When was the last time you had a bad cold or the flu and, at the same time, you had a hankering for a big juicy steak? I’ll bet your answer is “never,” even if you’re a steak lover.
When we don’t feel well we usually revert back to comfort foods – the toast, potatoes, and pasta we were given as kids when we had tummy aches. Our moms knew that these were comfort foods that didn’t require a lot of work to digest and absorb – when you’re sick, your body simply does not want to work hard.
These mind and body soothers are derived from the food group we all know and love: carbohydrates. Carbs, as they are often referred to, come in all shapes and sizes. But a word of caution: the wrong carbs can lead to discomfort…not comfort. They can make you feel bloated, fatigued, and lead to weight gain. Here’s the dish on which carb choices will make you feel good, inside and out – and which to avoid:
Sugary carbs: Pure carbs, like sugar, soda, and many candies, offer very little, if any, nutrient value. The quick energy they provide makes you feel more like a rollercoaster than a soaring eagle; they provide a quick boost soon followed by a strong desire to lay your head on your desk.Sugar is the master of disguise and often hides in foods under assumed names like corn syrup, organic cane juice, syrup, and so on. Since food labels don’t distinguish between natural sugar (like that in fruit, milk and yogurt) and added sugars (those put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table) it’s important that you read ingredient lists to see what you’re really getting.
Refined carbs: Then there are those carbs that have some value, like white bread, and white rice, but can wreak havoc on your blood sugar and are often stripped of important vitamins and minerals. They are not nearly as beneficial to our bodies as their relatives, the whole grain family of carbs. Proceed with caution with these white foods — there are white foods that do provide value, such as potatoes. You can’t always judge a food by its color.
Wholesome carbs: Whole grains are reliable suppliers of energy and they take longer to break down, helping us to feel more full and satisfied. Although carbs, in general, have gotten a bad rap over the years and a reputation for causing weight gain, it’s not the whole grain carbs that are the issue. Whole grains will move you with more fiber, help your heart with soluble, cholesterol-lowering fibers like oats and barley, and control diabetes by curtailing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Insoluble fibers found in whole wheat, barley, brown rice, and bulgur may be particularly helpful when it comes to cancer prevention.
Powerhouse nutrients found in whole grains, including protein, B vitamins, calcium, folic acid, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, and antioxidants, may be missing from equivalent white food products.
But even the right carbs could keep you from shedding pounds if you’re not watching portions. A whole grain muffin the size of watermelon, no matter how high in fiber it is, will not bring weight loss or comfort. For the best boost that lasts and is fast – try some almond butter on whole grain toast or an individually wrapped cheese round with some whole grain crackers. This will provide the terrific trifecta of whole grain carb, protein, and healthy fat – but not too much of anything that could weigh you down.
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