Before agriculture; think bread, pasta, bagels, doughnuts, cereals, and granola, what did our ancestors eat? Much of the world’s population thrived on continuous or intermittent carbohydrate restriction. Examples of carbohydrates were fruits, berries, tubers, squash and vegetables. Agricultural carbohydrates such as wheat and rye did not come north of the Alps until brought by the Romans after the time of Christ. The Irish, Scandinavians, and Russians had no agricultural carbohydrates suitable to their climate until the potato emigrated to Europe from the Andes in the 16th century AD. Many of our ancestors had little exposure to high proportions of dietary carbohydrates until 1-2 thousand years ago.
Fast forward to present day. The United States is currently reevaluating a 3 decade, never seen before experiment in which fats are demonized and carbohydrates run the show. We are currently one of the most obese countries in the world. Sadly this has filtered to indigenous tribes across the globe with historically low carbohydrate intake. Never before have they seen and felt the effects of obesity and diabetes until a few decades ago.
What does low carbohydrate mean? Most individuals can thrive on 10-150g of carbohydrates per day. While this range might seem pretty vast, the intake of most Americans per day hovers around 300g or more. But keep in mind we did not get diabetes from eating these real foods such as vegetables, fruits, berries and squash. Diabetes rushed in after the intake of white sugar, flour and all of those sweet foods in between.
Naturally occurring carbohydrates from fruit balance themselves out with essential vitamins and fiber. Unlike sugar non-foods, fruits can minimize insulin surges. Some examples of naturally occurring carbohydrates in fruit can be well under the 150g of carbohydrates per day. Most people eat 1-3 servings of fruits per day.
1 medium banana: 27g
1 medium apple: 25g
1 medium orange: 22g
1 cup pineapple: 22g
1 cup pumpkin: 8g
1 cup blueberries: 21g
Where we start getting into trouble is thinking that drinking a fruit smoothie or fruit juice is the same as eating the real deal.
16 oz Jamba Juice Mango: 54g
24 oz Jamba Juice Mega Mango: 80g
4 cups orange juice: 104 g
15.2 oz Odwalla Chocolate Protein: 53g
15.2 oz Odwalla Strawberry Protein: 36g
18 oz Yoplait non-fat yogurt: 54g
Wait..… You’re telling me that those “healthy” protein shakes contain 53g of carbohydrates?! And I thought non-fat yogurt was healthy? You can see how this is starting to add up. Fruit juices, smoothies and sweetened yogurts (espeically non-fat), are digested so fast that blood sugar levels skyrocket. Unlike chewing and enjoying a piece of real fruit, drinking juice happens so quickly.
What about the obvious sources of high sugary carbohydrates? Aren’t most of them just treats and desserts? You would be amazed at how much sugar modern food contains.
Snickers bar: 30g
20 oz Pepsi: 69g
2 slices white bread: 30g
1 bagel: 48g
1 tablespoon white sugar: 12g
1 cup vanilla ice cream: 32g
1 cup Raisin Bran: 46g (don’t forget, most people don't just have one cup. Plus the extra 12g of carbs of non-fat milk)
Don’t forget coffee creamers, non-fat salad dressings, condiments, sauces, or even gum.
Is the math starting to add up? American breakfasts are really desserts. Pancakes with syrup and artificial sweetened fruit on top contains more sugar and carbohydrates than a slice of chocolate cake. Don’t forget the orange juice to wash it down. Lunches consist of chips, sandwiches and a soda. Let’s equate that to over 100g just in one sitting. For dinner most us plow through a high carbohydrate meal of pasta and pizza followed by a sugary gut bomb dessert.
It’s not that carbohydrates are the source of diabetes, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and obesity. It is the amount of carbohydrates not found in nature on a daily basis, meal after meal. The human body processes sugar as a threat to our internal organs. Never before in the history of mankind have we eaten these types of foods, and yet we are not just consuming 1 per week or month.
Carbohydrates can be beneficial, sweet and tasty on their own if we come back to nature’s true source. Instead of reaching for that bowl of ice cream topped with more syrup, try an apple and cinnamon. Or a banana with nut butter. You will be surprised at how satiating real fruit can be.