I used to be addicted to carbohydrates.
I always loved bread and baked goods and considered bread – the French, crusty variety – as pretty much a part of every meal. I am also a big fan of desserts and sweets. I never bothered with keeping my sugar intake in check – I figured there were enough things to worry about, such as unhealthy fats or weird, lab-made artificial sweeteners and food additives.
But on his last annual checkup, my husband was told he has a slightly elevated blood sugar level, and since doctors take it very seriously, we knew we had to make a few changes.
I still love white flour and sugar and fried stuff. I still enjoy baking more than I enjoy cooking. But I am learning to appreciate new, different flavors and textures. My diet is lower in simple carbohydrates than before, higher in veggies, fruit and whole grains, and after a few months of doing it, I can say for sure that I feel a positive impact.
These are the main things I have learned over the past few months:
1. Bread, or other starches, do NOT have to accompany every meal. A big salad, with lots of veggies, beans, a sliced hard boiled egg and a small amount of dressing made with olive oil and balsamic vinegar is considered a complete meal these days. In the past, I just had to accompany it with a thick, buttered slice of bread. Same goes for, say, serving a meat dish with two sides of veggies and no starches – it used to be unthinkable! Not anymore.
2. Whole grains are grainy, but in a good way. For years, I refused to get used to the texture of whole grain breads and brown rice. I considered the texture offensive. But since whole grains contain fiber, and fiber helps regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption, I am slowly learning to tolerate – even enjoy – the taste and texture of whole grains. I have come to believe many of these things are acquired taste – if you only eat white bread, whole grain bread will taste weird. But if you get used to whole grain bread, white bread will taste like unsubstantial fluff.
3. Oatmeal can be your friend, if you avoid the instant varieties. I discovered – and fell in love with – steel cut oats. Cooked in milk and dressed with just a little maple syrup, steel cut oats are chewy, creamy, fragrant, and very satisfying.
4. Less sugar can still taste good. Again, this is all about habits. I used to take my morning coffee with 2 teaspoons of sugar, but now I’ve cut down to one and it tastes fine. I agree with Nurit on this one – you can absolutely use less sugar than most cake or muffin recipes call for, and the baked goods still taste great. I’ve also learned to be very careful about buying sugary cereal and flavored yogurt – these often contain as much sugar as candy, but they don’t taste as good as candy – so it just doesn’t make sense to eat them.
5. Protein does help keep you satiated, for longer. I accept Michael Pollan’s basic rule of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” This rule emphasizes veggies, fruit, and whole grains – not animal-based products. But I consider eggs, low fat milk, low fat cheese and lean meats to be natural, wholesome foods – and I find that when I consume them regularly, I feel much better in terms of energy levels and avoiding those terrible dips in blood sugar that used to leave me sluggish and miserable. It’s not that you need huge amounts of protein of course – but a little peanut butter with your apple, or low fat string cheese with your crackers, can make a big difference.
So, have I stopped indulging? Will I no longer publish sugary, fatty recipes here? The answer is no. I do enjoy discovering how very tasty healthy foods can be. I explore more and more healthy options these days, and am curious about using less sugar than recipes call for, substituting whole wheat flour for some of the white flour used in them (as I recently did when baking whole wheat pita bread), and in general “healthifying” recipes as much as I can.
But I haven’t given up flavor nor presentation. I still make and eat awesome food, and I expect the recipes I publish here to be just as awesome as they’ve always been.
Oh, and my husband’s blood sugar? After six months on the new diet: back to normal levels. So there. 🙂