It is important that we don’t offer simple nutritional advice at the risk that it may do more harm than good. A perfect example from the 1970’s, was Health Canada suggesting fat intake be reduced from 40% of one’s daily calories to a healthier 35%. The result was a ‘low fat/fat free’ movement that accelerated the obesity epidemic for those who couldn’t tolerate a high carbohydrate diet when the percentage of fat intake dropped into the 20’s.
Today the drive to eat high fibre plant foods makes me wonder if we aren’t doing our countrymen another injustice. The goal with eating is to provide the body with an ideal number of nutritious calories it can digest at a healthy rate. This manages absorption of the necessary nutrients while letting the body quickly remove those calories which it doesn’t need.
But with complex whole grains and starchy vegetables, the body is challenged by 1) the fibre in them which can’t be used as an energy source and 2) the cellulose in plants which is difficult for humans to digest. Yet in a world with an over abundance of processed take out foods, it makes sense to add some nutritious, fibrous bulk from healthy plant sources if it doesn’t compromise our intake of other nutrients. There are minimal requirements of healthy fats and proteins that can not be ignored; yet when we are encouraged to base our diets on “plenty” of those carbohydrates, we risk accidentally leaving ourselves in a nutritional deficit.
This is where the recommended ratio of macronutrients is important. It’s good to consume carbohydrates with protein from, one or both of, plant and animal products and with saturated and unsaturated fats from natural sources; but the ratio of those carbohydrates to proteins and fats is what seems to have gone by the wayside. Eating whole grain, high fibre carbohydrates is ideal only when they share the plate with enough good proteins and fats.
But there’s more… Being healthy includes looking healthy as much as feeling healthy. The difficulty in digesting carbohydrates from plants comes with an added element of water retention. Carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are naturally attached to a water supply helping the body replenish its glycogen stores. (Glycogen is the stored form of glucose derived from carbs. It is always stored with 3x its weight in water.)
Whole grains, on the other hand, are dehydrated carbohydrates, requiring the body to provide water during digestion to produce glycogen. Though glucose is the most readily available source of energy for many of the body’s organs, it can only be present in limited amounts. A blood steam that contains too much glucose will result in insulin being brought in to store it away as glycogen (or fat!) …only to then have it broken down again into glucose when the body’s blood sugar level gets too low.
Therefore, people who eat proportionally large amounts of whole grain carbohydrates often find bloating and water retention an issue as the body stores the excess glucose mostly on the liver and muscles and to a lesser extent on the kidneys and the intestine. Add the reduced ability to digest the plants (especially when eaten raw) and the bloating feeling coming from the intestine really makes the healthy eater feel anything but!
Eating should be enjoyable, satiating, and energizing and our bodies should not be making us aware of how its digesting the food. Always being hungry, bloated, or feeling “fat” inside might be that your healthy diet is just a little fibre heavy especially if it there aren’t enough proteins and fats, at each meal, to meet your nutritional needs.