Healthy food choices and feeling good are linked. I don’t need science to substantiate this; all I have to do is listen to my body, pay attention to the telltale signs and ask a few questions like am I sleeping well, do I have tons of energy, is my skin glowing, is my hair shinny, what color is my pee and do I move my bowls daily, yuck, sorry part of being healthy is getting rid of the waste in your system.
If the answers are I’m not sleeping well, I feel slow and sluggish, and my skin is blotchy then I can explore what causes that? I don’t have to look far to find the answer, my diet is the first place I look. On examination I usually find I’m eating more junk food than normal, pulling more hours at work and have reduced my exercising. When I fix my diet and aligned my exercise and work I return to feeling good.
Why does a diet high in junk food and carbohydrates affect how I feel?
Biology 101 Carbohydrate metabolism
The body is a machine similar in many ways to a car. If we put contaminated fuel in our car it won’t run. The body is the same, if you feed it highly processed foods high in fat, sugar, salt it will run slow and sluggish.
To understand the mechanics let’s have a look at how our bodies use carbohydrates. When we take a bite of a donut and start chewing it our bodies react by releasing a saliva enzyme called Amylase. Amylase starts the process of breaking down the carbohydrates into sugars, starches and fibers. As the food passes down the esophagus, through stomach and finally into the small intestine digestive enzymes have been hard at work breaking down the carbohydrates into the body’s main energy source glucose.
What is Glucose?
Glucose is a monosaccharide or simple sugar and is the key energy source for our brains and other body cells. Glucose moves from the small intestine across the intestinal wall and is absorbed by the blood stream. Any excess glucos is stored in the liver or as fat. Your brain, like your car, sends a signal that its fuel tank a.k.a energy reserves are low and the liver responds by sending glucose, in the blood, to the brain.
Not all carbohydrates (carbs) are created equally.
Carbohydrates can either be simple comprised of sugars or complex comprised of starches and fibers. For most people, carbohydrates are the main source of caloric intake and are the major source of energy in the diet.
Simple vs complex carbohydrates
Simple carbohydrates include foods like soda pop, candy and table sugar. These foods lack vitamins, minerals and fiber and provide empty calories – calories nothing else! There are also simple carbs that contain vitamins and minerals like fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables and dairy products.
Complex carbohydrates include starchy foods like pasta, bread, rice, potatoes and cereals. Complex carbohydrates can be highly processed these include things like white flour, white rice or commercial breakfast cereals. Processed foods have less nutrients and fiber than non-processed whole-grain foods like brown flour.
Carbohydrates in and of themselves aren’t bad for you, but it depends. Are you eating mainly simple carbs, complex carbs? It’s like putting contaminated vs clean fuel in your car. The cleaner the fuel the better the performance.
All carbohydrates are broken down the body into simple sugars. When you eat junk food or drink sweet treats – empty calories – because they’re already simple sugars, when consumed, they’re more quickly absorbed than complex carbs.
Complex whole grain carbohydrates take longer to be metabolized (break down) than more highly processed carbs thus slowing the conversion into glucose and slowing absorption.
What does it all mean?
When you notice you’re not feeling as well as you should turn your sights to your diet and ask yourself a few questions about what you’ve been eating lately. Are you eating too many simple carbs? Could you choose healthier choices?
Maybe you’re experiencing the spiral effect. You know the one where you didn’t sleep well last night so you had an extra coffee and donut at the morning break to keep you going, only to need of an afternoon pick me.
Here starts the vicious cycle, if the pick-me-ups carry on for days or weeks as they often do you start to notice your energy levels are down and your waist line thickening, but since your energy is down you can’t be bothered to exercise. Since you’re feeling less than 100% the cycle continues with more pick-me-ups required to get through the day.
If you have a diet high in simple sugars, junk food or refined complex carbohydrates this could make you feel lethargic, unproductive or down in the dumps. There are simple steps you can take to help you feel good and be healthy. It’s all about healthy food choices!
Healthy food choices
Consume less simple sugar by cutting out soft drinks. Each soft drink has 10 teaspoons of sugar; the photo for this post shows you what that looks like. If you need more convincing try the following: Spoon 10 teaspoons of sugar into 8 oz/250 ml of water, stir and drink. Do you like it?
How many cans of soda would you drink in a day? If it’s more than one, substitute healthy drink choices for one of the sodas. Over time you can reduce further. As hard as it is the best advice is to stop drinking soft drinks or save them for special occasions. Instead of soda try healthier drink choices like water, soda water, milk, coffee or tea with no added sugar.
A few healthy eating tips to keep your energy up throughout the day:
- Drink water it has no sugar and is great to keep you hydrated.
- Eat whole grain foods as often as possible.
- Eat regularly, 3 balanced meals with healthy snacks between meals.
- For a snack, have an apple and some unsalted nuts like almonds, cashews or peanuts.
Get some exercise
I do 15-30 minutes a day. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re busy it will do. Over and over this I sneak in extras like climbing the stairs to the apartment, going dancing or playing with the kids.
Mix up your meals and try whole grain complex carbs. An easy trial meal is a roast chicken, from your local grocer, served with brown rice and steamed string beans, Yum.
A few don’ts
Don’t aim for eliminating sugar. A healthy diet is one of moderation and that goes for sugar to. If you identify what sugars and junk food you eat then you can reduce them, the trick is to actually think about what you’re eating. Don’t obsess about it, just think about it.
Don’t limit food choices instead choose a balanced diet and consume a wide variety of foods.
Thanks for reading. Every day is a new day, what whole grain complex carbohydrates will you include in your meal today? Sign up to my monthly magazine to receive health and nutrition information.