Why carbs are not the enemy

Choose and use them wisely, according to our eleventh nutritional pillar: Regulate Blood Sugar By Being Strategic About Total Carbohydrate Load.

The Equinox Nutrition Philosophyis comprised of 12 fundamental nutritional pillars, all of which support the health of your cells, and thus increase your body’s overall energy capabilities while decreasing acidity and inflammation. The result: A younger, healthier (and we bet, happier) you with a metabolic system that hums. Here, the eleventh:

Overeating sugary, starchy, processed carbohydrates is a pastime as American as apple pie—in both the literal and figurative sense—but consider this: Doing so can cause your body to release too much insulin, the hormone that helps your cells absorb glucose from the blood. Over time, when blood sugar concentrations stay high, you’re put on track to inflammation, micro-vascular damage, and diseases like adult-onset diabetes.

Carbs aren’t the enemy, though. Despite being much maligned over the years, they’re one of the main macronutrients in our diets. “Negative thinking about carbs is good if it keeps you away from muffins and pastries, but it can also cause you to cut out satisfying, nutrient-dense carbohydrates,” says Precision Nutrition coach Brian St. Pierre, MS, RD, CSCS.

For this reason, pros advise not getting hung up on the glycemic index. “By definition, the consumption of high-glycemic foods like white bread, cookies, and candy results in a higher and more rapid increase in blood glucose levels than the consumption of lower-GI foods like whole grains, nuts, non-starchy vegetables, and legumes. The benefit is that you get a lower, sustained increase in blood glucose and, therefore, lower insulin demands,” explains registered dietician and Tier 4 coach Maria Pagano. “The problem with this is that it doesn’t look at the big picture. A more accurate indicator of glycemic response is a carbohydrate’s glycemic load.”

Carrots, for instance, have a high GI score (71), but the vibrant veggie’s glycemic load is just 7.2. Sweet potatoes, bananas, and russet potatoes fare similarly by these standards, yet they’re all healthy choices that shouldn’t be nixed from your diet. “People often lump great-for-you carbs—even the starchy ones—in with the nutrient-poor carbs like white pasta,” says St. Pierre. “But russet potatoes, for example, are highly satiating, contain a good amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals like potassium, and if you pair them with a protein and a healthy fat, you’ve got a great meal.”

The moral of the story: Choose your carbs based on nutrition, not GI score. And be strategic about when you eat them. Your insulin sensitivity is higher in the morning and post-workout, notes St. Pierre, so focus your healthy starches and sugars earlier in the day, when your body can burn them for energy, and after you hit the gym, for glycogen storage and replenishment. It’s worth noting that the more active you are, the more often you can indulge in these palate pleasers.

If you stick to well-timed, minimally processed, whole-food carbs, your blood sugar should naturally even out—and your body will thank you with sustained energy. Try a warm bowl of buckwheat with walnuts and figs for breakfast or a sweet potato smoothie after a long run. With the right carbs at the right time, you’ll feel the difference. And soon enough, those old post-donut highs and lows really won’t seem worth it.

Make these healthy-carb recipes from Tasting Table part of your new strategy:

Pulled Chicken with Red Rice

Beef, Barley and Bone Soup

Practice what we're preaching for the next few weeks, then check back on December 5th for rule number twelve. If you're just tuning into our 12-month eating overhaul, read ournutrition philosophy.