What would you say is the biggest obstacle to having a healthy diet? The answer is simple: it's the white stuff. No: not cocaine . But the analogy is not totally off. Refined white sugars and, to a similar degree, refined white flours, are not good for us.
Yes- of course they taste great, and who does not love cakes, pastries, cookies, and carb-heavy breakfast foods? As well as pasta and pizza? You're very likely a pretty big lover of at least one of these. But, alas, if any of them are made with refined sugars and / or flours, they do not serve our bodies well. At best, they fill us with empty calories so that we're not hungry; but at worst, they do not make us feel very good and, with regular, heavy consumption of refined sugars, they can put us on the road to Type-2 Diabetes.
Now, while I recognize that it's unrealistic to promote a diet of which no refined sugars and no refined flours whatsoever are consumed is completely out of the question. It's simply impractical for most of us living in the Western world, and increasingly the case even for many in the East as well. In the interest of full disclosure, I myself partake in one or the other time-to-time (including store-bought ice cream, and the occasional bread) … it's simply impossible, without one lives a truly monastic diet life. You know the expression, “everything in moderation” – well, that applies here, but I'd like to suggest something of a revision to that phrase: “everything in moderation, except refined flours and sugars, to be consumed modestly.”
I know that if you're out in the world, whether eating at other people's homes or at restaurants, you may not be offered ample alternatives to foods that do not have one or the other – refined flour and / or refined sugar – and so you may either have to give in and eat what's being served, or come off as rude or high maintenance (although hopefully you dine at restaurants and hang out with people cool enough not to put you into that kind of position).
When you're on your own, however, you have everything under your control, no excuses. So how, then, can you greatly reduce, if not eliminate, such foods from your diet? Here are two main steps to help you get off to a good start:
1) Reduce gluten from your diet.
If you have not heard of Celiac's Disease, it's essentially an allergy to gluten, a protein that is found in most bread, pastas, and just about anything that contains wheat. With the growing knowledge of Celiac's in Western culture, so has there also been a rise in products being made to address this issue. Now when you go to the grocery store, you may see a number of “gluten-free” items; you'll definitely see plenty of them at the health food store, or at less-main chains like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.
Now here's a little trick: it's not just “gluten-free” -labeled foods that will serve as a way to rid your from refined white flours in your diet; there are also simple items such as corn tortillas and rice tortillas, or cereals such as corn flakes, Corn or Rice Chex or its generic equivalents, and grains such as quinoa, lentils, and of course rice that also fit the bill. These are all healthy alternatives to refined white flour that also offer plenty of carbohydrates, just like bread. And for pasta, again stores such as Trader Joe's and Whole Foods offer rice versions, including spaghetti and penne, among others. If you still crave bread in your diet, there are plenty of gluten-free alternatives out there, from rice bread to other substitutes that use alternative flours such as Tapioca and Potato that make bread that are very satisfying. If they seem too expensive, homemade bread using a bread machine is a smart option. For breakfast, there are numerous healthy pancake recipes.
2) Minimize refined sugars intake
When I say 'refined sugars,' I'm referring to either granulated sugar or powdered sugar- the stuff that's all-too-available from boxes in the store. Refined sugars such as these are found in far too many products, and sometimes they do not really seem to be playing a particularly relevant role.
Here's how you can start cutting down on refined sugars:
a) pay attention to labels: when you shop for cereal, you'll have a very hard time finding ones with no sugar (there are really only a few on the market, even at health food stores). What you can do, however, is choose cereals with low sugar servings; aim for 10 grams of sugar or less for every 55-60 gram serving (or 5g or less for a 30g serving). There are a few granolas that are sold that are only honey-sweetened, which I believe is a healthier option for your body. If you do not see them in the store, check online.
b) get your sugars from fruits and vegetables: yes, it's true– fruits have sugar, and so do many vegetables, but these are obviously natural sugars, and so you need not worry about your fruit intake (you may have heard of ” fruitarians “- people whose entire diet is made up of fruit; not something I would recommend, but it does make a case for the healthiness of fruit).
The point here is, the more fruit you consume, the less likely you'll need, and in some cases even crave, sugar-sweetened junk foods. See if you can consistently have at least 2 servings of fruit a day; if you are not already, the change will help your overall diet, I believe.
c) Limit your sugar-sweetened food intake in stages: try doing this– if possible, see if you can limit your sweets take to once per day. So, if you're going to have a cookie, or a piece of cake or pie, decide that will be the only serving you have that day. For me, I find it easiest to make that at night, and so I resist sweets during the day.
For the next phase, see if you can cut down your sweets take to every other day, instead of every day. On those days that you do not have any sweets, try having fruit, or oatmeal with raisins, or cereal with very low or no added sugars.
The more you can cut down on refined sugars, and refined flours, not only the better you'll feel, but also the more weight you'll lose, in case that's something important to you – which, if you live in the West, invariably it is.