Understanding Carbs – Bariatric Edition

My intention here is to make it easy to understand your carbohydrates.  How can we control our intake of carbohydrates when we don’t know what they really are.  Sure, there are the ones that stand out like bread and tortillas, crackers and rice – but let’s dive a bit deeper.  Why are we trying to control our carbs ? and what benefit will this give us ? and what carbs can I eat ? 

Why are carbs vilified ?  Here’s the answer and it is biochemistry – I am not making this stuff up.  The hormone insulin drives fat storage.  What drives insulin levels ? Here’s what you are looking for: carbs drive insulin.  See what I did there – made it super easy to understand that carbs drive insulin levels and insulin drives fat storage. 

Eating healthy fats and proteins does increase fat storage but only by a little bit.  When discussing our macros / fat, protein and carbohydrates , only carbohydrates will increase fat storage by a large amount.  

Now let’s talk about broccoli vs bread.  They are both carbohydrates and both will bread down as carbs when they enter the body.  The body is going to break both of these foods into glucose (sugar).  This is something that occurs with ALL carbohydrates.  The higher the glycemic index carbohydrate, the faster it breaks down into glucose.  Those processed carbs break down so rapidly that blood sugar increases extremely quickly.  Next up comes a stress response because your body needs to get your blood sugar to lower so it releases insulin which moves the glucose into your cells.  Once this happens your blood sugar gets very low and guess what ?  You will feel very hungry and eat more.  Broccoli is a carbohydrate but it will not raise blood sugar levels like a piece of bread.  The body needs to work on breaking down the broccoli but the bread is so processed that it is already broken down before it enters the body.  Can you see why not all carbs are equal now ?

What we are trying to do is to reduce the refined/ processed carbohydrates from our diet.  There are two main types.  One is sugars and the second one is refined grains.  These refined carbohydrates have been stripped of almost all fiber, vitamins and minerals.  They are now empty calories and they have a big impact on our blood sugars.  They get digested very quickly and that causes rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after we eat them.  Main sources are: white flour, white bread, rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, sweets, breakfast cereals and any added sugars.  These things are added to most processed foods.  Refined carbohydrates drive overeating and increase the risk of obesity.

What’s the take home message here?  Try to get the majority of your carbohydrates from whole, live, fresh, good quality foods which contain one single ingredient – such as broccoli, onions, peppers, spinach.  If a food comes with an ingredient list, it is more than likely not considered a healthy source of carbs.  

The more we read and research as interested consumers of food products, the more we will understand and the better choices we can make for ourselves and our families.  

I salute you for wanting to know more in order to make better decisions.

About the Author: Sheri Burke is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Bariatric Surgery Coordinator at International Patient Facilitators in Tijuana and Cancun, Mexico. She has worked with bariatric surgery clients for over 10 years and especially enjoys providing nutritional guidance to pre and post bariatric clients.  In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two teens and cooking up a nutritional storm in the kitchen.

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