Many people have a banana as a morning snack, assuming it's a healthy choice; hoping it will hold them over ‘til lunch once the post-breakfast rumbles set in. This is NOT the type of snack I would recommend to anyone who is looking to feel energetic, lose weight and/or keep sugar and carb cravings at bay. The problem with eating a banana by itself (or any carbohydrate alone), is that because all carbohydrates—be it pasta, rice, cookies, crackers, even vegetables and fruits like the banana—turn into sugar the second they enter your bloodstream. This sets your body up for cravings, irritability, lack of focus and weight gain if you ride the blood sugar roller coaster long enough.
I’m referring to the vicious cycle of spikes and drops in blood sugar levels that happens when following the Standard American Diet (SAD), an eating regimen consisting of high intake of carbohydrates with minimal healthy fats, and sporadic protein. Feeling great, having consistent energy levels, ability to focus, maintaining stable moods, feeling no cravings and even having a handle on weight maintenance and loss comes down to blood sugar regulation.
The more carbs we eat and in short intervals of time, give our blood sugar rollercoaster the greatest highs and lows. You may be familiar with common side effects of riding this unhealthy blood sugar rollercoaster: finding it difficult to focus, hearing the vending machine calling your name, feeling light-headed and weak, and having intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates? What are those?
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (fat and protein are the other two). All carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar in your body. That means when you eat a carbohydrate, regardless of the source (bread, pasta, rice, cookies, candy, soda and even vegetables and fruits), it turns into sugar the moment it hits your bloodstream. Your blood sugar levels spike, which is alarming to your body, so it triggers your pancreas to quickly secrete your fat-storing hormone called insulin.
Now, you can use that sugar in your bloodstream for energy. Carbs are the first macronutrient to be used for energy, which is why you may be familiar with athletes who practice “carboloading” before endurance events, where they consume massive amounts of carbohydrates to sustain their energy. If you’re active shortly after consuming it, you’ll burn it off. The problem is so often we’re consuming more sugar than we need, and most of us have desk jobs. We aren’t running marathons all day long, and I wouldn’t recommend it. When insulin takes that sugar to your cell, the sugar is turned into fat and stored since it’s not needed. What happens next? You eat again, which means you don’t tap into your fat stores. So you continue to store fat instead of burning it, all day and all night long. I repeat: your body stores that sugar as fat. Carbohydrates, bananas included, the very foods we've been told are healthy, have been packing on your pounds.
So, what’s wrong with that banana?
You already know that all carbohydrates, the banana included, turn into sugar in your body. Fruits and vegetables are what I consider to be the most nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, with grains, rice, pasta and sugary treats ranking last. I’m a big fan of fruits and vegetables — I really am. It's just that not all are created equal. Some fruits don’t have as great an effect on blood sugar levels as other fruits. These low-sugar fruits consist of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. The high-sugar fruits that spike our blood sugar levels the most include bananas, apples, peaches, pineapple and pears. Vegetables can also be broken into two categories: the “starchy” ones that have a greater effect on blood sugar levels and the “non-starchy” ones that don’t. Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, beets and sweet potatoes raise your blood sugars the most. The “non-starchy’ ones that don’t impact blood sugar levels nearly as much are your salad vegetables like spinach, kale, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. For more on the types of carbohydrates, refer to this post.
Also, when we eat carbs, we do not receive a message to stop eating until our stomachs are physically stretched and full. When we eat fats (and proteins too), they help slow the digestion of carbs in addition to sending our brain a hormonal message (cholecystokinin) telling you to stop eating. That’s why when you eat a banana by itself it doesn’t fill you up, and an hour or so later, you may even be hungrier than you were before you ate it.
So, can I still eat the banana?
Any time you eat a carbohydrate by itself, you are going to get a spike in your blood sugar levels. So, you can still have your banana, but I always recommend consuming a protein and a fat source with it. You can remember this with the mantra, “PFC!” At the bare minimum, try to have a protein or fat source with the carbohydrate to soften the effect the carbs have on your blood sugar levels. Basically, my rule is to never eat a carbohydrate alone. So, let’s modify that morning snack to make it more balanced, so that it won't set you up for that early blood sugar spike. I would suggest having half of a banana with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and a hard boiled egg. Your egg is the P (Protein,) your peanut butter is the F (Fat,) and your banana is the C (Carbohydrate.) Another easy option with that banana is to have half of it with a handful of almonds (Fat) and a couple ounces of grilled chicken (Protein.) Better yet, ditch the banana for a low-sugar fruit choice, and have some raspberries (Carb) with your grilled chicken (Protein) topped with sliced avocado (Fat.). A favorite snack option for several of my clients is what I call a "Pickle Roll-up." It’s a piece of meat with cream cheese spread over it, wrapped around a pickle. Can you point out the PFC? In this case, the meat is your protein, the cream cheese is the fat, and the pickle your carbohydrate.
So, yes! You CAN still have your banana! It’s just a matter of balancing it out with the two other important macronutrients. Besides, when you start eating the combination of PFC (Protein, Fat and Carbs) in place of just carbs, you WILL notice a difference. You’ll feel so good that you won’t even want to go back to eating that darn, single banana. 🙂
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