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Food to Eat for a Low Carb DietI have been having a hard time finding a vegetarian diet which gives me enough substance but that has few carbs because I am hypoglycemic. I am not sure how many grams of protein and of carbs I should be eating a days, I seem to have a very fast metabolism which requires many smaller meals. -Amy
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Carbohydrates, as they occur in nature, are the foundation of a healthy diet. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds, and nuts are all rich in carbohydrates and provide us with optimal nutrition. Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately, and with good reason: too many of the wrong types of carbohydrates will, indeed, wreak havoc on our health. What are the wrong types? Those refined and processed to the point where they no longer resemble their original form. Unfortunately, this is the form consumed by most people: sugar, sugary cereals, white breads, white pasta and rice, refined crackers and cookies, pastries and donuts, desserts, etc.
One of the key flaws with the rationale for "watching carbs"-whether you are hypoglycemic or not-is that all carbohydrates are lumped together and considered unhealthful. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, legumes, and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, bioflavanoids, carotenoids, retinols, sulforaphanes, isoflavones, polyphenols, plant sterols and stanols, and other substances that are known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. When we cut back on all carbs, we cut back on these disease-fighting components.
Unfortunately, in North America and other parts of the world, we have this strange habit of refining foods before consuming them. When whole grains are processed into foods like white flour and white rice, for example, the two most healthful parts of the plant - the germ and the bran - are removed. In the process, we lose about 70-80 percent of the vitamins and minerals, 80-90 percent of the fiber, and 95 percent of the protective phytochemicals. What remains? Starch. It doesn't stop there; other junk is then added such as hydrogenated fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. It's not carbohydrates per se that are the problem. It is the removal of almost everything of value to human health that nature packages with carbohydrates that is the big mistake.
People who are hypoglycemic need to be especially careful of their refined carbohydrate intake. Definitely, small frequent meals are recommended for hypoglycemia. As long as these meals are based on a wide variety of whole plant foods, your hypoglycemia should stay under control. Include foods that are good sources of protein and fat with every meal. Some examples of high-protein plant foods include nuts, seeds, soy products like tofu and tempeh, and beans and lentils. Some examples of high-fat plant foods include nuts, avocados, and olives. Oils are also high in fat but are refined and should thus be consumed in moderation. The fiber, protein, and natural fats present in whole plant foods suppress the sugar spike and fall that would occur with sugary and refined carbohydrates.
As a general rule, you will probably control your blood glucose levels if you avoid refined sugars. However, if you have a hypoglycemic episode, take some juice or sugar immediately. I recommend that you carry with you a juice box or Gluco-tabs (quickly digested sugar tablets) at all times.
As far as numbers go, roughly half to 60 percent of your calories should come from whole, complex carbohydrates, 15-20 percent from protein, and 20-30 percent from fats. Most healthy whole foods have all three of these components, so it's not so simple to figure out how you're doing without doing a computer analysis. Many people make the mistake of labeling a food "a carb" or "a fat" or "a protein." Whole plant foods are almost always a combination of all three. Here are some examples (numbers are expressed as percentage of total calories for each food):
Cracked wheat (whole grain) bread is 76% carbohydrate, 19% protein, and 5% fat (as a comparison, one type of popular white bread is 78% carbohydrate, 11% protein, and 9% fat). Hummus is 35% carbohydrate, 17% protein, and 48% fat. Sunflower seeds are 10% carbohydrate, 12% protein, and 78% fat. Tofu is 15% carbohydrate, 44% protein, and 41% fat. Almonds 14% carbohydrate, 13% protein, and 73% fat. Pinto beans are 72% carbohydrate, 20% protein, and 8% fat.
Looking at this list, it might seem like even whole grains and beans are too high in carbs, but given that you will be consuming a mixed diet, the carb-protein-fat ratio in each food is not important—what is important is the total ratio. So, aim to balance relatively high-carb foods (like whole grains) with foods like nuts and nut butters, soy products, beans, seeds, vegetables, olives, and avocados.
One myth that seems to stick is that vegetables don't contribute protein. Not true. Did you know that broccoli is 26% protein? That spinach is 27% protein? That tomatoes are 12% protein? That mushrooms are 21% protein? Again, these numbers represent the amount of protein as a percentage of calories, not as a percentage of weight or volume. Since most vegetables have relatively few calories, small servings obviously have little total protein. So you'll need to eat a lot of vegetables to get a lot of protein, but of course no one is recommending that you eat only vegetables. The point is that if you eat enough calories from a variety of plant foods, your protein needs will most likely be met. Remember, you only need 15-20% protein, so eating an appropriate amount of calories from a variety of vegetables and other whole plant foods will supply plenty of protein, and a healthy balance of nutrition.
So what are some good meal ideas to keep your hypoglycemia under control?
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