This is part of a blog post series developed by yours truly that will explore the question of “what if?”. These are often questions I ask myself when exploring how small changes on a macro level might have a significant impact in improving our health. Please leave your thoughts in the comments and feel free to submit your own “what if?” questions. Who knows, you may just see your “what if?” covered in a post here.
Don’t punch your computer screen just yet. When I first started experimenting with different diets, many of them prescribed cutting out or significantly limiting carbohydrates referred to by most people as “bread”. While bread is likely the most common food that comes to mind when people hear “carbs”, other foods that fall into this category are pasta, foods containing flour, oatmeal, white rice, brown rice, quinoa and other grains. Surprisingly, in many of the discussions and articles about carbohydrates, I often fail to hear fruits and vegetables mentioned. If we lump foods into categories based on their primary macronutrient content (Macronutrients = protein, fat, or carbohydrate), the reality is that fruits and vegetables are just as much “carbs” as a slice of bread. All this means is that when these foods enter your digestive system, they are often broken down into glucose or other sugar molecules that are used to trigger the production of ATP, our body’s primary source of energy. Like with any food, different people react differently to different types of carbohydrates. Because quite simply, we are all different. What is often missing from the conversation about “carbs” is why so many people are ditching the rolls at dinner and instead choosing salad.
Through the curriculum at IIN, a concept that was often discussed was the idea of “crowding out”. Often the way we approach someone with advice can be the difference between the advice leading to action or the mind shutting it out. The reason crowding out is such an important concept is because we are all conditioned to believe that in order to be healthy or lose weight we have to “diet”. Google the term “diet definition” and the first verb form you see is defined as: “restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight”. When is the last time you heard someone get excited when they were told to do something that involved restricting anything? We live in a world that is about instant gratification and “go big or go home”. Since the time our parents told us to keep our hands out of the cookie jar, we humans have always had a predisposition to disobey or break the rules. This is where crowding out comes into play.
What if rather than telling you to stop eating sandwiches, cheeseburgers, rolls, wraps, tacos, or anything else layered by bread or tortillas, I simply suggested adding a large pile of greens to the toppings of said sandwich, cheeseburger, etc.? Might that change your perception? Perhaps not, but taking it a step further, what if I explained that by making this small change, you would not only be decreasing the calories of that meal, but substantially increasing your nutrient intake? Might this change your perception about changing the source of carbs? Anyone see what I did there? Instead of suggesting you “ELIMINATE CARBS” from your diet, I simply suggested changing the source. That’s right. Greens are carbohydrates, but that is not all they are. This is where that small distinction above about macronutrients comes into play. The reason it might be a worthwhile change to substitute a slice of bread with a bed of greens is due to the other type of far less discussed nutrients known as micronutrients. What are micronutrients? If you take a multi-vitamin like so many people out there do, practically every ingredient on the nutrition label falls into the category of micronutrient. It includes things like iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin B, potassium, and calcium. So why not just take the multi-vitamin and enjoy the bread? In the interest of avoiding a digression into the flaws of the supplement industry, simply put, naturally sourcing nutrients from FOOD instead of pills is almost always a far better option. This is because the foods you eat together can influence chemical reactions that may lead to increased absorption of those micro and macro nutrients that otherwise don’t occur when you simply take a pill without any other foods to aid in the digestion and absorption process.
So this takes us back to the topic of today’s “what if?”. I’m not suggesting eliminating bread from every menu, but rather providing the OPTION to add greens or substitute bread with greens. Sure there will always be foods that just won’t be the same without good old fashion bread (cheeseburgers and deep dish pizza anyone? I’m from Chicago, I get it). The point is, even on a small scale (twice a week at lunch, for example), this would be a simple way to learn how your body reacts to a small change. I personally made this change a long time ago and have since enjoyed highly sustainable energy levels throughout the day. The micronutrients and phytonutrients your body needs to function optimally are difficult or impossible (vegetables are the only food source containing phytonutrients) to obtain from the foods that are most common in our everyday lives. Without them, everything from your energy to your mood to your immune system suffer.
Hopefully this has provided some food for thought (pun intended). If nothing else, I hope it’s shed some new light on the ongoing “carb debate” and inspires you to try some greens with your next meal. Until next time, keep asking, “what if?”.