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Good Carbs, Bad Press


BetterBaking.Com Extra Feature


Good Carbs, Bad Press, or Making Complex Carbs Simple Again….

Does what to eat, what not to eat have you scratching your head over the complexity of it all? Fear not, carbs are cool,  good for you and most important, necessary to any diet- whether you are maintaining or trying to lose weight. You just have to know which ones and have some toothsome recipes to make the most of what nature offers.

Marcy Goldman Editor and Host,

 I offer this feature both with a mind to all of you enjoying  great baking and by way of response to the anti-carb craze. It also contains notes and tips for those of you interested both in carbs, weigh loss and maintenance. This is not a nutritionist nor dieter’s soapbox. This is a feature from an informed baker. The fear of wheat, and other sound carbohydrates has gone on long enough without a proper response from the baker’s kitchen. The Canadian Wheat Board recently called and asked for my advice and flour companies, as well as anyone in the scratch baking business have been more or less, waiting for the storm to pass.

It will. But it will pass sooner, the more informed we are.  Telling visitors that home baking is a good thing is like preaching to the choir but it is always nice to know more. For those of you cutting back on home baking or having your baking viewed with suspect, please come back to the kitchen. Great baking has its place. It is part of enjoying your life, in the broadest sense. The greatest diet, without the balance of a life to match, ain’t worth tenfold its weight in calories.  Read on……

Low Carbs, Complex Carbs, Diets, Nutrition and Home Baking –

A Baker’s Perspective…..

I wanted to introduce this feature by saying, “I am a professional baker. I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore”. Since that is professionally partisan, I will go for higher ground and share some simple facts on food, the anti-carb trend, and how it pertains to baking. Better than all this talk, I am sharing a stellar collection of baking recipes that are as good for you as they taste plain good. But first, the basics.

You don’t have to look too far to figure out, it is open season on shooting down carbs. Even since the rise and peak of diet guru, the late Dr. Atkins, consumers have been on a vendetta against carbs. Carbs is short for carbohydrates, and are one of three main food groups that include proteins, and fats. In order to be well, we need to partake of all three groups in a mindful balance, whether we are maintaining weight or trying to reduce it.

The diet of the day, often referred to the Dr. Atkins Diet (but there are others such as the South Beach diet), is a respin of the low-carb diets of yesteryear. It is also somewhat ironic that we are avoiding carbs these days, as we quietly up the fat are far more liberal with our intake of lean protein. In fact, barely a few years back, carbs were the favorite food group of the dieting community and the anti-fat brigade ruled. “Eat more carbs’ was the sentiment, and so we did – piling plates of pasta with low-fat sauces and thinking we would be svelte in no time. But the statistics are in and only show incredible rises in obesity in adults in children, throughout both Canada and the United States.

The low-fat credo has taken a side-seat and now carbs bear the brunt of diet stigma.

As never before, there is an unheralded trend to lower carbs to ridiculously low levels if not almost avoid them almost entirely. Madison Avenue advertising and corporate food establishment, have both have capitalized on the incomplete story on lowered-carbs as a diet ploy and our intense need for the diet quick fix we consumers have always demonstrated.  Accordingly, food companies to fast food chains have introduced low or no carb everything: from ice-creams, to salad dressings, cookies, pastas and even, from Burger King, I believe, a huge burger, not on a bun, multi-grain or otherwise, but between two slabs of ice-berg lettuce. Sheesh! As James McGuire, one of Canada’s leading baking professionals and former owner of famed Passe Partout Bakery in Montreal said, “You have your entire day to partake of broad spectrum eating. Why pin the full burden of nutrition on the baking and the baker?”

You would think we would have all figured out that extreme diets do not work. The fallout in avoiding carbs is that it is also, single-handedly, and sadly, hurting the wheat industry, baking trade, and sheer pleasure people have in their own homes, enjoying the goodness of scratch baking. Truth is, no matter what the diet of the day, three things are important to know vis a vis maintaining health through nutrition, as well as losing weight: They are:

All adults and children need all three food groups in some balance to be eating healthily for these essential food groups are an interconnected equation that is the basis for growth, maintenance and daily activity

That eradicating or avoiding one complete food group, unless medically indicated and with a comprehensive appreciation of where the balance of missing nutrients from those food groups might be found and compensated for, is simply not a sound approach to either nutrition or weight loss.

At the end of the day, calories do count! There is indeed a correlation between intake (energy in) and metabolism of fuel (energy out). More and more, it is also becoming apparent that not all calories are equal and you need a balance between calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates with a parameter of total quantity of calories.  In short, eat less, move more.

How do low carb diets work?

Since carbs are in the hot seat lately, suffering both the chilly scrutiny of nutritionists, dieters and the general eating public, and as a baker protecting her chosen ingredient: flour, let me share with you some cogent facts.

First, we will find out how low-carb diets work and secondly, on how to make the carbs you choose count, in a good way. The latter will also make you realize, you can bring wonderful things like wheat flour, oatmeal, grainy scones, delectable muffins and bread – all back to your table and enjoy, without guilt. We have gorgeous grains, milled whole flours, and other fiber and vitamin rich ingredients in the bakery aisle and any kitchen. They are suffering from under use, bad press, and reciprocally, our bodies miss them as much as they miss us. It is time to bake and enjoy again. If you need more incentive, here is yet more information, distilled down from the data of the day.

Low carb diets work this way. Like any diet, food restrictions of any sort do indeed, lead to lessened caloric intake. In the case of lowering carbs, the reason diets like Atkins are so quickly effective (and the key word is ‘quickly’) is that when you reduce carbs severely the body, resorts to using the back up system or stores of fat and protein in order to have proper fuel. This in turn, produces a condition called ketosis, which is akin to the body believing itself to be starving, responds by also lessening its appetite. This feigned starvation mode will result in quick weight loss, which is a big boon for impatient, quick-fix dieters. Who is not a quick-fix dieter? If you know someone like that – call me. However, over time, this sort of dieting can be detrimental to your health and you will be deprived of essential nutrients and food fuel, and all the benefits they offer. Some people incidentally can do well for kick starting weight loss with an Atkins-like diet – but everyone is different and their body response will be unique depending on type. One in three people will have significant negative response to the sheer amount of fat available to them, as part of this diet.

Ketosis is more or less fine for a short period of time, say two weeks but great numbers of people are using this method, albeit unwittingly, far longer than that. In effect, extreme diets, which long term, exceedingly low carbohydrate diets are, can account for lower weight at the cost of malnutrition. There is more. The weight, lost in this fashion, as any weight lost in extreme fashion, comes back.  Weight loss, that is part of overall lifestyle change, is generally perceived to be the only lasting way to lose.

Studies are also revealing, increasingly, that those on low-calorie, and low fat diets, lose slower than those on lower-carb diets but in the end, all case studies reported the same over all weight in the same extended length of time. In other words, low-carbs group lose faster but in the end, moderate dieters (lower intake overall with broad spectrum eating) have the same weight loss. There is further evidence to suggest that the more moderate weight loss is also permanent weight loss because it moderate dieting which is based on traditional lowered calorie diets, comprised of complex carbs, lean protein, and exercise. In other words, it is diet as a component of total lifestyle change – which is associated with permanent weight loss (versus a trend diet). Moreover, eventually, deprivation leads to cravings, which is proof positive of the phrase, ‘what you resist, will persist’. 

The backlash almost any newsy diet experience is beginning. On May 28th 2004, , the NBC Today Show revealed a case against the estate of Dr. Atkins as the plaintiff, Jody Gorran, revealed that he had gone from a cholesterol count of 146 (normal range) to 230 (hazardous) while on the Atkins Diet. This Florida lawsuit is in its preliminary stages of litigation but it is perhaps, an indication of the consumer rebuttal of the negation of carbs.

Yes, agreed, no one told Mr. Gorran to stay on this diet and casually watch his cholesterol numbers go up but it is a helpful case in that it points a finger to some of the deficiencies and possible dangers of the Atkins diet.(N.B. Ditto for the fellow who made Super Size Me, a film that chronicles his two months McDonalds food fest that damaged his liver. No one is insisting you eat at the Golden Arches, 3 meals a day, 24/7. The fact that it had poor effects on his health is not a lawsuit for McDonalds but about poor judgment. If you ate tofu and sprouts for 60 days, you might similarly have a problem (a different problem).

However, Super Size Me, like the Gorran case are great in waking us all up.)

What are good or complex carbs? What are simple carbs?
Like calories, not all carbs are equal either. And the problem with sending out a message about extreme lower carbs as a weight loss strategy is that people somehow take away from this, that everything that is grain based is bad for you and subsequently shun wonderful food. Indeed, the message should have been, moderate carbs, and make the carbs you do eat, mostly heroic carbs.

The ‘good’ carbs, which come in a cornucopia of choices these days, also are part of the role carbs play in producing calm, relaxed people. In her feature on Calming Foods, Science Writer Sue Gilbert maintains that: “(Carbs)….have an effect on brain chemistry. Regardless of what carbs do to blood sugar, a sense of calm comes from ingesting carbohydrates and their ability to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, the chemical responsible for a relaxed, calm feeling.” In addition, using ketosis as a dietary tact is hardly wise and counter everything we know about essentially healthy living. Decades of research show time and time again, that carbohydrates, good ones, contribute much in the way of warding of disease such as cancer and gastronomical complaints. Conversely, extreme lowering of carbohydrate intake, leading to ketosis, can result in reduced calcium absorption, lower bone density and lead to kidney stones.

Please note: the science of food and nutrition, like all sciences, is constantly evolving. This is the information so far and while science is supposed to be unbiased, studies are not as thorough as they could be and results can be represented in a few ways depending on the interest group. It may be wise to consider all the facts and use your own judgment and experience as well. Remember too, diets are one of the largest money making industries in North America -  so where nutrition is linked to commerce, it behooves consumers to be even more aware.

More than that, nothing satisfies like a snack or meal based of ‘good’ carbs (among other things) and bereft of adequate carbohydrates, you (acting for your body!) will eventually overeat protein or fat in search of it.  A superlative Birdseed Oatmeal Cookies, filled with dried fruit, nuts, and canola oil as well as butter (yes, get over it, butter!) and a reasonable about of brown sugar (or Splenda © as we are testing in the BB Test Kitchens) is fine, as is our Whole Wheat and Honey Pizza Dough topped with roasted vegetables and a some chevre or enjoy or Original Red River Cereal Bread – all fine examples of good carbs in the bakery.  Trust me, one oatmeal cookie (or whole-wheat orange date muffin or granola bar or oatmeal scone) will keep you full and fueled in a pleasant way for hours.

In a nutshell, we need carbs. Ah, but what is a worthy carbohydrate. Just what is this concept of good carbs, also known as ‘simple carbs’ versus complex ones.

Simple carbs or starches are generally white, refined, and often packaged with added sugar and fat and often, processed.  They taste good – usually crunchy, salty, sweet and an hour later, you wished you hadn’t eaten quite so much of them and also, oddly, are still hungry. Simple carbs are less vitamin packed for calories they offer (and they often have more), your body burns them quickly and they convert to uneven spikes in insulin levels in your blood. This is another of saying – refined baking  turns to more easily to fat, is not nutritious, and adds weight. While it gives you a nice energy high fast, it will not endure and you will plummet in energy, almost as quickly. Good guy carbs, also known as complex carbs, are found in whole grains, nuts, flax seed, and almost any biblical sounding flour or grain the health food store, organic flours or baking aisles offer, as well as fruits, fresh or dried, legumes, beans and vegetables.

Good carbs are the healthy person’s, as well as dieter’s friend are called complex carbs. Like ‘instant yeast’ a similarly unfortunate name for a product, we should just rename ‘complex carbs’ a nutritionists’ term, happy or heroic carbs – for that is what they are. Good carbs are not white and pristine, nor sweet and fatty or refined and are found in the form of mixed grains and legumes, offering all the staying, nutritious bulk, as well as taste, fuel, and vitamins you need. Carbs, done right, are not complex at all but the simplest way to eat well and learn to incorporate better baking in your overall diet and lifestyle. A great carb snack could be a homey muffin with some added fiber and fruit (versus a batch of Krispie Kreme doughnuts). The best way to get complex carbs or better baking, of course, is to bake itself yourself. Oft times, multi grain items in the store are simple white, enriched flours with a tiny dousing of mixed grains or traces of bran.  The thing about complex carbs is that they are not second nature to most home bakers and/or folks associate complex carb baking with granola and hippie era health food baking. True, some of that is healthy but dry or not, well, exciting, nor does it fit with the mainstream baker or eater. To enjoy complex carbs in your baking, without sacrificing taste,  you can begin more gently by mixing unbleached white flour with some whole wheat, and other grains, adding in nuts and fruits (who doesn’t like dried cranberries these days) and serving smaller portions of a good thing. If you have a craving, opt for a chewy, dense Feel Good Oatmeal Cookie (or the Granola Bar recipe in my second cookbook) or zesty pizza atop a Honey Whole Wheat Pizza Dough. Not only will it give you energy that lasts and lasts, your cravings are zapped in their shoes, you know you have eaten something healthy, and the sense of well being that comes from a great carbohydrate baked item cannot even be measured in blood sugar levels and weigh scales. It is also a return to the concept of the ‘good treat’.

Feeling satisfied will resonate in the stomach and the brain and you can feel good, knowing you made a wise selection. Feeling satisfied also curbs appetite and you are less likely to binge on a ‘bad’ carb or unnecessary fatty or sugary treat.

And then there are recipes using good carbs….

Freely available for everyone in my Complete Recipe Archives you will find the recipes (check the index) for Feel Good Oatmeal Cookies, Flax Seed Bagels, Whole Wheat Honey Pizza, and Red River Cereal Bread, all freely available until June 10th.  If you do want to bake with more refined, simple carbohydrates (white flour, butter, chocolate, sugar), I do, and will (!) please do and enjoy it, as part of a full menu of eating mostly ‘good’ stuff.  Have a wedge, a smidgen, and learn to share. Treats like good baking, are also part of broad spectrum, good living. Remember too, if you were to devote your entire focus to ‘eating well’ or eating as therapy, food is reportedly only 20% of your overall health. Great health, much like complex carbs, is a total package. Pass the whole-wheat flour, and meet you for a brisk walk in the park!

Marcy Goldman

Host, Head Baker, Author




Please note that this feature is based on the current data on nutrition and low-carb diets. It is not a medical nor scientific report but background, from a culinary point of view, in hopes of pointing consumers towards broad spectrum eating and the inclusion of complex carbohydrates in their diet. It is neither a particular endorsement of one sort of diet or another nor particularly a dismissal of Atkins diet.


Extra Tricks for Baking the Good Carbs Way

1.      Blend whole meal flours with some unbleached white flour until you get more used to the rustic tastes or leave it half and half.

2.      Use canola oil to replace butter if you prefer.

3.      Instead of some or all white sugar, you can also use Splenda ©  but products will not brown as well. Make sure you opt for the granulated, ‘for baking’ Splenda (not the packets for coffee and tea)

4.      Do also bake traditional, good tasting things the old-fashioned way but have smaller portions. When using white flour, opt for unbleached.

5.      Add nuts, bits of ground flax or bran, dried or fresh fruit to up the vitamins, taste, and fiber.

6. Use stone ground or organic products, mixing and matching them with regular unbleached white flours or regular whole-wheat flours. Organic flours have their benefits and nutrition but are heavier and sometimes drier to bake with.

How to Loose Weight – Some tips, new and old

1.      Water helps but if you hate drinking water, have herbal tea at the ready at all time.

2.      Studies are incomplete in their scientific rational BUT, it is clear, that three portions of moderate fat calcium (lower fat yogurt, ice-cream, milk) seem to help in weight loss (and build and keep bones). So, include milk in your diet. It is your new best friend.

3.      Calories do count. There are nutritional sites online that calculate, by age and weight, what you need to eat (or eat less of) to lose and what you need to eat to maintain your weight. 3500 calories equals one pound of weight – gained or loss. This is theoretical, because it is not an exact, ‘performing’ science – every body response differently – this is a guideline. But, if you are 45, let’s say, and weigh 140, you need roughly 2500 calories a day (this is approximate). To lose weight, you would need to sheer off 500 calories a day, over seven days (a week)  to get rid of one pound (Now, doesn’t that make you think twice about indulging?)

Exercise will only be a bonus (it should actually help more but I have never found that it does – I do it because you gotta move to be fit, happy and limber and chase baseballs in left field, foul territory). Permanent weight loss means calorie reduction of this level on a somewhat consistent basis.

4.      Most people do eat too little, when dieting, and consequently, the body, adjusting to starvation, retains what little fuel you give it and weight loss can be slower for many people. Some people are also ‘weight loss resistant’ which means they will lose, but slower than the general population. The only people losing fast and furious are those on the info diet ad commercials. Slow and steady wins the race.

5.      Weigh yourself once a week with the most clear, digital scale you can find. Keep a record of this. If you are not losing after 4 weeks, start a food journal to see what your real intake is. Oblivious nibbling can add up to 300-500 calories extra a day (11 potato chips) resulting in 15-20 extra pounds a year.

6.      Avoid eating after 7 pm.

7.      Eat snacks and try and eat when you are hungry. Do not play games with your appetite. If you have a craving, wait three days, and then give in.

8.      Exercise helps you feel better and more noble but might not burn as many calories as anyone would think. The body also gets habituated to the same routines – so mix up your exercise. Moderate and longer exercise with short, more energized episodes is one way. Mix up the types of exercise you do. Add yoga or alternate with Pilates. Always have a weight resistance program – even a modest one, on-going. MORE aerobics often results in just more fatigue so do not under-estimate things like yoga as a conditioning regime. (Incidentally, recent studies have also found that those who do yoga three times a week have the same great hearts as those running three times a week)

9.      Aim for modest weight loss. Expect ups and downs. Have a treat once in while. Who hasn’t found a surprise weight lost the day after having a fudge sundae or Krispie Kreme? When you do have a treat – eat it attentively and enjoy. Sit down! And choose your treats wisely – better to have a piece of homemade cheesecake than the same calories, albeit empty, on free samples at Costco (sorry, Costco – we are talking the fattier, more processed free samples)

10.  Eat for taste – better to have full fat Brie on a flax seed bagel for breakfast (and also start of day is when you have a whole day to burn it off) than low-fat cheddar that leaves you feeling deprived.

11.  The best good carb baking is at home. Often, wheaty, organic, grainy sounding bought products are white flour with traces of bran thrown in. Whole wheat flour, unless it is stone ground or organic, often what the trade calls ‘restored whole wheat’ which means; white flour to which they add some bran (and no germ). Ditto for some multi grain breads and rolls. They are white breads with traces of whole grains thrown in, some baker’s caramel and lovely packaging. Ditto for grainy sounding commercial bagels. Not all are so fabricated – but many are! Buy your own flours; use your (and my) great recipes.  If you do purchase full grain products, you will know simply by how satisfying they are which are real and which are bogus. The greatest ones of the genre are also expensive – an all-natural, organic, 12-grain bread can run you $4.50. Homemade versions are about $1.50.

12. If you diet and use food as therapy, know that food is still only about 20% of overall health. 

© Marcy Goldman, Trademark Feature. Do not use or reprint without express permission of the author. May 2004

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