but it’s not guaranteed. The other two refined flours listed second and third could collectively outweigh the whole grain wheat flour which is listed first. This would make it a predominantly refined carbohydrate food.
This is especially true if multiple refined flours are listed first and only one whole grain flour is listed later in the list. If it’s listed later in the list, it could contain as little as 2% of the whole grain. Therefore, do not just look at the front of packages. Often a front label may claim (in big, bold letters) that the food contains “whole grains,” but these whole grains are relatively useless if it is outweighed by copious amounts of refined flours which will inevitably cause a rollercoaster in your body.
That’s not all. Even products that list all whole grains in the ingredients can be unhealthy if they aren’t organic and non-GMO. Why does this matter? Because, if the grains are not organic or non-GMO, they likely contain substantial amounts of pesticides. Multiple studies have clearly shown a correlation between pesticides and increased blood sugar, even diabetes. (1)
Additionally, while organic “whole grains” are better than refined flours, there still might be an even healthier option—sprouted grains. Whole grains are like tiny seeds, but sprouted grains are seeds that are soaked and have begun to grow or germinate (though aren’t actual plants yet). It’s like eating a little mini garden in your bread.
Several important things take place during the sprouting. First, most grains contain what are known as phytates (or phytic acid). Unfortunately, these phytates can block the absorption of minerals like iron, zinc, phosphorus, and magnesium. Phytates can also inhibit enzymes that are needed to break down the grain during digestion. But soaking grains, and allowing them to sprout, kills the phytic acid so the body can absorb more of the nutrients in the grain. Sprouting grains can also increase the fiber content of the grain and help with protein digestion.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the information on this site is intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and are not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Stacy Mal is not a doctor and does not give medical advice, prescribe medication, or diagnose illness. Stacy is a certified health coach, journalist, and independent Plexus ambassador. These are her personal beliefs and are not the beliefs of Plexus Worldwide or any other named professional. If you have a medical condition or health concern, it is advised that you see your physician immediately. It is also recommended that you consult your doctor before implementing any new health strategy or taking any new supplements. Results may vary. References (1) http://www.diabetesandenvironment.org/home/contam/pesticides