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Processed Carbohydrates: A Norm for Society

Just the other day whilst I was walking into the Pro shop of the Tennis Centre (I think I was heading into the kitchen to prepare my lunch- salmon, broccoli, eggs and Quinoa-yum, yum) I happened to notice what “food” they were selling. Now bear in mind this is the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre- headquarters for our State and National Academies, site where the Sydney Olympics Tennis tournament was held and the Apia International, lead up tournament to the Australian open is held each year.

I took a quick glance into the fridge and noticed: croissants, white bread sandwiches, bagels, doughnuts “energy bars” (with 50 grams of sugar per serve), creamy pastas and ice creams.

I had to pinch myself for a second as I thought I was at the Easter Show (I was disappointed when the gentleman in the pro shop told me there was no afternoon wood chopping event being held). However, this is their “normal” every day “food” that they sell to tennis players, Tennis NSW staff, parents of tennis players and anyone who enters the tennis centre.

This then got me thinking of what is actually considered “normal food” sold in cafes, restaurants and served up in most households today.

Going out for breakfast- the options are generally croissants, pancakes, eggs (2 at max) with bread thicker than your kitchen table or “muesli” (loaded with so much fruit and granola that the sugar content would exceed that of a soft drink).

Having breakfast at home- the most common options are toast, cereal, fruit with yoghurt (with added sugar), raisin toast or maybe an egg on toast.

What about going out to dinner- start with garlic or herb bread, maybe a pasta or risotto dish or a steak (good) with half the plate covered in mash potatoes or chips (not so good).

The point that I’m trying to get at is that excess Carbohydrate (mostly processed, refined Carbs) and foods with added sugar just appear to be normal practice in today’s society and most people would consider myself to be weird (now this isn’t completely untrue outside of my dietary choices) with my selection of lunch mentioned at the start of this article.

Now why this is the case, I’m not too sure. Maybe it is because processed Carbohydrates with added sugar and Trans fats may keep for longer (I could have sworn those croissants in the pro shop had been there for over a week. Actually on a side note, trans fats or hydrogenated oils were introduced in the 1950’s as a way to keep foods from going “bad” for longer in replace of butter- just a pity that trans fats are poorly broken down by the body and increase LDL- bad cholesterol which clogs the arteries- I digress!).

Maybe it is because eating these types of foods is cheaper than eating whole, fresh food (I actually disagree with this statement but that argument would represent a completely separate article), or maybe it is a lack of education regarding the impact that excessive processed Carbohydrates and refined sugars can have on an individuals health (I think this is a valid point- e.g. I have dinner at my Mum’s place once per week. She used to be a professional chef, but every meal I have with her contains some sort of bread as a starter, with a large portion of carbohydrate in the main dish- this is basically lack of education, as she is rather health conscious, but still unaware of the total amount of carbohydrate she is serving).

Now, don’t get my wrong, I am not about to preach to you how the Atkins diet is the way to go, (in fact I believe that Dr Atkins died of heart disease) and that all carbohydrates are the devil (I actually love carbs!!). Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet, so much so that Glucose is the brains only source of fuel.

The issue lies in the fact that the majority of people are consuming far too many Carbohydrates than what they need (this leads to irregular blood sugar levels, and eventually insulin resistance, which is the pre cursor to type 2 diabetes- again an article in itself). The excess Carbohydrate that is not needed by the body is stored in the form of Glycogen in the liver for later use. If it still is not required down the track, it will be broken down into fat, which is generally deposited around the waist area.

For most individuals, consuming 100g of Carbohydrate per day is sufficient. However, an example of a typical daily diet for many Australians often includes: 2 pieces of toast for breakfast (40g Carbs), a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch (60g Carbs), a piece of fruit and yoghurt as a mid morning snack (45g Carbs), a chocolate bar for that mid afternoon “slump” (30g Carbs), half a cup of pasta at dinner (90g Carbs) and maybe a can of coca cola at some stage throughout the day (40g Carbs) for a total daily Carbohydrate intake of 305g. This doesn’t even take into account Carbohydrates found in vegetables and alcohol.

A better way to think of it would be to try and consume most of your carbohydrates from vegetables (try to incorporate at least 2 serves with each meal) and a small amount of fruit (2 serves per day) and only have Carbohydrates from other sources occasionally, particularly after a bout of exercise, as your body will just replace the stores you have used as energy during your session.

Your Optimum Performance Exercise Physiologist can help design for you a nutrition plan with the “Optimal” Carbohydrate intake based on your activity levels and body composition goals. Just remember, you may need to break today’s “Norms” and be a nutritional rebel!

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