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To Eat or Not to Eat Carbs--That is the Question?

There seems to be a slew of newer diet books like "The Paleo Diet" or "The Wheat Belly Diet" arguing for limited grain consumption. While nutritional experts have come full circle from condemning fats of all kinds to finally agreeing that healthy fats are good for us after all, grains have taken it on the chin this past decade. Low-carb diets have been the fad for some time now and have gained a strong hold on health-conscious Americans.

However, a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consumption of whole grains versus refined grains actually led to an increase in energy balance. Eating whole grains helped the test subjects burn more calories while absorbing less calories overall. And there was also a trend toward improved glucose tolerance. The authors felt their study helped explain the association between eating whole grains and having reduced body weights and body fat levels. The lead author even went so far as to assert that Americans, on average, eat too many processed and often highly sugared grains (i.e., breakfast cereals), while not eating enough whole grains. Considering that whole grains in the diet are associated with lower rates of cancer, the net effect of including them in a daily diet leads to better long-term health.

These findings are especially critical for seniors who often have impaired or reduced absorption from the foods they eat as a natural consequence of the body slowing down. It becomes even more important that they eat well on a daily basis, even if they eat sporadically or much less than they used to eat as younger individuals. Making the effort to include whole grains, such as whole wheat, cracked grains like cooked brown rice or quinoa, can actually help seniors regain some of their lost energy and stabilize weight loss or weight gain. An increase of whole flours and grains in the daily diet also adds significantly more fiber which can be the answer individuals of all ages need when battling constipation or diarrhea. Our guts require a certain level of fiber to maintain normal function and eating refined grains is a major contributor to the increasing problem we see in the U.S. population with diagnoses of irritable bowel syndrome and other chronic intestinal problems.

How many calories of complex carbohydrates (fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains) should we eat on a daily basis? If we assume a typical diet intake of 2,500 calories, a good rule of thumb would be 53 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 28 percent from healthy fats and 19 percent from proteins. And if we took in at least 850 calories of the total carbohydrates from whole grain consumption, we would have a very healthy diet overall.

And if this isn't enough to add encouragement to eating more complex carbohydrates on a daily basis rather than white flour and refined rice products, the above study also found a modest positive effect on the immunity response of its test subjects when they studied their gut microbiomes' response to harmful viruses and bacteria. Stronger immune systems is just one more reason to eat more healthfully on a daily basis. Here's to eating well!

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