Sunday, August 18, 2013

How to Cook Healthy Food for Kids : Healthy Breakfast Quinoa Recipe

Carbs Gone Bad

Popular diets such as the Atkin's diet have given carbohydrates a bad reputation.  So what is a carbohydrate?  Carbohydrates are macronutrients which are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  They are found in a great many foods: sugars, alcohols, grains, fruits, beans, dairy, nuts, and vegetables.  Despite their reputation, carbohydrates aren't inherently bad for you or your kids.  However, eating excessive amounts of highly processed carbohydrates is bad.  

Carbohydrates range in their chemical complexity. Single sugars include the fructose found in fruit and the glucose that circulates around in your bloodstream. Complex starches include the chains of sugar molecules found in bread. When you eat a slice of bread, your body digests it and breaks it down into smaller and smaller units until you are left with the single sugar glucose, which then gets absorbed into your bloodstream. It was previously thought that more complex carbohydrates like starchy grains were generally good for you. Now, data shows that the chemical complexity of the carbohydrate is less significant than the rate at which that carbohydrate is broken down into glucose and subsequently absorbed into your bloodstream.

The Glycemic Index

One way of quantifying how rapidly a particular carbohydrate is digested and absorbed into your body is the glycemic index. The glycemic index was pioneered by Dr. David Jenkins in 1981. To establish a standard reference point, he assigned a value of 100 to the degree of blood glucose elevation after eating a fifty gram carbohydrate load of pure glucose. He then fed an equivalent load of carbohydrate from a variety of sources of cooked foods to healthy volunteers and measured the subsequent rise in blood glucose. The glycemic index of a given food was calculated based on the percent rise in blood glucose relative to the reference standard. For example, if the elevation in blood glucose from eating fifty grams of lentils is 30% of the elevation compared to eating fifty grams of pure glucose, then the glycemic index of lentils is thirty.

One of the most important discoveries that Dr. Jenkins made was that two foods made up of equivalent grams of carbohydrates may have vastly different physiologic effects on blood sugar.  You can find a list of the glycemic indices of various foods in the following article:

In general, non-starchy vegetables, nuts, and beans have a glycemic index less than fifty, and are considered low in glycemic index.  On the other hand, starchy grains like breads, breakfast cereals, rice, and many snack products have a glycemic index greater than fifty and are considered to have a high glycemic index.  Because foods with high glycemic indices are rapidly converted to sugar, a diet heavy in high glycemic carbohydrates is effectively a high sugar diet!

What's the big deal?  Well, higher rates of absorption of a carbohydrate correspond to higher peaks of blood glucose and longer periods of elevations in blood glucose.  Additionally, eating a diet that is heavy in carbohydrates that have a high glycemic index has been associated with:
  1. Weight gain
  2. A more than doubling of the risk of diabetes
  3. An unhealthy blood cholesterol pattern
  4. As much as a doubling in the risk of heart disease  
Low glycemic eating is not only relevant to diabetics!  Choosing carbohydrates that are low in glycemic index is a critical strategy for life-long health and diabetes prevention.  You can help your kids to choose carbohydrates that are low in glycemic index by substituting processed snack foods with nuts and seeds and encouraging them to eat non-starchy vegetables and beans.  You can read more about the nutritional advantages of beans in my previous post:

Whole Grains

Grains are a prevalent source of high glycemic carbohydrates.  One way to lower the glycemic index in your child's diet is to replace processed grains with whole grains.  All grains are naturally available in their whole form, which contains all the original layers of the grain, including the starchy endosperm, the germ layer, and the outer bran layer, which is high in fiber.  When grains are eaten in their whole form, the bran slows the absorption of the starchy endosperm. 

Most of the grains in the typical American diet have been processed by mills. Processing removes the bran to improve shelf life and produce a finer texture to the end product. Unfortunately, processing also results in a refined grain that is rapidly absorbed and has a high glycemic index. Many sweet rolls, cakes, desserts, bagels, cold breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, pizza, muffins, pasta, rice, and breads have gone through processing in this manner. 

Examples of whole grains include oats, quinoa, farro, bulgur, barley, popcorn, wheat berries, rye berries, spelt, amaranth, buckwheat, and kasha. In the following video, I discuss how changes in the American diet have been associated with an increasing prevalence of diabetes, expand on the topic of the glycemic index, and show you an easy substitute for cold breakfast cereal using whole grains that you can prepare for your kids. 

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Here is a link to the recipe I used in the above video.  I modified the recipe by simply cooking the quinoa in water and using unsweetened applesauce instead of apple juice.


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Jennkins DJA et al.  Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange.  Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:362-366.

Atkinson FS et al.  International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008.  Diabetes Care 2008 Dec;31(12):2281-3.
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Salmeron J et al.  Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of NIDDM in men.  Diabetes Care 1997;20:545-50. 
Salmeron J et al.  Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women.  JAMA 1997;277:472-7.
Shikany JM et al.  Association of glycemic load with cardiovascular disease risk factors: the women's health initiative observational study.  Nutrition 2010;26(6):641-647.
Ebbeling CB et al.  Effects of a low-glycemic load vs low-fat diet in obese young adults.  JAMA 2007;297(19):2092-2102. 
Ding EL & Malik VS.  Convergence of obesity and high glycemic diet on compounding diabetes and cardiovascular risks in modernizing China: An emerging public health dilemma.  Globalization and Health 2008.
Hardy D et al.  Association of glycemic index and glycemic load with risk of incident coronary heart disease among Whites and African Americans with and without type 2 diabetes: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study.  Ann Epidemiol 2010;20:610-616.

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