We are two weeks into the New Year and many of you are working hard to hold onto the number one resolution…to lose weight! Today, this column will offer some sage and practical advice on satisfying hunger with healthy snacks. You have probably noticed a lot of attention being paid to sugar lately. In fact, some people have decided to avoid all refined sugars with the goal of improving their health and wellness. Terms like simple sugars and simple carbs, which are purported to be bad, and complex carbs, suggested to be good, are being used ad nauseam. While medical research does not support the value of a short term “sugar cleanse,” it may have value for another reason. For example, it would be very beneficial if one engages in a “sugar cleanse” for the purpose of changing their palate with the hope of developing long term healthy eating habits.
While I am an advocate of moderation, I decided to provide my readers with some answers to some simple questions about the fuss over sugar. What is a simple sugar? What is a complex sugar? Which sugars are good for you? What are some good low-carb snacks?
Sugars, along with starches and fibers, are one of three types of carbohydrates (also referred to as a carb). A carb is “simple” or “complex,” based on its chemical composition and how it is processed in the body. It gets a little complicated because some foods have both simple and complex carbs. Typically, simple carbs are chemically more “simple” and basic, and therefore they are broken down more easily and serve as a quick source of energy. Some of these carbs are naturally simple (like fruit and milk) while others are processed or refined sugars such as those used in candy, soda and baked goods. To determine if a food product has good or bad simple sugar, you must also know how much fiber, vitamins and minerals are in the food. A food with a higher sugar content combined with a low fiber, vitamin or mineral content will be worse than a food with the same sugar content but high fiber and vitamins or minerals. For example: a candy bar, which is high in sugar without fiber or vitamins or minerals, is not as healthy as a fresh orange, which contains fiber, vitamins and minerals along with its simple sugar (fructose).
Examples of simple carbs:
Most candy products, non-diet soft drinks, cookies and cakes, iced tea and lemonade with sugar, energy drinks, and ice cream.
Complex carbs have a more complicated chemical makeup and take more time for the body to break down for use as energy. Therefore, these are considered “good” carbs because they provide a more even distribution of energy for the body to use during activity. They cause a more consistent and gradual release of sugar into the blood stream (as opposed to peaks and valleys caused by simple carbs) and provide energy to function throughout the day. Additionally, “good” carbs have the added benefit of providing vitamins, fiber, and minerals that are missing from simple carbs.
Examples of complex (carbs):
Whole grains: buckwheat, brown rice, corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, quinoa, breads and pastas made with whole grains
Dairy: low fat yogurt, skim milk
Nuts, Seeds, Legumes: lentils, kidney beans, chick peas, split peas, soy beans, pinto beans, soymilk
Fruits and Vegetables: potatoes, tomatoes, onions, okra, dill pickles, carrots, yams, strawberries, peas, radishes, beans, broccoli, spinach, green beans, zucchini, apples, pears, cucumbers, asparagus, grapefruit, prunes
Remember that carbohydrates fuel the body and are an important source of energy, especially for active and athletic people. However, carefully selecting the type of carb you eat is critical to peak function and performance.
Simple carbs taste great (according to our modern brain raised on simple sugars) and are easy to breakdown into a quick source of energy. However, the sensation of hunger is quick to return because the sugar is released and used up in the body quickly, giving the sensation of needing more.
Simple carbs are often “refined” and therefore stripped of their fiber, vitamins and minerals, which is why they are often referred to “empty” calories.
Simple carbs lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. When these levels are not controlled over time, it can lead to obesity, which is ultimately related to adult-onset diabetes and high blood pressure.
Complex carbs make you feel full faster and longer and therefore, are an important component to weight loss.
Complex carbs keep the body fueled for an extended time.
Complex carbs are easier to digest and the fiber content allows for smoother digestion with less bloating and gas, and improved toxin removal.
Complex carbs from vegetables have been found to lower LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease.
10 Healthy Low-Carb Snacks
Sliced apples or pears are a great compliment to a variety of cheeses. With only 10 grams of carbs, the combination of protein, fat and fiber is, not only tasty, but will sustain you for hours.
2. Avocado Spread on a Low-Fat Cracker
Mash a ripe avocado and spread on a low-fat cracker or crisp. This delicious high-fiber snack has 17 grams of carbs.
3. Yogurt and Cucumbers
Greek and Middle-Eastern cultures have long known the value of yogurt. By adding cucumber (slices or spears) for dipping or diced, the snack becomes high in protein (21 grams) while low in carbs (10 grams)
4. Chicken, Turkey, Porketta Lettuce Roll-Up
Use healthy, white deli meat but avoid the bread. Instead, use a lettuce to wrap the meat and maybe add spicy mustard. 1 ounce of sliced turkey has only 3.7 grams of carbs.
5. Cottage Cheese and Fruit
Add you favorite fruit, (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, pineapple, peaches, etc) to low-fat cottage cheese and you get a tasty, healthy low carb (17 grams), low-fat with the additional benefit of fiber and protein.
6. Celery and Peanut Butter
2 stalks of celery filled with 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter creates a simple, yet healthy snack loaded with fiber and protein and only10 grams of carbs.
Mixed nuts, in moderate quantities, are a good snack because they offer a crunchy, salty, high protein option with 6 grams of carbs per ounce. However, some nuts are better for you than others: macadamias have more heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, cashews are high in iron and zinc and almonds are very high in fiber and vitamin E.
Edamame are high-fiber, high-protein soybeans have only 6 grams of carbs in a half-cup. A frozen bag pops into the microwave to become a quick easy healthy snack.
Hummus is a very popular and healthy chick pea dip. And, if not eaten with copius amounts of pita bread, it can also be low carb. Instead, dip carrots, celery, red bell pepper wedges, and zuchinni (16 grams of carbs).
10. Tuna-Stuffed Tomato
3 ounces of tuna stuffed into a fresh tomato half offers a healthy snack with only 3.5 grams of carbs.
Read Dr. Mackarey’s Health & Exercise Forum – every Monday. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.