Good carbs, bad carbs, keto and you

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The current trend to be on reduced-carbohydrate diets, such as the keto diet, has made us all junior nutritionists discussing ketosis and what it takes to put our bodies into and out of that state. The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that involves drastically reduced carbohydrate intake and replaces it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning body fat for energy. When we intentionally create a change in our metabolism, it must be taken seriously with full knowledge of the benefits and potential issues. Knowledge of basic nutrition is essential to understanding the types of carbohydrates and their roles.

Foods are three basic ingredients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. In this article, we focus on carbs. Carbs consist of sugar, starches and fiber. They are either simple or complex, depending upon the absorption rate in the body. Simple carbs are digested quickly, producing an immediate release of sugar (glucose) into our bloodstream. As the glucose level increases, our pancreas releases the hormone insulin, which enables the glucose to enter the cells in our body where it is used to produce the energy our body needs to function. Complex carbs are digested slowly and supply a slower, steady release of glucose, avoiding a sugar high and greater demand on the pancreas for insulin.

Simple carbs include refined sugars like white sugar, honey, maple syrup and refined grains found in white bread and baked goods, pasta and white rice. The process of refining removes nutrients, vitamins and fiber, leaving calories that lead to weight gain. These are the so-called bad carbs. The average American consumes about 20 teaspoons of refined sugars a day with many eaten unknowingly. Nutritional recommendations suggest a maximum of nine teaspoons of refined sugar a day. Many people do not equate eating white bread with ingesting sugar. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a refined sugar often found on nutritional labels as an ingredient. Sugar is a sneaky addition to many favorite foods. Watching labels on processed foods, and limiting baked goods, condiments, and candies are the start in reducing the amount of sugar intake.

Complex carbs contain plenty of fiber and include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans. These starchy foods are the good carbs that slow down digestion and give us a full, satisfied feeling, helping us eat less. Whole grains, like oatmeal, help to lower blood cholesterol levels. One slice of whole-grain bread should have at least three grams of fiber. Fiber is essential in our diet and mostly comes from plant foods. There is little fiber in animal products such as milk, eggs, meat, poultry and fish; they have a purpose in the diet as protein.

Fiber helps to cleanse our digestive tract and eliminate waste products and may help to prevent colon cancer. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is an easy way to improve your health, providing the necessary vitamins and fiber. They are low-fat, high-fiber and energy. Juices have less fiber, and while beneficial, should not replace fruits.

Sometimes the body has difficulty metabolizing glucose, and simple or bad carbs are often the source of glucose. Diabetes is a serious condition caused when insulin is not available or not effective in transporting glucose into cells to produce energy. Usually diagnosed at an early age, Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce insulin; approximately 5 percent of diabetics are Type I.

Type II diabetes develops over time as a result of genetics, obesity, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles; 95 percent of people with diabetes have Type II. Diabetic symptoms are a result of high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. They include fatigue, hunger, thirst, weight loss, frequent urination and rapid breathing. These symptoms appear almost immediately upon the onset of Type I diabetes. With Type II diabetes, the symptoms show up gradually. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be controlled. People with Type I diabetes typically will be dependent on insulin, and those with Type II may require oral medications. There are many treatment options to discuss with your doctor. Weight loss, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes are essential for all diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes can lead to heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease. Having regular blood work and watching for the key symptoms are essential to monitoring sugar health.

Whereas eliminating carbohydrates in diets is a current method for quick weight-loss, the duration of the diet requires caution. When starting a true keto diet, be sure to check with your physician, have blood levels checked, and be on the alert for signs of complications such as kidney stones, liver function issues, and other metabolic complications. A sensible low good-carb diet focusing on all food groups promotes health and nutrition, and when coupled with exercise, is recommended for a healthy lifestyle.

The Farmington Valley VNA offers free blood sugar testing, as well as blood pressure and flu immunizations, at various locations each month. Please go to to find locations on our calendar.

By Jean Pickens, RN, Manager of Community Services, Farmington Valley VNA.