kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Complex carbohydrates are starches and fiber. They’re made up of longer chains of sugar molecules, which makes them take longer to digest. Since complex carbs are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates, most sources do not raise blood sugars as quickly as simple carbohydrates. Examples of complex carbs are oatmeal, yams, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes with the skins.

Complex carbohydrates are key to long-term health. The main sources of these dietary fibers include: fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and beans. They make it easier to maintain a healthy weight and can even help guard against type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems in the future.

Examples of simple carbohydrates are raw sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrate.   Simple carbs are sugars. While some of these occur naturally in milk, most of the simple carbs in the American diet are added to foods.

The Glycemic Index is a numerical index that ranks carbohydrates based on the rate of their conversion to glucose within the human body. 

The Glycemic Index uses a scale of 1-100. The higher values are given to foods that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. Pure glucose serves as a reference point at 100. Nutritionist used to believe that all simple sugars digested quickly and caused a rapid rise in blood sugar. They also thought that complex carbs had an opposite effect on blood sugar. But, that is not always the case. While many sweets and sugary foods do have high GIs, some starchy food like potatoes and white bread score even higher than honey or table sugar. 

Your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept relatively constant. If your blood sugar drops too low, you become lethargic. If it is too high, your brain signals your pancreas to secrete more insulin. The insulin brings your blood sugar back down, primarily by converting the excess sugar to stored fat. So, when you eat foods that cause a large and rapid glycemic response, you may feel an initial elevation in energy and mood as your blood sugar rises, but this is followed by a cycle of increased fat storage, lethargy, and more hunger. 

For non-diabetics, there are times when a rapid increase in blood sugar may be desirable. For example, after strenuous physical activity, insulin helps to move glucose into muscle cells, where it aids in tissue repair.

It is not Glycemic Index alone that leads to the increase in blood sugar. It is also important to check the amount of food that you consume. The concept of Glycemic Index combined with total intake is referred to as “Glycemic Load”. 

There are wide variations in Glycemic Load measurements. For example, baked Russet potatoes have been tested with a GI as low as 56 and as high as 111. The Glycemic Index for the same fruit increases as the fruit ripens. The amount of variation adds a great deal of uncertainty to GI calculations. 

The Glycemic Index gets even trickier when you take into account the changes in value that occur in response to food preparation. Generally, any significant food processing, such as grinding or cooking, will elevate GI values for certain foods because it makes digesting those foods quicker and easier. This type of change is even seen with subtle alterations of the preparation, such as boiling the pasta for 15 minutes instead of 10. 

The tests for Glycemic Index are done on individual foods, but we often consume those foods in combination with other foods. The addition of other foods that contain fiber, protein, or fat will generally reduce the Glycemic Index of the meal by slowing down the absorption.

The rate at which different people digest carbohydrates varies. Also, one person’s glycemic response may vary from one time of day to another. People have differing insulin responses to the same glycemic response. 

The Glycemic Index is only a rating of a food’s carbohydrate content, and it is concerned more with processed food than whole foods. If  you use Glycemic Index or Glycemic Load values as the sole factor for determining your diet, you can easily end up over consuming toxins, and nutrient-poor, overly refined foods.  GI and GL are worth paying attention to, especially if you are just beginning to consume more healthful foods. However, it is very difficult to overdo carbohydrates when you are consuming a whole foods diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, with moderate amounts of starchy vegetables and whole grains, and high quality fats and proteins.

Algae

Algae is a large and diverse group that includes seaweeds (multi-celled) and chlorella (single celled). It is a sustainably harvested whole food that when freeze-dried can contain up to 50% protein. Algae is easily assimilated and can aid in weight loss and immune function. Blue-Green algae like spirulina is not technically an algae but has the same health benefits. 

Seaweed provides minerals and amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. They are essential to nearly every bodily function and every chemical reaction that takes place in our bodies. Seaweed is an amazing provider of the essential amino acids that are not produced by the body. Seaweed is also rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and vitamin K and seaweed contains useful amounts of vitamin E, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and folate. In addition, seaweed is high in soluble fiber and, if you’re like most Americans, you’re not getting enough.

A bonus if you’re vegetarian: seaweed is one of the few plant sources of B-12.

Seaweed also has:

* More vitamin C than oranges

* Anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory properties

* Seaweed is rich in polysaccharides which are important in the prevention of degenerative diseases including cardiovascular and type 2 diabetes. Seaweed increases the amount of feel-good chemicals in the brain, improves liver function, and it stabilizes blood sugar.

Algae like spirulina and chlorella provides protein, vitamins, and trace minerals.

How to Buy

Seaweed can be found in your local co-op in the bulk section or in a super market in the Asian food section.

  • Seaweed can be bought in many specialty supermarkets, catalogs and online. Almost all seaweed sold in stores is dried.
  • Most seaweed is collected in the spring or summer. If you have collected your own seaweed, you will probably want to dry some for storage. Spread your seaweed on newspaper and leave it in the sun or a warm room for about a week or dry it for a few hours in a warm oven.

Decide what kind of seaweed you want to prepare. There are many kinds of edible seaweed:

  • Alaria is light green and almost transparent. This plant is similar to wakame; it is the standard sea vegetable for miso soup. Unlike some wakame, alaria has not been blanched in boiling water, prior to drying.
  • Arame is thin, wiry, and almost black. It is a species of kelp best known for its use in Japanese cuisine.
  • Dulse is dark red. Dulse is high in vitamins B6 and B12.
  • Hijiki is thin, wiry, and almost black. Hijiki is high is calcium and fiber.
  • Kelp, also known as kombu, is the largest seaweed. Kombu improves  digestion and reduces gas because it has an amino acid that can help break down heavy starches in foods like beans and sweet potatoes. Kombu is anti-inflammatory and helps in the production of hemoglobin. Kombu also contains the highest amount of iodine of all the seaweeds.
  • Nori is used as the wrapper for many types of sushi and is probably the most recognizable type of seaweed. Nori has the highest amount of protein compared to other seaweeds.
  • Wakame is related to Alaria. It is also light green and almost transparent. Wakame has the highest amount of calcium and fiber among seeweeds.

How to Store

Keep seaweed fresh by keeping it re-sealed either in its original container or a tightly sealed glass jar along with the “do not eat” package of silica gel that absorbs moisture so that the seaweed will stay dry. In humid environments, you may want to freeze seaweed for extended shelf life.

Dried seaweed never rots. The salt naturally found on seaweed helps to preserve it, keeping it fresh for quite a while. Much like dried herbs, however, seaweed loses its flavor and nutritive qualities over time. Seaweed is best when used within two years.

How to Cook

Prepare seaweed before eating or cooking by soaking it.

  • Most dried seaweed must be soaked before eating. Nori is a notable exception.
  • Soak dried seaweed in a large bowl of warm water until it is tender. Most seaweed will only take a few minutes to become tender and dulse becomes tender so quickly that you only need to run it under warm water.
  • Most types of seaweed do not need to be cooked before they are eaten, but can be served in salads, soups, casseroles etc.
  • Cook alaria for at least 20 minutes in soups or with grains.
  • Add raw arame to salads after soaking. It can also be added to soups or sautéed or braised with other vegetables.
  • Toast dulse in a pan and use it as chips. After rinsing or a short soak, it can be used in salads or sandwiches. It can also be used in soups.
  • Try adding a strip of kombu when cooking your dried beans to add a rich array of vitamins and minerals to your dish while enhancing the flavor and making the beans more digestible. Add kelp to simmered dishes. Kelp is most often used in dashi.
  • Powdered seaweed such as spirulina is a great source of natural protein. Start with a teaspoon added to your preferred smoothie combo (it goes especially well with avocado, banana, or pineapple) and adjust the amount as you get used to it.
  • Wrap sushi with dried nori or dry-roast it and crumble it in soups or rice dishes. It can also be added to stir-fry.

Sea Veggie Salad

Adapted from Kris Carr’s, Crazy Sexy Kitchen

4 Servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup arame or other favorite sea vegetables*  –  rehydrated by soaking in 1 cup of warm water for 10 minutes

1/2 cup hijiki or other favorite sea vegetables*  –  rehydrated by soaking in 1 cup of warm water for 10 minutes

1 1/4 cup pea shoots, cut in half, plus more for garnish

3 T finely diced green onions

1 T wheat-free tamari

1/2 t preferred sweetener – honey or rice syrup

2 T fresh organic squeezed lime juice

1/2 T toasted sesame oil

1/2 red jalapeño, seeded and minced

3 T white sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Lime wedges

* substitute with nori, dulse, sea palm, bladderwrack, or sea lettuce

Instructions

Toss together all ingredients in a mixing bowl. 

Serve with lime wedges

Resources

For a full list of resources, please refer to Carbs #1.
https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/carbohydrates/art-20045705
https://www.verywellhealth.com/simple-and-complex-carbohydrates-and-diabetes-1087570
https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/simple-carbohydrates-complex-carbohydrates#what-are-carbs

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