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THE DANGER OF REFINED CARBOHYDRATES
THE DANGER OF REFINED CARBOHYDRATES
Sep 7, 2006
The introduction of cereal grains in the human diet started
us on the road to obesity, diabetes, atherosclerosis and
all manner of ills of modern civilization.
Cultivation of grains and starchy roots introduced large
amounts of carbohydrates into the human diet on a regular
basis. Prior to that development, early humans got sugar
only occasionally in the form of wild fruit or honey, and
starch only occasionally in the form of wild nuts. This
change required the pancreas to work much harder, because
insulin is needed to maintain the blood sugar levels in the
healthy range. High levels of blood glucose are toxic and
must be cleared rapidly to maintain normal body functions.
Insulin facilitates transport of glucose from the blood
into cells. Insulin also encourages the body to store up
calories as fat.
In some people, frequent outbursts of insulin from the
pancreas may encourage cells to decrease their sensitivity
to that hormone. They become insulin resistant. Insulin
resistance is associated with stubborn obesity,
abnormalities of blood fats, high blood pressure, diabetes
and cardiovascular disease, including increased risk of
death from heart attacks and strokes.
The problem with the human diet today is a drastic lowering
of the quality of carbohydrate foods as a result of modern
food technology, especially the refining and processing of
whole, natural carbohydrates, turning them from
slowly-digested carbohydrates to quickly-digested
Consider two innovations: flour and corn syrup. Modern
flour comes from high-speed mills that replaced traditional
millstones in the early 1800s. The new mills generate much
more heat, so flour coming from them is spoiling more
quickly. Spoilage of ground grains results from rancidity
(oxidation) of the oil contained in the embryo (germ) of
the seed; oxidation is much accelerated by high
temperatures. The solution was to remove and discard the
embryo and to remove the seed coat (bran) whose fiber
interfered with the new milling process. The result was
white flour -- superfine particles of starch. White-flour
products are one of the unhealthiest creations of food
technology. Foods made from it cause bursts of high blood
sugar (hyperglycemia) and corresponding bursts of insulin
Corn syrup is a more recent invention. Food technologists
learned to make syrup from cornstarch by boiling it with
acid under pressure. This product is cheaper than sugar
obtained from sugar cane and sugar beets and much loved by
manufacturers, who put immense quantities of it into soft
drinks, juice, salad dressings, jams, jellies, ice cream
and many other foods.
Several factors influence how fast a particular
carbohydrate raises blood sugar. One is the chemical nature
of the carbohydrate. The body is very efficient at
processing glucose but it has a limited ability to handle
fructose, found in fruits and honey.
There is a great increase in consumption of fructose, which
is unprecedented in human history. However, the body does
not handle large amount of fructose well -- a severe
derangement of liver function results. There is also
evidence that high intake of fructose elevates levels of
circulating fats (serum triglycerides), increasing risks of
disease of the heart and arteries.
The introduction of refined and processed carbohydrates
brought about disastrous effects. American fast foods,
especially white bread, white rice, soft drinks, snack
foods, pastries and candy are resulting in obesity,
hypertension, diabetes and heart disease -- the diseases of
Most breads raise blood sugar levels very quickly, not
because of the chemical nature of wheat starch, but for two
1. The fine particle size of wheat flour gives digestive
enzymes great surface area to work on.
2. Action of yeast.
By contrast, pasta does not raise blood sugar levels as
quickly as bread does, because it is made of Durham
semolina and does not contain yeast.
The more a food is processed beyond its natural state, the
less processing your body has to do to digest it. And the
quicker you digest your food, the sooner you are hungry
again and the more you tend to eat.
The blood sugar (glucose) level acts as hunger barometer –
when blood sugar is low we feel hungry, whether or not we
have burned the calories that we’ve previously eaten. If
blood sugar fluctuates widely throughout the day under
insulin’s influence, the net effect may be an excess intake
of calories, causing us to gain weight.
Our fundamental problem is that we are eating foods that
are too easily digested by our bodies. We need to slow
down the digestive process so we feel hungry less often.
How can we do that? Well, we have to eat foods that have
not been highly processed and, therefore, break down at a
slow and steady rate in our digestive system, leaving us
feeling fuller for longer. How do we identify
• The first clue is the amount of fiber in the food; it
takes much longer to break it down, so it slows down the
digestive process. There are two forms of fiber: soluble
and insoluble. Soluble fiber is found in foods like oats,
barley, beans and citrus fruits, and has been shown to
lower blood cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber is
important for normal bowel function and is found in whole
grains and most vegetables.
• Fat, like fiber, slows down the digestive process. When
combined with other foods it becomes a barrier to digestive
juices. It also signals the brain that you are satisfied
and do not require more food. Fats prolong the process of
digestion by slowing down the stomach’s secretions of
hydrochloric acid and so fats create a longer-lasting
satiety or sensation of fullness after a meal. Excessive
fat intake will cause abnormally slow digestion and
absorption, resulting in indigestion. Fats and oils in
excess increase the tendency for constipation in the
average person by slowing down the emptying time of the
stomach and reducing the peristaltic action of the
• Protein also slows down the digestive process. Protein is
the most filling of all the nutrients. It is much more
effective than carbohydrates or fat in satisfying hunger --
it will make you feel fuller longer, which is why you
should always try to incorporate some protein in every meal
You can feel
most satisfied after a meal when the foods are of
appropriate nutrient proportions. Strive for adequate
protein, fiber, healthy fats and unprocessed or minimally
refined carbohydrates (slowly digested) in each of your
• Acids in foods -- lemon juice, acidic fruits (such as
tomatoes), vinegar, wine, sourdough bread -- slow down the
rate of digestion and lower blood glucose levels.
All refined carbohydrates, either starch or sugar, should
be practically out of our diet.
• The majority of carbohydrate calories should come from
less refined, less processed foods, which makes them slowly
digestible. The processed foods are also low in fiber and
• It is desirable to eat some slowly digested carbohydrates
with most meals, such as whole grains, beans, vegetables
and some slower digested fruits like berries, apples and
cherries as opposed to tropical fruits like mangoes,
papayas, pineapples and bananas.
• If you eat quickly digestible foods, eat them in moderate
quantities and balance them by adding some slowly digested
foods at the same meal.
• Reduce the impact of quickly digested foods by eating
them as part of mixed meals, including fiber and acid, such
as lemon juice.
• Replace white and whole-wheat flour bread with dense,
• Eat firmer-cooked (al dente) pasta rather than