Rob Hepell: Welcome back to the Your Best You Today show. I’m your host, Rob Hepell, joined with health expert, Dr. Kevin Jackson. Dr. Kevin is a naturopathic doctor, who’s been helping people find natural solutions to health issues for over 25 years.
With the Your Best You Today online radio show, we’re going to dive into common health issues and explore natural solutions to them. Last week, we were talking about carbohydrates and really focused on fibers.
In this episode, we’re going to dive even deeper and look into starches and sugars, especially when you’re looking at the nutritional facts on the back of those packages, when you’re at the grocery store.
Welcome back to this episode, Dr. Kevin, and let’s just get right to it.
Dr. Kevin: Thanks, Rob. We talked about the fiber and how important it is last time. That’s really the most important part of the carbohydrates that we eat I would have to say. The other two pieces of carbohydrates, aside from fiber, are starches and sugars.
What are starches? Starch is a form of carbohydrate that could basically consists of long strings of glucose units joined by glycosylic bonds, so special bonds between glucose. What I liken it to Rob is, if you think of a pearl necklace and the pearls are the sugar molecules, then the starch is the whole necklace.
If you cut the string on the necklace, all the pearls fall off. In other words, if you cut or break down the bonds between the pearls, you’re just left with the pearls. In other words, starch converts into sugar very quickly.
It’s an important piece of information, because we often talk about sugar as in how much sugar there is in a product. Usually, the amount of starch is not listed on the packaging. It’ll just tell you the total amount of carbohydrates but it does not tell you how much starch is there.
A good example is, if we look at a product that we have here, it’s got nutritional facts on the back. It says carbohydrates 10 grams. Then, it says, fiber 0 grams. Sugar 0 grams. Many people would look at that and say, “0 sugar, this is great.” The problem is it’s got 10 grams of carbohydrates. It’s got 1 gram of protein and it’s got 0 grams of fat.
Basically, over 90 percent carbohydrates and that 90 percent is all starch. What does that mean? What it means is that, once we eat all that starch, in a very short time after ingesting it, it’s going to convert to sugar. It’s going to increase our blood sugars much the way sugar does.
Now, there is a little bit of time involved in that breakdown period. The bottom line is it converts to sugar quite quickly. We have to take a look at these labels and look for the starch and try to ascertain how much starch there is if it’s not listed.
Basically, you take your total carbohydrates, you subtract your sugars and you subtract your fiber from that. That’s going to tell you how much starch, which in effect is like sugar. For people out there who are trying to avoid carbohydrates because of the sugar‑starch issue, you have to figure out yourself how much starch there is in most cases.
Rob: In this package, it’s saying here, “All natural, non GMO, gluten‑free. It includes corn, quinoa and flax.
Dr Kevin: It’s rice free, I think.
Rob: Oh, and rice free. It’s looking, like that is going to be a great nutritional option versus a lot of the things that are out there. Maybe this is better than some of the alternatives. As you’ve just explained, basically it’s 90 percent plus percent starch.
Dr. Kevin: That’s it. The thing is, because it’s organic and it’s non GMO and its gluten‑free, that’s going to certainly appeal to a lot of people out there who are gluten intolerant or who are trying to eat more healthily and avoiding genetically modified foods.
From that perspective, this is a better option. If one is trying to watch their carbohydrate intake, then this is a food that they’re going to want to be aware of, because it’s certainly not a healthy thing for someone who is trying to regulate their blood sugar levels, because this is going to increase your blood sugar levels in a relatively short time.
Rob: Probably the thing that gets me heated up the most is looking at products such as Twizzlers red licorice, – plastered right across it is”fat free.” People are thinking, “Oh, I need to make a healthy option, and I need a treat. Oh, look, the red licorice is fat free.” Yeah, but it doesn’t say, “loaded with sugar,” or “loaded with starch.”
Dr. Kevin: It’s so true, Rob. This is the thing, for the last 40 years or so, we’ve been low fat, no fat, reduced fat, and we have more people who are obese morbidly and otherwise than ever before. The reason for it is it used to be believed that fat was the enemy. Fat is the horrible thing for us all to ingest, because it only makes sense that if you eat fat, you become fat. That’s just not based in science. That is not true.
Rob: You are what you eat, as they said.
Dr. Kevin: Right. That’s a knee‑jerk reaction that you eat fat, therefore it makes you fat. Fat contains more calories than equal amounts or protein or carbohydrates. Calories are a player in this thing that we’re talking about, this picture of health. Fat tends to satiate you. Fat does not affect blood sugar levels. The right kind of fats are actually extremely healthy for you, and they actually prevent diabetes and insulin resistance and hypoglycemia and blood sugar dysregulation.
Fat really has got a bad name over the years. Trans fats, absolutely – they’re poisons. They are horrendous things to put into your body. Many companies are now forced to actually label the amount of trans fats. Since that’s happened, actually trans fats are difficult to find in foods now. Now that the manufacturers know that people are watching for it, they’ve taken them out and they’ve came up with better alternatives.
Rob: Not saying starch on their nutritional facts. They hide that because they can…I’m just a layperson here, Kev. If it’s not listed as a sugar, if it’s a complex sugar or a starch, it doesn’t look like they need to itemize that out.
If it was a tax department, they’d want a line item, but this is just marketers trying to promote their product. It is shown in the overall total grams of carbohydrates but in this example it’s only showing fiber and sugars.
Dr. Kevin: That’s it. They’ve done a great job in marketing their product, because a lot of people are going to look at that and say, “No sugars. This is good for me.” They’re not taking into account the starch, which is soon going to convert to sugar in their body and cause them, in effect, the same problems as if they were eating sugar. Obviously, there are slight differences there, but in the big picture we’re talking basically the same thing.
The other point I was going to make, too, since we’ve cut fat or reduced fat out of our diet, that really only leaves two other things that we fill in for the fat with. If you cut out fat, then you have to either increase your carbohydrate or your protein intake and most people only eat so much protein in a day.
When you dump the fat, you increase the carbohydrates, which is the starch, fiber and sugar, and in many cases not a lot of fiber, so that means more sugars, in one form or another, which then as we spoke about a few episodes ago regarding sugar and its effect in human health, some really nasty things start happening to the human body when you jack your sugar levels.
Obesity and weight gain are certainly a big part in those factors.
Rob: Hold on. Let’s just focus on that for a sec. The whole non‑fat, low‑fat issue, when we see reduced fat products, basically we should just translate that to…they’re not injecting protein into that product. The more they reduce the fat, the more they’re increasing the sugar.
Dr. Kevin: Or carbohydrates in some form, exactly. That’s typically what you see. You’re going to see that out there right across the board.
When people say to me, “oh, I eat low‑fat yogurt,” the first thing I typically say to them assuming that they don’t have a problem with dairy products, is, “no eat the full‑fat. Eat the high‑fat, the highest fat yogurt you can find. Because you’re going to find that, you’ll eat less of it, and you’ll feel full. You won’t want to eat for a longer period of time thereafter as well.”
Rob: Because the fat as you said earlier, is satiating you and you’re not getting that from the sugars.
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely. In fact, I think we touched on it a little bit in one of the sugar episodes, is that after a certain point of prolonged sugar exposure over a number of years, sugar actually increases your appetite and increases your craving for other carbohydrate and sugar foods. It does the opposite of fat in those situations.
Initially, when you’re 10 to 20‑years old, that typically doesn’t happen. As you’re exposed to more and more sugar through your life, then these are some of the symptoms that we typically see.
Here are some foods that are high in starch, just to give people a few examples of foods that have a lot of starch in them. They’re not going to have sugars per se, but again these starches are going to convert to sugar.
Corn flour. Corn flour is 92 percent starch. Most people look at something that’s got corn flour in it and they think of that as being quite innocuous. Well, not the case.
Raw oatmeal is about 65 percent starch. Rye flour is 76 percent starch. Soy flour, preferably non‑GMO, is only 12 percent starch. Wheat flour is 67 percent starch, and that’s the brown wheat flour. White wheat flour is 76 percent. Brown rice, 80 percent.
Rob: Sorry for interrupting through all of this. I’m at the restaurant. I’m going out. I’m trying to make a better, healthier option. I’m getting a steak. I’m not going to get french fries.
Dr. Kevin: Good.
Rob: I order brown rice. Should I just have the fries, or are both options bad? Should I just say, “Hold the carbs. Give me the salad.”
Dr. Kevin: “Give me the broccoli, and give me an extra hit on the asparagus and the grilled green peppers, or the side salad.” Absolutely, better options. Those foods contain lots of fiber and good quality nutritional components.
Whereas, if you just get the brown rice, people think brown rice is really healthy for them. It’s got a little bit of fiber in it, which is good, which the white rice doesn’t have to speak of. It’s got some fiber, but it’s still a bunch of carbohydrates and predominately starch. That’s just something you want to try and avoid.
Most people think the opposite. They think, “Geez, I’m doing really good things for myself and my family. We’re eating a lot of brown rice.”
Things like black‑eyed beans, they’re about 47 percent starch. French beans are about one percent starch. Chickpeas around 44 percent. Kidney beans around 38 percent. Soybeans around five percent, and broad beans around 10 percent starch. As far as the vegetables go, those are some better options.
Like nuts, say hazelnuts are two percent. Macadamia nuts are one percent starch. Pecans, 1.5 percent. Peanuts, six percent. Pistachios, 2.5 percent. Walnuts, one percent. Sunflower seeds, 16 percent. You can see that nuts and seeds, very low in starch. Not a lot of sugar there. More fats and some protein, so really better options.
Then some other things. Yams are about 32 percent. Potatoes around 17 percent. Having said that potatoes are only 17 percent, they’ve got some sugars in them too.
It’s just something to be aware of that there’s a lot of starch in these foods out there that we kind of eat on a regular basis. You can kind of understand why with decade after decade of eating these kind of foods, they kind of catch up to you, and eventually cause some problems.
Rob: I’ve got to stop you here. When I’m at the restaurant, and I don’t want to eat the Dr. Kevin grilled asparagus, and all that stuff. I’m choosing between french fries or yam fries. Yam fries aren’t that much healthier. From looking at this, potatoes are half of what yam fries are in starch.
Dr. Kevin: It’s true that they are, but we’re going to talk about glycemic index in a minute. That changes things up a little bit. We have to look at, not only just the amount of starch, but the amount of sugars in there.
Because of the way the starches are made, and because of how much sugar there is, how quickly do these things actually convert into sugar in our bloodstream? That’s a pretty important piece of the puzzle.
It’s not just about how much starch sugar there is. Fiber and proteins, all these things play a role together to determine how quickly each food converts to sugar in our body. That’s called “glycemic index.”
Glycemic index, is just a measurement. Most of you have probably heard of this. It’s a measurement of how quickly a food is going to convert into sugar in our body compared to glucose. Glucose is given a rating of 100 or 100 percent, since it converts completely into glucose. It is glucose.
Then other foods are compared. A baked potato has a glycemic index of about 95. It has 95 percent of the effect of just eating straight glucose. French fries about 95, same thing. That’s not a good thing.
If we go down to mashed potatoes, it’s about 90. It’s still big numbers. Potato chips, 90. Honey, 85. Cooked carrots, 85. Corn flakes, 85. Popcorn, 85. Rice cakes, puffed rice, all 85. Pumpkin is around 75. Watermelon is 75.
There are a lot of foods that we think of as maybe being healthy options, but when you look at how quickly they’re converting into sugar in your body that’s not the case because of their composition, and that has to do with the fiber, fat, protein, starch, and sugar content, and how quickly our body has the ability to convert them into sugar.
Obviously, if we convert foods into sugar very quickly, we get a sudden blood sugar spike. If we convert foods to sugar over a long period of time, we get a very minimal increase in our blood sugar and that’s a good thing. That’s what we really want in the big picture here.
Some of the things that are very low on the list as far as glycemic index goes are peanuts, soy products, split peas, lentils, soy vermicelli, green beans, most of the fruits especially the fresh fruits, the berries, chick peas, the raw carrots.
Raw carrots, interestingly enough, have a glycemic index of 30 whereas the cooked carrots have a glycemic index of 85.
Rob: Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Dr. Kevin: Yeah, and that’s a really important thing, and this is something I often talk to patients about. On some of my diets, it’ll say, “You can’t have any cooked carrots, but you can have as many raw carrots as you want.”
The reason is that if you cook your carrots until they’re soft. Carrots contain a lot of fiber. There’s a lot of woody material in carrots. As you know, if you eat a raw carrot, it’s hard to chew and to masticate, to break it down. It gives your jaw a workout.
If you try chewing on some boiled carrots that have been boiled for an hour or so, or something you’d find in a soup for example, that converts to sugar very quickly because all that woody material and fiber has been broken down so that your body can easily separate sugars away from it very quickly.
When you eat a raw carrot, the opposite is the case. It’s like eating wood basically. It takes your digestive system a long time to separate out the sugars and as a result, there’s a very tiny gradual increase in your blood sugar compared to eating the heavily boiled carrots.
What I tell people is if you like to steam your carrots or you like to cook your carrots, then cook them al dente, which means cook them so they’re crunchy. As long as they’re crunchy, then the glycemic index still stays low.
Glycemic index is a great way of looking at foods and how they’re going to convert to sugar in your blood stream.
If they’re a high number, basically I like to use, again just a rule of thumb, anything above 50 really not a good thing. Most foods below 50 are better options, and there certainly are some exceptions that I would never recommend.
Fructose is below 50, but I don’t recommend it to anybody because it’s a form of sugar. Fructose converts to glucose in the body very quickly, in a relatively short order I should say. It still ends up forming glucose all of it pretty well.
It’s not cut and dried, but glycemic index as a rule of thumb, if you look at the list, it’s going to give you some pretty good indicators as to foods you should avoid. We’re going to be talking about other ways of evaluating foods. This is one way to evaluate them. Depending upon your health concerns, you may need to evaluate them in more than just this one way.
We’ll be talking about some of those other things in future episodes.
Rob: When we’re looking at the glycemic index. Obviously, this is really important for people who are diabetic. We can extrapolate from the same list for people who are wanting to lose weight. From what I’m learning here is this is just sugar conversion.
Dr. Kevin: Absolutely. In a nutshell, that narrows it down right there. As I said, there are other factors too to take a look at. It is great to be able to look at a list to give you some fast guidelines as to what generally we should be eating more of and what we should be eating less of.
Those foods above 50, we should eat less of and those below 50 generally we could probably eat more of, and again there are a few exceptions and we’ll be talking about those in other episodes.
For a person who wants to lose weight, that’s generally of benefit. Just to be healthier, and if you’re hypoglycemic, or if you have blood sugar issues, this is going to be a benefit to you to use this as a relatively simple guideline.
Rob: Kev, this has been really eye opening because the one package that we were referring to in this episode was something that we recently bought and I thought this was a healthy snack.
Now, with half of our family having glycemic issues and sugar issues, I now know that if you think this is a healthy snack and it’s going to curb your appetite when in fact it is spiking insulin this is potentially why we’re getting erratic behavior from children. We won’t go into any more details.
This has been great because we’ve learned a lot about sugars in general and carbs in general. That’s great from a knowledge perspective, but when we’re in the store faced with a buying decision, and we’re looking at nutritional info. It’s got plastered all over it, “Rice free, fat free, cholesterol free, organic, non GMO.” There should be more information such as “This is going to spike your insulin like crazy,” but they put that on there.
Dr. Kevin: And it’s never going to be on there let me assure you. That’s the thing that we all have to be so aware of, is the proprietary interest.
People who are manufacturing foods are going to typically appeal to people by making a product look as good as it possibly can in the particular market that they are trying to push towards.
This is a classic example of it right here. Hopefully, some of our listeners can use this information to help them make some better choices with the foods for themselves and their families.
Rob: In one of the upcoming episodes that we’re going to do, is we’re going to go on a shopping excursion to Costco because Costco transcends borders and a lot of people go there.
One great thing about Costco is they’re really uping the game in having a lot of organic gluten‑free non GMO food offerings, but, even those with all those labels aren’t necessarily safe.
Dr. Kevin: Certainly some of them aren’t. Obviously they are bringing in some things and we were talking about some other products which we will get into more specifically in a future episode.
There are some great choices and there are some not so great choices. I think it’d be wonderful to spend a little time looking at specific foods and helping our listeners make some choices for themselves that are going to be positive.
Rob: Well, Kev, this has been great as always. I think this is one of the most enlightening episodes that we’ve done so far because it’s really getting into more of the granular stuff.
I think that people are really going to start to understand some of those insights that you’re sharing.
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Dr. Kevin: If you have any questions directly related to what we’re speaking of today or things that are completely different or outside the realm of what we’re speaking about, please feel free to email us and we’ll be doing some Q and A episodes in the future and we’ll try to get to all of your questions.
Rob: That is at email@example.com. Thanks a lot for listening and we’ll talk with you real soon.